The 2018 College Hockey Scholar Shootout kicked off Friday, January 20th as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets faced the Vanderbilt Commodores in the tournament’s opening game at the Ford Ice Center. There was a lot of action throughout the night as goals, penalties and a blistering shot count of 53 to 32 were just among the highlights of the game. A strong forecheck from Georgia Tech and four goals for the night was not enough for Vanderbilt to overcome despite a late period rally and fell to the Jackets by a score of 4-2.
Fans of the Yellow Jackets and Commodores took to the stands as the puck dropped at 7pm and the first game of the 2018 Scholar Shootout was underway. Early on, the Jackets established a strong forecheck, keeping the Commodores pinned in their defensive zone. This allowed the Jackets to set up shop and begin taking shots at their leisure from anywhere they chose. Within the first seven minutes of the game, the Jackets were clipping around a shot per minute testing Commodores goalie Ary Furman early on. The best shot of the early offensive flurry was from Jackets Zach Gauvin who slapped a shot from the blue line making it through traffic only to be snapped up by Furman. Despite the Commodores best efforts to get down ice when in possession of the puck, the Jackets clogged up the neutral zone easily stripping Vanderbilt of the puck and bringing the play back down to them. During the first seven minutes of play, the Commodores registered just two shots on goal.
The defensive play of Georgia Tech led to the first goal of the night as the Commodores made their way into the offensive zone, only to be stripped once again of the puck. This allowed the Jackets to get an odd man rush with Dalton Childs, Michael Brzozowski, and Karl Risley playing catch down the stretch as Risley was the last man on the puck and beat Furman at 4:33 of the first to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead. Play continued as the Commodores looked to get their offense going, getting their second shot of the night seven minutes into play from Minkyu Yang with a shot from the blue, but Jackets goalie Zach Cernich easily saw it. The Jackets came close to extending the lead to 2-0 only minutes later as they again brought their forecheck allowing Kevin Polack to get off a shot. Furman gave up the rebound, but the Commodores were able to bat it away. Crossing the half-way point of the first, Vanderbilt again attempted to swing momentum in their favor. Matthew Murphy was all alone in front of the Jacket’s net and attempted to deflect a shot in, but Cernich again easily saw the play and kept Vanderbilt off the board. There was a moment of concern though as Vanderbilt’s Zac Polukoff was checked hard against the boards. He was slow to get up, but was able to skate off under his own power.
Throughout the first, Georgia Tech continued to control the neutral zone easily frustrating the Commodores who spent more time defending their own end, then pressuring the Jackets in their own end. Vanderbilt’s Joe Curnow found himself on a breakaway at one point, but was unable to cash in as the defense pinned him and knocked the puck away. As the period came to a close, Jackets Kevin Polack caught the Commodores below the red line of the Jacket’s goal and was able to take the puck down ice, but Furman made the save. Despite the renewed pressure, both teams went off the ice with Georgia Tech having the lone goal leading in shots on goal, 16 to 8.
The second saw frustrations boil over on both sides as the game went on. Vanderbilt was looking to get on the board, but instead found themselves on the penalty kill just five minutes in as Polukoff was given two minutes for roughing. The Commodores penalty kill and Furman were up to task and easily dispatched the penalty. The best shot from the Jackets power play unit oddly enough came from the post as Michael Brzozowski took a shot from the right circle only for the puck to hit the post and roll up the side. Everyone froze for a moment, but Furman batted it away. With only 38 seconds left in the power play, Georgia Tech found themselves soon on the kill as well from a slashing penalty on Matthew Jones. Vanderbilt could not capitalize on the power play though, registering no shots on goal.
