For the second year in a row, USF’s club hockey team is heading to the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) nationals in Dallas.
That’s an achievement on its own, but it’s the second time in a row the Bulls have bypassed regionals entirely thanks to an autobid, earned by finishing in one of the top two spots in the ACHA South region.
The Bulls were knocked out of nationals in pool play last season to eventual-champion Sault College. USF, which also won the Southern Collegiate Hockey Conference tournament on Feb. 9, is looking to make the most of this year’s trip to Dallas by making a deeper run in the national tournament.
“It would kind of be the exclamation point to my four years here,” senior goaltender Sam Coleman said. “Really cool to win the conference earlier in the year, but definitely the nationals is the one that we’re all here for.”
Senior forward Kenny Weightman wants to make up for the past years the Bulls have dropped out of the tournament earlier than planned.
“It was honestly really cool to win the conference championship,” Weightman said. “All four years I’ve been here, we’ve made it to the final and it didn’t end up in our favor and this year it actually happened, so it’s all coming together.”
“It’d be awesome to go out on a high note.”
The Bulls have a longer break than usual though. Their last regular-season game was against Miami on Feb. 15, while nationals start March 24.
The autobid gives USF more chances to practice, but also time to get some much needed rest, according to Coleman.
“It’s nice to have this stretch off. It does wonders for our recovery,” he said. “We’ve got some guys that are banged up and healing some stuff.”
While USF’s success this season has been a result of work on the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been beating the drum for the Bulls off the ice, which could help them in the long run.
“When we won the [conference] championship, we got to go out on the ice … with the trophy,” Weightman said. “They’re pumping our social media and trying to get the word out there for any USF fan or any Lightning fan or any hockey fan in general.”
More eyes on the Bulls means more chances to raise money for the student-funded team, which is especially important in the postseason, according to Weightman.
“This time of year, especially when we make the tournament, [is] difficult to raise money,” he said. “We collect for everything up to this point and then getting past this point we’ve got to figure something out.”
Putting eyes on the team and success go hand in hand. Confidence is the glue that holds it together — Weightman believes USF has what it takes to lift the trophy.
“It’s a different feeling in the locker room and it’s a different feeling on the ice,” he said. “I’ve never felt as confident or as good about our shot as I do this year.”