Rookies Shine In Inaugural Games At The Ford Ice Center

The Vanderbilt Ice Hockey team ushered in a new era in its history this past weekend when it kicked off its 2014/15 campaign at the Ford Ice Center, the program’s brand new, state-of-the-art home arena located just outside of Nashville in Antioch, Tennessee. The club’s opponent, SECHC East rival South Carolina, proved every bit as tough as their reputation heading into the weekend as the two clubs split the series one game a piece. The Commodores fell 4-2 on Friday, only to bounce back with a resounding 7-3 win on Sunday morning.

Discipline a Factor in the Opener

Friday’s opener had all the buzz of a late season battle prior to the contest. Twitter and Facebook were lit up about the game, the highlight being a tweet from ESPN anchor and renowned hockey fan John Buccigross.

For the Vanderbilt players, the excitement was driven in large part by the unveiling of the club’s brand new locker room. With 21 locker stalls surrounding three sides of the room and jerseys from years past hung from the rafters, the new space made a huge impression on the boys – both for the growth that it signified and also for the connection it maintained with the club’s alumni and history.

The game itself lived up to expectations as the Gamecocks jumped to an early 1-0 lead in the fourth shift of the game. A defensive zone breakdown left South Carolina’s leading scorer Eric Patterson alone in the slot to hammer home the game’s first goal.

Vanderbilt would respond with some tremendously physical (and, at least in the early phase, clean) play. The club would draw a series of penalties and ultimately net the equalizing goal, a top shelf laser from the stick of defenseman Zach Satin at 12:16 in the second period. The sophomore’s goal was assisted by rookie transfer Bobby Mallon and sophomore Nick Honkala.

The game would devolve from there with a litany of penalties and undisciplined play from both teams. Despite a stout penalty kill performance throughout the night, the ‘Dores would yield a man-down goal to start the third.

South Carolina added an even strength goal at 9:32 in the final stanza to go up by two goals, seemingly icing the game … that is, until rookie transfer Ryan “Superstar” Doppelheuer cut the lead to 3-2 with 1:12 left in the contest.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, South Carolina would fire in an empty-netter from long distance to seal the win for the squad from Columbia. Final score, 4-2 Gamecocks.

Rebounding with Purpose

Vanderbilt entered Sunday’s tilt with a sour taste in its mouth. Had they played more five-on-five hockey, which was an opportunity fully within the team’s own control, the result may have been different.

Sunday would follow a more favorable script.

Leading off the scoring was senior Anthony Bilotta, assisted by Doppelheuer and last year’s “Murph” award winner as the club’s most valuable player John Longman. Patterson knotted the score at 1-1 at 13:13 of the period, only to see Doppelheuer score a pair and Longman notch his first of the season. It was 4-1 after 1.

Firing into the second period, it was all Bilotta, Doppelheuer, and Longman as all three tallied another to extend the lead to 7-1. The team was also aided by the play of junior Matt Neurohr and sophomore Tucker Rhodes who logged valuable minutes applying a ruthlessly effective forecheck as well as killing penalties.

The final score, 7-3, proved to the club that if it could stay disciplined and simply worry about playing hockey, it could beat a quality opponent like South Carolina. Given the team’s schedule in 2014/15, a brutal slog through many of the South region’s most challenging opponents, that confidence will come in handy.

Locking Down the Net

One particularly bright spot throughout the weekend was the play in net of rookie transfer Ryan Kellenberger, a nominee for the ACHA South region’s Player of the Week honors.

Kellenberger allowed just 3 goals in each of the two games while making 33 saves and 28 saves on Friday and Sunday, respectively. 3 of his 6 goals allowed were power play goals.

The club counted on Kellenberger to help set the tone for both the weekend and season and boy did he deliver. Both performances were exceptional, and were it not for Friday’s penalties and undisciplined play, he may have swept the weekend. Not surprisingly, Kellenberger received the game puck following Sunday’s win.

