The Florida Gulf Coast University hockey club concluded its season last weekend. The DII team almost claimed a perfect season. However, U Mass Amherst gave FGCU a rough weekend. The Eagles went to overtime Friday night against the Minutemen. Mike Chemello scored the game-winning goal, giving the Eagles their 26th win. However, Saturday night, the Eagles went down 3-1 in the second period and couldn’t climb back from the deficit, losing their only game of the season.
“Season to season, we play a different number of games,” said Matt Maida, FGCU hockey director of communications. “This is the first time in program history, 14 seasons, that we’ve only had one loss. So yes, it’s definitely our best season yet in terms of wins and losses.”
The FGCU ice hockey DII team won the National Championship in 2012. The following season, the Eagles had such a poor season that they did not qualify for post-season play.
According to Maida, FGCU began rebuilding the entire club last season. Some of the players that the Eagles added to the roster helped to get the team to the national championship game last season. Unfortunately, the Eagles lost to the University of New Hampshire. However, there are far worse things than being the No. 2 team in the nation in its division.
“Our expectations for this year are to be playing in the national championship game again,” Maida said. “We have a lot of work to do to get there. There’s a lot of mental preparation that needs to be done. Obviously, they will practice and keep conditioned between now and the national tournament. A lot of this is going to come down to mental preparation. That loss, disappointing as it may be, is going to be motivation for them. The guys are going to be hungrier.”
Maida brought up the difficulties that the team faced in the beginning of the year — not getting financing from Student Government and not knowing if the team would even be able to play an entire season. He said that he’s very impressed that the players did not let the financing issue distract them.
“FGCU hockey is not just a club sport,” Maida said. “The hockey team is a part of our local culture. If you don’t attend an FGCU hockey game when you’re in town to visit, you’re a student or prospective student or just a fan, then you’re missing out on a big part of our community.”
According to coach Bob Brinkworth, one of the biggest differences between how the team performed this season compared to other seasons is the size of the defense.
“Last season, our tallest defenseman was 5-foot-11,” Brinkworth said. “This year we have guys who are 6-foot-1 to 6-foot-7. We can play differently in our own end because of the size of our defensemen.”
Brinkworth also said that a difference is the depth on the team, saying that the skating ability and the skill set of the forwards this year is an improvement from last year.
“Every line can score,” Brinkworth said. “Our lines run deep.”
Both teams have secured a spot at the national tournament. The DII team will travel to the national championships in Salt Lake City on March 20. Right now, the team is missing three key players due to injury. Brinkworth said that everyone should be healthy by the time the tournament begins.
The DIII team heads to Alabama for its national tournament March 10. The DII FGCU hockey team is one of only two teams to ever win a national championship for the university. The club has another chance to bring home a championship to FGCU this season.