Following an ugly conclusion to the fall semester at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Vanderbilt hockey club returned to the ice on the road on Friday the 13th against in-state rivals the University of Tennessee Ice Vols with a singular purpose in mind: get back to playing VU hockey. The club delivered, exorcising the demons of last December’s loss by notching two Ws, a closer-that-it-had-to-be 6-4 victory on Friday and a thorough 7-2 drubbing on Saturday. Heading into the stretch run of the season, the Chill-axed Commodores now have their eyes set on making some noise in the SECHC playoffs in February.
“It’s always great beating those guys [UT],” said senior assistant captain Tom Trepanier, “especially considering they killed us 15-1 the last time we were in Knoxville back when I was a freshman.”
Senior goalie and fellow assistant captain Brenden Oliver echoed Trepanier’s sentiments as only he can, stating, “To borrow a quote from renowned crooner and all-around stud Michael BublÃ©, ‘It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life, and we’re feeling good.'”
“Who Own Da Chiefs?!”
With super hockey Dad Mr. Kaminsky in attendance ( … kudos to him for following up a two-plus hour flight from Boston with a three-plus hour drive to East Tennessee), the ‘Dores took the ice at the Knoxville Coliseum, a venue that can be best described as the closest thing to the Charlestown Chiefs’ home rink that you will find still standing in the United States. Appropriately, the play for the weekend was Hansen Brothers-worthy as the Commodores and Volunteers brought their chippiest brands of hockey to the ice for both match-ups.
24 penalties on Friday followed by 27 on Saturday. Two disqualifications (on the Tennessee side). Several misconducts. Needless to say, coaches Bernstein, Holston, and Gatlin were left shaking their heads even in the wake of two wins.
Said Bernstein, “Ultimately, that falls on me. I have to do a better job of reigning my guys in, making sure that we play with more discipline. Neither of those games should have been as close as they were and we have ourselves to blame for that, no one more than me.”
Sophomore Alan Leeser added, “Friday nearly got away from us because of all the penalties. When we hit the playoffs next month, there is no way we can put ourselves at such a disadvantage and expect to win.”
Going Up Early, Hanging On Late
Leeser was referencing the ‘Dores near collapse on Friday on account of penalties which, whether valid or otherwise, were all too abundant. With 2:30 left in the game and Vanderbilt up 5-2, Tennessee pulled their goalie to tip the ice 6 skaters versus 5 and a goalie. Junior Ryan Blatt then got called for an elbow at the 1:45 mark followed by first-year law student Cory Reno getting tagged at 1:29 for a high-stick. Now 6-on-3, the Vols scrummed around the net for a rebound goal with 0:54 seconds left in the game. The game still in hand, or so Vanderbilt thought with a two-goal lead, Tennessee defenseman Jeong Choe then scored his second in the final minute, this one a five-whole laser from the slot at the 0:21 mark.
Gulp. So went the Vanderbilt faithful, right up until sophomore Jordan Zauderer did what Jordan Zauderer does: score.
“Burying” an empty netter with seven seconds remaining, Zauderer reflected later, “I wasn’t worried, we had it in the bag.” His goal celebration, a hand-swipe from the ice to the sky, would say otherwise because, let’s face it, who would celebrate so vigorously after firing home a shot between two pipes sans netminder?
Recalled sophomore Brad Pesce, who had three goals on the weekend, “Dude. Anti-swag.” (Parents, consult your Urban Dictionary for details on this whippersnapper vernacular.)
Doing Homework, Then Doing Work
Heading into Saturday, the club was determined to, as coach Holston summarized it, “not just be the better pond hockey team but be the better hockey team, period.” To make that happen, the team watched film from the night before, an exercise that brought some gasps but mostly insights into how to play as a more organized and effective unit.
“We were all over the place on a lot of plays,” said junior Chris Sperandio. “In some cases we’d have four guys playing defense low near the goal line, one guy floating in the neutral zone looking for a pass, and no one covering the d-men on the points. It was a wonder we didn’t get burned more given some of the mistakes we were making.”
Sure enough, the exercise paid off as the club’s positioning and play for Saturday’s game was markedly improved, as was the score. At no point in the match-up did Tennessee even hint at threatening the outcome of the contest, a 7-2 win for the ‘Dores.
“The boys stepped up and played like a hockey team,” said a somewhat satisfied Holston (keyword: somewhat … Holston is by design the team’s devils’ advocate in charge of combating all shapes and sizes of complacency; his satisfaction level can and should never cross the 6- or 7-level on a 10-smile scale).
Other News & Notes From Knox-vegas
- Mackie Anderson made his triumphant return to the ice after being abroad in the spring. Flashing a sharp glove-hand and some solid stick-handling, the junior goalie logged 27 saves in a strong performance.
- Enforcer Kyle Barber scored his first goal in a Vanderbilt uniform, the third tally in Friday night’s contest. After keeping the puck in the zone on the power play, Kyle turned into the slot from the left point and snapped a major league snipe just over the goalie’s glove under the right corner post. Said Coach Bernstein about the goal, “What can you say? The guy has hands made of butter!”
- In the Saturday night game, the Commodores didn’t just battle their bitter in-state rivals but also the fatigue of starting the game nearly 1.5 hours late on account of the Knoxville Ice Bears running an “alumni jersey auction” ( … they were selling jerseys for nearly two, three, even four hundred dollars! … ) plus the Tennessee club honoring its 2012 hall of fame inductees. The Commodores could have complained were it not for the fact that they were probably getting their just rewards from the previous fall semester. If you recall, the club was two hours(!) late to their October game versus Florida in Atlanta. “Karma baby,” said rookie Harry Londoff. “It is what it is.” A zen-like response from the freshman defenseman, and oh so true.
Back On The Ice In Nashville
There will be no rest for the weary as the team will be back on the ice against SECHC power and 11th-ranked Ole Miss Ice Rebels on Friday, 1/20, at 10:15pm, and Saturday, 1/21, at 8:40pm. The Commodores will look to avenge two of their three losses from last season at the hands of the boys from Oxford, no small task given the hockey juggernaut that coach Kristian Skou and senior captain Cody Johnson have been engineering in Oxford. Tickets are free for Vanderbilt students, $3 for children under 18 years of age, and $5 for adults. We hope to see you at the rink!