FGCU hockey: Freezing Eagles face changes this spring

After almost a month off the ice with their teammates, the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s ice hockey team — or at least most of it — returned to Germain Arena on Jan. 5 for its fi rst practice of the semester. Two more practices follow throughout the week before the Eagles take the ice to face the Long Beach 49ers at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10 on Germain Arena’s Blue rink.
Two additional players joined the familiar skaters from the fall semester. There were also several men missing from the ice due to the weather in the northern part of our country.
“We have a couple new faces in the locker room. We’re making some changes with a couple forwards from fi rst semester moving to defense this semester. They look great out there already having switched positions,” said alternate captain Kevin Zipkin. “We were about fi ve guys short for our fi rst practice because of delayed fl ights, traveling and the snow up north. All in all, it was a good practice. I can’t wait until Friday’s game. We need a big second semester, starting with Friday’s game. We’re striving right now for the auto-bid to nationals, instead of having to go to regionals.”
Another change we’ll see on the ice during the second half of the season is two players missing from the D2 lineup. Senior goaltender Ryan Lynch will no longer be the third keeper behind Mike Reed and Tyler Tracy on D2. He will now be playing with FGCU’s D3 team. Defenseman Mike Gutowitz will also be watching his team from the other side of the glass for the second half of the season because of an eligibility issue. Although Lynch only played one game during the fall, carrying only two goalies is a new endeavor for the D2 team.
Teammates and coaches agree that the new additions to the team will be benefi cial. “I see good things coming,” Reed said. “From this point on, every weekend needs to be a big weekend for us. It’s hard to tell in practice what the new additions will look like on the ice during a game. In practice they look like they’re mixing well. We’ll see what happens during the games.”
The team’s captain, Dan Echeverri, was still in Europe playing for the D2 Selects team during Sunday’s practice. It was left to Zipkin and another alternate captain, Myles Neunecker, to lead the team on the ice during practice.
The most diffi cult challenge that the Eagles will face during the second half of the season is their fi rst road games. The Eagles will travel for three games during the weekend of Jan. 17.
“We’ve added a lot of depth. We’re all looking forward to it,” Neunecker said. “Everybody is really fi red up about the second semester; we have a lot of power. We’re looking to come off of two great games this weekend and be ready to go for the road trip. I’m looking forward to working with the players we’ve added. They’re already contributing to the team.” Assistant coach Mike Lendino gave his opinion about the new additions to the team and the relevance of the road games that the Eagles have ahead of them.
“We have a new forward, Mike Chemello, joining us from Canada and a new defenseman, Matt Gross,” Lendino said. “In the eight years I’ve been with the program, we’ve never had a road trip during the second half of the season of this amount of importance. We’re ranked fi rst right now (in the ACHA Southeast Region), and that automatically puts a target on our backs. This is a fairly young team, and our fi rst road trip will be a test for us. I think we’ll be ready and do well, but we’re not underestimating either Liberty or Virginia Tech by any means.”
The team ran more drills than usual for each player because of being short so many men on the ice during the fi rst practice. While the practice involved a lot of skating, the drills demonstrated that the team is not lacking in their style of hard, offensive play. The keepers looked sharp in the net and quick on their skates. Fans should be looking forward to seeing the best of FGCU ice hockey during the spring semester, especially with new talent on the ice.
“I struggled during the last couple years through some injuries. They are giving me a great opportunity to get back on the ice. I’m pretty confi dent in myself, and what I can bring to the line,” Gross said. “I’m a physical player, and stand up for my teammates. I’m a true freshman, starting everything right now at 21 years old. I played in juniors for six years. I came to Florida Gulf Coast University for a variety of reasons. It’s close to home, and being close to my family again is huge after being away for so long with juniors.
“They have a fantastic hockey program,” Gross continued. “I’m all about trying to do something in the South for hockey. Southern hockey doesn’t get as much recognition as it should. I’m originally from New York, and was raised up there. I’m excited to being a contributing member to the recognition FGCU deserves.”
For the next six weekends, FGCU ice hockey fans have a lot to watch. The national tournament won’t be until March, a full month after the regular season ends. Game tickets cost $5 each and FGCU students can get into the games free with their Eagle ID cards.