In the Driver’s Seat

Despite Friday’s loss, the Commodores still control their own destiny in the SECHC East division if they can win out versus Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. Of course, winning six straight in the division will be no small feat as Florida is returning the majority of its 2013/14 roster which went deep into Regionals while Georgia and Tennessee are both well on their way to building the foundations for success this season. If the Commodores can battle and win all six, they’ll own the tiebreaker with South Carolina based on goals scored and goal differential and subsequently avoid perennial West powers Arkansas, Alabama, and Ole Miss in the first round of February’s SECHC tournament.

There will be no rest for the weary as the Commodores will immediately dive back into SECHC East division play versus Florida this weekend. The clubs will face-off at The ICE in Cumming, Georgia, a neutral site that accommodates the travel demands for both teams.

If you’re in the area, please drop in Saturday night at 10pm ET and Sunday morning at 11am ET as it should be another pair of hotly contested battles.

Thanks to all who came out to cheer on the club on Friday and Sunday. The crowds were beyond engaged which was awesome to see. Please keep the support coming, have a GREAT week ahead of next weekend’s games, and, of course … ANCHOR DOWN!

Vandy Goes 1-1 At SEC Tourney

The Vanderbilt hockey club’s 2013 SEC tournament ended on a dramatic note as the Commodores skated to a come-from-behind OT win over the Auburn Tigers in one of the weekend’s three consolation games. The Saturday match-up followed a Friday night loss to the University of Arkansas Ice Hogs by a score of 7-1.

“It’s not the way we wanted to finish up the tournament,” said senior captain Kyle McCann, “but it was still nice to come out with the win on Saturday against a very improved Auburn club.”

With the win and loss, Vanderbilt completed its formal season with a record of 10-13. The club will conclude its 2012/13 campaign on Friday, April 12th, versus the University of Alabama, a rematch of last October’s contest that saw a tight 4-3 game tilt in the favor of the Frozen Tide. April’s game, dubbed the “I-65 Face Off” in line with last year’s “I-40 Face Off” versus Tennessee, will take place at Bridgestone Arena following the Nashville Predators’ game against the Dallas Stars.

Before we take a look ahead, however, let’s first take a look back at the drama that transpired back on February 22nd and 23rd in in Huntsville, Alabama.

Taking On Number One

Heading into the tournament, the ‘Dores knew their draw was about as tough as you could get. Beat Arkansas, the number 4 team in the South, and you would have Ole Miss, number 7, on deck. Win? Great, congratulations – now meet number 5 Alabama.

Like a run through one of those Ninja Warrior obstacle courses, Vanderbilt fired into its Murderers’ Row-esque gauntlet with an impressive first burst. Amidst some brutally physical, and undisciplined, play from the Hogs, sophomore Daniel Hogue sniped a laser glove side on second team All SEC goalie Kevin Scheer to make it 1-0 at the end of one. Said a charged up Hogue following the play, “#mylife #classic #notevenkidding #SECTournament #vandypuck #charterbusisthebestbus.”

Unfortunately, the momentum turned sharply in favor of the Ice Hogs from then on.

“Give them credit, they’re a heck of a team, especially when they stay out of the box,” conceded assistant coach Lee Kanouff. “Alabama, Kennesaw, and now Arkansas. We know we can hang with the big guys in the region, we just need to find a way to play 60 minutes and win.”

Interestingly, the loss, which at the time offered no silver linings whatsoever, turned out to be mildly impressive by comparison. Reasoned freshman Jack Gibbons, “Arkansas beat Florida 8-1 [in the semis] and Alabama 8-0 [in the final] to win the tourney. I think that makes us the team that lost to them by the least.” Elias Sports Bureau confirmed the freshman’s assessment of the facts, thereby salvaging some semblance of positivity in the wake of the thrashing. So the team has that going for it, which is nice.*

Nails Gets Hammered and the ‘Dores Get Inspired

Saturday’s game versus Auburn did not start off well for the Commodores in any way, shape, or form. The Tigers, who are on the rise just three years into their club’s existence, tallied first to take an early lead 1-0. Not to be outdone by a teammate, Auburn’s senior goaltender Miles Bishop matched the good start on the offensive end by shutting down his goal on the other.

Heading towards the first period intermission, the game then took a violent turn in the form of a vicious elbow to freshman Chad “Nails McGillicudy” Wyatt’s left temple right in front of the Auburn crease.


