Published: March 04, 2016
Spring Break on Ice: UT’s Hockey Team Plays for National Title
Matt Fenby ’16 had spring break circled in red on his calendar back in August. He’s not headed to the beach though. He’s heading for the snow, where he intends to spend the week on ice.
Fenby is one of UT’s No. 2 ranked ice hockey players heading to the 2016 ACHA Division III National Tournament in Michigan, where the team hopes to make Spartan history.
They ended the season bypassing regionals and earning a berth straight to nationals based on their No. 2 ranking. They play in Grand Rapids from March 8–12, the week of UT’s spring break.
“This will be the best spring break in the snow,” said Fenby, a team captain who has played five seasons for UT and is sentimental about leaving his team of brothers when he graduates this spring.
“We are so emotionally, physically, time and financially invested that finding success together is a huge rush,” said Fenby, who skated his last home practice Wednesday night and took extra laps just to absorb it all. “Being out there on the ice, I’m with my family.”
The guys spend a lot of time together, both during practice and after. Tryouts start before fall semester with a season that runs through nationals in March. They workout together, schedule classes together and hang out in their free time. Their weekly practice is at 11 p.m. on Wednesday nights, a necessary evil due to the limited ice time in the area, and play two games a weekend.
The camaraderie shows in their function as a team, said Fenby, a philosophy major with a law minor.
“We finally have a team that wants to win for each other,” he said.
And win they have. The Spartans’ ranking is a team best, and they are second in the nation in goals scored. Two out of the three top point scorers in the nation come from UT, and five members are in the UT program’s 100-point club. Last season the team made its first appearance in the regional playoffs, and they head to nationals as the only team who has beaten No. 1 ranked Florida Gulf Coast University. (more team statistics)
This in a program formed just six years ago that used to get accolades such as top penalized team in the nation. With discipline and focus, their success hasn’t just been on the ice. For seven semesters in a row, the team cumulative GPA has been over 3.0. Last fall, three freshmen skaters earned 4.0 GPAs in diverse majors including cybersecurity.
“Hockey is a game that requires a lot of chemistry,” said Stephen Kucera, associate professor of biology and head coach. “They are an absolutely fabulous group of young men. There is a lot of individualism and talent on the ice, but you have to marry that to the team goal, which emphasizes a relentlessly solid work ethic playing simple, smart and punishing hockey.”
Kucera is quick to point to the contributions of the program’s four other coaches, John Scotello, Lance Tackett M.S. '15, Mark Baccoli '12 and Ricky Duddy. In addition, there are several team managers who organize the many moving parts it takes to run the ice hockey program. He also cites the support — both financially and physically — of the UT community.
“People love the game of hockey, and they know what it means to these young men and women,” Kucera said. “We are very appreciative of the support.”
For Joe Tully ’17, a team captain who is a communication major with a marketing minor, playing at UT is the last chance he’ll have “to play competitive, non-beer league, check hockey,” he said. Tully, as well as Fenby and others on the team, have been on ice skates since they could walk, and considering life without hockey makes them appreciate playing for the Spartans even more.
As they head into next week’s tournament, the guys are ready to make Spartan history.
“Our tempo is up, we’re in good shape, no one’s hurt and we have good leadership and the rookies we need,” Fenby said. “We have all the ingredients.”