BOSTON — What a difference six days makes.
While it might not have been on the scale of God creating the world, Vermont coach Mike Gilligan certainly had a hand in the creation of a major turnaround for the Catamounts following a 10-0 shellacking at the hands of UNH last Saturday.
Buoyed by a stellar 42-save performance between the pipes by senior goaltender Shawn Conschafter, Vermont tied fourth-ranked Boston University 1-1 in front of a sellout crowd of 3,806 for the home opener at Walter Brown Arena.
Mark Mullen started and ultimately finished the Terriers’ first-period goal, while Jeff Miles converted one opportunity for Vermont in the second period.
It was a vindicating evening for Gilligan after Saturday’s humbling loss.
“Well, I didn’t think we could do that twice in a row,” Gilligan said. “UNH is a real talented team, but we did an awful lot to make them look real good,” said Gilligan. “We’re very fortunate to get some bounces and some great goaltending and get out of here with a point.”
“I thought we played poorly in the first period even though we were up 1-0,” Terrier Coach Jack Parker said. “I thought we gave them too many jumps, and we were hoping that they weren’t going to be as good as they were.
“Then to my surprise I thought we turned it around and played pretty well the next two periods. But the tell-tale sign here is we had 86 attempted shots: 43 on target; 26 off target, and the goalie played terrific, and he made some great saves. So I was pleased with our effort — not pleased with the outcome. But we have to give Vermont a lot of credit after what happened to them last weekend to come back and play as well as they did.”
After the Catamounts were embarrassed by UNH last weekend, Terrier fans might have expected this game to be lopsided from the outset, but this didn’t come to pass. The Terriers enjoyed a nominal advantage in shots and scoring opportunities throughout the first period, but there was plenty of spirited back-and-forth action.
“We gave up more jumps, more odd-man rushes in the first 10 minutes tonight than we did in the first two games of the year,” said Parker. “It was brutal how bad our defensemen were getting caught up on the rush, getting caught trying to jump in on the play, getting caught trying to pinch down. It was all lack of respect for Vermont — ‘We can do what we want out here.’”
Nonetheless, the Terriers scored first at 9:31. Mark Mullen set up the play with some excellent puck possession, holding off a pair of defenders along the right-wing boards before passing to Kenny Magowan on the goal line. Magowan found Terrier captain Freddy Meyer at the left point, and Mullen was johnny-on-the-spot to redirect Meyer’s shot in at the far post.
BU had a couple other grade ‘A’ chances before the period ended, but Catamount senior netminder Shawn Conschafter was equal to challenges by Mullen and Zancanaro.
“He’s a clever player; he gets a lot of opportunities,” Parker said of Zancanaro, who had tons of power-play ice time tonight. “He plays great at both ends of the rink — a real sparkplug for us.”
In the second period, junior Jeff Miles deftly redirected Oriel McHugh’s left-point slapshot past Fields to tie the game. All six goals that the Terriers have surrendered this season have come on the power play.
The goal triggered excitement aplenty. As a Terrier power play elapsed minutes later, freshman Spencer Morton picked up an errant pass and went in for a breakaway trying for his first collegiate goal. However, Meyer hustled to catch up on the play and stripped the puck from him. Miles threatened again at 9:40, one-timing a Jeff Corey pass over the net from just outside the crease.
With the Catamounts down a man at 15:30, Conschafter absolutely robbed Gregg Johnson with a pad save on a point-blank bang-bang play off a pass from behind the goal line.
“Especially after the back-door save, I saw their guys skating to the bench hanging their heads, shaking their heads,” Conschafter said. “Our guys were jumping up and down, so that’s a big pick-me-up for us.”
Accordingly, the period ended with Vermont swarming the Terrier net.
Fields had his flashiest save of the night in the opening two minutes of the third period, snaring a Tim Plant slapshot with his glove.
The Terriers started to build pressure with repeated power plays, threatening the net repeatedly through the first half of the third period. David Klema took a quick-release shot that almost surprised Conschafter, then almost scored again minutes later when Zancanaro set him up on the right-wing side, but the senior from Niagara Falls, N.Y. came up big again.
The suspense mounted as both teams had chances late in the period. Brian McConnell took a delay of game penalty — perhaps a smart one — for knocking the Terrier net off its moorings amidst a Vermont flurry at 14:40. But the penalty almost resulted in a BU goal when Zancanaro tipped a loose puck to Brian Collins for a shorthanded breakaway. Collins tried to slip a backhander under Conschafter, but the goalie stymied the bid just before Collins barreled him into the net.
The teams traded a few chances in overtime before BU got the territorial edge. With one minute left in OT, Conschafter somehow stopped three shots in a row, including two rebound whacks by David Klema.
With 20 ticks left, Conschafter hit the ice hard after Mullen literally crashed the net, then eventually recovered to deny Brian McConnell on a pair of chances that almost gave the Terriers a buzzer-beating victory.
“I was a little dazed — I hit the back of my head on the ice when I went down,” Conschafter said. “I was just a little rattled, that’s all. The last 20 seconds couldn’t come fast enough.”
“Shawn was just fabulous tonight,” Gilligan said. “That’s as good a goaltending performance as I’ve seen since he beat Clarkson a couple of years ago in the playoffs up there.”
“I’d say it’s definitely one of the better complete games I’ve played,” Conschafter said. “I can remember spurts last year — times when I played a good period here, a good period there — but this is by far the best 65 minutes I’ve played.”
Vermont (0-1-2) stays in town to play Boston College on Sunday afternoon, while BU (1-0-2) is off until Tuesday night when it plays Merrimack.