HANOVER, N.H. — The I-89 rivalry is heating up.
Playing the second of three consecutive games against one another, Dartmouth and nearby neighbor Vermont battled before a packed house of 4,150 at Thompson Arena Friday night in a physical game that featured 18 penalties.
Bouncing back from a 4-2 loss before the new year, the homestanding Big Green handed the 13th-ranked Catamounts a 5-2 defeat, evening the season series at 1-1 and dealing Vermont its first loss in ECAC play. The rivals will meet again Saturday night in Burlington — 90 miles up Interstate 89 — in a game that sold out in less than three hours.
In this game, five Big Green skaters led the way with two points each, including junior tri-captain Mike Maturo, whose assist and game-winning goal gave him nine points in the last four games, and a team-leading 16 points on the season.
“Mike is a real leader and a difference maker on our team,” coach Bob Gaudet said. “When he plays well, it lifts the entire team because he sets a good example and he gets everyone working hard and wanting to win. Mike is really what this program is all about.”
With the win, Dartmouth (5-7, 2-3 ECAC) continued an upswing that began with a 2-1 triumph against No. 11 Maine over Thanksgiving weekend. In December, the Big Green went 2-2 in a slate of non-conference games, including a 6-3 win against fifth-ranked New Hampshire.
For Vermont (9-5, 5-1), the loss comes a week after winning the Auld Lang Syne holiday tournament here at Thompson Arena. Despite taking an early 1-0 advantage, the Catamounts were outshot 28-21 overall and suffered their first loss since a 7-3 setback against Minnesota-Duluth in late November.
Vermont coach Mike Gilligan, who is just two victories shy of the 400-win plateau for his career, thinks his team will take the loss in stride.
“We knew we weren’t going to go 22-0 in the league,” he said.
“Dartmouth seemed to have better legs tonight. We knew they were a good team, and we respect them. Any team that beats Maine and New Hampshire deserves your respect.”
Dartmouth outshot the visitors 13-3 while taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but Vermont opened the scoring three minutes into the game when senior captain Jerry Gernander beat goaltender Nick Boucher (19 saves) after the sophomore had made a pair of acrobatic saves. Gernander’s third goal of the season gave him points in eight of nine games.
The Big Green had a power play minutes later, and from then on took control of the period. The hosts made it 1-1 with an even-strength goal at 11:19, as sophomore center Kent Gillings took a feed from left winger Maturo and rifled a quick liner past a helpless Andrew Allen (23 saves) in net. Gillings’ goal was his fifth of the season.
“The power play makes a big difference because it can change the momentum,” Gaudet said. “We were up to speed in the first few minutes, but I think we really started to play well as the first period went on.”
Dartmouth took its first lead of the game soon after Gillings’ marker, when junior Chris Baldwin one-timed a Frank Nardella pass from behind the net. Chris Taliercio also earned an assist on the play.
The teams traded power-play goals in an exciting middle frame that included an eye-popping 11 penalties. The Big Green extended its lead to 3-1 early in the period, as Maturo took advantage of a fat rebound and hammered home his team-leading eighth goal of the season. Baldwin, who fired the initial shot, earned an assist on the play.
Vermont responded just over a minute later. Fourteen seconds into a power play, Jeff Miles — the top freshman scorer in the ECAC — took a pass from center Patrick Sharp and roofed his fourth of the year, giving him 17 points on the season to make it 3-2.
Dartmouth iced the game in the third period, as Boucher played well — stopping a perfect seven of seven shots — and defenseman Trevor Byrne added an insurance goal with a blast from just inside the blue line. Byrne’s goal was his third on the season.
The Big Green closed the scoring when defenseman Pete Summerfelt — whose family made the long trip from Anchorage, Alaska — chipped in an empty netter.