It was Ary Furman and the #7 seed Vanderbilt Commodores against Dalton Baker and the #2 seed Arkansas Razorbacks in the final game of the South Eastern Collegiate Hockey Conference first day of action. It was a tightly contested match up which saw plenty of offensive play from Arkansas. Missed breakaways in the second and four power play chances in the third for the Commodores could have led to a different ending, but they were unable to put pucks behind the net and fell to the Razorbacks 3-1 at the end of the night.
The game’s first period was a touch and go affair. Each team took their measure of the other and the Razorbacks made the first shot of the night with a wrister from Colton Sands. Furman was alert early and easily made the save. Arkansas continued to bring the pressure early on, but could not connect despite crisp passes and players in position when needed. Vanderbilt eventually was able to bring play back up ice and get their first short on goal from Ohad Beck just over two minutes into the period.
Play continued in the Commodores defensive zone as they were unable to clear the puck, allowing the Razorbacks to keep play in their favor. Furman stood tall again as Sands took another shot from the right point which pinballed through traffic and off some skates, but no goal was scored. Arkansas’s best scoring chance of the period came from Even Kerr who connected a pass on the doorstep, but Furman again made the save.
Things finally swung Vanderbilt’s way just before the half-way point of the first thanks to the forechecking from Vanderbilt and getting play up ice. Kevin Kastholm skated around Baker’s net and banked a shot off him. The shot rebounded off Baker and Ohad Beck was front and center banging the puck. His persistence paid off as he tallied the lone goal of the period, giving the Commodores a 1-0 lead at 12:56. As they say in hockey, “When you crash the net, good things happen.”
Arkansas continued to spend quality time in the Vandy defensive zone, but couldn’t buy a goal as Vanderbilt kept them pressed against the boards the rest of the period. The few shots they were able to get off were easily stopped by Furman and Vanderbilt almost made it a two goal game as Jake Boersma had a rebound off Baker which Ben Lacker in turned shot, hitting the post. The first ended with Vanderbilt ahead 1-0, but Arkansas led in shots on goal, 9-6.
“They definitely a very tough team,” said Arkansas coach Brandon Heller. “They came out hard. It wasn’t going to be an easy game. Our guys battled through a tough period, they were able to rally after the first, come together and get two quick goals in the second.”
Arkansas continued the offensive pressure in the second. Trey Lowry almost tied the game, but the shot missed just narrowly. Ohad Beck had a nice feed from Kastholm, but missed as well. In an odd turn of events, a delay of game penalty was issued to Furman in an errant clear of the puck which Rey Xie served. Arkansas could not capitalize on the power play and Jake Boersma had a short handed breakaway chance which missed high on Baker, hit the back board and landed on top of th net. Vanderbilt again missed a small breakaway a few moments later as Jeremy Gross had a step ahead of the Arkansas defense, but his shot went high as well. Vanderbilt was finding their rhythm, but had not found the net yet.
The missed chances came back to bite Vanderbilt as Andrew DeNome received a pass left of Furman from Tyler Valdron and buried it five hole making it a 1-1 hockey game. Vanderbilt just minutes later capitalized on a turnover in the Arkansas defensive one which Beck attempted to bury, but was unable to do so. Play came back up ice and the next sequence of events could of been shown on Sports Center. Arkansas’s Brook Moore found a shot on the doorstep and Furman made the initial save which rebounded. An Arkansas player then paused as the puck hit his stick and shot high. Furman in response dived to make the save, just barely blocking the shot with his helmet. It was a big save and led to a big shout of praise from the Commodore bench.
Furman was also involved in a scuffle as DeGnome took a shot on him and kept going after the save. Furman responded pushing back against DeGnome and suddenly there was a mini brawl happening at the red line. Furman was assessed a roughing penalty which was served by Joe Curnow and Arkansas’s Monroe was given one as well. Arkansas dominated the four on four play with shots from Trey Lowry and Zach Piekarski, but Furman was dialed in and easily stopped them. Arkansas’s offensive pressure finally paid off again as Brent Deacon was able to capitalize on a feed to him and banged the puck home past Furman eventually putting the Razorbacks up 2-1 as the period wound down. Shots on goal were still in favor of Arkansas, 30 to Vanderbilt’s 10.
The third continued the theme of the night which was Arkansas’s offense. They spent long shifts in the Vanderbilt defensive zone, leaving the Commodores desperate to get the puck, but just not able to do so. They got a chance on on the power play as Vanderbilt’s Evan Sclafani was called for interference. Arkansas made three shots on the power play but no goal was scored. Five minutes into the third, the Commodores finally registered a shot on goal from Beck off a pass from Kastholm. Vanderbilt received a power play of their own just a few minutes later as Drew Hill was called for slashing. The power play was the most offense seen from Vanderbilt for the night as they kept Arkansas pinned in their zone the entire play and registered three shots. Boesrsma hit the iron high, but the puck did not go in. The power play had just expired when Razorbacks’ Aidan Everett was called for cross checking. As before, Vanderbilt was unable to capitalize and play continued on.
The hockey gods must have been secretly hoping for Vanderbilt to get on the board as after a Commodore time out, Arkansas received their third penalty of the period. Andrew DeNome was sent to the sin bin for hooking. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details and the details bit Vanderbilt as Ohad Beck pinched in too close on Drew Hill during the power play as Hill attempted to clear to puck. Hill was able to bank the puck around Beck, skate around him and was presented with an open field of ice and not a Vanderbilt defender in sight. With Furman all alone, Hill beat him shorthanded at 4:44 to put the Razorbacks up 3-1. Vanderbilt was presented with another breakaway, but Ben Lackner was unable to put it in. As the play continued and clock wound down, Arkansas went on their fourth penalty kill of the night. As before, Vanderbilt could not hit net. They were not able to clean up the deficit and fell to the Razorbacks 3-1. Shots on goal were in favor of Arkansas, 42 to 20.
“We definitely used it as confidence,” said Andrew DeNome of the Razorbacks. “It gave us a lot of energy going forward off of that. Any shorthanded goal you’re going to build energy and that’s what we continued to do throughout the game after that.”
When asked about playing newcomer to the SECHC tournamet Kentucky in the next round, DeNome said the energy built off tonight’s game was a factor going into the game stating “Take the energy behind the last two periods and go on from that. If we start with the same energy, there is no way we’re going to lose this tournament.”
Arkansas will face the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday, February 10th in the semi-finals of the SECHC tournament.