After a nearly seven-month hiatus, the Vanderbilt Commodores returned to the ice this weekend for a matchup with the Florida Gators. Despite the Commodores’ recent success, particularly at home where they boasted a 12-1 record last season in the fantastic new Ford Ice Center, the club has not won a home opener since the 2011-12 season. That changed Sunday as Vandy prevailed in overtime, 4-3.
The first period seemed to be a bit lacking in the energy department for both squads. Vanderbilt did not get off to a very fast start and a Florida team playing its third game of the weekend with only 13 skaters seemed to welcome that opening tempo. Despite some good chances for the Dores, a late Florida goal put the visitors up 1-0 heading into the first intermission. The Commodores responded with a surge in the early second period, but couldn’t break through the Florida defense until freshman Blake Beber stole a puck from a UF defender and beat the goalie for his first career Vanderbilt Hockey goal. Despite falling down on the celebration and generally looking like a freshman, Beber’s goal lit a fire under the Commodores. The teams traded goals in the remainder of the second period, leaving it all tied up at 2 with 20 minutes to go.
“You always hope to get contributions from your new guys, even if you don’t really expect it, so just having him get the goal was great,” noted senior forward and alternate caption Jack Gibbons. “But the way he scored, stripping the defenseman and tucking it on the breakaway was huge. It really got the team back into the game after a sluggish first period.”
In the third, Beber was once again the hero, scoring a goal eight minutes into the period which was assisted by linemates Gibbons and Matt Murphy. As time drew down, the Dores looked to close out the game, but some questionable decisions by the officials, including missed cross checks and punches thrown by the Florida squad, gave the visitors a chance to get back in the game. They took advantage of that opportunity by tying the game up with only 55 seconds left in regulation.
As the teams returned to the ice for a brief overtime period, the Commodores were determined not to let another winnable game slip out of their grasp at the beginning of the season. Defenseman Thomas Wood (Carson) took matters into his own hands by walking the blue line and firing a low wrister into the open far side of the net not even a minute into OT. The bench erupted and mobbed the overtime hero as Vanderbilt won its first home opener in four years.
“It was really great to get a W our first game,” explained Wood, a sophomore fromÂ Massachusetts. “We were a little rusty and with Florida having already played a few games they had some good chemistry going. It was looking a little dim after giving up a goal with under a minute left, but thankfully I got a great opportunity right at the start of OT. Dopps screened the goalie well and Longman drew 2 guys so it was a good team play with me simply taking the shot. Couldn’t be happier with the result.”
The Commodores look to take their success on the road this weekend with two games against South Carolina before returning home for the College Hockey Scholar Shootout. As always, keep up with the team on Facebook, Twitter or right here on the website for all information about your favorite team.