VU Hockey ’11/12 should be “Pretty Sweet”

For nearly 25 years, the office supply store Staples has launched an annual August marketing campaign with a singular mission in mind: infuriate every elementary school through college student on the planet with a particularly grating, poorly produced commercial. You know the one:

♫  “It’s the most, wonDERful timeee … of the yearrr …”  ♫

In the weeks leading up to the first day of a new school year, even reading this ad pitch’s jingle can make one’s skin crawl. It is our nation’s yearly reminder that, “No, kids, your parents don’t actually like being in your presence for a prolonged period; and parents, aren’t those kids of yours just the pits?”

So given this overwhelmingly negative visceral reaction, imagine rising sophomore Jack Delehey’s surprise when said Staples ditty graced his television (on queue per its August schedule) and his response was not one of enmity but one of excitement. “Why,” you ask?

Vanderbilt Commodores Ice Hockey 2011/12. Back. In. Action. Said a charged up Delehey, “Dude, I’ve got goose bumps.”

But First, A Look Back

It is hard to describe the leap the Frozen Commodores took from the start of the 2010/11 season through this past March. Coming into the year with questions regarding the schedule, coaching staff, roster, and finances, the Ice ‘Dores were merely hoping for incremental improvements over the previous year which had concluded with the club being on SECHC administrative probation. Fortunately for the team, however, a tremendous group of leaders stepped into the void and delivered the club to a 15-3-1 record capped off with a signature victory versus Tennessee in the inaugural I-40 Face-off at Bridgestone Arena.

“We wouldn’t be where we are now heading into 2011/12 without the tremendous contributions of leaders such as Brenden Oliver, Matt Kaminsky, and Tom Trepanier,” says rising sophomore Alan Leeser with his signature stately eloquence. “I just can’t wait to get things fired up this year.”

Kyle Brennan, '11

Who’s Out?

With so much promise for the year ahead, it is important to first note that the ‘Dores will be losing some serious horsepower and, more importantly, personality from its roster. Gone are: Matt Maggiore, Nathan Tardiff, Peter Dignard, Anderson Funk, P.J. Tatum, Erin Loeb, Kyle Brennan, and Ben Loss. Gentlemen, the Vanderbilt University, greater Nashville area, and Southeast region communities will miss your many contributions. Whether you are off to graduate school, the real world, or a Southeast Asian walkabout, we wish you well in your future endeavors. Please send a postcard.

Alright, enough about the Old Guys … Who’s In?

With a large portion of the roster graduating, the prevailing sentiment at the conclusion of last spring was one of mild concern mixed with anticipation. “You just never know who will show up come the fall,” explains senior goalie Brenden Oliver. “Based on the inquiries we’ve gotten leading up to the season, I think we can all be confident that we’ll be able to fill the roster, and then some.”

He is right, the numbers as of today are unprecedented heading into a Vanderbilt hockey season. With 17 players returning plus nearly 25 new prospects (and counting) looking to come out for the team, the club will be wading into uncharted territories numbers-wise. “We’re all interested to know how many players will actually come out for the first meeting and practices,” says Oliver. “Even if participation is closer to 45, we’re committed to finding a way to manage the season so that as many people as possible can get to be a part of our organization. VU hockey is a family, and like any strong family we believe, ‘The more the merrier.’ ”

Sizing Up the ‘Dores

Based on interviews with players, coaches, league officials, and hockey mom Linda Oliver, it appears the team will be looking to capitalize on several clear and defining strengths while hoping to overcome some admitted deficiencies. Highlights include:

Three Strengths

Asst. Captain Chris Sperandio, '13

Captain play. Senior Matt Kaminsky will don the “C” for the 2011/12 campaign, an honor made all the more impressive by the fact that he only played half of last year following a study-aboard semester in Europe. Kaminsky made up for lost time quickly though, both by producing on the ice (he was sixth on the team in goals scored and total points) and being a vocal leader in the locker room. “Kaminsky is, like, the dude every guy wants to be,” admires rising sophomore and Minnesota native David Crowe. “No other way to say it – guy’s a stud.” For anyone else, the coaching staff would worry that this adulation might go to a player’s head. “With Matty we don’t have to worry about that,” second year head coach Thomas Bernstein assures. “He’s a Flyers fan. That alone keeps him humble.”

Kaminsky’s supporting cast sporting the “A’s” includes senior forechecking specialist Thomas “The Chauffeur” Trepanier, junior sniper Chris “Fancy Feet” Sperandio, and Oliver. Asked why this group is so important to the club, rising sophomore Jordan Zauderer explains, “These guys run the show both on and off the ice. From booking refs and scheduling games to scoring goals and stoning breakaways, they get the job done, no questions asked.” Zauderer concluded that, on a personal note, “Trep in particular is an inspiration.”

Organization. In the infrastructure arms race that is the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference, today’s reality demands that every club establish, nurture, and grow an organization of staff, coaches, and volunteers that would rival many NCAA-level programs. In an attempt to overcome obstacles such as being outspent by as much as a 5x multiple (Alabama) or competing against teams that play almost twice as many games as you do (also the Frozen Tide), the VU hockey club will be employing several tools from their newly equipped arsenal. The first is to partner with the Nashville Predators organization to potentially play several home games at Bridgestone Arena throughout the season.

