Over the years, the University of Florida has accumulated 31 national championships in 12 sports, but there is one sports terrain it has yet to dominate – the ice.
UF does have a club hockey team, though it is forced to migrate to Jacksonville every Wednesday to practice at the Jacksonville Ice and Sportsplex.
The team divides its home games between Jacksonville and the RDV Sportsplex Ice Den in Orlando.
The closest university with a hockey complex is about eight hours northwest of Gainesville, where the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers play. The Von Braun Center can hold about 6,600 people, according to the university’s website.
Zachary Roesch, president of UF’s hockey team, doesn’t think Gainesville will see a hockey rink for a while because Floridians are primarily attracted to other sports.
“I think if we had a rink closer to Gainesville, people would come out,” Roesch said. “We do have a much better record than the football team, but it’s just, I think, the culture. Florida football is everything. Even the basketball team is great, but it’s all about football. I’ve just learned to accept that.”
Roesch said the Gators usually see about 200 fans come out consistently.
The 11-2-2 Gators are atop the East Division in the SECHC at 6-1.
“(For) home games, we really don’t get many (fans) at all just because no one really knows that we have a hockey team,” Roesch said. “When we go away, actually, there’s a ton of people that come out to the away games, but they’re always rooting against us. So I guess it’s really just our school that doesn’t have a great fan base.”
One of Florida’s longtime rivals, the Georgia Bulldogs, face a similar problem. Georgia does not have a hockey complex on campus, so the Bulldogs endure about an hour drive to Duluth, Ga., for home games.
Florida’s sophomore goaltender Fred Bourret, a native of Montreal, Canada, starts despite this being his first season on the Florida hockey team. He said the Florida-Georgia rivalry has the same intensity on the ice.
“(Georgia is) our biggest rivals,” Bourret said. “The rivalry is pretty close.”
The Florida-Georgia rivalry is intensified each year on the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day when the two teams face off again in the Savannah Hockey Classic.
The classic is two nights, pitting UF against Georgia on the first night and FSU on the second night.
For the past three seasons, Georgia has taken UF down in the classic.
Mike Marcinkiewicz, in his second season as the head coach of Florida’s hockey team, said the Georgia match-up is tough, but it gets brutal when his team faces off against the Seminoles.
“Florida-FSU, it gets nasty on the ice,” he said. “These guys hate each other. I just tell ‘em, ‘Keep calm and stay out of the penalty box.’”
In 2011, FSU began playing its home games at the Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Ga.
Even without a home rink within walking distance, Marcinkiewicz said he doesn’t let it affect the level of talent on his team.
Marcinkiewicz said Bourret is one of the bright spots on the team. He compared the young goaltender to Patrick Roy, former goaltender for the Colorado Avalanche and the team’s current head coach.
Marcinkiewicz said it doesn’t matter where his team plays because they leave it all on the ice – wherever that may be.
“We’ve got a solid team, solid goaltending … got a bunch of new guys, rookies, coming in that are playing real well right now,” he said.