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Eagles hockey team shipping up to Boston for nationals

Every player has one goal in mind for the Florida Gulf Coast University ice hockey team — winning the national championship. After a record-breaking weekend against Wagner College during which FGCU outscored Wagner 26-1 in the series, the Eagles have clinched an automatic bid to the tournament in Marlborough, Mass. Not only has FGCU clinched the tournament berth, but the Eagles have earned all 11 votes from the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s ranking committee for the No. 1 spot in the Southeast region.

The Eagles have had a record season. With a younger team, comprised of many new recruits, only three of the current D2 hockey players played on the team who won the national championship in 2012.

After Saturday night’s final game of the season, senior forward Kevin Zipkin said, “We’re just having a lot of fun on the ice. We’re all really excited about nationals at this point. These five weeks are going to make us or break us, but hopefully, everybody keeps their mindset on the championship, and playing five more games together.”

Saturday night brought more records in a single game than FGCU has set all season long. For the first time this season, FGCU had three players — Logan Garst, Ryan McAleese and Dillon Duprey — score four goals each. The team’s captain, Dan Echeverri, scored his 100th point.

The Eagles also had a season-high 16-1 win over the Wagner Seahawks. FGCU went onto the ice with power, speed, agility and fortitude. The Eagles showed unstoppable elements in the final game of the season that proved this is a championship-bound team. They wrapped all of their hard work into one incredible game. It was a match that showed every area where the Eagles have strength going into the national tournament. They capitalized on their power play; they showed discipline on the penalty kill; they played the defensive zone strong; the offense showed depth and scoring-power with 14 different players having a point in the game. The Eagles finished the regular season 26-2-1. “We’re looking great going to nationals, I think,” senior forward Anthony Yezey said. “We’re doing the right things, concentrating on the right things. These last five weeks are going to be good for us. I think everybody is going to be ready to play by the time we get there. I’m really looking forward to it as a senior and a leader. We have so much depth on this team, it’s ridiculous.

“One guy who plays for Wagner played with us in Philly last year for the All-Star tournament,” Yezek continued. “He said something tonight about the team’s depth and how every line can score. It’s great to hear it from other teams. It’s a huge compliment for us, even though we see it; it’s great to know everyone else can also. This team has so much talent and work ethic.” The Eagles have strived for this opportunity. They have worked hard and gave gotten progressively better as the season continued. The team has grown closer both on and off the ice. It shows. The intensity that the team has demonstrated on the ice in the last few weekends of the season shows that this is a team that is planning on going every inch of distance that it takes to win a national title. For the three seniors, they’re ecstatic about the possibility of earning a second championship for the team. The new guys are just as excited about the possibility of beginning their careers at FGCU with a national title. The argument that the team is faced with now is rest versus rust. Is having five weeks off without competitive play against teams they’re unfamiliar with going to make or break the guys?

“We need to figure out what we’re going to do for those weeks to stay fresh and on our game,” said assistant coach Mike Lendino. “We’ll probably have some Blue versus Green games, some of the veterans might come back to play in those, me being one of them. It’s really hard to have five weeks off between our last game and the first game of the national tournament, so we’re going to do some creative things to keep everybody fresh.”

The FGCU D2 hockey team leaves for the national tournament on March 20 before its first game of pool play on March 21. Until the tournament, Eagle News plans to keep you posted with player profiles and the teams’ expectations of heading to the tournament. The D3 Eagles have also possibly secured the berth to the national tournament. The ACHA has not released the final ranking period for the end of the season. However, during the last ranking period, FGCU D3 was in second place, giving them an auto-bid. Since that ranking period, the Eagles have only lost one game. They have definitely secured a spot going to the regional tournament. Things are looking up for the D3 Eagles calculating their own chances for being the first or second seed with an automatic berth to the national tournament in Coral Springs on March 11.

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