A South American native is the last person you would expect to captain a college ice hockey team. Daniel Echeverri, born in Medellin, Columbia, came to South Florida when he was 6 years old. He didn’t immediately become involved in hockey. However, when he did, he became engulfed in his love for the sport and the competition. He began playing roller hockey with his friends in Weston, Fla. He didn’t move into ice hockey until he was 11 years old. His inspiration for playing hockey was the popularity of the sport during his formative years when the Florida Panthers made their debut in the Stanley Cup Championship. “It was really popular around South Florida during that year, and I just decided to pick up playing hockey,” Echeverri said.
He started playing in the recreational league before moving into playing with a travel team, the Weston Wildcats. He continued his hockey career into his high school years. He played for the Cypress Bay High School ice team and travel team. He also played for the Junior Panthers and the Golden Wolves. After he graduated from high school, he went to college full-time before taking two years off to play in some junior leagues, including one in Philadelphia for a year, before returning to South Florida. When he came back to Florida, he came to the west coast.
“I played for the Junior Everblades here in Southwest, Fla., and decided to stay,” Echeverri said. “Playing in juniors was much different than playing for the ACHA or at the college level. It’s more aggressive. There’s fighting allowed. Guys will just try to go out there and kill somebody. That happens, you get in a fight, and you both go to the box for five minutes. It was a completely different experience. I lived in apartments with the other guys on the team in Philadelphia. It was great meeting different guys from different areas.”
Echeverri began Florida Gulf Coast University in spring of 2012 for school and joined the hockey team. That year the FGCU ice hockey team won the National Championship title. Echeverri was a major role player in the team’s win and became captain for the 2012-2013 season of FGCU ice hockey, which is where he’s remained this season. During that season, Echeverri along with Kevin Zipkin and Anthony Yezek went to an ACHA All Star Tournament and became known as the “Sunshine Line.” “It was a lot of fun. It was a good experience to meet other guys around the league from other teams,” Echeverri said. “It’s pretty easy how 20 guys can get together, be close and move on from there. Our team had a great bond, and we were one of the best teams there. It was awesome.”
D2 selects in Europe
Over the previous winter break this school year and hockey season, Echeverri was selected to play on the ACHA D2 Selects team. The team traveled to Europe for 10 days to play hockey in different countries; five games against teams from Slovakia, Germany, Slovenia and Austria. “I’ve never done anything like that. Europe was a great time. It was a lot of fun. We all got along and were all skilled hockey players,” Echeverri said. “We landed in Austria. From there we went to the Czech Republic and stayed there for three days. We stopped in Salzburg for about a day and a half. We were in Munich for two and a half days. We went to play a game in Brataslava. Then we went back to Vienna.”
Even though he said it was a lot of traveling and playing hockey, they did get to expand their trip with a lot of tours, bringing an additional experience to the trip. They experienced not just playing hockey against teams in Europe, but also a cultural learning experience of the places they visited. They played a game, hung out with the boys at night and woke up early for tours, then games at night.
“We did a lot of tours. Munich and Salzberg were unbelievable,” Echeverri said. “We also went to Bled. Bled was just incredible. It was a good time.”
Echeverri credits his brother with being one of the most supportive people in his life and his career in hockey. His 29-year-old brother played hockey as a goalie at one point, but he was older when he got into hockey and now he just plays for fun. “My brother has been through everything with me. He drove me to practice,” Echeverri said. “He went to all of my games when I was growing up. Still to this day he supports me and just wants to see me succeed. He’s very successful in his life right now also. I look up to him. He’s my idol.” He says that his parents are also very supportive. He claims that it’s different for them because in Columbia they don’t play hockey. They come from the east coast of Florida every other weekend to watch his games.
“Even though it’s different, they love the fact that they’ve seen me change as an individual and have watched me grow up through the sport,” Echeverri said.
The FGCU D2 hockey team traveled to Virginia for their only road trip of the regular season Jan. 15-20. They won two of the three games they played in Virginia. They won against the Liberty Flames in the first game of the series in Lynchburg, but lost in the second game. Then they beat Virginia Tech on Jan. 19 in Roanoke. Even though Echeverri claims to prefer home games, he says that road trips can be a lot of fun and bring the team closer together. “The bus broke down. I was sleeping, and I woke up thinking, ‘This bus ride is really smooth,’” Echeverri said. “I looked out the window, and all I could see was parking lot. We were somewhere outside of Jacksonville.”
Echeverri claims to be a decent vocal leader but is more of an “on-the-ice leader.” If he’s not playing his game right, he goes on the ice and throws a big hit or makes a good pass. He likes to lead by example. He’s also a humble captain who knows when the team is not in line with its best game play. He can reflect on the things that went wrong, evaluate the situation and still see the silver lining. He believes in the team and wants to make sure that they stay disciplined and focused on the end goal of winning another National Championship.
“We didn’t come as prepared as we should have against Liberty in that second game, and that’s what happens. We need to be focusing on games a day prior to the game, not the hour of the game,” Echeverri said. “It was good that we got that loss. It was a wake-up call, and it’s better that it came before nationals. Now we know what it’s like to lose. We also showed great adversity when we were down 6-0 and brought the score up to 6-5. How many teams can do that? It’s a great sign.”
Hockey is Echeverri’s life and one true passion. He uses the ice to help him get through problems and clear his mind. He goes to skate or shoot; the ice is his safe haven. He idolizes players who do incredible things in the game and said that helped him fall in love with the sport. Although he’s majoring in resort and hospitality, hockey is not something he’s willing to give up anytime soon. During his senior year he will continue to play hockey for FGCU, and for as long as he can continue playing, he will. He’s been pretty lucky in not sustaining as many injuries as other players. When he gets on the ice, it’s his domain, and the idea of injury doesn’t cross his mind. He just plays. “I want to see where my hockey career can take me. Maybe play semi-pro in the states or go play pro in Europe,” Echeveri said. “The opportunity for experience is always there, but I will play for as long as I can, and get a career out of what I love to do.”
As the captain, highest scorer and potentially the star player for FGCU, he knows that he often has a target on his back for rivals. He’s mature enough to know that some opponents will go after him because of who he is. But he knows that he isn’t going to retaliate against them and be penalized. He doesn’t want to do anything on the ice to possibly hurt his team, such as going to the box for a penalty and sending the other team on the powerplay. He often draws penalties, giving his team the extra-man advantage. “I tell the new guys who join the team not to look at this as ‘just club hockey.’ I treat it like my livelihood, and I think that the guys who are on the team now have their heads in the same place. It shows based on where we are in the season and the power we’re bringing to the league.”
FGCU has held the number one ranking in the ACHA for the majority of the 2013- 2014 season. Echeverri is a huge contributor to how far the team has come and where they are heading. As long as they hold onto the No. 1 ranking for the next four games, FGCU will get the automatic bid to the National Tournament in Boston in March. The entire team’s focus is on the five games in March that will bring another National Title to FGCU.
“I love hockey,” Echeverri said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for the game or the
Junior captain Daniel Echeverri skates up ice against the University of Missouri. EN Photo/Jill Himmelfarb