Ice Bulls eyeing playoffs in ‘16

The Ice Bulls lost the opening two games of 2016 to the University of Tampa. 

As USF’s “Ice Bulls” hockey club sports team gets ready to start the season, excitement buzzes around the players for more than just the typical preseason anxiousness to get back on the ice: the Ice Bulls will have a new home later on this season. 

The team currently calls the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex home, a full 46-mile drive from the USF’s Tampa campus. 

The Ice Bulls will soon be making a far shorter commute to practice and home games once the new rink in Wesley Chapel — Hospital Center Ice Arena — is completed. 

However, they do not yet have a specific date set for their first game in the new rink.

“I’ve heard October and I’ve heard January,” team captain Daniel Hoeflich said. “We know that we’re supposed to be playing there and that we’ll have a locker room, but haven’t heard much else.”

While the senior forward is excited to be playing much closer to campus, he is also looking forward to another successful season on the ice following a 16-14-1 season in 2015 with the Ice Bulls qualifying for the regional playoffs. 

According to Hoeflich, it isn’t as unexpected to find the necessary talent to make a serious run in the playoffs.

“There is a pretty big hockey following in the state,” Hoeflich said. “What I’ve noticed is that it isn’t necessarily the quality of the players are less down here, it’s just the quantity of quality players obviously isn’t the same as up north.”

The team decided against taking the opportunity to play in the post season due to internal team issues in 2015, but this year the team plans to jump on every opportunity.

“If we don’t make nationals this year, then it’ll be considered a disappointment,” senior alternate captain Huw Baveystock said. “The University of Tampa had their breakout season last year, making it to nationals and we’ve pretty much had the advantage up to this point. Now, it’s more neck and neck.” 

The University of Tampa is the Ice Bulls’ local rival and the team felt the sting from watching the Spartans make such a deep run in the playoffs. 

The team’s season-opening series against the Spartans was the first thing circled on their calendar, but UT prevailed in both games, 5-3 and 4-2, respectively. The team will travel to Orlando on Friday to take on UCF before returning to Ellenton on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. game. 

“I think these two weekends are a good test for us,” Baveystock said. “We’re pretty evenly matched. I know last year we went back and forth with UCF and I know we lost to UT once, but we only played two times. They’re always pretty good battles.”