“Chad sold out on the play,” recalled junior Eliot Rosenfield, “and man did he get creamed for it. It was a dirty hit made worse by the fact that the guy was about six times Chad’s size.” The Auburn player received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the assault.

The game was paused with 0:18 left in the first period as both teams were sent to their respective locker rooms while an ambulance was summoned to the rink. Fortunately for Wyatt and Vanderbilt, the damage was worrisome but not critical and, following a range of diagnostic exams by some wonderful doctors at Huntsville Hospital, he was able to join the team for the bus ride back to Nashville.


“I love his play,” said Coach Bernstein following the incident, “but we’re going to have to have a talk about playing smart moving forward. No more kamikaze missions out there, just hard-nosed hockey along the boards and a healthy focus on keeping your mind and body healthy for the next Organic Chemistry or Biology exam on the schedule.”

Now with a new sense of purpose and urgency, the Commodores launched into the second period with a quick power play goal from freshman defenseman Michael Hite that evened the score at 1-1. The momentum was fleeting, however, as Auburn quickly countered with a short-handed rebound and a long-range wrister. The deficit was now 3-1 at the end of two.

“We were outshooting them like crazy,” explained junior Jack Delehey, “we just needed to keep plugging and pick a corner or two. And that’s what we did.”

On the wave of an onslaught on the Auburn net, Vanderbilt forward Brad Pesce scored once, then scored again in the final three minutes to even the contest. At the end of regulation, the game was 3-3 with the Commodores outshooting the Tigers 51-26.

The 52nd shot would be a memorable one.

Just 0:24 into the extra stanza, Pesce once again played an integral role in the game by corralling a loose puck in the top right part of Vanderbilt’s defensive end and launching a perfect pass to a streaking Anthony Bilotta down the left side of the ice. The junior, no doubt the fastest player on the team, created instant separation from the closest Tiger defenseman and rifled home the game winner, low glove on a breakaway.

The ending was a fitting one for Bilotta who approximately 18 hours earlier stepped out of his normally quiet, workmanlike persona to address his teammates and coaches with some raw, heartfelt feedback between the second and third periods of the Arkansas game. “I want to compete, it’s how I play,” said Bilotta following the loss, “and in that moment I felt like I needed to share that feeling with the boys. Winning is fun and we have the talent to win, to win a lot.”

The conclusion to Saturday’s game was in turn all the more gratifying for the junior transfer. “We played a heck of a third period, the kind of period that can beat anybody. That’s the way we should play all the time. Because that’s fun.”

Not Leaving Empty-Handed

While the weekend did not contribute any new hardware to the overall team’s trophy case, the event did send sophomore Greg Kirk home with a special honor. With his parents in attendance, Kirk was named to the All SEC second team as voted by the coaches in the conference.


“I just thought coach wanted me to hang around to accept our academic award,” said a surprised Kirk following the award ceremony. “Honestly, I was a little unclear about why it had to be me. Now of course it makes sense and I’m thrilled to have won the award on behalf of the club’s efforts this year, and I’m glad I was physically there to accept.”

Vanderbilt also placed 21 players on the conference’s All Academic team, the most of any program.

“In our quest to be the most employable sports team in the country, I’m obviously proud to know our boys are taking care of priority number one,” said a proud Coach Bernstein. “I know their parents are as well!”

“The Last Hoorah”

As mentioned, before we put the 2012/13 season to bed we will have one more grand event – the “I-65 Face Off” versus Alabama at Bridgestone Arena on Friday, April 12th. For more information about the game, check out the special event site at http://vanderbilthockey.com/event/i65faceoff.html. It should be a terrific battle so mark your calendars and be sure to stop by the rink.

Thanks to everyone for making the official portion of 2012/13 such a special one for all of our players and in particular our seniors Kyle McCann, Scooter McLaughlin, Beast Mozur, and the rest of the crew. We thank you for your support and look forward to both a great event in April and an even better 2013/14!

