One week after Tech’s ice hockey team claimed a resounding victory in the Memorial Health Hockey Classic in Savannah, defeating Florida State 14-2 and beating Georgia 7-1, the team returned home and defeated Georgia once again on Saturday, 7-5.
On Jan.15, the Jackets traveled to Savannah to participate in what has become a staple tournament for the team each year. The Classic brings four teams from the Southeast—Georgia Tech, Georgia, Florida State, and Florida—together in Savannah to play four games over a two-day span against their rivals from within the group.
In the opening match of the Classic on Friday, Tech faced longtime ACC rival Florida State. The game was close early, but before long, the Jackets proved to be too fast for the Seminoles. In the first period, Tech jumped out to an early 2-0 lead behind goals by senior center Whitney Yiu and freshman left wing Ryan Fritz. Florida State scored twice late in the period, but Tech responded to each score with a goal of their own, courtesy of senior left wings Drew Baker and Tom Porter, and the Jackets held a 4-2 lead as the first period drew to a close.
For the rest of the game, Tech shut down Florida State’s offense, with the defense cutting off most attacks and sophomore goalie Maxx Lucas saving every shot in the second and third periods. Meanwhile, the Jackets’ offense attacked relentlessly, putting up 50 shots that resulted in six goals in the second and four in the third. The final result was a 14-2 victory. In all, Tech outshot the Seminoles 72-21 and had ten different players score goals— with Baker, Porter, Yiu and Fritz all adding another goal. Sophomore right wing Derek von Zweck and senior right wing Brendan O’Leary each had two, and freshman center Zach Berry, senior right wing Dan Sweeney, and defensemen Fred Holgado and David Means all contributed one apiece. The team had 16 assists on the game, led by four from freshman right wing Albert Park and three from senior defenseman B.J. Stapleton.
Because of Georgia’s win over Florida later that night, Saturday’s tournament-concluding game against Georgia’s hockey team was the de facto championship game for the Classic.
Even though Tech had won the Thrasher Cup (the trophy awarded to the tournament winner) four times under Coach Stathis, their most recent victory had only come in 2003.
The Jackets initially had a hard time using their speed to their advantage. Georgia’s conservative approach paid off early as they held the Jackets’ offense in check early, allowing the Ice Dogs to be the first to score, putting a shot past Lucas midway through the first period. As the period neared to a close, Tech got on the board as Fritz set up Park for a goal with three minutes left, and the first period ended in a 1-1 tie.
After the brief intermission, Tech made adjustments and picked up on its own defense, focusing on keeping the puck and the pressure on Georgia’s side of the rink. For the first ten minutes of the period, they prevented the Ice Dogs from having a single shot on goal. The Jackets continued to attack and took the lead with 5:32 left, as von Zweck rifled a shot in with assists from the defensive pair of sophomore Dan Podratsky and freshman Allen Mazerolle.
Tech opened the period on a power play, and Porter capitalized by scoring right away on a shot from the outside. Just thirteen seconds after the ensuing face-off, junior left wing Jeremy Spafard tipped in a shot by senior center Christian Gattung, making the score 4-1.
“I told the players…that if we [could] score on the power play starting the third period, we would swing the momentum in our favor. To my surprise, not only did we score the power play goal but another goal thirteen seconds later. Georgia could never recover,” said Head Coach Brian McSparron.
The Jackets continued to attack, with Yiu, Baker, and Stapleton each adding a goal. Eight players had an assist during the period. The defense remained strong throughout the final period, and Lucas saved 31 of the 32 shots he faced in the game as Tech cruised to a 7-1 victory and secured the team’s fifth Thrasher Cup and the first since 2003.
During the postgame ceremonies, Lucas was awarded the newly christened Greg Stathis Trophy as the tournament’s most valuable player. The award was named in honor of former Georgia Tech head hockey coach Greg Stathis, who passed away last year because of kidney complications. Three of Stathis’s family members—his wife Marianne, his father John, and his brother George—were on hand to present Lucas with the award.
“I’m real proud of the players for playing as a team to achieve our goals, for the memory of Coach Greg and for the seniors,” McSparron said.
The team demonstrated its depth during the Classic, as all 30 players on the Tech roster got to play in at least one of the games, and 18 different players scored a goal during the tournament.
The Jan. 24. game against Georgia was a physical contest that was not decided until the final minutes. Just like the previous week’s game, it began slowly. Tech went on the attack a number of times early in the first period, but they could not take advantage and score; meanwhile, Georgia’s players were inaccurate early on, with many of their shots going wide of the net. Other than three penalties that resulted in over two minutes of 4-on-4 play, the first half of the opening period was relatively quiet. With 7:39 left, Georgia’s Aaron Gottfried earned a penalty for checking Stapleton from behind, and the Jackets’ power play attack was relentless—but once again, they were unable to score. However, with just under five minutes left, freshman right wing Matt Zaske took the rebound off a Spafard shot in front of the net and scored to put Tech on the board. Shortly afterward, with 2:45 remaining in the period, Berry took a pass from Fritz and put it past the Ice Dogs’ goalie to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead, which they carried into the intermission.
