Hockey tops FSU, UGA to win Savannah Classic

The Tech ice hockey team had already won a record six Thrasher Cup titles—and that figure increased to seven over the weekend. The Jackets took down Florida State 4-2 on Friday, Jan. 14 and cruised past Georgia 9-5 on Saturday, Jan. 15 to win the 2012 Savannah Tire Hockey Classic.

It marked the second straight season and the third in the past four years that Tech had won the Classic. After a rocky start to the season, the Jackets have now won six straight games dating back to November, capping that stretch with wins over both of their rivals at Savannah.

“During [the fall], we looked very rocky, and I was trying to get us to perform and have chemistry together. Coming out for Savannah…and to be able to bring down the house and put all these goals up, it’s a really good feeling for our team,” said club President and senior goalie Taylor Medford.

The Jackets lost two key veteran contributors at the end of the fall, as seniors Marcus Lostracco and Dan Podratsky graduated. However, they did gain two key players back: senior forward Ryan Fritz, one of the team’s top scorers, and junior goalie C.J. Layer, a talented goaltender who spent the fall studying in South Korea.

The four-team tournament featured Florida, FSU, and UGA, with each of the four teams playing its traditional conference rival for the opening game and its in-state rival on the final day. This pitted Tech against FSU on Jan. 14, with the Jackets looking to extend their three-game win streak over the Seminoles.

The first period of that contest was rocky. Tech picked up goals from senior center Zack Berry, junior defenseman Wes Roberts, and Fritz, using good puck movement to keep massive FSU goalie Blake Wladyka off balance.

“We had known going into this game that we had to get their goalie moving side-to-side… and crash rebounds to get pucks in the net,” Medford said.

It was not a clean opening period, though. FSU capitalized on two power plays to put the puck past Tech’s Layer, and the Jackets carried a slim 3-2 lead into the first intermission.

Tech was relying on a number of young players, many of whom were making their first appearance in a major tournament, and therefore nerves were an issue—but only for that opening period.

“Being in front of 5,500 people, it’s the biggest game most of the freshmen have ever experienced…It was definitely a lot of pressure on them, being such a big game…but they really came through,” Medford said.

“There were butterflies, but it only took 20 minutes of hockey to get them out,” Layer said.

For his part, Layer was sharp over the final 40 minutes, and improved play by the Tech skaters allowed them to secure the victory. Layer saved all 20 shots he faced the rest of the way, and Berry scored early in the third period to give Tech a 4-2 lead that held the rest of the way.

Because Georgia had beaten Florida the previous night, Tech’s win over FSU meant that the winner of the Jan. 15 Tech-UGA contest would take home the Thrasher Cup. The Jackets had already beaten UGA 7-4 at the Columbus Clash on Nov. 18 and, led by a historic performance from Fritz, made it two in a row over UGA.

In terms of their roster, the Bulldogs were relatively undermanned compared to the deeper Jackets, but they held their own in the early going. Senior forward Matthew Zaske and Fritz scored for Tech, but UGA scored twice, forcing a 2-2 tie after 20 minutes.

It could have been worse for Tech, though. Just a few minutes into the game, UGA earned a penalty shot, but junior goalie Michael Klein made a crucial save.

“After he made that save, the whole team had confidence in him,” Medford said. “A lot of people just said [UGA] missed a chance, but [Klein] brought us up a level by making that save.”

UGA scored the first goal of the second period to pull ahead 3-2, but from then on, the game belonged to Fritz.

The senior’s second goal gave Tech a 4-3 advantage. Shortly afterward, Fritz appeared to score again when he swatted a waist-high puck in, but the goal was waved off. It turned out not to matter; 14 seconds after that, freshman Kenny McCrary and Berry executed a sharp passing sequence that set up Fritz for his third goal, earning him the hat trick and giving Tech a 5-3 lead.

Fritz scored two more goals before the game was over, and UGA replaced starting goalie Vince DiCarlo before the third period. Tech cruised to a 9-5 win to secure its seventh Thrasher Cup title.

The Jackets—who play in the South region of Division III of the ACHA—are pushing for a postseason appearance and will face two of the region’s top teams next week, No. 12 South Carolina and No. 13 UNC Charlotte.

“We’re playing the last two ranked teams we’ll play this year, [so] getting these wins would most likely propel us into a postseason berth,” Layer said.