It was a bull market on high fives in Nashville last Friday and Saturday as the Vanderbilt Commodores Ice Hockey Club skated to an impressive 2-0 start to the 2011/12 season. With decisive victories of 7-1 and 10-2 against the University of Memphis Tigers, the Commodores showed that they are primed, ready, and eager to drive towards a banner season for the program.
The games, played before the largest crowds the Centennial Sportsplex has seen since little Sally Wheeler’s performance at the 1987 Tennessee State Figuring Skating Championships (i.e., the one where she unveiled her patented quintuple backwards salchow), were a success both on and off the ice as the Commodores not only delighted a host of parents in attendance but also raised over $600 for Tuscaloosa Forward, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s strategic initiative to rebuild itself following last April’s devastating tornadoes. From the scoreboard and stands to the cashbox and proud mamas and papas, the team could not have asked for a better weekend.
“Yeah, it was ok,” said sophomore Alan Leeser, who’s rocket one-timer in Friday’s contest topped a long list of highlights from the set.
Old Faithfuls Prove Formidable
In a year that kicked off with a slew of new faces hitting the Vanderbilt hockey scene, it may have been easy for fans to forget that several “old guys” were still around to make some noise, and noise-make they did against Memphis. Headlined by senior captain Matt Kaminsky (2 goals, 3 assists) and junior Scooter McLaughlin (4 goals, 1 assist), the veteran regime set the bar extremely high for the newbies on the squad. Channeling his inner Clubber Lang (a la Rocky III for the age-impaired), Kaminsky said oh so eloquently following Saturday’s drubbing, “I pity da foo’s that underestimate the leadership on this team. We’ve got the upperclassmen to set the right examples and the young guys to embrace them.” He concluded emphatically, “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – watch out for them ‘Dores!”
Also contributing were line-mates Tom Trepanier and Kyle McCann who picked up where they left off last season. Trep spearheaded the team’s successful kill of nearly 4 minutes of 3-on-5 time while McCann sliced and diced his way to a goal and several shots on net.
Finally, the team was able to pin its hopes on the talents of senior captain, team president, and former Country Music Hall of Fame intern Brenden Oliver for its opening night victory. Spurred on by the rabid support of his mother Linda (who, along with Coach Bernstein’s lovely and understanding wife Betsy, collected ticket sales at the gate – thank you ladies!), Oliver fought boredom in the first and second periods and a mild onslaught in the third to secure the win on Friday night.
“I was pretty psyched for the ‘W,'” said Oliver, “but honestly, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the ticket giveaway promotion we were running.” Courtesy of Oliver himself, the team gave away a floor seat to Taylor Swift’s Saturday performance at Bridgestone Arena in an effort to draw fans to Centennial. “I just kept thinking, ‘Boy I hope the person actually likes Taylor Swift.’ I mean, seriously, I owe it to her to put it to good use.”
New Guns Take Aim
With the returning players firing on all cylinders, the coaching staff was pleased to see the rookie Commodores also getting into the action early on in the 2011/12 campaign. A pair of sophomore transfers – Ben Ross (1 goal and 4 assists in two games) and Eliot Rosenfield (3 goals in Saturday’s contest) – led the way while first-year law student Cory Reno netted a goal and an assist in Saturday night’s match-up. Reno’s debut with the Vanderbilt club was especially smashing, literally, as he received a 2-and-10 penalty in his very first shift with the Commodores for a defensive-zone hit.
“They’d never call a penalty on that in Michigan,” said a frustrated Reno following the game. “Total bull shnikeys.” Having played for Grand Valley State in undergrad, a national championship-level ACHA power, the coaching staff looks forward to watching Reno lead with his unique perspective and aggressive style.
Complimenting this trio of newcomers were sophomores Kyle “Terry Tate” Barber, Henry “Scare-y Quiet” Crowe, Joey “Million Dollar Smile” Grisko, Connor “Guns Show” Smallwood, and Teddy “Too” Swift, plus second-year-MBA Ryan “CAPM Baby!” Weekes, a former inline hockey star at Elon College.
“The depth on this team is just crazy,” said second-year head coach Thomas Bernstein. “We’ve got all these new players, and we have the seniors leading the club as our elder statesmen. Then you’ve got the rock solid guys producing as the “glue,” guys like sophomores Jordan Zauderer, Kyle Stachowiak, and Alan Leeser. When it comes to depth, the staff and I are feeling pretty darn spoiled.”
