NASHVILLE, TN â€“ In what should have been a weekend marked entirely by revelry and triumph on account of seventeen former Vanderbilt hockey greats returning to campus for the first ever VU Hockey Alumni Weekend, things soured considerably when the University of Alabama Frozen Tide unceremoniously dispatched the Vanderbilt Chilleâ€™dores 4-3 at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. Outshot, outskated, and out-conditioned by a large margin, Vanderbilt just didnâ€™t bring it against its rival to the south. The score did not reflect the lop-sided play in the game, nor did it capture the disappointment held by the Vanderbilt clubâ€™s alums following the contest.
â€œCall me crazy but I just thought the boys were going to win one for us old guys,â€ said a mildly despondent and reflective Jotham McCauley (â€™01). â€œYou canâ€™t win â€˜em all. Of course, in our day we did, but thatâ€™s ancient history at this point.â€ Our staff writers found this claim of former glory to be a bit suspect, however a fire in the athletic department archives in the summer of 2002 destroyed all records of the teamâ€™s history from 1991 through the 2001/02 season. We are therefore left to take former club president Justin Seibertâ€™s (â€™99) word for it when he says that the Vanderbilt hockey club â€œused to dominate everybody back in the day. Everybody.â€
The loss leaves the current club sitting with a record of 2-3 heading into a weekend set versus Xavier on Friday and Saturday, 9/26 and 9/27.
Practice Makes [for a] Perfect [Reunion]
The weekend kicked off with a practice at Centennial and the start of a reunion of alumni representing all eras of the club. Nashville native and resident Wade Cowan (â€™78) joined as the weekendâ€™s most distinguished participant while reunion chair Brenden Oliver (â€˜12) clocked in as the youngest. There were guys from as far away as Idaho and Germany, West Virginia and Texas, New York City and Brentwood. From the start, the stories were flowing as freely as the libations.
â€œIt was amazing to hear the tales from the old days,â€ said current assistant coach Jonathan Holston. â€œYou could tell that some of their best friendships in life, even to this day, are the ones they made through the team. Itâ€™s fun to see and itâ€™s even cooler to think about the fact that our guys are hopefully forging those same types of connections today.â€
The practice was a big success as the guys were able to shake off some rust, in some cases literally. Several of the alums mentioned they hadnâ€™t dusted their equipment off in years, perhaps since their last Vandy game some ten years ago.
â€œLetâ€™s just say I didnâ€™t arrive in mid-season form,â€ said former team enforcer and current Houston native Nolan McDougal (â€™01) who spent a portion of practice huddled over a garbage can, no doubt fighting off a case of food poisoning. Fortunately, he was able to exorcise the demons en route to a strong performance in Saturdayâ€™s alumni tilt versus the undergrads.
The prize for biggest, or should we say loudest, arrival was awarded to Stu Wick (â€™00), a PhD graduate who starred for the Commodores for seven years from 1993-2000. Cheers of â€œStuuuuuuuuuuuu!â€ erupted upon his return and they only continued when he stepped onto the ice. Stu also took home the weekendâ€™s style award for sporting a Messier-Oilers-era Cooper helmet and some solid vintage VU hockey gear.
â€œIt felt like the old days,â€ said Wick. â€œPeople cheering my name, me racking up a few goals and throwing a few elbows. It was like returning home.â€
The Big Stage
Thanks to the help and support of our friends at the Nashville Predators, the club was able to host the Alumni Game at Bridgestone Arena as part of a lockout-be-damned hockey doubleheader. (The Knoxville Bears took the ice against the Huntsville Havoc shortly after the Vanderbilt skate.)
â€œThe Preds staff marketed the night over social media and in the local papers so we actually had a bunch of fans in the stands to watch our game,â€ said junior Alan Leeser. â€œIt made for a fun event for everybody.â€
The boys kicked things off at center ice with a stick tap/raise to former head coach Ken Murphy, the clubâ€™s first coach and financier, who watched with his family from the stands. The moment was an appropriate nod to the history of the team and a particularly special moment for Wade Cowan.
