In a week following the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy along the Northeast corridor, it seemed a bit ironic that a team with a Nor’easter mascot claimed responsibility for one of the biggest early season upsets last Saturday evening when the University of New England defeated Castleton, 3-2, in overtime.
Castleton came into the game with a national ranking and a victory on Friday evening over Southern Maine by a convincing 7-3 score. On the other side of the coin, UNE was routed on Friday night by Skidmore by a score of 9-4 in a game that was over at the end of the first period when the Thoroughbreds ran out to a quick 5-0 lead and never looked back. Saturday certainly looked like a match-up that favored the more experienced Castleton squad.
“I think we snuck up on them a little bit,” said coach Brad Holt. “They beat us pretty handily last season at their place and surely saw the score of our game against Skidmore on Friday, so they may have been looking past us a little bit. Certainly Castleton has an outstanding team and played very well, but we got a couple of breaks and played really hard and came away with a really big win and an important two points in the standings.”
Looking back at the Friday night match-up with Skidmore, the UNE squad saw the opposition notch 17 first period shots and chase starting goalie Ian Edwards with five goals, including the first just 14 seconds after the opening face-off. Sophomore Craig Ryan replaced Edwards for the second period, but didn’t fare much better in surrendering four goals on 15 shots and leaving the third period for Keith MacDonald, who entered the game trailing by a 9-2 score. MacDonald and the team produced a clean sheet in the third period and scored twice in under a minute midway through the period to make the final score 9-4. It was not a great outing as far as opening nights go, and certainly disappointing to the team and its coach.
“We are still a very young team,” said Holt. “We only have four seniors, and a lot of sophomores who saw significant playing time last season and know what this is all about. We have brought in some good freshmen to augment our group, and I like the talent and potential of our forwards. I decided to dress the same exact group for the Saturday game as the Friday night rout against Skidmore. I am sure some people in the stands must have been saying ‘What is he thinking putting out the same group that was routed last night?’ I like this group and wanted them to focus on getting back into a good frame of mind and focus on winning shifts and penalty kills and periods and building on that success.”
The first period, which was a horror show the night before, set an important tempo for the Nor’easters. The shots on goal were even for both teams at eight apiece, and the lone goal came off the stick of freshman Ryan Quinn midway through the period. The Nor’easters had a lead and were getting solid goaltending from Ian Edwards, who was back in goal as the starter after suffering through a tough opening period against Skidmore the night before.
“I think Ian has a combination of things working for him in coming back strong on Saturday night after a disappointing start on Friday,” noted Holt. “First, I know he was disappointed in his own performance and took ownership of his play to be better on Saturday. Second, he has the perfect attribute for a goalie of letting go of past goals quickly. He looks at it from the perspective of there is nothing that he can do about what just happened, and he quickly focuses on being prepared to stop the next shot or offensive rush from the opponent. He is very resilient and focused, which we will need this season from him.”
The Nor’easters counted on Edwards heavily in the second period when they were outshot by a 16-5 margin and survived two Castleton power plays.
“There was such a difference on special teams between the two games this past weekend,” stated Holt. “Castleton was very aggressive on their special teams all night, and I don’t think we even got a shot on goal until our third power play opportunity against them. We tried to stay very focused on our penalty kill, but it just looked like they were having fun moving the puck and getting their shots with the man advantage. I think a big part of our win was not giving up any power-play goals and limiting the number of chances they got with the man advantage. That is one area where the team played very well, and Ian [Edwards] was solid in goal in taking away second chances.”
Clearly coach Alex Todd said something in the locker room to his team to get them amped up for the third period. A goal by Derek Gingera just over four minutes in leveled the score at one, and the assault on Edwards and the Nor’easters continued with the Spartans piling on 13 shots in the period to 10 for UNE. Just under the 10-minute mark, Ryan Quinn, again assisted by Zach Lokey, scored his second goal of the game to give UNE a 2-1 lead, a lead that only lasted for a few minutes.
Following penalties to both teams and a Castleton timeout, the Spartans’ Ryan Frost scored the game-tying goal with just over one minute remaining in regulation and the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. Senior forwards Nick Lazorko and Josh Harris assisted on the goal, and Castleton now had momentum heading into the five minute overtime session.
“I didn’t really say anything on the bench,” said Holt. “It was obvious the kids were mad about giving up the goal so late in the game. They weren’t satisfied that their effort was going to end up in a tie or a loss. What I didn’t want them to do was to play for the tie or not to lose. It wasn’t how we played the entire game, so I was pleased that they stayed focused and maybe that helped with a little luck on the game-winning goal.”
With just under 30 seconds remaining in the five-minute overtime period, Sam Vikich got himself to the front of the net and, more importantly, somehow got the puck to the back of it, and the Nor’easters celebrated an unlikely but very satisfying win to split their opening weekend games. Edwards finished with 38 saves on 40 shots for the victory, and UNE posted its earliest conference win since joining the league for the 2009-10 season.
“This is really a big win for us,” said Holt. “That said, it’s important for our team to recognize that there are no nights off in the ECAC East, and we are not going to sneak up on anyone the rest of the season. We are going to continue to have to work hard, focus on getting our mini-victories in games to build our confidence, and hopefully get some points in these all-important early games before the semester break. I think they got some of that message after a tough practice yesterday, and we will need more of that effort and focus on the road this weekend against St. Mike’s and Norwich.”
Last year, the Nor’easters split the regular season match-ups with St. Michael’s, with each team winning at home. Norwich had the Nor’easters number in both regular season games, as well as the conference quarterfinal game, outscoring UNE by a 17-3 margin in the three contests.
“It’s the first road trip of the season,” noted Holt. “This is where our four seniors are so valuable to this young team. Guys like Tyler Fleurent and Brent Bourgeois have been ‘lead by example’ players on and off the ice for this team and while many of our players have been to St. Mike’s and played in a sold-out Kreitzburg Arena, our seniors will keep the focus and make sure we are ready to play this weekend and carry some momentum from last week’s big win. We have not had a lot of success against these two teams, so it will be a challenge to our team to compete at our best level and put pressure on those two experienced teams this weekend.”
After this weekend, the Nor’easters host fellow in-state rivals Southern Maine and Bowdoin prior to playing host Southern New Hampshire in the PAL Cup tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
There was another Nor’easter on the East Coast this week.
Look out for UNE this weekend — Drop the puck!