When most people think of University of Florida athletic traditions, they think of Mr. Two Bits, the Gator Walk, or Rowdy Reptiles, but few people know about some other traditions rooted deep in Florida sports.
As the Florida football team travels to Jacksonville each season for its annual Florida-Georgia game, the Florida club ice hockey team also makes a special trip to Jacksonville to face off against Georgia on the ice. Gator goalie Jake Lewis says this tradition is one the team looks forward to each season because they get to play in front of all of their friends and family.
The rivalry between the Gators and the Bulldogs is one of mutual respect; it is a physical, hard fought game that both teams look forward to each season.
Another tradition for Florida’s club ice hockey team is the annual Savannah Tire Hockey Classic, which is always held on the long weekend of the Martin Luther King Junior holiday. The tournament takes place at the Savannah Civic Center in Savannah, Georgia as temporary boards and ice are installed for that weekend. Over 5,000 fans are in attendance to watch UF, Georgia, Georgia Tech, FSU, South Carolina, and The Citadel ice hockey teams compete against one another. Lewis says playing in front of such a big crowd encourages the players to be more physical and play harder.
The winner of the tournament receives the “Thrasher Cup” and is decided by whichever team goes 2-0 on the weekend. If there is a tie between two teams, then the winner is determined by goal differential. Florida’s rivalry with Florida State is not so friendly; it’s a hard nosed battle giving the winner bragging rights for the rest of the year. This is very similar to the football rivalry between the two schools. The Gators have beaten the Noles the past three years at Savannah, but fell short to FSU in the regular season this year as the Gators lost 3-2 in overtime. However, Florida is ready to get revenge when the two meet again at the tournament.
Florida’s alumni ice hockey team is trying to make a new annual event between the two in-state rivals as they want to play FSU’s alumni ice hockey team in Savannah immediately following the tournament every year. Lewis says this new alumni event would be better than the past annual alumni games the Gators have had.
While the Orange and Blue alumni work on getting their new tradition started, the current team has high hopes of creating an annual event between UF and the University of South Florida Bulls at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning ice. The Gators and the Bulls met at the Forum earlier this season and got to experience what it’s like to play in an NHL arena on NHL ice. Florida beat USF 5-2 and Lewis made 41 saves between the pipes. The two teams have formed an intense rivalry over the years as they’re both usually neck and neck heading into the final rankings to earn a spot in regionals.
The Gators are currently ranked number fourteen in the south in the DivisionTthree American Collegiate Hockey Association rankings and will need to work their way up to the top ten in order to make regionals. Next up for Florida is fifth ranked University of Miami on January 11, 2013 at the RDV Sportsplex Ice Den in Orlando, Florida at 10:15 pm.