In the second period, the game turned into a wild, physical, and penalty-filled struggle. Just 22 seconds into the period, a Georgia player was called for an interference penalty, prompting a teammate on the bench to earn a second penalty for misconduct. Shortly after those penalties ended, Zaske became the first of five Tech players to earn penalties in a span of roughly six minutes; during this stretch, the team spent several minutes in 5-on-3 situations, and the Ice Dogs took advantage. Lucas made a number of key saves early on, but the pressure of repeatedly facing power plays for several minutes wore him down. After the referees waved off an apparent goal during the first penalty, Georgia came back five minutes later and scored two goals in a 51-second span to tie the game at 2.
The Jackets rebounded quickly, though, taking advantage of Georgia’s aggression to earn a power play of their own. Brendan O’Leary’s goal, with six minutes left, gave Tech the lead once again. After a Spafard roughing penalty a minute later, the Jackets almost earned a successful penalty kill, but with just one second left on the power play Georgia tied the game.
One minute after that goal, the Jackets received a scare when Georgia’s Gottfried laid a hard hit on Fritz that left the freshman winger lying down for several minutes with a leg injury. It turned out to be minor, but Fritz did not play the final two minutes of the period as a precaution. Meanwhile, Gottfried received a five-minute major penalty and was ejected for committing his third penalty of the game. The Jackets managed to take advantage of the extended power play, and as the second period neared to a close, von Zweck scored off of a rebound to give Tech a 4-3 lead. His goal provided Tech a boost to close out the period, a rough one for the Jackets.
“That [period] was really tough on our guys…especially Maxx [Lucas], our goalie. He was really drained after all those five-on-three’s…[but] after coming out of that still with the lead, I think we had a good shot in the third period,” Berry said in a postgame interview with WREK.
The teams traded shots for the first six minutes of the third period but failed to score. Fritz returned in the third, and with 13:20 left in the game. The winger notched his first-ever goal against the Ice Dogs on a shot off a rebound, with assists from Berry and Yiu. Three minutes later, during a Georgia power play, Tech’s Yiu stole the puck and broke away, only to be tripped up as he approached the goal. The result was a penalty shot for Yiu, and the senior took full advantage of the rare opportunity, breaking his fast approach with a deke that froze Georgia goalie Elliot Slane and allowed Yiu to score.
“I think I’ve seen that kind of move from [Detroit Red Wings all-star] Henrik Zetterberg,” said team president A.J. Piplica on the WREK Radio broadcast.
The score gave Tech a 6-3 lead and control of the game. However, Georgia scored just 32 seconds later to cut the lead to two goals. After a brief quiet stretch, all the tension that had built up during the game erupted with just under nine minutes left in the game. One of the Georgia players ran into Lucas, prompting a Tech player to shove him in defense of the goalie, and several more Ice Dogs skated over to support their teammate, resulting in a large scuffle.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, an isolated fight broke out involving one player from each team. The referees stopped the game, and after breaking up the fights, they spent several minutes trying to resolve the situation. When the smoke cleared, Tech’s Porter had been ejected, along with a Georgia player. Porter received a standing ovation as he left the rink.
The Ice Dogs also had two players sent to the penalty box, so Tech found itself on the good side of a five-on-three situation for the first time in the game. However, Georgia managed to catch Tech pressing on the power play, and they took advantage of an odd man rush to score their fifth goal. With 8:29 left in the game, the Jackets’ lead was down to 6-5.
“We’ve seen [Georgia tire] twice this year…One thing about Georgia is that they don’t have as many players and [as much] depth as us, so with us running [our] four lines, we could really wear them down, and they were just getting tired,” Berry said.
As the clock approached the two minutes mark, Tech managed to sustain an attack in the Georgia zone, and junior defenseman Austin Kaase scored the clinching goal on a slapshot from the perimeter. The Jackets’ lead increased to 7-5, and they won by that score, officially securing the season sweep of the Ice Dogs.
“We kind of figured it would be a bit of a letdown in this game [after the 7-1 win at Savannah], but any time we play Georgia, it’s an intense game…in Savannah, they played more of a defensive type of game, and that didn’t work, so we knew they were going to be more aggressive,” McSparron said.
At 19-1, Tech is in great shape as the postseason approaches. The team has been ranked No. 2 in the South region for most of the season, and while Florida Gulf Coast remains atop the standings, the most recent poll had the Jackets winning three of the nine first-place votes. The top two teams in each region’s final rankings earn automatic bids to the Division III National Championships.