The Vanderbilt hockey club’s 2013 SEC tournament ended on a dramatic note as the Commodores skated to a come-from-behind OT win over the Auburn Tigers in one of the weekend’s three consolation games. The Saturday match-up followed a Friday night loss to the University of Arkansas Ice Hogs by a score of 7-1.
“It’s not the way we wanted to finish up the tournament,” said senior captain Kyle McCann, “but it was still nice to come out with the win on Saturday against a very improved Auburn club.”
With the win and loss, Vanderbilt completed its formal season with a record of 10-13. The club will conclude its 2012/13 campaign on Friday, April 12th, versus the University of Alabama, a rematch of last October’s contest that saw a tight 4-3 game tilt in the favor of the Frozen Tide. April’s game, dubbed the “I-65 Face Off” in line with last year’s “I-40 Face Off” versus Tennessee, will take place at Bridgestone Arena following the Nashville Predators’ game against the Dallas Stars.
Before we take a look ahead, however, let’s first take a look back at the drama that transpired back on February 22nd and 23rd in in Huntsville, Alabama.
Taking On Number One
Heading into the tournament, the ‘Dores knew their draw was about as tough as you could get. Beat Arkansas, the number 4 team in the South, and you would have Ole Miss, number 7, on deck. Win? Great, congratulations – now meet number 5 Alabama.
Like a run through one of those Ninja Warrior obstacle courses, Vanderbilt fired into its Murderers’ Row-esque gauntlet with an impressive first burst. Amidst some brutally physical, and undisciplined, play from the Hogs, sophomore Daniel Hogue sniped a laser glove side on second team All SEC goalie Kevin Scheer to make it 1-0 at the end of one. Said a charged up Hogue following the play, “#mylife #classic #notevenkidding #SECTournament #vandypuck #charterbusisthebestbus.”
Unfortunately, the momentum turned sharply in favor of the Ice Hogs from then on.
“Give them credit, they’re a heck of a team, especially when they stay out of the box,” conceded assistant coach Lee Kanouff. “Alabama, Kennesaw, and now Arkansas. We know we can hang with the big guys in the region, we just need to find a way to play 60 minutes and win.”
Interestingly, the loss, which at the time offered no silver linings whatsoever, turned out to be mildly impressive by comparison. Reasoned freshman Jack Gibbons, “Arkansas beat Florida 8-1 [in the semis] and Alabama 8-0 [in the final] to win the tourney. I think that makes us the team that lost to them by the least.” Elias Sports Bureau confirmed the freshman’s assessment of the facts, thereby salvaging some semblance of positivity in the wake of the thrashing. So the team has that going for it, which is nice.*
Nails Gets Hammered and the ‘Dores Get Inspired
Saturday’s game versus Auburn did not start off well for the Commodores in any way, shape, or form. The Tigers, who are on the rise just three years into their club’s existence, tallied first to take an early lead 1-0. Not to be outdone by a teammate, Auburn’s senior goaltender Miles Bishop matched the good start on the offensive end by shutting down his goal on the other.
Heading towards the first period intermission, the game then took a violent turn in the form of a vicious elbow to freshman Chad “Nails McGillicudy” Wyatt’s left temple right in front of the Auburn crease.
“Chad sold out on the play,” recalled junior Eliot Rosenfield, “and man did he get creamed for it. It was a dirty hit made worse by the fact that the guy was about six times Chad’s size.” The Auburn player received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the assault.
The game was paused with 0:18 left in the first period as both teams were sent to their respective locker rooms while an ambulance was summoned to the rink. Fortunately for Wyatt and Vanderbilt, the damage was worrisome but not critical and, following a range of diagnostic exams by some wonderful doctors at Huntsville Hospital, he was able to join the team for the bus ride back to Nashville.
“I love his play,” said Coach Bernstein following the incident, “but we’re going to have to have a talk about playing smart moving forward. No more kamikaze missions out there, just hard-nosed hockey along the boards and a healthy focus on keeping your mind and body healthy for the next Organic Chemistry or Biology exam on the schedule.”
Now with a new sense of purpose and urgency, the Commodores launched into the second period with a quick power play goal from freshman defenseman Michael Hite that evened the score at 1-1. The momentum was fleeting, however, as Auburn quickly countered with a short-handed rebound and a long-range wrister. The deficit was now 3-1 at the end of two.
“We were outshooting them like crazy,” explained junior Jack Delehey, “we just needed to keep plugging and pick a corner or two. And that’s what we did.”
On the wave of an onslaught on the Auburn net, Vanderbilt forward Brad Pesce scored once, then scored again in the final three minutes to even the contest. At the end of regulation, the game was 3-3 with the Commodores outshooting the Tigers 51-26.
The 52nd shot would be a memorable one.
Just 0:24 into the extra stanza, Pesce once again played an integral role in the game by corralling a loose puck in the top right part of Vanderbilt’s defensive end and launching a perfect pass to a streaking Anthony Bilotta down the left side of the ice. The junior, no doubt the fastest player on the team, created instant separation from the closest Tiger defenseman and rifled home the game winner, low glove on a breakaway.
The ending was a fitting one for Bilotta who approximately 18 hours earlier stepped out of his normally quiet, workmanlike persona to address his teammates and coaches with some raw, heartfelt feedback between the second and third periods of the Arkansas game. “I want to compete, it’s how I play,” said Bilotta following the loss, “and in that moment I felt like I needed to share that feeling with the boys. Winning is fun and we have the talent to win, to win a lot.”
The conclusion to Saturday’s game was in turn all the more gratifying for the junior transfer. “We played a heck of a third period, the kind of period that can beat anybody. That’s the way we should play all the time. Because that’s fun.”
Not Leaving Empty-Handed
While the weekend did not contribute any new hardware to the overall team’s trophy case, the event did send sophomore Greg Kirk home with a special honor. With his parents in attendance, Kirk was named to the All SEC second team as voted by the coaches in the conference.
“I just thought coach wanted me to hang around to accept our academic award,” said a surprised Kirk following the award ceremony. “Honestly, I was a little unclear about why it had to be me. Now of course it makes sense and I’m thrilled to have won the award on behalf of the club’s efforts this year, and I’m glad I was physically there to accept.”
Vanderbilt also placed 21 players on the conference’s All Academic team, the most of any program.
“In our quest to be the most employable sports team in the country, I’m obviously proud to know our boys are taking care of priority number one,” said a proud Coach Bernstein. “I know their parents are as well!”
“The Last Hoorah”
As mentioned, before we put the 2012/13 season to bed we will have one more grand event – the “I-65 Face Off” versus Alabama at Bridgestone Arena on Friday, April 12th. For more information about the game, check out the special event site at http://vanderbilthockey.com/event/i65faceoff.html. It should be a terrific battle so mark your calendars and be sure to stop by the rink.
Thanks to everyone for making the official portion of 2012/13 such a special one for all of our players and in particular our seniors Kyle McCann, Scooter McLaughlin, Beast Mozur, and the rest of the crew. We thank you for your support and look forward to both a great event in April and an even better 2013/14!
On behalf of the entire club, we’d like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to Mr. and Mrs. McCann for donating Vanderbilt hockey sweatshirts to the boys and for the anonymous donation we received (you know who you are) to pay for the charter bus to the SECHC tournament. Your kindness and generosity made the experience an unforgettable one for everyone involved. Thank you so much and we look forward to seeing you (and many of the other parents) here in Nashville the weekend of April 12th!
* Caddyshack non sequiturs, still providing laughs after 32 years … as far as you know.