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A grounded community on ice

The Ice Bulls faced their fiercest rival, the University of Tampa Spartans, at Amalie Arena on Sunday. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/XOE BERGMAN

The rumbling of palms crashing against the glass drowns out chants of “Go Bulls,” contributing to the atmosphere inside the arena at a USF club hockey game. 

The Ice Bulls (8-8-1) have carved out a tight-knit community within the USF student body, and not just for those who wear the skates, but for fans and others involved with the club on a day-to-day basis.

For the student-athletes, it not only gives them an opportunity to play the sport they love, but make long-lasting connections that will extend beyond their playing days.

“It’s allowed me to make a lot of new friends since it’s my first year,” said freshman defenseman Owen Welch. “So it gave me that opportunity to meet some new people.”

For others, like senior forward Ivan Bronnikov from Russia, the team aids in adjusting to such a drastic change of scenery from their lives before college by providing a sense of family.

“First of all, it’s a team and everybody supports each other in the worst moments and in the best moments,” he said. “I feel like that’s pretty much what family is about, and being away from home obviously. It’s not that easy, but [I’ve found a] substitute for a family with these boys.”

In his five years on the roster, graduate student forward and alternate captain Kenneth Weightman created everlasting experiences and relationships with his teammates.

“Being a part of the USF ice hockey club is one of the highlights of my college experience,” he said. “I’ve had so much fun, great times and great memories with this club. Moving down from [New Jersey], this club gave me a great group of friends that I have bonded with since the first week of my freshman year. I wouldn’t trade this group of friends I have made for anything in the world.

“I have had so many opportunities because of the people I have met through this club that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

Senior defenseman Scot Nelson has been part of club hockey since he arrived at USF and it has been extremely valuable to him. As team captain, he has prioritized not only performing on the ice, but also fostering group chemistry away from it. 

[There is a focus on] off-ice bonding. Whether it is a road trip or an off weekend, our team has a lot of fun together and we all get along really well,” Nelson said. “I’ve been playing hockey pretty much my whole life and I’ve never seen a team bond and gel together quite like this one.”

The bond and sense of community is also felt by those who work in the team operations, media and content creation.

The Ice Bulls host an in-house team to conduct their broadcasting and media, allowing students to gain significant experience in different positions for their aspiring careers in the industry.

Junior Matthew Perry is aiming for a career in play-by-play announcing, and the chance to sharpen his skills in hockey was one he couldn’t pass up.

“It’s been an opportunity that I’m very grateful for,” he said. “Before USF hockey, I had never called a hockey game before, just baseball and softball. Hockey is one of my favorite sports, so it’s been really fun getting to learn a different aspect of sports broadcasting, especially through a game I’m very passionate about.”

Away from the microphone, junior Alexa Hilston is the creative source behind the team’s social media graphics. 

“I am entirely self-taught in graphic design,” she said. “[So working for the Ice Bulls ensures] that my graphic design skills are where they need to be. I like to model [my work] after the [Tampa Bay Lightning] and other NHL teams’ [graphic design], so just having this opportunity to keep doing something I love as well as continuing just to build my skills [is great].” 

Sitting on the other side of the glass surrounding the rink are a fervent group of fans who bring a palpable electricity to each home game at AdventHealth Center Ice.

Senior Madison Huneke appreciates the unique atmosphere at home games, something she believes is not replicated at other USF sports.

“[Fans are more involved at hockey games] than the football games because there’s just more of an energy-based connection with the team,” she said. “It’s very enjoyable at the football games, but there’s a lot more of a fanbase and energy at a hockey game.”  

Even after leaving the friendly confines of the arena, fans become friends around campus with a unique connection.

“USF Hockey has had a very big impact on my time [at USF] because I’ve met tons of people that I’ve carried friendships with,” Huneke said. “I’m still friends with a bunch of [fans] I’ve met and we all just kind of know each other. It’s kind of like a little family.” 

The Ice Bulls may not be a Division I team just yet, but its impact on lives, careers and school spirit brings together all kinds of people in the USF community. 

USF Club Hockey‘s next home game is scheduled for Jan. 28 hosting Delaware at 7 p.m.