D3 ice hockey team begins march for national title
The Florida Gulf Coast University hockey team has been working hard in preparation for the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s National Tournament hosted by Florida Atlantic University in Coral Springs. The tournament began March 11 with FGCU playing its first game against the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at 6:30 on Tuesday, winning 5-2.
FGCU is ranked as the No. 1 seed in its pool for the tournament and will face three teams in pool play for three days to determine whether the team will move forward to the semifinals and then finals on March 14 and 15. The teams in FGCU’s pool are Colorado State University (No. 2 in the Pacific region), Hope College (No. 3 in the North region) and University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown (No. 4 in the Atlantic region).
FGCU ended the regular season as the top seed in the South region, clinching an automatic berth to the national tournament, with a record of 19-6. The Eagles’ starting goalies Ryan Lynch and Tyler Toyota have impressive records heading into the tournament. Lynch finished the season 6-2 with a 2.08 GAA. Toyota finished the season 7-0 with a 1.36 GAA. FGCU’s third keeper, Kyle Torres, is 2-2 for the season with a 3.25 GAA. Brett Sutton was the Eagles’ point leader for the season, ending with 35 points total from 23 goals and 12 assists. The team’s captain Mike Piatek holds second place with 28 points for the season from 13 goals and 15 assists.
“We are getting in as many practices as we can the last couple of weeks. The biggest problem at nationals is we’re mostly playing against teams we haven’t played against during the year, which makes preparation very tough for games,” Piatek said. “We practice our systems. During games we hope that the systems we have been practicing will pay off against teams. If not, that’s when coaches are a huge part and need to make changes during the game. The way we have been practicing and the mentality in the locker is amazing right now.
“I’m really excited for next week. I fully believe we can win the first national championship for FGCU’s D3 program. There is a wide variety of guys on our team — from seniors who have been to nationals before to freshman who have never been to nationals. We have the leadership throughout all to bring together a win,” Piatek added.
FGCU began play at 6:30 p.m. March 11 against Pitt-Johnstown. This first game of pool play ended 5-2 in favor of the Eagles. The Icecats’ regular season ended with a record of 25-5, including two shootout losses. Then they beat Penn State University-Altoona and Bryn Athyn College in the regional tournament to win their way into the nationals. Pitt-Johnstown’s starting goalie, Dave Dunkleberger, is 14-6 with a 3.45 GAA. The Icecats’ second keeper, Tyler Mains, is 11-1 with a 4.29 GAA. The top point-holders for Pitt, Eugene Mack and Troy Schall, each have 86 points from the regular season and the regional tournament. However, they also have 70 and 67 penalty minutes — demonstrating that the team may lack discipline when needed. This is something that the Eagles capitalized on when they got an opportunity for a powerplay.
“Other than having our normal practices that we have had all season long, we have added a few extra skates, which have really helped bring the intensity out from all the boys,” said FGCU forward Eric Mabie. “We expect every team we play in Coral Springs to be a highly skilled and talented team. Getting to nationals isn’t easy. Each and every team we will face along the way will bring something different that we haven’t seen before this year. It’s up to us to be prepared for these games and be ready to go. I have full confidence that we will be ready once the puck drops in the first game.”
At 4:30 p.m. March 12, the Eagles will face the Hope College Flying Dutchmen. Hope College ended the regular season 20-3, with all three of their losses coming in overtime or a shootout. Hope College beat Michigan State and Grand Valley in the regional tournament to secure its spot at nationals. The Flying Dutchmen’s starting goalie, Andrew Cook, is 16-5 with a 2.01 GAA. Their second keeper, Eric Lipon, is 1-1 with a 1.32 GAA. The Flying Dutchmen’s top point-holders are similar to those at FGCU, ending the season with points in the 30s. However, unlike Pitt, the top guys have lower penalty minutes. They appear well-disciplined, and FGCU will need to be cautious in taking penalties against the team.
“We’ve been on the ice 3-4 times a week, working different systems to prepare for what each one of these teams will bring,” said FGCU forward Nick Mucerino. “Our chemistry is great. We have four solid lines and great backups, just in case an injury happens. We have good players ready to go. We all want this, we know what it’s going to take, and we’re all ready to put the work in.”
In the final game of pool play, the Eagles will face the Colorado State University Rams at 4 p.m. March 13. The Rams also clinched an automatic berth to the national tournament with their season ending 27-8. CSU’s starting goalie, Nicholas Church, is 17-8 with a 2.5 GAA. Their second keeper, Vince Case, is 4-0 with a 1.97 GAA. The Rams top scorer, Jake Christofferson, has 56 points for the season with 30 goals and 26 assists. The Rams also have low numbers in comparison to Pitt for penalty minutes.
One of the biggest challenges for the Eagles is going to be keeping their composure and staying disciplined on the ice. Giving the other teams an extra-man advantage is going to be crucial in the tournament. They will need to remain wary about retaliation and capitalize on any powerplay advantage they get against the teams they will face. The Eagles will only be facing teams they haven’t played during the regular season until the possibility of playing the University of Miami, the University of Central Florida or Oakland University in the championship game.
“The boys have been getting together a couple days a week. They’re running, hill-climbing, running the stairs, things like that. They’re getting mentally prepared also and trying to focus on what needs to be done on the ice,” said head coach Josh Onyschuk. “We’ve been scouting the teams we’re going to face, so we have an idea of what to expect. We know the first team we face is pretty good. We’re the No. 1 seed against the No. 4, but they’re a top-notch team right out of the gate. Then we play Hope, which is probably one of the top teams in the country — skating and being well-disciplined. Then Colorado, our third game, is a different style of play—top hard-hitting. So we’ve been talking to the boys about what to expect… It’s obviously hard to play against teams we haven’t played before. But with our skating ability and the way we can take away time and space, we’re in a good spot.”
FGCU fans can come watch the D3 Eagles in the tournament on the east coast. A link for the 2014 ACHA Division III National Tournament is listed at the bottom of this article. The site lists the entire schedule for the tournament, the results of the regional tournament and a list of hotel options near the arena with contact information and prices. Admission prices are not listed. Please contact the Panther’s IceDen at 954-341-9956 for information about single game tickets, full day passes and entire tournament passes. For those who can’t travel to watch the “Freezing Eagles” live, the website listed allows fans to watch the live web feed of the games through fasthockey.com. The Link is: achahockey.org/page.php?page_id=59563