PS …

On behalf of the entire club, we’d like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to Mr. and Mrs. McCann for donating Vanderbilt hockey sweatshirts to the boys and for the anonymous donation we received (you know who you are) to pay for the charter bus to the SECHC tournament. Your kindness and generosity made the experience an unforgettable one for everyone involved. Thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you (and many of the other parents) here in Nashville the weekend of April 12th!


* Caddyshack non sequiturs, still providing laughs after 32 years … as far as you know.

VU Heads To SEC Tourney With Poor Record, Great Grades, High Hopes

The Vanderbilt Commodores Ice Hockey Club (9-12 overall, 3-5 in the SEC) will take the ice this evening for the last official weekend of the 2012/13 season. The stage, the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference Tournament, will feature a tough battle for Vandy in the opening round as they face SEC power Arkansas (24-9-1 overall, 7-1 in the SEC) at 9:50pm CT at the IceComplex in Huntsville, Alabama.

The match-up between the two teams could not be more contrasting in terms of cultures, records, grades, mascots, history, dues, hometowns, favorite colors … the list goes on. To gain some perspective on the cavernous divide, one need look no further than last season and the two interactions the clubs had with one another, one on-ice and one off.

In a December 2011 showdown in Fayetteville, the last time Vandy and Arkansas played, the Commodores faced the Ice Hogs in a road battle that resulted in what doctors might call, in technical terms, an annihilation. Arkansas systematically peppered the net en route to an impressive 13-0 drubbing, a loss that now-junior Jack Delehey labeled the worst he had experienced in his life. “The worst part was that we drove 9 hours to the middle of nowhere for that,” Delehey recalls. “We had a bus with WiFi though, so it wasn’t a total disaster.”

That experience was then followed by a second event that took place far away from any arena or scoreboard. It turned out that five of the Arkansas players were ineligible for much of the 2011/12 campaign due to issues with their class credits and transcripts, including one player who submitted a fake registrar’s report to the league. At the time the number one team in the southeast and a lock for nationals, Arkansas subsequently had to forfeit the remainder of the schedule which opened up a spot for Vanderbilt in the regional tournament and also paved the way for the Commodores to make a run at the SEC tournament. Vanderbilt would finish third in the event. It was good fortune for Vanderbilt who, ironically, often leads the SECHC in All-Academic honors. (On that note, FYI for VU hockey parents – Vanderbilt once again logged terrific grades this year with more than 70% of the club maintaining a 3.2 or better cumulative GPA. < INSERT_SLOW_CLAP >)

With Arkansas eligible and back in the mix for this year’s tournament, it will be a tall order for the ‘Dores to make another run at equaling or topping last year’s finish. In order to do so, Vanderbilt will have to beat not only the Ice Hogs but also Ole Miss and Alabama. All three teams made the regional tournament with the latter two advancing to next month’s national tournament.

For more information about the tournament’s game times and information, be sure to visit SECHC.com or check out information about the event dates and times. The club would love to see some black and gold in the stands throughout the weekend so be sure to drop in, enjoy some hockey, and introduce yourselves if you’re in the area. Anchor down!

“We Almost Beat The Russians…”

In its first ever trip to the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference’s annual tournament as a participant in good standing, the Vanderbilt Commodores ice hockey club finished the weekend with a 2-1 record and an impressive haul of medals and hardware that was highlighted by the tourney’s third-place cup. Even with a hard fought 4-2 loss on Saturday versus Alabama, the boys found the experience to be an overwhelmingly positive and gratifying one as the team played its best hockey of the season.

“We represented the Vanderbilt sweater well,” said senior captain Matt Kaminsky. “We wanted the big trophy badly but we can all walk away from the weekend with our heads held high. I can’t tell you how proud of am of our guys.”

Kicking Off The Tournament

Thanks to a dramatic come-from-WAY-behind OT win over Georgia two weeks prior, the VU hockey team entered the tournament as the SECHC East’s 2nd seed which afforded them the opportunity to play Auburn, a club just two years into its existence. Compared to the prospect of playing Ole Miss, a team that had beaten the ‘Dores twice in January, playing Auburn was at least on paper the more favorable draw.

“We worked hard for our seed,” said senior assistant captain Tom Trepanier, “but we weren’t looking past Friday night. We knew we had to take care of business in order to get into the semis on Saturday.”

