Sophomore Daniel Hogue described last Saturday night’s game versus the University of Alabama-Huntsville as, “A dream come true … for a night.” The result, an 11-0 loss, would have been considered a nightmare in any other circumstance, but this evening was different. Vanderbilt, an ACHA club team, was facing the South’s only NCAA D1 hockey program, a club fresh off a narrow loss to the #1-ranked team in the country Boston College. Yes folks, that Boston College, the one whose coach Jerry York just notched his 925th win to become the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history … against UAH.
“You know, it was a great day in the history of hockey,” recalled Hogue. “Our boys in the U.S.A. red, white, and blue took home the gold at the World Juniors – beating those hosers from up north before topping the Swedes – then we made history by reaching ‘The Show.'”
Here is the story of how the ultimate David faced off against the monster of all Goliaths, got crushed into a mangled pulp in the process, and emerged with an unforgettably fun experience that will be sure to bore their grandkids someday.
So how does a club program get the opportunity to play an NCAA D1 hockey power? Easy. Take geography, throw in a dash of brand equity, a hint of reputation, and a whole heaping helping of urgency to an open slot on the calendar. Let that marinate for two or three days over some discussion and then bam, you have yourself a hockey opportunity beyond comparison.
Translated, the game arose out of a confluence of factors that placed Vanderbilt at the top of a list of teams that might be able to fill a hole in UAH’s calendar. According to the Chargers’ administrators, their original opponent, NCAA D3 Adrian College, had to cancel one of their two games versus UAH at the last minute because they needed to keep their total number of games for the season below 25. (It’s something you’d think they would have managed earlier on in the process, but hey, our boys weren’t complaining.)
Forced to fill the slot with short notice, UAH’s Athletic Director Dr. E.J. Brophy looked to teams in the southeast to fill in. With a recognizable SEC brand and a hockey team that has been making some noise over the past couple of years in club circles, Dr. Brophy placed a call to Coach Bernstein to extend the invitation.
“It was about the last call I expected,” said Coach. “I was flattered that we’d even be on their radar let alone receive an invite to play.”
Ultimately, Coach put the decision to play (or not) to the players. “I wanted to make sure that if we accepted the challenge that it would be our boys making the call, not me. I was a little surprised when nearly every single player signed on without hesitation. Were I their age in that position, I’m not so sure I would have jumped at the opportunity.”
It’s Good To Be Part Of “The Show”
Game day was a special one for the club as the UAH administrators treated the Vanderbilt team like any other opponent. Their hospitality was first rate and the experience was akin to what the pros enjoy.
“We grabbed a quick hour skate at the [Von Braun Center] at noon several hours prior to game time,” said senior captain Kyle McCann. “It was the first time I’d ever done that which was cool. We don’t always have the chance to just walk through systems, think through breakouts and stuff, because we have so little practice time. It really got me thinking about my game and I think it helped the other guys a lot.”
In the locker room, the UAH staff had laundry service tee’d up for towels and uniforms, tape and gum laid out in the middle of the room, and coffee for the coaches. They even put the team up in a nice Marriott property, expenses included.
“No Magnolia Inn and Suites for Cory Reno this trip,” vented Cory Reno in the third person. A law school student who is returning to the team this spring after taking a semester off to focus on classes, Reno is still fuming over the bed bugs he nestled up with during a trip to Memphis last fall. “Seriously, it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. It almost made me retire from the sport.”
Sealing the aura of the “big day” event, the club organized a nice little surprise for the boys: new pant shells. Sporting the “star V” on their right thighs, the team never looked so sharp ahead of taking the big D1 stage versus the Chargers.
Recap Of The Carnage
The numbers from Saturday, January 5th, 2013, were what you’d charitably call on paper ghastly. Putrid. Frightful. If you were attending in person, however, you’d simply say (as VU hockey fan @jeancwilson tweeted), “Sigh.”
76 shots for UAH. 7 for Vanderbilt. A collective -55 for the Commodores club. Face-offs won? 10. Lost? 37. You can view the full autopsy report here.
To quote Vanderbilt hockey dad Foster Gibbons who made the trip down from New York City for the game, “The boys can just be glad no NHL scouts were in the crowd for that one.” It was perhaps the understatement of the evening, no question.
It Wasn’t Complete Domination …
Actually, if we’re being perfectly honest, it absolutely was complete domination on the part of UAH. But that doesn’t mean there were not a few bright spots for the ‘Dores.
Take the physical play for example. Junior Anthony Bilotta led the way on the front line with some bone-crushing checks that brought a tear to the eye of Assistant Coach Lee Kanouff.
“It was just beautiful and I couldn’t help it. You see a guy fire into the boards, sizing someone up, and that poor unsuspecting guy on the other team crumples like a tent in a hurricane. It just makes you proud. I’ll say it, I’m not afraid to admit: I got a little teary.”
The ‘Dores also welcomed back junior assistant captain and apparent face-off specialist Jack Delehey from semester-at-sea. Despite the team’s 10-37 record at the dot, Delehey managed to split his 10 tries with a 5-5 record. Count on the Energizer Bunny to be seeing more reps in that capacity as the semester progresses.
Vanderbilt almost even scored a goal(!) when senior defenseman Ryan Blatt fired a shot off the crossbar on the ‘Dores only power play of the game. Said junior Ben Ross after the game, “Thank God he didn’t score because seriously, we would have never, ever heard the end of it.”
Finally, and last but not least … oh, not least by a LONG mile … we had the two-headed monster in net that was the goalie play of sophomore Andrew “The Iceman” Keen and senior Mackie Anderson.
Iceman started the game and stood tall against the contest’s first power play stopping a barrage of shops that tallied well into double digits. Keen was able to limit the UAH club to 3 goals in the first period.
Check that, Keen was able to limit the UAH club to 3 goals in the first 19:49 of the first period, not the entire stanza.
Weird, right? Pulling a goalie with 11 seconds left in the first period. What’s the deal? Well, without spelling out the gory details of what transpired before a crowd of 1,181 that included Mrs. Coach, Mr. Gibbons, the editor of the Vanderbilt school newspaper, and our friends at @PenaltyBoxRadio, let’s just say that a certain someone who ate Chipotle for lunch “parted” with said cuisine option at an inopportune time, then had to pull himself out of the contest for the middle 20:00 in favor of his counterpart.
D-1 for a day was about all Keener could stomach apparently.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
As Coach Bernstein noted following the game, “Once you play a D1 team and put up a respectable fight, it is impossible to go back to your normal schedule and look at it the same way.” The Commodores will take their new perspective with them to Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville this Friday when they face off against in-state rival the University of Tennessee Ice Vols. It will be an SECHC East battle with end-of-season tournament implications so you can count on a spirited game between the two clubs.
The puck will drop at 10:15pm on Friday (at Centennial Sportplex), then again at 8:15pm on Saturday (at A-Game Sportsplex) so be sure to swing by the rink for some solid hockey action.
Happy new year folks and please have a happy, healthy 2013. We appreciate all the support and look forward to a great spring semester!