Team Florida has last laugh in Connecticut
By Jeff Berlinicke
They’ve heard the jokes before, more times than you can count. Samantha Mock and Erin MacArthur are just two members of Team Florida , a group of 14-and-under ice hockey players who went to Connecticut last month and won the first major championship in the history of Florida ice hockey.
Team Florida knocked off teams from all over the country, going 6-0 and outscoring opponents 27-3 on the way. They capped it off with a 5-0 shutout of the Maine Select Bears in the championship game, winning the title in a tournament that featured more than 200 teams from all over the country, the largest girls tournament in the nation. Team Florida has members from all over the state, including two players who travel from Pennsylvania .
When they and their teammates took off for Connecticut , it was their second trip to the northeast in three months. In November they were runners-up in a prestigious tournament in Rhode Island , another event in which they got no respect from the northerners who play hockey year-round, often outside.
They heard the same jokes both times, from players as well as adults: “Do you guys skate in sandals?” “How do you play hockey with a beach ball?” “I thought the only ice in Florida was in umbrella drinks.” The jokes came early and often, but Team Florida ignored them until they skated off with the championship trophy in the renowned Connecticut Polar Bears Tournament. Their reputation should be well-enhanced, but they know the jokes will keep flying.
“We don’t skate in high heels and we don’t learn to play with a volleyball, so all we can do is beat them,” Mock said. “They get the message.” Mock leads the team in goals and had nine in the Connecticut tournament. She is thinking of playing at a private school in the northeast, possibly in Vermont next season to get used to a higher level of competition. She comes with a good pedigree. Her mother, Kathy Mock played when she grew up in Massachusetts .
Stephanie loves the game but got off to a difficult start. She and her brother had to share a pair of skates for several years and she had to watch her brother play hockey before taking it up on her own. “They like to take shots at us,” Mock said. “Now a lot of them are bigger than me, but it‚s part of the game.”
Kathy Mock still cringes when the boys go racing after her daughter in the corners. “It’s tough to watch sometimes,” Kathy Mock said. “It gets scary sometimes. When she plays against boys her size she can handle it, but when the big boys go after her, I cringe.”
“When I was a kid I was always bigger than the boys, so I could hit them,” Stephanie added. “They got bigger, but I didn’t.” The team is coached by Jane Solverson, a lifelong hockey junkie who filled out her team by scouting girls from all over the state. The team started three years ago and lured many of the current players from roller hockey onto the ice. Samantha Mock took quickly to the ice and was voted team captain.
“She has the best work ethic of any kid I’ve ever seen,” Solverman said. “She’s quiet, but she lets loose when she is with this team. She has speed and excellent hands and she, along with Erin, are willing to put in the work, the time, and the travel. They make great teammates.”
Stephanie Mock stared paying with the 14-under team when she was 11, her skills already obvious. There’s no checking in girls hockey, but there is contact. With the boys, anything goes. “Stephanie keeps coming back after she gets hit, and she is learning to dish it out also,” Solverman said. “She’s a dream to have on this team. I can see her going a long way in this game.”
Meghan Huertas is another player who isn‚t afraid to mix it up when the guys get tough. “They go out of their way to hit us, but it just makes us want to him them harder,” Huertas said. “Then they make excuses, saying they can’t hit us because of the rules, but they do anyway.” It’s the chemistry that makes Team Florida work. With players coming from such diverse areas, the only time most of the players get to meet is at tournaments and the occasional practice.
“We have a lot of team-building activities so we get to know each other,” Paige Sasser said. “It’s not always easy, but it helps us get to know each other and once we get started, it’s like we have been together a long time.”
When the game is over, and there’s no more hitting involved, the girls become, well, girls again. It’s about fun, not trying to smash someone’s nose into the boards no matter how much they might disrespect you. “I play because it’s fun,” Mock said. “I like being captain and I might be quiet, but when I am on the ice, I don‚t mind talking right back at them when they talk about us. I like shutting them up.”
There are a lot of girls up north now who aren’t taking Team Florida as a laughing matter.