It took a week. The excitement, the nerves, the joy – there was just too much of each to sit down and adequately archive the emotion, mechanics, and result of last Saturday night’s 6-5 OT win over the University of Georgia Bulldogs until now. With a tremendous amount on the line, the Vanderbilt Commodores dug deep to pull out a dramatic victory on the team’s final home game of the season, “Senior Night” for those soon to conclude their careers with the Commodores ice hockey club. Here is the story.
As far back as last July, senior officers Brenden Oliver, Matt Kaminsky, and Thomas Trepanier had highlighted February 11th, 2012, on their calendars as a date worthy of particular note and attention. It would be their last wearing the Vanderbilt black and gold at the Centennial Sportsplex, the boys’ home away from campus for four years. It would also be an opportunity to face one of the club’s most bitter rivals, fellow SECHC East team Georgia.
Oliver explained of the rivalry before the game, “When we were in rough shape as a club my freshman and sophomore years, Georgia was one of the programs that took a very hard line towards us. Granted, we deserved a lot of the medicine we received for things like canceling games at the last minute or showing up with only six skaters. But it just felt like UGA’s approach was particularly tough, especially when reprimands in the 2009/10 season resulted in two years worth of suspensions from the SECHC playoffs, not just one. Now that we are up as a club, it would be particularly sweet to return the favor, both on Saturday and in the SECHC tourney.”
|Mackie Anderson, Kyle McCann,
and Matt Kaminsky
So how did the team prepare for such an impassioned showdown? Easy. They stuffed their faces full of pasta, salad, and meatballs. And ice cream sandwiches.
Thanks to a Friday evening with no game and Mrs. Coach being out of town for a conference, Coach Bernstein took the opportunity to open the doors of Casa de 312 Page Road and offer up some proper nourishment for a big weekend.
“I loved Friday night dinners with my teams back in grade school so I thought the guys would appreciate coming together for something similar – a home-cooked meal plus some college hockey on TV. More than the practices and games, it’s that kind of stuff that builds teams, and as long as you wrap up before the evening’s parties they’re usually well received. I think the boys had a great time.”
Adding to the excitement was the news that the team made the Regional tournament for the first time in Vanderbilt ice hockey club history. (Note: Vandy did not accept the invitation. Click here to learn more about the decision.)
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to give the team the news in person,” said Bernstein. “It’s our understanding that it’s the first time the club has qualified for the tournament in the program’s history so, needless to say, the boys were excited.”
Said first-year law school student and the only member of the team who has played in the ACHA national tournament Cory Reno, “I was happy but not surprised. We’ve worked hard and have a lot of talent. Next year hopefully we can actually make the trip.”
In case the high-level theatrics of a final home game and the unsettled scores between rivals were not enough to drive the enormity of the evening, the contest became even more important due to circumstances involving Vanderbilt’s fellow SECHC clubs.
The first and most shocking was the news that the University of Arkansas will be disqualified from next weekend’s SECHC tournament due to issues with player eligibility. The prohibitive favorite for not only the league but also the entire Southeast region, the Razorbacks’ removal reseeded the tournament standings on the “West” side of the SECHC bracket to the following: (1) Alabama, (2) Ole Miss, (3) Auburn, and (4) Tennessee.
The second was that with a win versus Georgia, Vanderbilt would place second in the SECHC East. A loss would leave them in third. It would mean the difference between playing Auburn in the first round, a team Vandy bested thoroughly last month 6-0, versus playing Ole Miss, a club the ‘Dores lost to twice this season (5-4 in OT and 7-2, also in January).
OK folks, so there you have it. The pre-pre-game back story explained. The pre-game gathering recapped. The stakes noted. The stage for Saturday’s showdown set.
Here we go.
Fired up by a rousing pre-game ceremony that honored the team’s departing players (see below for details), Vanderbilt stormed out to a 2-0 lead on goals by sophomores Connor Smallwood and Kyle Stachowiak.
“We were flying,” said Trepanier, who assisted on Stachowiak’s goal, a beautiful deflection off of a shot from the slot. “The lines were clicking, we were staying out of the penalty box, at least initially, and I really thought we were going to run away with that thing.”
“The guys looked good in front of me,” said goalie Oliver. “They were getting lots of shots and they were clearing out the middle in our defensive zone which allowed me to see everything coming my way.”
The next stanza would be another story.
Coming out with renewed energy and momentum, Georgia quickly cut the Vanderbilt lead in half with a goal from forward Kyle Blankenship. Then came a one-man onslaught by Georgia’s star forward Peter Kacer.
Heading into the contest, Kacer was the third leading goal scorer in the nation with 48 goals in 22 games. He did not disappoint his advanced billing as he single-handedly dismantled the Commodores defense over a 24 minute stretch (that, if you were in the stands, felt like 24 hours).
2-2, tie game. Kacer from Navis.
2-3. Kacer, unassisted.
End of period. Adjust. Shadow him. Hound him. Stop him. OK boys? Sound like a plan?
2-4. Kacer, unassisted.
2-5. Kacer, unassisted.