â€œMurphâ€™s the best,â€ said Cowan. â€œIt was great to see him back in the rink cheering us on after all these years!â€
The game itself was competitive and then some as the undergrads and alumni traded goals, elbows, and chirps throughout a hotly contested 60 minutes. Former club president Mike Viscardi (â€™98) led the highlight reel with two nearly identical breakaway, glove-side, bar-down snipes on junior goalie Mike Gangemi.
Viscardi beamed afterwards saying, â€œItâ€™s nice to know thereâ€™s still a little life in these hands. It reminds me of the old days when I used to light Seibert up in practice.â€
Ultimately, the undergrads would prevail 6-5 on a late goal from assistant coach Lee Kanouff with 0:20 on the clock, but that did not take away from what was by all accounts a phenomenal day and weekend for the alumni squad. For a first ever event, the current club could not have asked for a better experience in terms of attendance and support from the 17 skaters that returned to Nashville. On behalf of everyone associated with the team, our thanks go out to Wade, Roland, Stu, Pepi, Mike, Justin, Christian, Patrick, Jotham, Nolan, Mike, Chris, Nathan, Ben, Matt, Jack, and Brenden. Weâ€™re already looking forward to the next one!
And Then The Tide Ruined Everything
Riddle me this, sports fans. What are the key ingredients for a flat game? Well, how about you start with the opponent, in Sundayâ€™s case the New York Yankees of southern club hockey the University of Alabama Frozen Tide. Sprinkle in a 10:30am game slot the morning after an â€œIbizaâ€-theme party, and how about we also fold in a few late season player debuts, just for good measure. Thereâ€™s your recipe, guaranteed to deliver the way a Hot Pocket does â€“ reliably, but only to a certain level of quality and nourishment.
That said, despite the circumstances the Commodores skated to an early 2-1 lead at the end of the first period. Powered by a mid-ice rocket from freshman Jack Gibbons (apparently his specialty) and a laser from senior Scooter McLaughlin, the â€˜Dores were aided in the first frame by a little bit of luck and a whole lot of Keener.
â€œThe Ice Man was a difference maker for us the whole game,â€ recounted freshman Jack Fogarty. â€œHe stood on his head and kept us in it right til the end. The guy moves like a cat out there, heâ€™s just fun to watch.â€
The second period served up a different script for Vandy as the Tide battened down the hatches in net and popped two quick ones in to take the lead 3-2. Then, amidst a slew of Vanderbilt penalties to start the third period that included the seventh dumbest penalty of all time by junior Jim Butler (a 5-minute major for a face wash), â€˜Bama widened the lead to 4-2.
Vanderbilt would cut the lead to 4-3 with 2:22 left in the game and nearly tie it in the final 0:30 before ultimately falling to the Frozen Tide by a single tally. Following last seasonâ€™s narrow loss in the SECHC tournament to the Tide, Coach Bernstein was particularly contemplative after the contest.
â€œLast season we played our best game and lost 4-2,â€ he recalled. â€œThis year, we played one of our worst and lost 4-3. Part of me thinks thatâ€™s a sign of improvement and progress, and part of me thinks itâ€™s an indication that I failed to deliver from a coaching perspective. I suppose I should focus on the former, but reality has me squarely focused on the latter â€“ what could we have done better heading in, and what do we need to do for the rest of the season to play our very best hockey.â€
A final note on the game needs to be extended to the incredible fans that made it out to Centennial to cheer on both teams, especially our Vanderbilt hockey parents (the Kirks, Mr. McCann, and Mr. Gibbons) and the @PenaltyBoxRadio crew who channeled their frustrations with the NHL lockout into some of the best cheering and support weâ€™ve had at a Vanderbilt hockey game in a long time. We hope you can make it out to our next few home games coming up this semester, itâ€™s awesome to play in front of such amazing and passionate fans!
On that note, mark your calendars: The â€˜Dores will be facing off against Xavier tonight and tomorrow (10/26 and 10/27) at 10:15pm at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville. Tickets are free and the hockey will be awesome as the Musketeers roll into town sporting a 7-1 record. We hope to see you at the rink for some great hockey action!