Hockey team takes second place at Savannah Hockey Classic

Tech’s ice hockey team took second place at the 2010 Savannah Tire Hockey Classic on January 14-16. The Jackets defeated Florida State 4-3 on Friday evening but fell to Georgia 5-3 on Saturday night.

This year’s Savannah Hockey Classic was the 12th annual version of the event. The tournament, which features Tech, Georgia, Florida and Florida State, has become one of Savannah’s most popular annual sporting events.

The Jackets have won the Thrasher Cup as the Classic chapion five times, tied with Georgia for most overall, and took the 2009 title after beating FSU and Georgia by a combined 21-3.

After a Thursday night exhibition between the Citadel and South Carolina, the tournament kicked off in earnest on Friday with games featuring traditional conference rivalries. Tech opened their Thrasher Cup defense against Florida State, whom they defeated 14-2 in last year’s Classic.

After FSU scored first on a power play with 8:18 left, the Jackets took advantage of a Seminole penalty. Sophomore winger Ryan Fritz cut to the middle and scored on a wrist shot to tie the game. Sophomore winger Matt Zaske and junior defenseman Dan Podratsky picked up assists.

Less than a minute later, the Jackets’ forwards crashed the net and Tech sophomore center Zack Berry knocked the puck past Seminole goalie Blake Wladyka. Zaske and Fritz were credited with assists as the Jackets took a 2-1 lead with 2:15 left in the period.

A pair of Tech penalties gave FSU an extended power play and a brief two-man advantage, but Tech escaped with no damage.

Tech received a pair of penalties early in the period, but freshman goalie C.J. Layer came up big. FSU attacked furiously near the Tech goal, but Layer stretched out to make a series of saves.

“It was a busy night for C.J., that’s for sure…he was probably our number one or number two star tonight,” said Assistant Coach Paul Gattung of the goalie’s overall performance.

FSU captain Austin Chinick picked up a tripping penalty with 13:00 left, and again Tech capitalized. Berry set up behind the net and passed to a cutting Fritz, who scored to give Tech a 3-1 lead. Berry and freshman defenseman Bobby Bishop got the assists.

The behind-the-net attack was a recent addition to Tech’s arsenal. “It’s brand new—we just talked about it today before the game. We were going to try to work a 2-on-1 and get chances down low, and it worked,” Fritz said.

It was the only goal in the second period. The Jackets contained every Seminole advance, and the period ended with Tech up 3-1.

As the third period opened, FSU had more success but still could not get the puck past Layer. On the other end, Fritz—assisted by Berry and Spafard—fired in his third goal with 15:39 left to complete the hat trick.

FSU began creating chances in the Tech zone and finally broke through late in the period. FSU forward Patrick Nolan scored a one-timer goal with 7:13 left in the game, and less than 90 seconds later, the Seminoles crashed the Tech net and slipped the puck past Layer, cutting the lead to one.

The momentum seemed to have shifted, but the Jackets limited FSU’s chances in the final minutes. While FSU pulled the goalie for a sixth skater, Tech held on for the 4-3 victory.

“The defense moved the puck out of the zone, and I think three of our defensemen got assists. That’s always a good indication that you’re moving the puck well,” Gattung said.

With freshman defenseman Alan Dagesse unable to make it to Savannah for the FSU game, senior winger and team president Jeremy Spafard took his spot.

“Jeremy stepped up by stepping back,” Gattung said.

The Jackets’ primary scoring line had plenty of success against Wladyka, whom FSU lists as 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds.

“He was a big guy, but he wasn’t very quick…. He wasn’t very fast in moving across the net, and we were just trying to pick holes under his armpits and above his pads to shoot at,” Fritz said.

Later on Friday night, Georgia took on Florida. In a high-scoring battle, Florida held off the Bulldogs for a 9-7 victory.

Saturday’s games featured in-state rivalries, beginning with the two Florida teams. Despite allowing the Seminoles to pull ahead, Florida battled back and eventually pulled out a 5-4 victory.