As the period progressed, both benches started to call for missed penalties as each team started roughing each other up. This led to another Jackets power play as Kevin Kastholm of Vanderbilt was called for roughing. It was initially thought Karl Risley of Georgia Tech was to be given a matching minor as well, but this was called off. This led to the Jackets second goal of the night just seconds later from Joey Schutz in traffic to get past Furman. He was assisted by Zach Gauvin and Kevin Polack for the goal at. This wasn’t the end of the fun for the Jackets as only a minute later at 15:56 as Tom Petrick and Zach Gauvin assisted Michael Leon making it 3-0 late in the second. Vanderbilt then received a power play as Schutz sat for interference. This power play was the most dominate of the game for Vanderbilt as they kept possession of the puck for nearly the entire two minutes of play registering five shots on goal and almost capitalized as a wide angle shot from Mark Matthew clipped in traffic and trickle just shy of an open backdoor on the net with no one to put it home and the Jackets still firmly in control of the game as intermission came around.
“We had a really good first period.” said Georgia Tech Assistant Coach Colin Roberts to Penalty Box Radio’s Abigail Martin. “We had a lot pressure on Vandy. Their goalie played exceptional tonight. We had a ton of shots on them. I thought we were a little bit unlucky to be one goal ahead after one. Just told the guys to keep on pushing and keep getting shots on goal. The goals would come and they did in the second period.”
The third was more of the same from the Jackets, showcasing an impressive offensive effort throughout the game. The shots continued to come against Furman, but he continued to maintain sight of the puck and give the Commodores a fighting chance. On just their second shot of the period, the goal horn finally rung through the Ford Ice Center as Jeremy Gross skated down ice slowing just enough to let Kastholm skate past him. Gross passed the puck to Kastholm, who beat Cernich glove side to spoil the Jackets impending shutout at 12:29. The goal put a pep in the skates of the team and seemed to pull momentum their way. They pushed back against the Jackets and Patrick Mcnamara smacked the crossbar, but the puck flung away instead of falling over the line. Vanderbilt grabbed a second goal from Ohad Beck four minutes later as Cernich stopped a shot from Jack Smith only for the shot to rebound off down the slot. With no one home, Beck snapped the shot home and suddenly Vanderbilt was only goal away from a tie game. Mark Matthew also picked up an assist in the goal.
“Sometimes it is. Ya know you get a little shaky out there.” said Georgia Tech goalie Zach Cernich to Penalty Box Radio’s Abigail Martin after the game regarding Vanderbilt’s late period rally. “Then you just know…you know we practice twice a week you know. I’ve been playing you know my whole life. I have the confidence built in my play now to where you know I don’t really get shooken up like that. You just try to keep your head in it.”
Vanderbilt used their timeout with 1:30 left to plan their next move. It was for naught though as the Jackets maintained possession of the puck, preventing Furman to be pulled for the extra attacker until only 30 seconds remained. In the end, the Jackets netted the empty goal with six seconds remaining and securing the first win of the Scholar Shootout. Shots on goal highly favored Georgia Tech 53 to 32.
Vanderbilt Head Coach Ricky Hernandez spoke about his team’s rally in the third after the game.
“It’s a mental game right?” said Hernandez. “People discount the mental aspect of it. A lot of it is just building off it. We started to pick our heads up. We became positive. We started to pick each other up. That’s when the tide started to turn. It really is going to be about keeping our heads in the game and knowing what are strengths are, sticking to those strengths, and just winning the mental battles. That honestly in my opinion was the game changer. The first two periods we came out a little slower, a little lackluster and they took it to us. We kind of had a talk between the periods. I said guys this is a mental thing. If you guys can think about what you have to do and build each other up and stay positive instead getting down. I mean that game could have gone the exact opposite right? That could have been a 7-1 game had we kept playing the way were playing. Instead the guys decided we want to make this a game. We want to turn it around and they did it starting on the bench and onto the ice. I think it’s just building off that instead of starting that in the third with eight minutes left, starting that from the first puck drop.”
The 2018 Scholar Shootout continues Saturday, January 21st with Vanderbilt playing UNC at 3pm. Georgia Tech will face Wake Forest at 1pm. Both games will be played at the Ford Ice Center.