Following a weekend where the Vanderbilt ice hockey club swept its in-state rival UT and, in doing so, extended its winning streak against the Ice Vols to six games, you would naturally expect to find a team full of happy campers in the Vanderbilt Commodores locker room. That was not the case, however, as a weekend that kicked off with lots of positivity and anticipation gave way to an enormously rough, chippy product on the ice. VU’s two wins, 6-2 on Friday and 8-3 on Saturday, were marred by three UT ejections – two players and their head coach Chris Dempers – plus a serious head injury to Commodores star freshman Jack Gibbons.
A Pattern Emerging
Friday’s contest followed a similar script to last year’s I-40 Face-off (where the Vanderbilt club dispatched of the UT team 10-1 at Bridgestone Arena) and the two games before that in January 2012 in Knoxville. Sophomore Jeong Choe, #19 for UT, led the way early for the Vols, spurring the orange and white on to a 1-0 first period lead over the Commodores. Then, just like the I-40 (and the previous games in Knoxville), things started to unravel, also led by Choe.
“That kid [#19] just all of a sudden tried to take out one of our guy’s knees,” said senior captain Kyle McCann. “That’s when things started to come apart for them in all phases, including on the scoreboard. Gong show hockey.”
Almost on cue towards the end of the third, Choe got what he was apparently looking for from the start – an ejection plus an additional DQ for dropping his gloves and ripping off junior defenseman Casey Schelble’s helmet.
“You want to play good, smart, physical hockey games,” said sophomore defenseman Greg Kirk following Friday’s contest. “That was nonsense out there, just ridiculous. Not the type of hockey we like to play.”
The Controversy That Wasn’t
Interestingly enough, a small controversy arose on Saturday related to Choe’s disqualification. While the ruling was never in question – the head ref who oversaw both games of the weekend confirmed his availability (or lack thereof) – the DQ was not logged on Friday’s scoresheet which led to some questioning by the UT coaching staff.
Explained Coach Bernstein, “I never had a doubt about the DQ because [Biff Murphy, the head referee] told our captains he was gone for Saturday as well, and rightly so. His actions plus the timing of the incident [with 3:15 left in the third period], if you don’t DQ a player in that spot then you’ll have that crap at the end of every game.”
“All that said, we followed up with Biff before the game and confirmed his DQ. Apparently on Twitter this week there were some lingering frustrations about how things transpired. If that’s what their team’s take-away was from last weekend, that they were in some way wronged on Saturday … well, I suppose that speaks for itself and we don’t really have to rehash the topic.”
Gibby Goes Down
The coup des gras for UT’s play occurred in Saturday’s game when UT’s #18 Justin Karr, with his hands and stick held high, crunched Vanderbilt’s Gibbons into the boards from behind. The hit left Jack with a mouth full of bloodied, loose, and chipped teeth. He was immediately shuttled over to Vanderbilt Medical under the care and supervision of Assistant Coach Jonathan Holston.
“You hate to see a guy like Gibby go down because he’s such a tough player, the heart of the team,” said a frustrated Assistant Coach Lee Kanouff after the game. “We started a tradition with the club just on Friday, the Wazoo Award, for solid physical play that fits within the letter of the law. Gibby won the first ever award and may have Saturday as well. It’s just really tough to see a guy go down for something as worthless as that check.”
“The biggest shock was what happened after that,” recalled junior forward Alan Leeser. “Their guy actually argued with the ref about the call, on probably the most obvious hit from behind you could have. He was tossed. Then, it got even worse. Their coach screamed and cursed so much at the refs that they threw him out too.”
“Coaches getting thrown out. A college hockey first for me, probably for all of us.”
It Wasn’t All A Mess
Lost in the melee of the weekend was the stellar play of virtually everyone on the Vanderbilt roster in all phases of the game. Starting in net, sophomore sensation Andrew “The Ice Man” Keen posted two impressive showings. With the weekend and his 5 goals allowed on 60 shots, his record on the season is now 6-6 heading into the stretch run of the spring.
On the front lines, junior Eliot Rosenfield made his presence known in a big way with 4 points (3 goals and an assist). Junior Anthony Bilotta, playing on Rosenfield’s line, also tallied, his first in a Vanderbilt uniform.
The defense was anchored by Kirk and his 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) along with strong defensive zone play from freshman Michael Hite and sophomore Doug Kirkpatrick.
The Beast Lights The Lamp, Hits The Airwaves
The ultimate star of the weekend, however, was DJ Steven “The Beast” Mozur – a.k.a. Vanderbilt’s “Most Interesting Man” (as declared by InsideVandy.com) and the host of WRVU Vanderbilt Radio’s “The Mozone Layer.” Called up to active duty for the spring semester, Beast was nothing short of brilliant in taking a beating in front of the net, dishing out a little punishment of his own along the boards, and popping in a workman-like goal to cap Saturday’s win.
“I needed some material for my radio show this week so I figured, ‘Hey, why not turn on the motor and snipe a few corners?’ It’s nice to know I can still dial up a goal or two when I need one.”
Vanquishing The “Mr. Kirk” Jinx
Finally, the ultimate subplot of the evening – the monkey on the proverbial back of the 2012/13 Vanderbilt hockey club – was the apparent jinx brought on by one Mr. Jim Kirk, father of son Greg.
“I think we’ve been 0-3 or 0-4 with him in the stands,” said Greg. “It was getting to the point where I was thinking about telling him to stay home and follow us on Twitter.”
Thankfully, the ‘Dores exorcised the demons and were finally able to make Mr. Kirk’s trip worth the plane fare. The team looks forward to seeing him and his wife Kim (along with all of the other Vanderbilt hockey parents scattered about the country) at another game weekend this semester.
Mark your calendars folks! This weekend the Vanderbilt Commodores will be celebrating the start of the NHL hockey season in the grandest of hockey hotbeds. Yes, you guessed it … Memphis, TN. (“Backyard rinks and BBQ,” it’s like a country music song waiting to be written.)
Game times are 9:15pm CT on Friday and 4:15pm CT on Saturday, both scheduled to face-off at the Mid-South Ice House in Olive Branch, MS.
Also on the calendar? “The Mozone Layer” will air on WRVU this (and each) Friday morning at 11am with a promise to kick, “Mo’ Beats, Mo’ music, Mo’ Fun with DJ Mo’…nica (Monica).” Don’t miss it!
Thanks to everyone who came out to the game on Saturday, in particular our friends @PenaltyBoxRadio, VU hockey alumnus and Chief Film Officer Ben Gatlin’s lovely girlfriend Rachel and her friends, and all of the VU hockey faithful in the greater Nashville area who dropped in. Go ‘Dores and ANCHOR DOWN!
Zac Stacy is all over Vanderbilt hockey. Kind of a big deal …
Wait? So Vandy has a hockey team now? Might as well let us have a volleyball/softball team too…
— Zac Stacy (@Z_ST2CE) January 13, 2013