Tech’s ice hockey team came up just short in a battle of two of the top teams in its region this weekend.
The Jackets, ranked No. 5 in the ACHA Division III South region, hosted No. 1 Central Florida on Saturday, Nov. 6, and although the Jackets pulled out to an early two-goal lead, an injury to senior goalie Maxx Lucas and good puck movement by the visiting Knights allowed them to pull out a 5-3 victory.
“Our goal was to try to keep the game close, and we were winning going into the third, but a couple mental breakdowns cost us,” said Head Coach Brian McSparron.
Saturday’s game marked the biggest test of the season to date for the Jackets. UCF’s lineup featured three of the leading scorers in all of Division III, but the Jackets had allowed more than three goals just twice and were 8-1 entering the game.
As the game began, Tech found itself on the defensive quickly when an interference penalty just 25 seconds into the contest gave UCF an early power play. The Jackets managed just one shot on goal in the first five minutes, but they held out defensively and kept the Knights from scoring.
On the whole, there were few scoring opportunities in the period. Tech had a two-man advantage midway through but could not generate much pressure. UCF controlled the puck for much of the final stretch, but good play by Lucas and the Tech defensemen kept them from scoring and the teams went into the first intermission at 0-0.
It took only 44 seconds in the second period for the scoreless drought to end, and the Jackets scored first while shorthanded. Junior forward Ryan Fritz took a pass from freshman center Michael McKinney and fired a shot high off the glass, but he picked up the rebound and put it past UCF goalie Joey Ciasullo to give Tech a 1-0 lead.
The lead did not last long, though. Shortly after the ensuing face-off, UCF notched a power play goal and tied the game with 19:01 left in the period.
Even with UCF’s quick response, the Jackets were beginning to control the puck and put pressure on the UCF defensive line, and the result was two more goals. With 13:57 to go, sophomore defenseman Alan Dagesse fired a wrister from the blue line that junior forward Zack Berry deflected into the air. Junior winger Matt Zaske came up with the rebound in front and scored to give Tech a 2-1 lead. Less than three minutes later, Berry passed from behind the net to Zaske in front, and Zaske fired it past UCF’s Ciasullo to put the Jackets up 3-1 with 11:14 left in the second period.
Between those goals, though, the Jackets suffered a critical injury. With the UCF forward line crashing the net, Lucas moved to stop a puck, but his kneecap popped in the process and he was unable to get up for several moments. Eventually he was helped off the ice, and he did not return. The Jackets replaced him with sophomore goalie C.J. Layer, who had been sharp in goal in several starts this season.
“It would have been great to see [Lucas] play the whole game, because he was in a groove. But C.J. came in and bailed us out as usual…he’s always ready to play,” McSparron said.
Layer held strong in the first few minutes after entering the game, but with 10:23 to go, UCF center Connor Cafferty scored from the left side to cut Tech’s lead to 3-2. Layer preserved the 3-2 lead heading into the final period.
Before long, though, the game ended up tied. A Knight winger ended up in the clear, and his backhand shot snuck past Layer for the game-tying score with 18:46 left in the contest.
Two minutes later, with UCF threatening in the Tech zone, the Knights scored again on a shot from just in front of the net. With 16:43 to go, UCF had its first lead of the game at 4-3.
After a UCF elbowing penalty gave the Jackets a power play with 6:55 to go, Tech was unable to get off a shot. As the clock waned, Dagesse took an accurate shot from the blue line that was saved, and Fritz had a pair of opportunities but was denied both times thanks to good play from UCF’s Ciasullo.
With just under two minutes to go, McSparron pulled the goalie, and though the Jackets did keep the pressure on UCF for much of the final stretch, UCF scored an empty net goal with 20 seconds left to seal the game. The final score was 5-3 in favor of the Knights.
“The guys played with a lot of heart. We knew it was going to be an uphill battle; talent-wise, they’re the No. 1 team for a reason,” McSparron said.