The Hokies ice hockey team took on top ranked Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday in what proved to be a battle of attrition. While Tech lost the contest 6-4, they made a nice statement about just how good they truly are. They showed everyone that they belong in the upper echelons of club hockey.
The game could not have started any better for the Hokies. The first period featured fast, physical play by both teams. Tech scored first five minutes into the match on an unassisted beauty of a wrist shot from the slot. The Eagles responded with a goal of their own at the eight minute mark during a two on one breakaway play. They followed it up with another score off of a rebound halfway through the period. At the end of the first period, the score was 2-1 in favor of the Eagles.
Just when you thought the stalemate wouldn't end, two Hokies tag teamed a Gulf Coast player, the second hit drawing an interference penalty. The Eagles would capitalize seven seconds into the power play, giving them a 3-1 lead going into the third.
Early in the third period, Gulf Coast would score yet again, this time a delayed deflection off a pass from the point. The Eagles scored again just two minutes later on a two on one breakaway. In desperation, coach Mullen called a timeout and pulled goalie Walker Detweiler, replacing him with backup Kirk Smith. The lid had been put on the coffin, but the nails were not yet hammered into place. With renewed energy, the Hokies scored back to back goals from team captain Zack Walz and winger Alex Hashmi, closing the gap 5-3. Gulf Coast put away the game though with a smooth backhand shot at the 11 minute mark. Tech would add one more goal during a power play of their own as time was winding down.
While the Hokies got off to a fast start, they were plagued by fore-checking problems. They simply spent too much time in their own zone, and were unable to hold the puck in their opponent's side of the rink. It's very difficult to win hockey games without a good fore-check, despite the fact that Tech out-shot the Eagles 37-33. In addition Tech seemed to have a lot of trouble passing the puck as many of their passes were either behind or way ahead of their intended target. At other times, the receiver of the pass couldn't handle the puck, leading to many missed opportunities, and lots of turnovers. Tech's players were constantly trying to find the puck, and I believe it contributed greatly to their defeat.
On a positive note, the Hokies held Gulf Coast to six goals. That may seem like a lot, but this is a team that scored 14 and 15 goals their last two games. That is a huge victory in itself. The Eagles ran an NHL-caliber offensive scheme that utilized their size to facilitate an aggressive fore-check. They worked together effortlessly and it was easy to see how they were capable of scoring so many goals. In contrast, Tech relied on their speed to get behind the defense for quick scoring chances. It worked early in the game, but going into the third period it became obvious that Gulf Coast was steadily wearing them down.
The number in attendance was roughly 500 people, a good draw considering the game was being played on NFL conference championship Sunday. On any other day the attendance surely would have been higher. I hope that many of you will follow them closely going into the playoffs. Tech may not have won today, but they kept it close. If they met again I would expect the game to be even closer. Make no mistake, this team will really get after you.