A season of near-misses continued for Tech’s hockey team last weekend, as the Jackets dropped a pair of hard-fought games. The Jackets lost 3-1 against Virginia Tech on Friday night and came up just short against Georgia, falling 4-3 in overtime on Saturday.
“We’ve been snake-bitten this year,” senior left wing and team president Jeremy Spafard said after Saturday’s game, in which the Jackets erased a 3-1 deficit but could not complete the comeback.
Friday night’s contest saw the Jackets, a Division III club, take on a Division II Hokies squad that was ranked No. 12 in its region. The Hokies were easy favorites going into the game, but the Jackets kept the game close throughout.
The Hokies controlled the puck in the offensive zone early and often, but junior goalie Maxx Lucas held up against an early flurry of Hokie shots.
VT eventually drew first blood when forward Josh Bennett scored with 9:30 left in the opening period, putting the Hokies up 1-0.
The Jackets responded with a well-executed play. Sophomore right wing Matt Zaske fought off a Hokie defenseman for the puck behind the VT net, then handed the puck to Spafard as the senior cut past him toward the right side. Spafard then passed to a waiting Berry, who fired a one-timer past the VT goalie with 6:49 to go.
No penalties occurred in the opening period, but three by VT in the second period resulted in an extended 5-on-3 for the Jackets that lasted into the third period. They could not score, though.
Gradually, the Hokies began to control the puck for long spurts and finally got the go-ahead goal with 6:28 left. The Hokies later went on a power play and sealed the game on a goal with 1:30 left.
The Jackets did not get the win, but put up a fight against a deep and talented foe. “They were able to throw out [four lines]…We had to skate up to them,” said Head Coach Brian McSparron.
Much of Tech’s competitiveness in the game stemmed from the play of Lucas, who made 51 saves for a 94.4 percent save rate.
“I don’t have proper words for how well he played—he didn’t make any mistakes,” Spafard said.
“He said he would be focused…[and] he came out with an A performance,” McSparron said.
The Jackets returned to the ice a day later to face Georgia, looking to avenge a pair of losses to the Ice Dogs earlier in the season.
Freshman C.J. Layer got the start at goalie for the Jackets. Layer had a handful of saves early on, but overall neither team had many opportunities in the first 15 minutes of the heavy-hitting contest.
With 3:05 to go, Georgia’s Lee Bosma deflected a perimeter shot past Layer to put Georgia up 1-0.
With just 11 seconds left, Berry fired a long wrist shot that beat Ice Dog goalie Vince DeCarlo five-hole, tying the game.
The Ice Dogs had momentum early in the second period, Tech did well in stopping Georgia from getting good angles for shots.
“We [didn’t give] them a lot of good scoring opportunities. We worked them to the outside and didn’t want to give them the middle of the ice,” McSparron said.
Georgia finally broke the tie when defenseman Ryan Benson beat Layer five-hole on a breakaway with 9:54 left in the period.
The final minute saw two Jackets go to the penalty box. The period ended with the score still 2-1, but Georgia had a big edge as the final period began and scored with 18:47 to go to pull ahead 3-1.
The outlook appeared dim for the Jackets as the third period dragged on, but with 5:12 remaining Spafard fired a wrist shot off the goalie’s chest and into the net.
“Jeremy stepped up his game…All three of those guys skated well from the second period on,” McSparron said of Tech’s first line.
Less than a minute later, Berry took a high shot from the perimeter that Zaske deflected past DiCarlo, tying the game 3-3.
Georgia went on a power play with 2:07 remaining, but the Jackets were able to kill the penalty and the game went to overtime.
In overtime both teams were rebuffed by excellent goalie play, and it appeared that the game was headed for a shootout.
It was not to be, though. Georgia crashed the Tech net with 10 seconds left and Layer make a pair of sprawling saves, but the puck rolled across to an Ice Dog forward who scored with just 6.1 seconds remaining, giving Georgia the sudden-death victory.
“Playing three good, hard periods last night look a little bit out of us…but hey, we played all three games against Georgia close and exciting, and unfortunately we just came out on the short end,” McSparron said.
“The one good thing to take from this game is that we battled back…but you never enjoy losing that game,” Spafard said.
The Jackets have five games left in the season and still have a shot at 10 wins. They begin the final stretch with two games at South Carolina this weekend.