12:48 left in the third period. Timeout.
The guy was so good, so unstoppable, that even sophomore Brad Pesce admitted, “Guys, this guy is actually pretty decent.” And so when Coach Bernstein called timeout, he launched into a fiery speech by first addressing the seemingly immovable obstacle standing between the Commodores and a must-have win.
“I told the boys, ‘Listen, you’re beating every single guy on that team except for one, and that one guy on that bench is beating every one of you. So let’s shut him down, he gets nothing else tonight.'”
“I then said that, ‘Each of you guys needs to take responsibility for delivering this game to Matthew [Kaminsky], Thomas [Trepanier], and Brenden [Oliver]. They’ve built this club for you guys, and now it’s time to send them off the right way, with a win.’ I finished up by telling them I knew they could pull it off. And guess what? They did.”
They did indeed, starting with a workman-like goal from Pesce just 40 seconds after the timeout. The team then stormed forward, peppering the Georgia netminder with an all-out assault that matched the urgency of the moment. The UGA goalie stood strong all the way up until the final two minutes when junior Chris Sperandio scored to cut the lead to one, then Pesce scored his second to tie the game in dramatic fashion.
“I went nuts,” recalls Pesce, “and I got even more fired up when the guys on Georgia criticized my cele[bration]. First of all, I thought it was solid, Zaud-like in fact,” a reference to follow sophomore Jordan Zauderer. “And secondly, really? Who rags on a cele?!”
Vanderbilt completed the epic comeback as it had started the game, with a goal from Smallwood. Playing defense, Connor snared an errant breakout pass from a Georgia defenseman through the neutral, darted in one-on-one with the goalie, and sniped a quick wrist-er off the left post and into the right side of the net for the sudden death winner.
And so the home team celebrated. And life was good.
With the win, the Commodores now turn their sights to an even bigger goal – winning an SECHC championship. The road will be a difficult one as it will include a tilt versus an improved Auburn team that recently knocked off 12th-ranked South Carolina, then battles versus (presumably) Alabama and (if the club makes it) either Ole Miss, Georgia, or Florida. It’ll be a tough but not impossible road to the U.S. Army Cup for the boys in black and gold so please stay tuned to Facebook, Twitter, and vanderbilthockey.com for updates.
It’s been an awesome year for the club and we look forward to adding a few more accolades to the list. Thanks to everyone for your support and see you next weekend in Huntsville!
Anchor down … and GO ‘DORES!!!
Celebrating Senior Night In Nashville
For parents and fans who were unable to enjoy the excitement of last Saturday’s tilt in person, you missed not only an amazing hockey game but also a special pre-game tribute to our departing seniors (and graduate student). Fortunately, we had the presence of mind to dig through the trash on the way out of the rink to find announcer Rusty Ware’s script from the ceremony. The following is the unedited version for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
MBA Candidate ’12
From Boynton Beach, Florida, this second year business school student in the Owen Graduate School of Management has proven that the fun in life doesn’t end at age 22. A first-team all-American roller hockey player at his undergraduate university Elon College, this all-purpose teammate has transitioned perfectly to his new home on the ice in the Vanderbilt black and gold. The same confidence that he displayed while dating Miss North Carolina has made him an invaluable leader of the VU Hockey Club. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm round of applause for number 9 … Ryan Weekes!
BS Candidate, Engineering ’12
From Annapolis, Maryland, this senior in the engineering school is the only member of the team who can boast on his resume the unique distinction of having worked at a nuclear energy facility in his non-hockey time. To adequately quantify this individual’s commitment to the club over the past four years, all you’d have to do is refer to the odometer on the dashboard of his red Toyota Tundra pickup. A key catalyst in the effort to elevate Vanderbilt hockey to its current and growing state of success, let’s all please offer up a rousing, hearty applause for number 5 … assistant captain … Thomas Trepanier!
BA Candidate, English ’12
From Boston, Massachusetts, this next player needs no introduction to the Vanderbilt hockey faithful attending tonight’s game. Along with the Nashville Predators’ Mike Fisher, he has brought the sexy back to ice hockey in Music City. Girls love him, guys want to be him, and opposing teams can only hope to contain him. Ladies and gentlemen, fans and admirers … please give a raucous, frenzied round of applause for your very own number 15 … senior captain … Matt Kaminsky!
BS Candidate, Human & Organizational Behavior ’12
And last but not least … from Dallas, Texas, we welcome a senior goalie who can best be described as the Vanderbilt hockey club’s Swiss Army knife. He can do all, AND HE DOES ALL. Scheduling games, offering rides, updating Facebook and Twitter … this individual has been a force of nature on behalf of the Vanderbilt hockey club. Next year he will thankfully be transitioning from college to a job with the Country Music Association which, in addition to providing him with a very real opportunity of befriending idol and muse Taylor Swift, will also allow him to continue contributing to the betterment of Vanderbilt hockey. Folks in the stands, please get up off of your fannies and give a monster, unruly round of applause for lucky number 13 … the venerable … Brenden Oliver!
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for these players and their commitment to the Vanderbilt ice hockey club!