BURLINGTON, Vt. — If the net were about an inch wider on each side, Dartmouth would have dominated and Vermont would still have one win.
But all the posts the Big Green hit, combined with a season-best performance by junior netminder Shawn Conschafter, allowed the Catamounts to secure a much-needed 3-2 win over the Big Green Saturday night in front of 3,904 at Gutterson Field House.
Dartmouth had a 2-1 lead on a pair of breakaway goals in the second period before the resilient Conschafter bore down and the Catamounts snuck a couple of long-distance ones past Nick Boucher, including senior Ryan Cox’s game-winner on his 22nd birthday from along the side boards with 18:56 remaining.
The win snaps a six-game winless slide for the Catamounts (2- 8-1, 2-2-1 ECAC), who needed every one of Conschafter’s 44 saves.
“Shawn has been something special,” longtime Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan said after the game. “When we make mistakes, we really put in right in his face. He’s been really solid — much better than his numbers indicate.”
The Big Green (4-3-1, 3-2-1) was looking to rebound following a dismal performance against UMass-Amherst last Saturday, but instead fell victim to several near misses, Conschafter’s strong play and the Catamounts’ smart defensive play in the third period to protect their one-goal lead.
Dartmouth is considered by many to be a top-tier team, but has shown in its three losses a failure to respond once its collective backs are against the wall.
That problem, coupled with a shaky performance by Boucher that saw him get yanked with 18:38 to play, provided the ingredients for Dartmouth’s first two-game losing streak of the season.
“I still think we ended up with good opportunities,” Big Green head coach Bob Gaudet said. “I thought we generated enough opportunities to score. It wasn’t like we packed it in. We worked our butts off.”
The Catamounts looked energized at the start of their first home game since Nov. 10, displaying a jump in their step and aggressiveness in their own zone to claim a 1-0 lead at the 7:47 mark. Less than 20 seconds into a power play, junior John Longo was one of three Cats in front of the Dartmouth net, punching through a rebound for his fifth goal.
The visitors erased the Vermont lead and took one of their own with a couple of breakaway goals in matter of 80 seconds.
At the 10:01 mark, Dartmouth senior Chris Taliercio took a cross-ice pass from Frank Nardella and lumbered toward the Catamount net to pot his first goal since Nov. 9. Soon after, Dan Casella forced a turnover at neutral ice and sped to the net, backhanding in his third of the year to make it 2-1 Dartmouth.
“Danny’s goal was one of the prettiest I’ve seen him score since I’ve known him,” Taliercio said.
Vermont nearly had the equalizer minutes later on a Jeff Miles breakaway lamp-lighter, but an offsides call nullified the otherwise well-executed individual effort.
The second stanza was just as high-octane as the first, as both teams traded chances on the attack. Dartmouth, in particular, was inches away from adding insurance to its lead a few times, as Chris Baldwin and Kent Gillings both hit pipes and several others forced Conschafter to make tough stops.
As it turned out, the Catamounts scored the only second–period goal, as they took the puck the length of the building with a series of accurate passes before rookie Scott Mifsud beat Boucher (17 saves in 41:22) with his first career goal from the top of the left circle.
Cox’s game-winner came just 64 seconds into the third frame, as the freshly turned 22-year-old dribbled one in from long distance. Boucher may have been distracted by players in front of the net, but Gaudet nevertheless had seen enough of the netminder after that goal.
“We changed goalies to try and change the momentum,” Gaudet said. “I thought Darren [Gastrock] played great and I thought the guys responded well.”
But Conschafter remained strong on his end, and with the sophomore Gastrock (9 saves in 17:12) between the pipes, the Big Green couldn’t come up with the equalizer.
In a turn of events that conjured up visions of Dartmouth’s last- second miracle win against Vermont in Lake Placid in last year’s playoffs — Gillings tied that one up with 13.1 seconds to play before Mike Maturo won it in overtime — the Big Green had its best chances on a late power play. This time, Conschafter was up to the task.
Vermont now has two wins on the season, but those are against Harvard and Dartmouth, two of the top teams in the league.
“That’s how tight it is from top to bottom,” Gilligan said. “The comparative scores have been interesting to see. I feel as though we can play with anybody.”
Dartmouth now breaks for exams and will next play on Dec. 13 against New Hampshire at the brand-new Manchester Civic Center. Vermont is back in action next Saturday against Connecticut of the MAAC.