It isn’t often that a club team has the opportunity to go on the road in a different part of the country. In this case, the men’s club ice hockey team had an opportunity to travel to Florida to play last year’s ACHA national champions, Florida Gulf Coast University.
The Owls won twice against the former national champions in tight match-ups resulting in two close one-goal difference thrillers: 4-3 the first game, and 5-4 the second game.
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Senior Captain Pat Sullivan said the team had planned the trip at the last half of last year and were ready to go. Sullivan said he wasn’t expecting a sweep in the two-game series. But he added that as soon as the team stepped on the ice in the first game, their confidence level was at an all-time high.
“It’s an intimidating setting believe it or not because you are down in Florida and you are playing hockey, which are two things aren’t likely to happen in a normal week at school,” Sullivan said. He added, “It’s still the same hockey rink, still same ice, you just have to realize they aren’t the big bad bullies, [but] the best of the best.”
“The big fact here, is that we are the only team to sweep them down there in the last five years. They haven’t been stopped in five years,” Sullivan said.
Another member of the team, Andrew Pierce joined the Owls at the beginning of the fall semester.
“I just thought it was club hockey, you just travel around this area, I never expected to go down to Florida,” Pierce said. “The guys that played before me—they made it all possible with their hard work.”
Pierce said bringing a strong mentality that you are better than the opponent and that you are going to beat them helps with the intimidation factor of playing a former national champion. “You are going to win every puck, you just got to win the battles, do the small things right and you will be successful, and you just got to do that for 60 minutes, not 50, not 55, the full 60 in order to win the game,” Pierce said.
KSC Club Hockey Head Coach Bobby Rodrigue said playing the defending champion is certainly challenging. Rodrigue said the team took them to play right from the opening face-off and never looked back.
“Both games were close finishes which is exciting. Both games I think we felt really happy for our guys. Those were pretty big statements for our guys to make,” Rodrigue said. He added that his opponents were gracious hosts and it was an honor for his team to be able to watch the national championship ceremony.
Florida Gulf Coast University raised their championship banner and also presented the players with championship rings. Pat Sullivan said, “[there were] probably close to 1,000 people there.”
Rodrigue also said, “They traveled well, they were actually pretty positive and pretty well liked as far as where we went; in the hotel and the airport and on the plane and restaurant and the rink. The guys represented the college really nicely,” Rodrigue said.
“In terms of what went well and what didn’t go well down in Florida, I think we were certainly happy that we stayed out of the penalty box. And we played a far more physical game than they did, and I think that helped in the long run,” Rodrigue said.
“We let it stay close. When we had the leads, we didn’t expand on them. The strongest thing coming out of this weekend was goalie performance and our goalies being able to have the pressure on them and being able to respond to it,” Sullivan said.
He added, “There was no one line or two or three different players that won this. It was constant efforts of goals scored, shots blocked, and hustle plays throughout all the five lines and all the defense men.”
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