UT Hockey Heats Up the Ice

Published: Oct 22, 2010
The chill of the hockey rink contrasted sharply with the 80 degree weather outside on a recent morning. It didn’t seem to bother the UT hockey team, whose dense pads – and the constant skating, racing from one end of the rink to the other during a recent scrimmage – kept them sweating.

The team has enjoyed the start of its inaugural season, thanks to the work of Leif Benner ’12.

“I knew a lot of guys who wanted to play, so I thought I’d start a team,” said Benner, the team captain.

After about a year of paperwork, securing a coach and becoming a member of the American College Hockey Association as a Division III team, Benner said the effort was worth it.

“I’m excited to be on the ice,” said Benner, a psychology major.

Of the 26 guys (and one woman) on the team, all have played high school hockey, were involved with travel teams or currently play in local men’s leagues. Benner said he wasn’t sure what kind of talent he’d find at UT, but he’s been pleasantly surprised. Like Benner, who is from Chicago, the majority are from northern states where hockey is imbedded in the culture.

Mark Baccoli ’12, an exercise science major, is from Rochester, NY, where he grew up on the ice. When he came to UT, he joined the roller hockey club, until his academic schedule made it impossible to continue. When he heard the ice hockey team was forming, he jumped at the chance.

“I didn’t anticipate getting to play hockey when I came to college, and it was one of the things I missed most,” said Baccoli, a goalie.

Axel Aspeborg ’14 grew up in Sweden and attended high school in Spain. He came to UT with the intention of majoring in communication. He writes for a Swedish sports website, so he chose a university in a city with a National Hockey League team. Aspeborg has changed his major to sport management, but he created the UT team’s website. Having skated since he was 3, Aspeborg is happy to be back on the ice.

“It’s turned out, I love the intensity and the fact that you don’t have to be the biggest guy to be good,” said Aspeborg. “It’s about how you see the ice.”

Not all the teammates are from northern states. James Beckett ’14, a graphic design major, is from Melbourne, FL, and played competitively until an injury sidelined him in high school.

“These guys are skating at a level I was at when I was playing competitively,” Beckett said, “but their knowledge of the game is a lot better.”

Dr. Stephen Kucera, an associate professor of biology, coaches the UT team with assistant coach Dr. Eric Sikorski, an assistant biology professor. They are joined by fitness coach Dr. Jacob Wilson, a UT assistant professor of exercise science and sports studies, who also works with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the fitness assessment and conditioning program for their players. Anthony Graniero, a University of South Florida Ice Bulls alumnus, is the goalie coach.

Aside from years of playing competitively, including on a men’s league he is active with now, Kucera has coached youth hockey and soccer. He leads a carpool across town twice a week to get to the 7:45 a.m. practices at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar.

Even though they leave before the sun rises, Kucera said the guys are never late. For them – when an 8 a.m. chemistry class can be a challenge – getting up at dawn is nothing. They’d do anything to skate.

It isn’t long after they arrive and dress in their layers of gear that they guys are out on the ice. It’s a whirlwind of movement and sound, from the skates cutting through the ice or turning sharp corners to the smacking of their sticks against the puck and of the puck against the plexiglass walls. Hockey is a full-contact sport, and the occasional thud of a body being slammed into a corner can almost be felt by onlookers.

“It’s the greatest game in the world,” said Ricky Duddy ’14. “You’ve got to have skill to play, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The team’s first game is Nov. 12 at 9:30 p.m. at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy. The team plays the Florida Institute of Technology. For more information, e-mail Kucera at skucera@ut.edu.


Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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