With the knowledge that a win would all but guarantee them the Thrasher Cup, the Jackets took the ice to face their in-state rivals for the second time this season. Tech was looking to avenge a 4-1 loss in November.

“I feel like we dominated the first game; they just got [cheap] goals…. If we can stay out of the penalty box and play our game, we have a good shot,” Fritz said.

Before the game, the teams participated in a ceremonial puck drop with Dave Silk, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice.”

As the game started, each side played a physical game. Still, despite the large amount of checking and contact, no penalties occurred in the first 18 minutes.

Tech appeared to score with 8:22 left in the period when a shot by senior Michael Midgette trickled past Ice Dog goalie Vince DeCarlo. A Georgia defenseman slid behind DeCarlo to prevent the goal; it was unclear whether the puck crossed the crease, but the referees waved off the goal.

With 5:18 left, Fritz picked up an errant Ice Dog pass off the back boards and scored top-shelf to give Tech a 1-0 lead.

After another supposed Tech goal was waved off, the Jackets’ first line came through. Zaske, working behind the net, set up Fritz in front for a shot that went in, and with 4:23 left in the opening period Tech had a 2-0 lead on Fritz’s fifth goal of the weekend.

Junior goalie Maxx Lucas held off a number of Ice Dog charges in the final minutes, including a late power play. Tech headed into the intermission still ahead 2-0.

Georgia remained on the power play to open the second period, and the Ice Dogs scored with 19:14 left to cut Tech’s lead to one.

Tech continued to push the puck into Georgia’s zone, though, and a pair of penalties gave the Jackets a decent period of two-man advantage. Tech deployed four forwards in an attempt to capitalize, but the behind-the-net offense failed to score.

Later, as the Jackets crashed the Georgia net, Fritz circled the net and scored with 10:35 left in the period to give Tech a 3-1 lead.

The Ice Dogs were unable to generate much offense for the remainder of the period. Tech frequently had opportunities with loose pucks near the Georgia net but could not score, and the period ended with Tech ahead 3-1.

As the teams took the ice for the third period, Georgia eventually managed to chip into the Jackets’ lead when an Ice Dog forward scored with 12:48 to go.

In a turn of events, Georgia was keeping the puck in Tech’s zone, and the lead vanished when Georgia’s Lee Bosma beat Lucas on a breakaway with 9:32 left.

“We kept telling our guys that…we were still up [after Georgia’s second goal], and to just keep on playing. But when they tied it up, you could kind of see the momentum shifting,” Head Coach Brian McSparron said.

Shortly after the ensuing faceoff, Tech’s momentum took another hit when Fritz went down after a collision. Fritz was slow to rise, but returned to the ice after a few minutes. Ice Dog forward Pete Virk received a five minute major penalty for his hit.

Georgia continued to press into Tech’s zone even while shorthanded, and they got a 2-on-1 odd man rush against Tech’s Bishop. Bosma scored on a one-timer with 7:21 left to put Georgia ahead 4-3.

Tech was unable to generate much offense or attack deep into Georgia’s zone in the final minutes. With 1:33 left, McSparron called a timeout and pulled Lucas for a sixth skater.

While Tech was able to finally generate some pressure in the Georgia zone, eventually the Ice Dogs scored an empty net goal with 25 seconds left, securing the 5-3 victory for Georgia.

“I give Georgia credit. They blocked a lot of shots and took away our shooting lanes,” McSparron said.

Tech’s loss meant that Florida, the only team to win both its games, took home the Thrasher Cup for the first time.

“For [Florida] to come away with their first title, it’s parity…It’s good for the event and it’s good for Florida,” McSparron said.

Two Tech players received individual honors. Fritz, who had hat tricks in both games and scored all but one of Tech’s goals, won the Greg Stathis Trophy as tournament MVP. Freshman defenseman Alan Dagesse was named to the all-tournament team.