Ice Bulls embrace Colorado trip

The USF Ice Bulls visit Pikes Peak near Colorado Springs, Colo. The Ice Bulls’ trip to Colorado also included two games against the Air Force Academy. COURTESY USF HOCKEY/ SEAN BROSNAN

Some road trips are cooler than others.

Literally, in the case of the Ice Bulls’ latest.

USF’s club hockey team is fresh off a trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the temperatures were a bit milder than in Tampa.

“The first two days we were there, it was like 60s and 70s — it was actually really nice … the guys from up north were wearing some shorts,” junior defenseman Scott Nelson said. “The last day, it was snowing actually when we were flying out, so our plane got delayed about an hour for deicing.

“But I think it was just absolutely beautiful. The snow up in the mountains is — you can’t really describe it unless you’re there.”

But it was a figuratively cool trip, too, as the team was in the Centennial State to play two games against the Air Force Academy’s club team Oct. 26 and 27. Playing against Air Force — or even just seeing cadets in uniform at a football game, like the Ice Bulls did — was a special experience.

“We’re very thankful for these guys,” Nelson said. “Even though they’re our enemies on the ice, they’re our heroes out in the real world. They’re risking their lives for us. So just to see them around, like walking around campus or we even got to see a group of them at the football game, it just makes us thankful for them.”

It was also a good experience for USF on the ice, as Air Force’s play was very intense and disciplined.

“They’re very intense, very structured,” freshman defenseman Keith Moss said. “You could tell, especially during the national anthem, how just zoned in they were. There were all blank faces, just really zoned in.

“But it was amazing to see after the games, when we went through the [handshake] lines, just how open they were. They were always, ‘Good luck. Safe travels back. Thanks for coming up.’ Just really warm-hearted.”

The trip itself was a great early-season experience for the Ice Bulls, who won’t travel out of Florida again this season unless they qualify for nationals.

“It was cool to make that trip and bond with the rest of the guys,” sophomore forward Zack Slezak said, “as well as obviously play a team that’s essentially serving our country. Overall, it’ll be something I’m sure none of us will forget.”

The Ice Bulls went 1-1 during their Colorado trip, and while they would have liked to have gone 2-0, according to Nelson, their come-from-behind victory Oct. 27 is the only loss on Air Force’s 7-1 record. 

“They’re going to probably be a top seed to Nationals, and we went 1-1 with them,” Nelson said. “I think we’ve got a pretty good outlook on the rest of our season that hopefully, we can also get a bye to Nationals like them.”

Now back in Florida, the Ice Bulls are getting ready for their annual Hockey Fights Cancer night when they play Florida Gulf Coast on Friday at 8:45 p.m. at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

The Ice Bulls will be wearing special jerseys and holding raffles to help fight cancer, which has become an annual tradition not just for them, but also in the NHL.

“Cancer affects all of us,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty sure everybody’s got a family member that’s affected by it in one way or another. So it’s really big for us to get a big group out there fanwise.”

While the Ice Bulls only play one home game in November, AdventHealth Center Ice will also be participating in cancer fundraising throughout the month.

“The rink dedicates a lot of time and resources to pretty much the months of October and even November,” Slezak said, “raising awareness about cancer and hosting a lot of events for that. So this will be kind of like a big premiere event that they like to talk about.”

Admission to Hockey Fights Cancer night, like all Ice Bulls home games, is free.