The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s Div. 2 hockey team crushed the Northern Illinois University Huskies in a two-game series on Friday, Oct. 18 and Saturday, Oct. 19 at Germain Arena.
On Friday, the Green and Blue came onto the ice strong with a high-speed offense ,creating immediate scoring opportunities for the team. Inside of the first five minutes of the period, Dan Echeverri scored his first goal of the night. The Huskies’ starting goalie, Alex Hare, managed to hold the Eagles to a single goal until the 17th minute of play when Ryan McAleese added another one to the board for FGCU, ending the period 2-0.
“It’s my fourth year with the team but I’ve been injured the last two seasons,” McAleese said. “So this year it feels good being able to play for my last year with the team. We’re coming together well. We’re looking to go all the way this year.”
Nick Schilson added a goal for the Eagles during the eighth minute of the second period. The next two goals in the second period came inside of eight minutes and both from captain Dan Echeverri, giving him his second hat trick of the season. The period closed out with a score of 5-1 when Huskies’ player, Mark Greenburg, snuck one in past FGCU’s starting goaltender, Mike Reed. Friday night, Reed made a total of 29 saves for the Eagles.
“If it wasn’t for our goaltender, we would have probably been behind after the first period. Mike Reed was absolutely spectacular,” head coach Bob Brinkworth said. “Once we started scoring some goals, things opened up. The defense improves every game. They create time and opportunities for the forwards to break out. They (the Huskies) played very well in our end of the ice.”
Only four minutes into the period, Bryan Valancy added the sixth goal against the Huskies. During the 11th minute of the period, Myles Neunecker knocked one past the opponent’s keeper to add to the Eagles’ lead.
“Being a newcomer to this club and listening to the veterans talk about what the team was like last year, the commitment just wasn’t there versus what we look like this year,” Neunecker said. “I love playing with these guys– we’re one of the closest knit teams I’ve played on. We have great chemistry and can only get better from here.”
When Jack Emmer scored during the 12th minute of the period, NIU pulled their starting keeper and brought in a replacement, Johnny Perillo. With three minutes left on the clock, the Eagles went on a power play, and Kevin Zipkin scored the final goal for the night, ending the game 9-1 for the Green and Blue. The Eagles outshot their opponent 46-30 and racked up 27 penalty minutes while the Huskies only earned 20. Coach Brinkworth still worries about the aggression of the team when provoked by their opponent.
“Once you get a team down, you have to play smart,” Brinkworth said. “We didn’t in the second period. There’s no excuse, when you’re up 5-0, to start taking stupid penalties. It’s something we’re going to have to continue to work on because it just can’t continue to happen. I had a serious talk with the team, and they responded with discipline and a great third period.”
On Saturday night, the Eagles expected the Huskies to play much harder, being eager to even things up in a rematch. Starting goaltender for NIU, Nick Bonin, managed to keep the Green and Blue off the board for the first 10 minutes of play until Colton Bailey scored his first goal of the night. Bailey’s second goal for the game came only four minutes later, bringing the Eagles up 2-0 to end the first period.
“The team’s better than we ever expected it to be. Our team is coming together strongly, and we’ve worked hard to get it to that point. We have a lot of good chemistry this year,” Bailey said. “There’s a lot of communication. The lines are gelling together really well even though we’ve lost a lot of guys to injuries. Facing Liberty next weekend is going to be a tough challenge but I think we’re more than ready, and we definitely have the ability to win both games.”
In the last six games, it has been a trend for the Eagles to come out hard and fast during the second period. Logan Garst opened the flood gate when he scored his goal during the third minute of the period. Dan Echeverri scored another goal for FGCU during the sixth minute of play, and Bryan Valancy added a fifth goal to the board only 30 seconds later. The Green and Blue went on a power play immediately after Valancy scored, and it didn’t take long for the Eagles to capitalize on the opportunity. The FGCU power play unit has been a powerful force for the team with roughly a quarter of their goals scored this season being on the power play. Dan Echeverri scored his second goal of the night and 26th point of the season with 12 minutes left in the period.
“I feel great but it’s not about me.” Echeverri said. “It’s about the whole team. I am so impressed with these guys. They keep coming out, keep going and just don’t stop. I’m here to be a leader. The defensive end of the team is incredibly solid. We’re only allowing, on average, one goal a game. Our goalies have been great, and the defense has been doing an amazing job. I could never complain about this team.”
Five minutes into the third period, McAleese added to the Eagles’ tally and the two teams traded shots for anther nine minutes. The Huskies managed to get their lone goal on the board from player Brian Pounds. The Eagles came back only two minutes later and Jack Emmer scored the final goal of the night, ending the game 8-1 for the Green and Blue. FGCU more than doubled NIU in shots, putting up 45 to NIU’s 22. As for penalty minutes, the Eagles gained 10 and the Huskies earned 26. Tyler Tracy was the starting goaltender for FGCU on Saturday and made a total of 21 saves. In all of Tracy’s time on the ice, he’s never allowed more than one goal to get in the net behind him.
“At this point, the coaching staff expects perfection, and I think it shows on our team that we expect perfection of ourselves now also,” Tracy said. “We have to keep going, keep working and never let up. We just have to continue plugging away.”
FGCU faces the Liberty University Flames at 8:30 p.m., on Friday and Saturday on Germain Arena’s Blue rink.
The Eagles will also be having their “Friends and Family” weekend this Friday and Saturday. The Partners for Breast Cancer Care, Inc. have been at every game to collect donations, pass out literature and support the Eagles wearing pink jerseys for breast cancer awareness. This weekend, the Eagles will be giving out pink paper helmets to attendees who make $2 donations to the non-profit organization. Also, they will hold a silent auction for jerseys immediately following the end of Saturday’s game. The FGCU hockey club decided to work with the non-profit over other breast cancer foundations because nearly all of the money PBCC collects goes to help residents in Lee County.
“Supporting breast cancer awareness is great under any circumstances,” said general manager Richard Snizek. “But it’s important to know that our organization is working with a partner that raises money to contribute directly to the residents who need help inside of our own community.”