The Battle of Nashville
February 27, 2022
Vanderbilt 8 - Middle Tennessee 5
History only happens once, and on a cold February night, it was made at Nissan Stadium. Nashville is truly a city on the rise. The glitz and glamor of it is tremendous, and has only been given more weight in recent years. The NFL, NASCAR, INDYCAR, NHL and MLS have all visited or made Music City a home as of late and have held major events.
Perhaps there is none bigger than the NHL Stadium Series for the first time ever in Music City. This circumstance allowed for more than one team to make history however.
MTN Sports social media graphic from the end of play.
It opened Pandora's box to the possibility of a clash between two hockey rivals to settle the score in the biggest way possible. All of this came together to create the spectacle that was the Battle of Nashville between MTSU and Vanderbilt Hockey.
As the MTSU Hockey team prepared to play on Sunday, they never would have expected to be in this moment. Just 30 minutes prior to faceoff, the team walked into Nissan Stadium late Sunday evening not to be spectators, but to be spectated in a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The opening face-off of the Battle of Nashville at Nissan Stadium
MTSU along with their opponent Vanderbilt would be playing on one of the most coveted professional rinks in the world: the outdoor Stadium Series.
The exhibition game already would have certain rules that were put in place by the NHL. These rules had a big impact on the play of both teams, but a big impact was the conditions of the ice itself. Both teams spoke about how they felt the ice made the game a little bit different.
MTN Sports reporter Abigail Martin speaks to MT's Tanner Bond about the blue raider's upcoming playoff run.
One key difference about the ice was the number of times the Zamboni machine was used during the match. In a typical match, the Zamboni would come out at the end of every period to clean and smooth the ice sheet inside the rink. Because of time stipulations, the teams decided to only use the Zamboni before the start of the match.
The players believed this impacted the quality of the ice as the match went on throughout their allotted one-hour to play consisting of three 14-minute periods.
The Rowdy Raider bench with their eyes on the prize
“I mean the ice was great for the first period,” said Jebb Vincent, a player for Vanderbilt. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get to Zamboni any of it so we couldn’t get a fresh sheet because we wanted the most time playing as possible.”
Another big impact on the game was the fans in attendance at the event. This moment wasn’t just for players, as fans also got the opportunity to revel in the rarity of the game. Both teams were allowed to bring a max of 100 people into the Nissan Stadium for the event.
MT Goalie Zach Horton (#88) getting into the right mentality to defend his net
Fans throughout the game showed mutual respect and really allowed the game to play out with moderate cheers after during the course of the game and the scoring of goals mostly.
“This is really exciting. While it’s not full of fans, it’s very special and exciting in a different way. The energy around both teams, the players, their families, this is really cool, said Roseann Gapusan.
Michael Vitovich, the father of MTSU player Logan Vitovich, talked about the team's efforts to get where they currently are and saw this moment as a badge of honor for MTSU hockey.
MT Forward Ash Warner pursues the puck along the Stadium Series boards.
“It’s been quite an amazing season. The things that they overcome. Just being a parent, it really makes us proud. Especially watching MTSU hockey,” said Michael Vitovich.
Vitocvich also spoke about just how far the team had come since their inception in 2015 and the growth of the club team.
“I know with them going from a club status, to MTSU making their first appearance in the playoffs. This is the best way to start generating more buzz for the hockey team that we have,” said MTSU fan Michael Vitovich.
The Blue Raiders taking in the moment after a score
The game itself was a unique one in the grand scheme of hockey. Special rules were put onto this game due its distinctive nature. Three twelve-minute periods would be played and no big hits could take place between the players. In addition, these two teams had already met three times in the regular season with MTSU holding a 2-1 overall lead. MT was also getting ready to make their postseason push as the playoffs were fast approaching. Along with the grandiose setting, this set the stage for a game like no other. In the first period the play was methodical as both teams tried to feel the other out.
Ethan Chi (Vanderbilt #15) and Linden Palmer (MT #9) battle for possession.
However, it soon became clear that the teams would impart two distinct styles that would remain for the remainder of the game. MTSU made their intentions known early and often as they emphasized staying close to the net.
The usually hard-hitting Blue Raiders would instead have to use their sticks more often to create takeaways. They also used this strategy on offense to create the best percentage looks that they could. Close shots would become the calling card for the Blue Raiders on this night. The Commodores, on the other hand, were much more about the speed-based game. They wanted to disorient their opponent by attacking the puck on defense. With this, they could apply pressure onto the Blue Raiders that would be difficult to overcome. Even better, this could then translate into their offense which could use fastbreaks to skate past the MT defense in a hurry.
Jack Bowen (Vanderbilt #10) and Linden Palmer (MT #9) shake hands at center ice.
This led to many drag races down the ice that allowed Vanderbilt to get quick slap-shots that found their mark more often than not. It also cannot be overstated how important premier passing was for them in creating these opportunities. Perhaps, the most crucial component for them was their goalie play which, despite letting up 5 goals, saved many a puck that should have gone into the net.
When all was said and done, these two styles coalesced to create a dynamic display of ice hockey. With the cold and icy conditions adding extra elements, the game was made even more of a beautiful affair.
Hype video by MTN Sports collecting video from MTSU hockey practices and interview clips with players
In the end, though Vanderbilt would pull through with an 8-5 victory thanks in large part to their style of play and incredible team chemistry. However, MTSU showed great resilience and never quit on the game even when things were looking bleak.
With the playoffs happening later this week, this game also served as a precursor to the playoff mindset.
Ethan Roy a player for MT explained this when looking at the purpose of the game for his team in particular.
Standup report by MTN Sports Reporter Noah Brady minutes before puck-drop.
“We’re also kind of tuning up for the playoffs,” Roy said. “So it’s a mix of getting out here and having fun, but also focusing on not getting hurt.”
This was truly a game to remember as both teams went out to play not caring if they won or lost but using this as a way to celebrate and take pride in the growth of their programs now, and for the years to come.
For a full game recap click below.
Realtime tweets from Nissan Stadium uploaded throughout the Battle of Nashville:
Article: Darius White, Dylan Simmons
Photography: TJ Myers w/ tqm.photography