Naples Daily News

ESTERO — Earlier this season, Florida Gulf Coast University hockey player Nathan Altman was benched during the last 10 minutes of their game against Georgia Tech. The problem wasn’t that the 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore was under-performing. He wouldn’t stop scoring.

“It just seemed like every time Nathan touched the puck it was just going in,” head coach Evan Crawford said. “It didn’t matter if he tried to pass it initially, it just ended up back in his stick and he would score. I think he had had like four goals. It was enough.”

Altman’s Midas touch has carried on throughout the season, notching 42 goals and 16 assists for 58 total points in 27 games. The Tarpon Springs native’s consistent offense has ranked him third in total goals (42), seventh in total points (58), and second for game-winning goals (6) in division three of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

Right behind Altman is 18-year-old freshman Kelly Johnson, who has recorded 20 goals and 17 assists in 23 games. The 6-foot-1 forward is one of eight freshmen who are helping lead the Eagles to their second straight year as contenders in the ACHA national tournament. Last season, the Eagles placed second, losing to Grand Valley State (Mich.).

As the ACHA National Championship, hosted by FGCU, looms in early March, 20-year-old Altman isn’t overwhelmed by the pressure to make constant tallies.

“All the lines have been able to score goals,” he said. “So if I’m not putting them in, someone else will.”

The Eagles have been steadily putting in goals with the help of the coaching staff — all former FGCU hockey players. Crawford and assistant coaches Alex Lymber and J.D. Davidson all wore FGCU sweaters in the 2008-2009 season.

For the 22-year-old Lymber, the chance to coach his former team to a first place title is a little taste of redemption.

“I wish we would’ve done it last year,” he said. “but this year I think we’ll win.”

Despite a fairly young team consisting of primarily freshmen, sophomores and only one senior, the Eagles are relying on a core team of veterans to lead the rookies through the national tournament. This season, Division III lost junior Jason Almcrantz and sophomore Steven Gutowitz, both All-American players, when they moved up to the Eagles’ Division II team.

Lymber foresees Altman, along with sophomore forward Mike Fowler, 19, and junior forward Scott Short, 20, as returning players who will fill the skates of Almcrantz and Gutowitz.

When the ACHA National Championship kicks off March 10 on the Eagles’ home ice, Germain Arena, the only opponent in the Southern Division FGCU is concerned with are the University of Central Florida Knights.

“We played them four times and we crushed them the first two, lost the third and won the last,” Lymber said. “In the South, we’re far superior from everyone else.”

Currently, FGCU is ranked number one, followed by UCF and Loyola University (Md.).

For Altman, he only has one wish for this year’s national title game.

“We want to play Grand Valley State again,” he said. “And this time, take them out.”

ESTERO — College students are known for their appetites.

Some Florida Gulf Coast University students were hungry enough to trade away their First Amendment rights for a free meal.

When the American Democracy Project came to FGCU to educate students on the importance of First Amendment rights, more than 200 lined up in the student union for the event that advertised, “Live free or eat free: You can’t do both!”

“Certainly free food reaches college students, so we’re drawing them in that way,” said Lyn Millner, an assistant professor of journalism at FGCU. “Once they’re here, they’re in for some surprises and they’re in for an education.”

The lessons weren’t given through professors and textbooks, they were taught by a staff of actors, or goons, that delivered the message through performances and a healthy dose of comedy.

“I think they’re expecting to get a free meal, have some fun and learn a little bit,” said Millner. “But I don’t think they are prepared for the power of the event.”

The actors, a mix of students, professors and American Democracy Project organizers, staged performances to “arrest” those accused of exercising their temporarily revoked rights: freedom of speech, assembly, religion, grievance, and press.

Student organizers set the stage and transformed the student union cafeteria to represent an oppressive society, complete with an entrance gate lined with guards, a jail and a dictator’s lounge.

Silent protestors walked through the line of students with duct-taped mouths, carrying signs telling the true stories of oppressed people in other countries.

Sophomore Melissa Bell, 19, found the event very powerful.

“We’re so spoiled to the freedoms that we have obtained (in the United States),” Bell said, “that we don’t realize in different countries what they’re put through on a daily basis.”

NAPLES — The Art of Fighting is bringing its sixth professional match to Germain Arena, the main event headlined by a 37-year-old father of two and 26-year-old college student.

Tonight, Naples native, seasoned mixed martial arts Muay Thai striker and full-time dad Crafton “Blaze” Wallace will be entering the ring opposite southern California college student Reggie “Iron” Orr.

Wallace, 37, is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor who currently holds an unprecedented 19-3 MMA record, something Orr says won’t faze him from clinching a knockout in his Florida debut.

“I’ve fought guys with records of that sort before,” says the 26-year-old. “In this game, its not about how many fights you’ve got, its about the caliber of fighters you’ve faced. Crafton has only faced three good fighters and those three fighters beat him. I’m looking to knock Crafton out.”

Orr promises both men will bring “fireworks” to the ring, an interesting choice of words from a fighter whose interest in Jiu Jitsu and mixed martial arts sprung from a firecracker.

At age 15, Orr was expelled for lighting firecrackers at a neighboring high school and consequently was sent to an alternative school. There, he was introduced to Jiu Jitsu, a form of mixed martial arts, and his mother signed him up to begin classes as an incentive for good behavior.

After beginning Muay Thai at 18, Orr entered in his first professional competition and credits fighting as putting him back on the right track. He is now studying criminal justice at Westwood College in California.

Now entering his eighth year as a professional fighter, Orr hopes his youth will help him overcome Wallace’s extra 11 years of experience.

“A guy who’s a little older but with more experience learns how to pace himself and doesn’t get rattled as easily,” he said. “But then again, how much damage can he sustain?”

Wallace, however, hasn’t let time get the best of him, and feels his experience is an advantage.

“I really just listen to my body,” Wallace said. “My body feels good, my skill set is quadruple what it was when I was 27. So to me, it’s nothing to worry about.”

Wallace has had plenty of time to build his skills in preparation for Sunday’s fight. As the owner of Inferno Muay Thai gym, he spends his days training not only himself but also others, including his two sons, in MMA and kickboxing.

Despite his sons having a 2003 ISKA Florida Middleweight Muay Thai Champion as a father, Wallace says he wouldn’t necessarily pressure 12-year-old Marcellus and 8-year-old Malcolm into an MMA career. He just wants them to have fun.

“It’s definitely not a career I’d push to my kids,” he said. “I think martial arts, regardless of what you try to do, are good for your composure, discipline and self-respect.”

Even as the first Naples resident to make headlines in the MMA world, Wallace says he doesn’t fight for fame.

“I feel like I built the scene in Naples,” Wallace says. “Nobody else has really made any noise worldwide. I’ve always liked martial arts and loved the challenge and competition. It just kind of turned into a career.”

Wallace says he won’t be holding back in order to secure a win in his first fight in Southwest Florida since last February.

Both fighters are talented strikers, each aiming to bring an intense pace and energy to the ring. “I’d rather be matched up with another striker,” Wallace said. “I’d want an opponent who wants to stand up and bang.”