As a hockey puck comes from the point off a slap shot, it should land inside the net. But Tyler Tracy reaches up with his gloved hand and robs the opposing team from its goal against Florida Gulf Coast University. He’s quick on his skates and takes to the butterfl y position to keep the puck from reaching the goal by protecting both sides of the net and being able to jump up to snatch the high shots out of the air.
Tracy is a freshman goaltender for the FGCU men’s D2 ice hockey team and the one of the most recent recruits. Tracy is a Naples native, and the impression is that Florida doesn’t develop hockey players. Watching Tracy in the crease brings up the question: How did such a young goalkeeper manage to gain the experience that he demonstrates?
Tracy has been playing hockey for as long as he can remember. He began his journey with junior hockey as a teenager. During his sophomore year of high school, he joined a traveling league to play in Chicago every week. Tracy went to school four days a week and then traveled to the Windy City to play hockey all weekend.
Tracy missed about a quarter of that year of high school, and according to him, one of the only ways he was able to accomplish that was with very understanding teachers. They knew he was working for a brighter future and a hockey career in college, so they were willing to help him. He would get his school work from his teachers and basically work on his own to maintain his grades.
After the year of traveling from Naples to Chicago every week, Tracy was given another opportunity—one much bigger that would offer him an amazing future to grow and develop as a hockey player. His got an opportunity to move to Maine and play for a junior hockey team in the Northeast. In exchange, Tracy would get a private prepschool education and the chance to become a better player and build a future in hockey. Tracy moved to Maine when he was 16 and lived with a host family, Greg and Danielle Mooers. As diffi cult as it was for Tracy to leave home at such a young age, his own parents and his host family made it a fairly easy transition.
“When Tyler arrived, we couldn’t believe how mature and well-rounded he was at the young age of 16. He was polite and courteous and immediately blended right in with our family. Tyler’s move into our home seemed effortless,” Danielle Mooers said. “Everyone got to know one another, and he quickly became our fourth son and a big brother to our other three children.
“I don’t think that having Tyler with us caused any of us to make any big dayto- day changes. But rather it made us all appreciate the family time and dinners we had together as often as we could. Everyone was always so busy that to get to sit down and enjoy a meal together and talk about our days was something we all enjoyed,” Mooers said. “We got to learn about our differences and similarities. We got to laugh and crack jokes. Having Tyler live with us just made our family a little bigger.”
“Leaving home, I left my little brother so being up there I still had someone to look over and someone to look up to me,” Tracy said. “I was able to set an example for them and be a good role model. There were differences in moving to Maine. I skimped on laundry a bit. Sometimes I’d wait until one of my parents came up to visit so they’d help me do it all. The weather was absolutely different, and I loved it for the fi rst two years. Then the third year, I actually had to shovel the snow myself. So when my Jeep was snowed in, I had to put the gloves and boots on and get dirty doing it myself.”
Jill Tracy, Tyler’s mother, knew that letting her son leave home was diffi cult but easier to deal with because they met his host family in advance and she knew that Tyler was mature and focused. She missed her child, but she knew that the opportunity was going to be a life-changing experience for him and they would do whatever they had to in order to make the situation work for their family.
“Living two years without him home,” Jill said. “I think we supported the airlines too much. We traveled a lot to go see him.” The hockey schedule was intense, and Tracy didn’t often get to come home to Naples to visit his family. He usually only made it down for major holidays. His parents would go visit him to watch him play in the juniors’ league and check up on his standings at school. When he lived in Florida, he maintained high grades, even while missing a quarter of his sophomore year. He didn’t know what he was walking into when he went to private school in Maine.
“The difference kicked my ass,” Tracy said. “They put me in all the upper-level classes that they offered. My grades didn’t suffer, but I had to work twice as hard to maintain what I did in my sophomore year in Florida.”
Junior hockey days
As for hockey, Tracy was the rookie on the team and was handed the typical rookie duties.
“We had to get the pucks out for practice, fi ll water bottles, moving the nets after practice for the Zambonis and other team duties,” Tracy said. “It wasn’t anything crazy like walking over hot fl ames or broken glass. The rookies knew their duties, and we had to do them. We had to earn our keep.” He claims that he’s always been the more introverted type of person. He tended to stay quiet and keep to himself, but there was one person who helped Tracy come out of his shell a little more. Mike Herlihy, now a defenseman on FGCU’s ice hockey team, is originally from Maine and was a veteran on the Portland Junior Pirates when Tracy moved to play with the team. Herlihy was a mentor to Tracy, but they didn’t always stay out of trouble.
