The Vanderbilt Commodores 2013-2014 regular season ended last month at the SEC Tournament in Pelham, Alabama, leaving the club with an 8-14-1 record and a 6th place overall finish in the SEC. The Commodores have one final exhibition game, the I-40 Faceoff against the University of Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena at 1:00pm on Sunday March 30th. Weâ€™ll preview the game in a separate article later in the week, so check back on Thursday and Friday for more information on that.
Kicking Things Off On the Road
The 2014 portion of the Commodoresâ€™ campaign started with two weekends as diverse as possible. The team braved snowstorms and lack of official team meal provider Chick-fil-a – seriously, get in touch, we can replace the V-star with a chicken – on a trip to Cincinnati to play Xavier University. (Writerâ€™s note: No, Matthew Neurohr, it is not spelled Cinci-â€œnatty.â€)
Ranked 13th in the ACHA North Region, Xavier turned out to be a tough starting opponent for the Dores, peppering Riley Macdonald with 99 shots on the weekend. Despite excellent performances by Macdonald in his first two starts of an injury hampered season, the Commodores didnâ€™t play well enough defensively to reward their goaltender and fell to Xavier 6-3 and 11-4.
The weekend was sweetened considerably by the hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick who not only graciously opened their home to the team for a home cooked breakfast before the second game, but also hosted four players the night before. The cherry on top of the sundae was the opportunity to scour Doug Kirkpatrickâ€™s home for pictures of his childhood and the entire team would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick for that especially.
The First Of Two In-State Battles
The next weekend, the Commodores played Memphis in Nashville, and the games were, well, different. Often times resembling a cage match rather than a hockey game, the outmanned (10 skaters at the start, 7 at the end of the weekend) and outclassed (too many penalty minutes to count) Tigers played a distinct brand of â€˜hockeyâ€™. The weekend was marred by ejections, misconduct penalties on the Memphis goalie, and a general manner of conduct that led perpetually calm and soft spoken Coach Bernstein, never one to embarrass anyone, to instruct his team to â€œbury [these guys]â€ between periods of the second game after a particularly distasteful sequence of events.
That said, two incredibly significant events occurred in the midst of the 14-1 and 16-5 shellackings. First, Garden State defensemen Michael Hite and Andrew Dellapina combined for a whopping 1 goal and no assists on the weekend, despite the 30 goals scored by the Commodores.
Secondly, and much more importantly, Marc Balistrere, a 42-year-old graduate student and member of the United States Army 160th Airborne Regiment (a special operations helicopter support unit), made his Vanderbilt Hockey debut during the second game against Memphis. Amidst the light-hearted attitude the team takes towards most things, including this article, we were honored to have Marc join the team and thrilled that he nearly completed a Gordie Howe-like hat trick in the game (i.e., one goal and one penalty). We would like to thank him for his service to our country.
High Stakes Hockey In East Tennessee
After those two non-conference weekends, the team traveled to Knoxville for the final regular season games of the year, a massive in-state, conference showdown between Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Walk out of Knoxville with a point and clinch the 3-seed out of the East in the SEC Tournament. If any competitive benefit came from playing Memphis it was that the team was prepared for the physical style the Ice Vols played.
With no lost love between the rivals and huge post-season implications, both teams were aggressive from the start. Among the flying bodies and chirps, Vanderbilt jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, extended it to 5-2 in the second, and locked down defensively in the third period in front of Andrew Keen. The Dores, led by 3 points from Freshman Zach â€œSilkyâ€ Satin, won the game 6-2 and guaranteed themselves the 3rd seed out of the East in the SEC tournament and a first round matchup with the University of Alabama.
Due to questionable scheduling by Tennessee, the second of the two matchups was not until 10:30 the following night. Nevertheless, the team abided by its 1:00am curfew and rose at 6:00am for a captainâ€™s workout behind the hotel. Demonstrating Vanderbilt studentsâ€™ unique ability to seamlessly blend work and play, a number of players spent the day on their laptops, conducting interviews for summer jobs and solving organic chemistry problem sets.
After a meal of Italian food that rivaled Anthony Billottaâ€™s, courtesy of Phoebe Wilkinson (Jack Gibbonsâ€™ mom), the Commodores were fueled and ready to attempt the sweep of Tennessee once again. Despite a slightly different and undermanned roster, the Commodores battled for 60 minutes, erasing multiple Volunteer leads. Then, late in the third period, the penalty bug bit again and Nick Honkala got tied up on the ice with a Tennessee player and was whistled for a 5-minute major kneeing penalty that looked different depending on your angle of the play. After a strong kill for most of the 5 minute penalty, a shot slipped through a screen and goaltender Riley Macdonald had no shot at the puck. Despite numerous excellent chances with an empty net, Vanderbilt couldnâ€™t find the equalizer and fell 5-4.
Uphill Odds At The SEC
Swallowing a tough loss to a rival, the team prepared to face the 5th ranked team in the ACHA South and perennial powerhouse, the Alabama Frozen Tide at the SEC Tournament. A good week of practice had the Commodores fired up entering the playoff weekend. Merely an hour from the Tuscaloosa campus, packed with a bus full of Alabama sorority girls (Vandy Tri Delt where you at?) and a couple hundred other Alabama fans, the â€œneutral siteâ€ game had a decidedly pro-Alabama feel. After a lovely rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by an Alabama student (and girlfriend of Vanderbilt coach Jon Holston) the Frozen Tide wasted no time jumping all over the Commodores. A rough first period ended 4-1 but the team was anything but disheartened in the locker room and came out blazing in the second, quickly cutting the lead to two goals. Despite a strong effort by all four lines, the Commodores got no closer the rest of the game and fell 7-2.
The following morning, the team recovered with some more homemade cooking as the parents of Mrs. Bernstein (Mrs. Coach to the team) welcomed the boys and refueled them for their matchup with Ole Miss. As far as a 5th place game matchup goes, Mississippi, the 6th ranked team in the ACHA South and eventually National Tournament boundÂ (yeah, the SEC is stacked) is just about the toughest opponent you could hope not to face. Down goaltender Andrew Keen (possible concussion) plus forwards John Longman and Daniel Hogue, the Dores knew they had a tough task facing an Ole Miss team angry about being denied a chance to compete for the championship by South Carolina the round before. Despite valiant play by goalie Bo Korpman and the rest of the team, the Commodores fell 9-2.
Season Honors For The Dores
Despite the losses, the weekend wasnâ€™t a total wash. Vanderbilt tied for the lead for SECHC All-Academic honors, once again demonstrating its virtually incomparable commitment to academic performance by placing 18 players on the list. (Initially it appeared Vanderbilt had actually lost the race to South Carolina by one, which would have been the first time Vanderbilt did not lead the league academically in years. However, upon further review, one of the 19 players on USC recognized for the honor actually had below a 3.2 â€“ i.e, the cut-off for the distinction.) Additionally, senior Anthony Bilotta was named a 2nd team All-SEC defensemen and Bo Korpman (Air Force ROTC) and Marc Balistrere (US Army) were awarded with military appreciation awards.
Vanderbilt Hockey would like to thank all our fans who attended our games and bought merchandise this year and a special thank you to all the parents, especially those who traveled to see the team play in person.
Remember that the I-40 Faceoff will be Sunday, 3/30, at Bridgestone Arena at 1pm. Mark your calendars and be sure to drop in, itâ€™s going to be a great day of hockey in Nashville!