Last seasonâ€™s Commodores cruised through much of their schedule, beating teams by sheer talent and the ability to pile up goals. However, playing disciplined, physical teams proved to be a challenge for Vanderbilt in 2014-2015. This past weekend the team was offered an opportunity for revenge against two such clubs, responding with two victories in three games against Ole Miss and Arkansas.
The weekend began on Friday night at Ford Ice Center where Vandy took on Ole Miss. Last year the Dores suffered a heartbreaking loss in Mississippi as the Rebels scored two goals in the final two minutes of the game to win. The game started quickly thanks in large part to the efforts of freshman forward Blake Beber who scored one goal and assisted another. The rest of the period was fairly quiet and VU left the ice after one with a 2-0 lead. In the second, Ole Miss tied the game but John Longman responded only 11 seconds later to put Vandy back on top. Beber took over again in the third, scoring an early goal and adding a second assist on Jack Gibbonsâ€™ late in the game to prevent a comeback in what was a 4-2 game. The freshmanâ€™s fourth point of the night gave the Commodores a 5-2 lead they would carry until the final buzzer.
â€œGoing up against Ole Miss was a great way to start the weekend because we knew we had three big games to take care of,â€ explained Beber, who is second on the team in scoring. â€œGetting the energy boost from Friday night with a big team win was great to take into the two Arkansas games.â€
With a victory already under their belt, the Dores turned their attention to Arkansas, a team widely regarded as the powerhouse of the SECHC with five of the last six SECHC Tournament Championships. Vanderbilt entered Saturday evening 0-3 all-time against Arkansas, being outscored 27-2 in those three games. The game started off fast-paced and physically, with neither team reaching the scoreboard until the Razorbacks scored a goal with just over two minutes left in the first period. The second period featured more physical play, but no scoring. The game remained 1-0 until Arkansas capitalized on a 5-on-3 powerplay midway through the third period. Penalties were an issue for the Commodores throughout the third period, with four minors and a misconduct hindering any chance at a comeback. Matt Murphy scored a goal with 1:10 left to cut the lead to one, and although Arkansas hung on for the 2-1 victory, Vanderbiltâ€™s players felt that they had proven they could compete with a team who had mystified them in the past.
â€œThe loss on Saturday helped us realize what we needed to do to beat this team,â€ said senior defenseman Michael Hite. â€œThis team had been a lot of trouble for us in the past, but we came in the next morning with the expectation of winning.â€
The Commodores jumped on the Razorbacks early on Sunday, with graduate student Brock Raffaele scoring his first goal of his Vanderbilt career early in the first to put the home team ahead. It was another fast and physical game, but Ryan Kellenberger stood tall in the pipes to keep the 1-0 lead going through the first two periods. Early in the third, Captain John Longman scored his first of the game, and the lead would only increase from there. Longman would score two more goals in the period for a natural hat trick and Jack Gibbons added one of his own with just over a minute left to put the Commodores up 5-0. Kellenberger stopped all 22 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season against arguably the toughest opponent the Commodores have faced thus far.
â€œThis was a great weekend for us against a very good Arkansas team,â€ noted Kellenberger. â€œThings did not go our way Saturday, but we stayed the course and Sunday we took it to them. I think it is a big stepping stone for us as we know we can play with the best teams in the league if we play like we know we can.â€
After the weekend, the Commodoresâ€™ record sits at 7-2 and the team is currently tied for first in the first ever SECHC Coachesâ€™ Poll. Next weekend Vanderbilt takes on Delaware and Clemson at home, looking to continue their recent success.