“He did some things I would try to stay away from, but kids that age, we’re all going to do stupid stuff,” Tracy said. “I tried to keep my nose clean, but anywhere there’s fun to be had, we knew where to fi nd it.” “We went to dinner at Applebee’s and the rookies had to dress up in underwear and revealing female clothing,” Herlihy said. “We all got kicked out halfway through our meal for getting too rowdy and customers being horrifi ed of the outfi ts.” Tracy said that he went to Maine to play hockey and gain an education, but that hockey was his main focus. There wasn’t much time to socialize. He had a rigid schedule between school and hockey. When he had a break, he spent time with friends and met girls, as most 16-year-old boys do. Tracy learned at an early age about responsibility. He learned to keep himself up on his schoolwork, training for hockey, budgeting money, cooking and cleaning for himself. Many teenagers stay home with their parents until they go to college; Tracy got a jump start on friends he has now who are freshmen away from home for the fi rst time.
Off to college
After Tracy graduated from high school, he stayed in Maine for an extra year playing for the juniors’ team in what he refers to as a “gap year.” During this time, he started getting scouted by colleges around the nation. Long Island University and FGCU were two of the colleges that looked at Tracy. “We had no idea that he was being scouted. It was a surprise for us,” Jill Tracy said. “He turned down a lot of club hockey opportunities at a lot of different colleges. He was holding out for that perfect spot, and he found it. It brought him back home.”
Tracy is not a typical 19-year-old freshman. He’s more mature, responsible and focused. He works, plays hockey for FGCU and for another club men’s league at Germain Arena and attends classes, majoring in fi nance. Watching him play is more than exciting. Seeing the opponent wind up for a slap shot during a power play, when FGCU is short a man on the ice, is usually a tense moment. With Tracy in the net, fans are at ease. He’ll almost always make the save. Tracy’s current record with the team is 7-0. He holds a 1.83 goals against average making, 250 saves out of the 264 shots against him. He plays with a level of skill that he wouldn’t have gained without the experience he had playing for the Portland Junior Pirates.
“If he hadn’t gone to Maine, he absolutely would not be the same player he is today,” Jill Tracy said. “The level of play in the Northeast is so intense. He learned at an early age, so since he’s come back here, he has an advantage because of training with some of the goalie coaches there, who were ex-NHL coaches.”
His friends and family are happy to have him home. Even though he’s moved back to his parents’ house, he continues to maintain the responsibilities he learned years ago. “I don’t feel as independent as I did when I was up there. They did a great job keeping me in line, but now I always have help when I need it because of the support from my parents.” Tracy said. “It’s great being back home, but I can’t eat as much ice cream as I used to because they’ll yell at me. I am juggling school, hockey and my job at a local bank, but my parents are focused on making sure that I’m happy and that I enjoy what I’m doing. And I am happy. I think any time you have success in life, being happy comes with it.”
Now Tracy is one of the starting goalies for FGCU. The hockey players are a team on and off the ice. The team camaraderie is strong and Tracy is always a part of it. This season, the team has its own locker room at Germain Arena. They’ve been building it for three years and now that it is fi nished, the team spends more time together. They stay late and show up early to games and practices so they have the opportunity to spend more time together. They go out together after every Saturday night game, and Tracy always attends the events in which the team participates together. “He has a weird sense of humor sometimes,” said Tracy’s teammate, forward Kevin Zipkin. “I don’t know if it’s dry, but everyone has a normal sense of humor except the goalies. All goalies are weird on every team.”
They spend a lot of time together and he’s brought a dynamic to the team that isn’t seen often. According to Zipkin, Tracy is very mature for his age, a stronger player because of his experience, speaks up often, is hard working and has been a huge contributor to the team. “Even before men’s league, when everyone is hanging out and having fun, he’ll be bouncing balls against the wall for his hand-eye coordination,” Zipkin said. “He doesn’t treat any game differently; it’s always just as serious.”
Tracy doesn’t believe he would have the same opportunities today if he hadn’t gone to play in Portland at such a young age. “I don’t regret any of it. I left home at an early age and it forced me to mature. In Maine, hockey is like religion. I would wake up, go to school and couldn’t wait to get out of school and onto the ice. Every day you’re jumping and excited about getting onto the ice to play. In order to live that life, you have to love this game like I do.”