“The feedback we received from the Predators front office following the I-40 Face-Off was fantastic, so much so that they want to schedule several double-header packages this season where we follow the Preds,” says Oliver. “It’s just so cool to think that hockey fans in the greater Nashville area would be motivated to purchase Preds tickets in part because of the chance to see us skate. Even if we swayed just one ticketholder to purchase seats that otherwise would not have, that’s awesome.”

New Assistant Coach Ben Gatlin, '11

The club will also be bringing on two new members to the coaching staff (with a third potential ‘hire’ waiting in the wings), former SECHC hockey stars “Big” Ben Gatlin and Jonathan Holston. Gatlin, a graduate student on last year’s VU hockey team, opted to stay close to home by landing a job as an undergraduate admissions counselor at Vanderbilt following the completion of his master’s degree in leadership at Peabody. In addition to being a swell guy who can deliver tremendous value purely as a role model, Gatlin will also serve as the team’s admissions liaison for new recruits. Says Gatlin, “Just as I do for students with all backgrounds and interests, I look forward to helping future VU hockey players determine whether or not Vanderbilt is the right home for them for their undergraduate pursuits.”

Holston, a Delaware native and University of Alabama graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business and master’s degree in marketing, brings a unique perspective to Vanderbilt as he was instrumental in building the Frozen Tide franchise to its current and rising glory. “I see a ton of potential with the Vanderbilt team and am just happy to be a part of something that is clearly growing,” explains Holston. “I’ve been at this for a while – negotiating merchandise contracts, running marketing campaigns, managing money – and am looking forward to helping at Vanderbilt however I can.” First to-do on Holston’s list will be to spill the beans regarding Alabama head coach Mike Quenneville’s secrets to success. “Coach Q is the gold standard in the league,” says Bernstein, “right down to his hockey-sounding last name ‘Quenneville.’ I’m really hoping Holston shares a little bit of inside info, just so we can level the playing surface a smidge.”

Firepower. The game of hockey is a simple one. Do two things and you’ll be successful: (1) keep the puck out of your net, and (2) put the biscuit in the other team’s basket. On this second note, VU is primed and ready to tee up some serious artillery on the front line. Leading scorers from last season Kyle McCann (10 goals, 13 assists) and Kyle “Go-Go-Gadget” Stachowiak (7 goals, 9 assists) return as do juniors Scooter McLaughlin and Ryan Blatt. “With Oliver shutting down the net and this group of players up front, we’ll be tough to handle,” observes a confident Kaminsky. “I’m not making any guarantees, I’m just saying ‘watch out.’ ”

Three Weaknesses

Defense. The club is not necessarily lacking in talent in the defensive ranks, just numbers. Senior Jack McCallum will return from a season-ending knee injury to anchor a back line that also includes Crowe, Zauderer, and rising sophomore Mike Nisbet. Time will tell if the ‘Dores can bolster this area with its slate of new arrivals.

Finances. The financial disparity between teams in the SECHC is a disadvantage that cannot be overstated. Uniforms, transportation, ice time, marketing resources … you name it, Vanderbilt will be constantly challenging itself to find creative ways to make up ground. To paraphrase the great comedian Richard Pryor, “When you ain’t got no money, you gotta get an attitude.”

Coaching strategy. Coach Bernstein is quick to admit, “I’m not a well-schooled hockey tactician. Whereas some guys bring an NCAA DI pedigree to their teams, and others NHL or minor league experience, I bring a club and high school background. From New Jersey. I know … yikes.” His experience, or lack there of, did not seem to be too much of a detriment in 2010/11. That said, looking ahead to this upcoming year and the team’s heightened expectations, the pressure will be on to get the club organized not just off the ice but on it too. Says coach Bernstein’s wife Betsy, “I’m not sure he’s been studying up on strategy in the off-season all that much but he’s definitely watched Youngblood about a hundred times. He seems to think that will have some net positive impact on his performance.” This makes no sense of course, but hey, perhaps the 1980s classic starring a Brat-Pack-era Rob Lowe holds some hidden wisdom that resonates with Bernstein. His players certainly hope this is the case.

Mr. C’s Five Questions for 2011/12

The Vanderbilt mascot “Mr. C” wants to know:

  • Will the ‘Dores find another goalie to join Oliver for the fall semester? (Rising junior Mackie Anderson will be abroad to start the year.)
  • Will Delehey continue to play pick-up basketball and, in turn, risk both the health of his knee and the future prospects of his team?
  • Will Vanderbilt hockey outdraw Vanderbilt football?
  • What is the over/under on inspirational Alan Leeser-delivered pre-game speeches?
  • How many players (with hockey bags) will Trepanier be able to fit into his Toyota Tundra at one time?
Predicted Finish

Your guess is as good as this reporter’s. It seems like a confident bunch that is determined to make some noise in the ACHA region and SECHC league races. A la the Bill Belichick school of public relations, though, the players remain largely mum about their predictions for the year, likely a byproduct of the fact that many of them hail from New England and Patriots country. Only one strayed from the company line, offering a small nugget of insight.

Sophomore David Crowe: “We should be pretty sweet. Just sayin’.”



Opening Weekend versus Memphis!

The season opens on September 16th at Centennial Sportsplex versus the University of Memphis. Game time will be 7pm and 100% of ticket sales at the door will be donated to Tuscaloosa Tornado Relief ($3 for students and children, $5 for adults). We hope to see you at the rink. In the meantime, enjoy this little treasure on the eve of the start of another Vanderbilt school year!

“They’re going bacckkkkkkkkk … !”

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