Take care of business they did as the Commodores skated to a 7-3 victory over the Tigers. Highlighted by two goals from sophomore Brad Pesce (named the Player of the Game for Vanderbilt), a goal and three assists from Kaminsky, and a goal and one assist from sophomore Eliot Rosenfield, the win was resounding.

“We got the job done,” recalled senior Jack McCallum, “but at the same time we weren’t completely satisfied with the result. Regardless of who we play, we need to buckle down and always compete at a high level. We could have played better Friday night, and that feeling became a theme for the rest of the weekend.”

The win landed the Commodores in the tournament’s second of two semifinal games the next day versus the University of Alabama Frozen Tide, or as the boys called them …

“The Russians.”

Some Historical Perspective

The last time the Vanderbilt University ice hockey club faced off against Alabama was nearly two full seasons ago on Friday, October 1st, 2010. At the time, Vanderbilt was two games into a rebuilding effort following two straight years of disciplinary probation with the SECHC (due to spotty, unreliable participation). In that game (which you can read about here), Vandy fell 9-3 to a Tide team that was supremely disciplined and conditioned.

Fast forward to February 2012 and the story heading into the two teams’ semifinal match-up could not have been different. Following that thrashing in Pelham, Alabama, the Commodores had strung together an impressive 32-8-1 record over two seasons. Gone were the days of no shows and apathy for the boys in black and gold. Vanderbilt would arrive Saturday holding its head high as a force to be reckoned with, a “team” in the true sense of the word, bent on taking a good solid crack at dethroning the SECHC’s elite franchise.

“We were fired up,” said goalie and senior assistant captain Brenden Oliver. “Like Taylor Swift before a concert at the Ryman [Auditorium], we were ready to take on the big dogs.”

Other club members shook their heads disapprovingly at the analogy but echoed Oliver’s sentiments.

“We were ready to bring the ruckus,” barked a charged up sophomore forward Alan Leeser. “R-U-C-K-U-S. Boom.”

Some Recognition (And Hardware) Before The Puck Dropped

Saturday’s festivities kicked off with a series of special moments even before the game’s first face-off.

As the second of two semifinal games, the Commodores and Tide were able to watch their would-be Sunday opponents Florida and Georgia duke it out to the final buzzer of their contest. Down one goal with less than a minute left, Georgia scored to level the tilt and seemingly send the game into overtime with just under 40 seconds remaining.

“I remember coach telling us to cool our jets on getting ready,” said freshman Harry Londoff. “I was thinking, “Man, who knows when we’ll actually start our game?'”

Londoff’s question was answered just moments later when right off of the subsequent face-off a Florida winger picked the puck out of a scrum of humanity in the neutral zone, skated down the left side of the ice, and snapped home the eventual game winner with 0:20 on the clock.

“As quickly as coach told us to hang tight, he popped back in and told us to buckle up,” recalled Londoff. “And that type of energy pretty much carried the evening through to end of our game. It was unbelievable.”

Indeed it did with the next act in the evening’s script centering around a pre-game ceremony to honor the SECHC’s award recipients for the 2011/12 season as well as to recognize a very special honoree for the weekend.

First up was the all-SECHC team, and for the first time ever the Vanderbilt Commodores placed not one but two players on the roster. Sophomore defenseman and Minnesota native David Crowe was named a second team honoree while Oliver was named the league’s third team goalie. Also honored was coach Thomas Bernstein as the league’s coach of the year.

Shared Bernstein, “As I said to the boys following the game, the awards are a testament to the hard work put in by everyone in the program, particularly the seniors on the team who had been through some tough years at the start of their careers. They had always had the skills and will to build an amazing hockey experience for themselves but just needed a little help with organizing, and that is the legacy they are leaving as they head towards graduation in May. The awards are all collectively an acknowledgement of the strong work of the entire club – players, coaches, parents, and fans included – and that feels pretty awesome.”

“What a way to fire into the biggest game of the season, right?”