A Great Kickoff, Despite …
Few things are more cliche in sports than the obligatory pre-game statement from a coach, “We had a great week of practice and we’re ready for the big game.” So imagine the surprise of the reporters who attended the Vanderbilt hockey team’s pre-weekend press conference when someone asked Coach Bernstein, “How’s the week been going leading up to the game?” and he bluntly replied, “Our week stunk, had a terrible practice. And it was my fault.”
Bernstein elaborated that the team’s Wednesday practice was a hot mess consisting of multiple poorly conceived drills, unexpectedly faulty equipment (his whistle broke), and a bruising injury (he took a puck in the stomach). “I just ran out of time to plan the skate. Coach Holston wasn’t around to help me white-board out the session prior to the ice time. Work got in the way. I ran out of gas! I–I had a flat tire! I didn’t have enough money for cab fare! My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners! An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!!” (Guys, it’s a reference your parents will appreciate; click here to get schooled in the ways of Jake Blues.)
Bernstein went on to acknowledge that excuses are like rear-ends – they all stink – and that the bad practice would be an anomaly. “Coach Holston and I will be attending USA Hockey training on Sunday following our weekend in South Carolina so the boys can rest assured that we’ll be continuing to learn and grow as coaches. Last Wednesday will never happen again.”
The Weekend’s One Blemish A Major One
It was not all fun and games for the Commodores. With one sobering Facebook message posted shortly after the game, the team confirmed its earlier suspicions and worst fears:
“love hockey, hate injuries…hand broken”
– Sophomore Jack Delehey, Sun 9/19 at 12:10am
Delehey suffered a broken hand on a very questionable hit in the offensive zone. Following his knee injury last December and subsequent time on the injured reserve list, Delehey’s latest setback came as a tough pill to swallow. In a note to teammates, Delehey expressed that he’ll “do everything [he] can to convince doctors to let [him] play with a cast.” The club will look to see him back on the ice for its game against Arkansas on December 9th (or perhaps sooner).
Looking Ahead and Thank You’s
Vanderbilt will be back on the ice this weekend for the club’s first road trip of the season at South Carolina. For those in and around the Columbia area, game times will be Friday, 9/23, at 9:30pm and Saturday, 9/24, at 9:30am. That’s right, two games in 15 hours. That depth on the roster should come in handy!
Three final notes before putting a wrap on the kickoff to the 2011/12 season. First we’d like to thank all of the parents who attended the weekend’s festivities, including Linda Oliver, Ed Smallwood, the Crowes, Gangemis, Griskos, Londoffs, McCallums, McCanns, McLaughlins, Rosenfields, Zauderers, and anyone else that I missed. Your presence and support made the weekend even more special for your sons and the rest of the team. We hope you can make it back to campus soon for one of our upcoming home games!
Next, the team would like to thank Coach Rusty Ware for his efforts in energizing the overall VU Hockey experience by organizing the in-game logistics and programming. With the announcing and music so tightly managed, the weekend’s games were clearly more professional than any we’ve hosted in recent memory. We look forward to refining the system over the coming weeks in order to make coming to a Vanderbilt hockey game everything it can and should be. Thanks Coach Ware, awesome job!
Lastly, the club would like to extend a warm and rousing thank you to Assistant Coach Ben Gatlin for crafting what has been already declared by Brenden Oliver “literally the best hockey montage I have ever seen.” If you have not had the pleasure, please view at your leisure and be prepared to get fired up about the Black and Gold!
Go ‘Dores, keep the momentum going through this weekend and the rest of the year!
Date & Time: Saturday, September 17th, 2011 at 5:30pm CT
Location: Centennial Sportsplex – Nashville, TN
Eliot Rosenfield (LW): 3 Goals
Mike Gangemi (G): 23 saves (on 25 shots)
Stephen Mozur (RW): 1 goal, 9 hits
First Period Scoring Summary
Gray – Riley
Mozur (1) – McCallum
Rosenfield (1) – Unassisted
McCann (1) – Johnston
Second Period Scoring Summary
Reno (1) – Leeser, Kaminsky
Kaminsky (2) – Ross
Ross (2) – Londoff
D. Crowe (1) – McLaughlin, Ross
Third Period Scoring Summary
Gay – Unassisted
Rosenfield (2) – D. Crowe, Reno
Rosenfield (3) – Leeser
Abelman (1) – Johnston