Men’s hockey club wins Border Battle
In front of a raucous crowd at the Palouse Ice Rink Saturday night, the Idaho men’s hockey club kept the Vandals’ Battle of the Palouse winning ways alive by way of a 12-6 final score over Washington State.
The tight rink played a major role in the high scoring affair on the ice in many cases, Idaho coach Chris Storhok said.
He said on a rink half the size of a regular rink, teams get more shots on net than in bigger rinks, goalies have harder angles to cover and the lighting isn’t great. All of these factors could result in high scoring games, he said.
The Cougars were greeted with a rowdy chorus of boos by the Vandal fans in attendance and the crowd seemed to get into WSU’s head early, which was a huge advantage, Idaho goalie Nick Grover said.
The crowd created an electric atmosphere, which was a far cry from the usually lukewarm atmosphere when the Vandals play the Cougars in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.
“This is my fourth year playing and this is the biggest turnout we have ever had,” assistant coach and player Tayler Wells said. “We can’t put enough emphasis on our fan base, it is awesome.”
Along with the home game rarity, the Vandals faced off with the rivals from across the Palouse and likely boosted the attendance. More than 400 fans packed into the rink, completely circling the ice.
“The guys in there were absolutely thrilled with this game and appreciate the support of the Idaho and Wazzu fans that were here tonight,” Storhok said. “It was wonderful having this kind of turnout. We haven’t had this many in here in several years.”
Playing with leads is what the team likes to do, Storhok said. Some teams play better when attempting to rally, but they prefer having a lead they can build on.
Grover said playing on smaller ice changes many things about how he plays.
On the smaller ice, the Eagle, Idaho, native couldn’t reach around the boards to secure the puck, so he had to rely on the team to break the puck out quicker, which they did a great job of, he said.
With the smaller ice, the Vandals and Cougars had to play four-on-four rather than the regular five-on-five. The smaller rink also meant Grover had to make a number of athletic saves, which was key in the Vandals’ victory.
“It is absolutely critical in this rink because he’s got to make a number of really hard saves — things are coming at him a lot closer than they would be in a normal rink,” Storhok said. “His hand-eye coordination has got to be superb and he was beautiful tonight.”
Along with the impressive job Grover did in goal, the Vandals netted seven goals before Grover yielded his first.
“It’s huge on this small ice,” Wells said. “There isn’t a lot of room, so to get that first goal and kind of build some confidence and get the team going.”
The intimidation the Vandal fans created — from the “boos”, to the pounding of the glass — was evident from the initial faceoff. There were a number of hard checks into the glass and cross check penalties, but those all paled in comparison to one exchange early in the final period, which resulted in two players ejected from the game.
Their performance in front of the fans is something the team hopes carries on into the rest of the season, much like it did last year, Grover said.
“When we play as well as we did in front of our home crowd, we get the chance to show the city of Moscow what we are capable of and it is good for everyone,” he said.
Joshua Gamez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org