Newly minted VU Hockey fans
Chief Warrant Officer James Joyner
and daughter Taylor

The ceremony concluded with the league honoring the tournament’s sponsor, the United States Army, and its guest of honor Chief Warrant Officer and wounded warrior James Joyner.

As reported by HockeyY’all.com, Chief Joyner’s story is a remarkable one. “A native of North Carolina, [Chief James] Joyner is a veteran of two tours in the Middle East, one during the first Gulf War and another in Afghanistan in 2011-12. It was during the latter that he suffered serious injuries that have required multiple surgeries, with more to follow. He continues to serve with the Guard’s 20th Special Forces Group in Huntsville as he recovers from his wounds.”

Captains from each team presented Chief Joyner with a gift representing each school – Vanderbilt gave the Chief a commemorative 20th anniversary hockey jersey – and the Chief humbly accepted the gifts and cheers of appreciation on behalf of his follow servicemen and women.

Following the ceremony, Chief Joyner then carved out space in the bleachers directly next to the glass for a front row seat for the final contest of the evening – Vanderbilt versus Alabama. His allegiance slanted towards the Tide at the start, little did the Chief know that in 20 minutes he would be rabidly taking up the cause of the Black and Gold.

Let the drama begin.

Game On

Out of the gate, it was clear Vanderbilt was not facing an average ACHA hockey club. The Tide’s passes were crisper, cuts faster, and checks harder than virtually any team they had faced all season.

The elevated pace yielded the game’s first goal just 1:34 into the first period when Crowe, who is accustomed to imposing his will on average SECHC forecheckers, turned the puck over to an Alabama forward while attempting one of his trademark spin-o-ramas on the left side of the Vanderbilt defensive zone. The Tide forward quickly slid the puck back to a trailing forward in the high slot who fired home a laser just above Oliver’s blocker hand.

“They were a lot faster than what we’ve seen for most of the season,” recalled Crowe. “I was good with that though, it got me into the game and I settled into a nice groove after that.”

“No one panicked,” said Bernstein. “We pulled ourselves together and went to work.”

They certainly did as the game seemed to turn in favor of the ‘Dores, highlighted by a spectacular goal off of the stick of McCallum, a top-shelf wrister that the senior fired even as he was falling awkwardly.

“9 times out of 10 I miss that shot,” confessed McCallum. “But not this game. Not tonight.”

The first period concluded 1-1 and the Commodores left the ice as confident as ever that they could pull off a Miracle-esque win. In fact, that’s all the boys could talk about – how the weekend was playing out to the script of Miracle.

“We were seriously playing the Russians,” said junior forward Kyle McCann. “Even to the point where we were facing the tournament’s best team in the semifinal verus the final, it just seemed like the moons were aligning for us.”

Interesting fact – while they may not have been aligning specifically for Vanderbilt, Venus, Jupiter, and Earth’s moon were literally aligned on the Saturday evening of the game. No joke.

So there the boys sat in their locker room, recharging between the first and second periods tied 1-1 with the Russians. Could the evening get any more dramatic?

Answer: Yes.

Taking a moment to leave the locker room and talk strategy with Assistant Coach Jonathan Holston, Bernstein was greeted by an enthusiastic Chief Joyner. (Paraphrasing) “Coach, I’m so fired up, you guys are playing your guts out. I came in rootin’ for ‘Bama but man, I’m behind Vandy 100% now! You guys can do this!”

The Chief’s enthusiasm was infectious, so much so that Bernstein asked the Chief if he would do the team the honor of bringing the boys out for the second period. Graciously, the Chief obliged.

Donning his army fatigues and a presence that is impossible to give sufficient credit to in words, the Chief fired into the locker room with a message for the ‘Dores. (Again, paraphrasing) “Boys, if you give everything you’ve got for 40 minutes, you can win this thing!” Referencing the black and gold of West Point, he rallied the Commodore troops saying, “You’re wearing the right colors and you have the heart to win this thing. Go make it happen!”

Unbelievable. The script of Miracle had just combined with the narrative of Rocky 4 (i.e., “If you can change … and I can change … we all … can change!”) to create one of the most dramatic nights any of the coaches or players had experienced in their combined 275 years of playing hockey. Particularly because of who the Chief represented – our United States servicemen and women overseas who are risking their lives to protect our country – the next 40 minutes took on a greater meaning for the players, something they’ll never forget.

