New Players, New Locker Room and Newfound Success: Looking Back On Vanderbilt Hockey’s 2014 and Looking Ahead

As we ring in the New Year, let’s take a moment to look back on Vanderbilt Hockey’s 2014. It was a year filled with exciting new events and opportunities, an influx of young talent and, perhaps most importantly, newfound on-ice success.

Upon arriving back on campus in August, returning members of the club were introduced to some new faces. Included among the freshmen were a trio of sophomore transfers: goaltender Ryan Kellenberger, defenseman Bobby Mallon and forward Ryan Doppelheuer. Each transfer has been a huge boost to the club: Doppelheuer and Mallon lead forwards and defensemen, respectively, in points with 44 combined between them, while Kellenberger has started two-thirds of the team’s games in net and has posted a 2.72 goals against average and .917 save percentage. In addition, Mallon has been named Fundraising Chair for the upcoming season and has assumed the role of de facto DJ in the locker room, blasting tunes from the massive speaker he brings to all road trips.

“I think the pregame tunes really allow us to get out there and play to win,” said Mallon, a proud resident of Philadelphia, PA. “There’s nothing better than hearing our post game victory song (Right Back Where We Started From – Maxine Nightingale) after a nice win. In fact, the only reason that guys like (Matt) Neurohr and (Tucker) Rhodes try so hard is so that they can hear the song after the game.”

The team was in for yet another surprise only a few hours before the first game, as the players were treated to the official unveiling of the team’s brand new locker room, located at the Ford Ice Center in Antioch, TN. Ford Ice, which held its grand opening merely weeks earlier, is now the gold standard for ice rinks in the Southeastern United States. The facility features two full-size sheets as well as a concession stand fully loaded with food and drink, including beer. As for the locker room, it features twenty-one wooden stalls, complete with space to hang and store equipment as well as nameplates featuring each players’ name and number. The room also includes a speaker system, a high-definition television used for pre-game preparation as well as the occasional game of NHL on the Xbox 360, and a rug with Vanderbilt’s Star V logo in the center of the floor. Perhaps the coolest feature, however, is a Vanderbilt Hockey-centric touch: above the lockers, all the way around the room, hang Vanderbilt Hockey uniforms of the past and present, visually documenting each step in the club’s history dating back to its founding in 1976.

“It’s a huge step for the club, having a locker room for ourselves,” explained 2015 Vice President and Alternate Captain Jack Gibbons. “Not only does it elevate the level of the team but it’s also fun for the guys to have–it makes everyone a little more excited for games and practices. Having the jerseys hanging is a really cool touch; it’s a great way to see how far we’ve come as a club and a reminder of all the guys who came before us and built this club into what it is today.”

The night of the locker room’s unveiling was unfortunately spoiled by a season-opening loss to SEC East foe South Carolina which featured undisciplined play by the Vandy squad. However, the team refocused quickly and responded only two days later with a decisive 7-3 victory, one that would set the tone for the semester. The team then traveled to Georgia to take on another division rival, Florida, and returned home with another two victories and a commanding lead in the SEC East division.

As the calendar turned to October, the club prepared for its newest venture: the MAPCO College Hockey Scholar Shootout. The event was billed as a three-day tournament featuring six clubs from schools ranked in the Top 50 academically by US News & World Report and was designed to showcase the talents of well-rounded student-athletes. While Vanderbilt ran through the competition, outscoring its opponents by a total of 28-6 en route to winning the Shootout’s trophy (“The Davey”, named after the club’s founder), all teams involved had a great time and were afforded the opportunity to face off against some teams they might otherwise not have ever played against. Head Coach Thomas Bernstein had this to say about the development of the Scholar Shootout:

“I’m proud of all that the boys accomplished throughout the fall semester, in particular with the execution of the Scholar Shootout. The tournament encapsulates everything we love about Vanderbilt hockey—our creativity, our celebration of the intersection of academics and athletics, and of course our strong performance on the ice. Our culture is to build, and when our players look back on their Vanderbilt hockey experience in 25 years, I’d like to think they’ll be proud of building and participating in traditions such as the Scholar Shootout.”

The rest of the semester was a roller coaster ride, with close wins as well as devastating losses. Some of the highlights (and lowlights) include:

  • A crazy come-from-behind victory against Kennesaw State in the final home game of the semester
  • Two tough losses to the University of Alabama, the top team in the SECHC
  • A shootout victory against Georgia Tech
  • A late collapse against Ole Miss

The semester concluded with yet another milestone for the club: a Northeast road trip featuring games against two Division II clubs against whom the Commodores had never played before this year. The trip, a homecoming of sorts for a large portion of the team, began with a thrilling comeback win against a University of Virginia squad supported by a large and raucous home crowd and ended in the historic Hobey Baker Rink, as the club’s largest fan section of the season (largely fueled by parents) cheered the team on to a 4-2 victory over the Princeton Tigers.

The team finished the semester with an 11-4 record, a vast improvement over the previous season, and a #9 ranking in the ACHA’s second Division III regional rankings. If the Commodores can stay in the top 10, they will travel to Orlando in late February to take on some of the South’s best clubs with an opportunity to play in the Division III Nationals up for grabs.

The club will be saying goodbye to fifth-year senior Anthony Bilotta, who will return to the club in a coaching role next semester. While his spot on the first line will be difficult to fill, sophomore Alternate Captain John Longman, as well as the aforementioned Doppelheuer, will look to continue their scoring ways. The two combined for an extremely impressive 37 goals and 24 assists during the semester, leading the way for the Commodores.

Longman will also have added responsibility as he enters 2015 as the newest President of the Vanderbilt Ice Hockey Club. Longman said that he is “looking forward to sustaining our success from the first semester and I want to help lead the team to the next level both on and off the ice.”

Longman has big shoes to fill, but he has the benefit of working alongside his predecessor for the coming months. Greg Kirk, now a second-semester senior, has finished his time as club President and is looking forward to topping off his Vanderbilt Hockey career with some success.

“I am excited for the future of the club,” explained Kirk. “John, along with everyone else on the executive board, is really motivated and they are already making their own impact on the club and its continued growth.” As for his final semester, the Captain reflected and said that “it’s been a great past few seasons with the team and one of the best parts of my Vanderbilt experience. I’m looking forward to finishing the season strong and continuing our winning ways. The program has come a long way in my years here.”

Coach Bernstein summed up everything pretty well when discussing what he sees looking ahead to next semester. “I look forward to seeing how the players continue to build on last semester’s performance heading into the spring. We have a terrific group of young men on the roster. It should be a ton of fun to see what they can accomplish.”

The club has a lot to live up to, but there are certainly already positives to look forward to this coming year. From a seven-game homestand to finish out the regular season, to a spot in the SEC tournament and potentially even Regionals or Nationals, the 2015 iteration of the Vanderbilt Commodores looks poised for even more success.

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