“What a special moment,” said awestruck sophomore Joey Grisko. “Totally indescribable.”

Almost …

The second period ended as the first had, with a 1-1 tie, and so all eyes and attention turned to a frantic third period.

Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, the task proved increasingly daunting as Alabama scored two goals at the 12:25 and 8:44 marks to seemingly put the game out of reach.

Said Coach Holston, “We were playing well, they just made two great plays. Good teams are going to make good plays and score good goals. We needed to respond accordingly, and we did exactly that.”

With 3:46 left in the game and Vanderbilt pouring on every ounce of pressure it could muster, Tide forward Clay Link was tagged with a tripping penalty (only the second for Alabama and third between the two teams all night) that breathed life into the desperate ‘Dores players. Kyle McCann capitalized, not only scoring his first goal of the weekend to make it 3-2 but also drawing a penalty in the act of shooting to keep the Commodores on the power play.

2:35 left. Down 3-2. Goalie pulled for a 6-4 advantage over the Tide.

Shot … wide. Shot … save. Puck flipped out into the neutral zone – regroup – face-off.

Corner scrum … shot, shot, chip, cover up. Face-off.

As the seconds ticked down, these were coach Bernstein’s mental notes which in their brevity speak volumes about the high drama of the moment. It was a breathless push that ultimately concluded when a Tide player chipped the puck to neutral ice and a fellow teammate fired home the deciding dagger, an empty-net tally at 0:35.

“180 Minutes”

Needless to say, the Vanderbilt club was incredibly disappointed to lose on Saturday, but the players and coaches knew they had little to hang their heads about. They had given everything they had to win the game but in the end simply lost to a better team.

“I’ll never forget a few moments following Saturday’s loss” said a contemplative Bernstein. “I had each of the referees actually thank me for a great game. Fans of Alabama … they were shaking my hand congratulating our boys on a tremendous effort. For [the Vanderbilt players] to have that kind of impression on the folks in that rink on Saturday, it says a lot about the type of game they played. Hell of an effort.”

It certainly was, but the team’s work was not done for the weekend. They had traveled to Huntsville to play 180 minutes of hockey, and 60 more minutes remained. Next up? The Georgia Bulldogs, a club the ‘Dores knew well having just played them two weeks prior.

Chief Joyner, Senior captain Matt Kaminsky,
Senior assistant captain Brenden Oliver, and
SECHC Commissioner Sarge Day

There was no letdown on Sunday morning. Vanderbilt controlled play for 3 periods, and although sophomore sensation and SECHC league MVP Peter Kacer scored his obligatory goals, the Commodores skated to a convincing 5-2 win powered by two goals from Ben Ross and a goal apiece from sophomores Jack Delehey, Jordan Zauderer, and Pesce.

The win landed the ‘Dores in third place for the tournament, a fact that the boys celebrated with the zeal of a first-place champion. “The way those guys celebrated third place,” recalled assistant coach and media guru Ben Gatlin, “if and when we actually win the championship, I’m almost afraid to see how crazy they’ll be.”

The win and bronze trophy sets up a perfect situation for the Commodores as they aim to lock in win number 21 on the year in the season’s final contest, the I-40 Face-off versus the University of Tennessee Ice Vols. Technically an exhibition game, the boys have no intention of taking the March 31st tilt against their in-state rivals lightly.

“We are on a roll, and we intend to keep that momentum going,” said McCallum, who along with Kaminsky, Trepanier, Oliver, and graduate student Ryan Weekes will be playing their last games in the black and gold for Vanderbilt. “It’ll mean a lot to go out as winners, and with just a little bit more focus and hard work, we can make that happen.”

Looking Ahead To Bridgestone

Mark your calendars folks. On Saturday, March 31st, 2012, at 1pm at Bridgestone Arena, the Vanderbilt Commodores ice hockey club will take on the Tennessee Ice Vols in the second annual I-40 Face-off. Admission will be free, VU hockey merchandise will be available, and some awesome hockey action will be on display so please join us for the excitement!