BOSTON — When the last two winless Division 1 teams in the nation, Vermont and Northeastern, took the ice Saturday night, most of the 1,428 snow-braving spectators appeared fearful that if either team actually won the game, the world would come to a crashing halt.
For the time being, though, NU’s 1-0 victory did little to alter the fate of the universe. Except, that is, leave the Catamounts (0-11-2) as the last Division I team without a victory in 2003.
“I think I saw Curious George jump off my back and go running. It felt pretty good, I lost about 10 pounds off the shoulders,” said NU goaltender Keni Gibson after his second career shutout. “It was bound to happen sooner or later.”
Husky coach Bruce Crowder was happy to see his team’s winless streak — the worst start to a season in the 72-year history of the program — vanish like the Boston landscape, which was pelted with over a foot of snow Saturday.
“It was a long time coming, and obviously I feel for [Vermont coach] Kevin Sneddon,” said Crowder. “Something had to give with these two teams, and I’m glad it ended up giving on our side.”
For Sneddon, the ride back to Vermont will surely be a long one.
“I think it was two mentally fragile teams that were really searching within themselves to come up with a win,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to be on the schneid, as they say. It was a pretty good hockey game, because both teams wanted to get that win. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out in a positive way for us. We’ve got to continue to remain as positive as we can and continue to teach and continue to emphasize the little things that will help us win.
“We’re mentally fragile to begin with,” Sneddon added. “We were that way coming into the game, and we’re that way leaving this place instead of feeling a little bit better about ourselves.”
Vermont will have to wait two weeks for its next chance to earn a victory, when the Catamounts host Connecticut on Dec. 20.
“We go on break right now for exams,” Sneddon said. “Hopefully they’ll concentrate on their academics a little bit, put hockey aside and be excited about coming back from the 10-day layoff. That’s all we can do right now, just keep pushing them hard and know that our luck will change soon.”
Huskie freshman forward Ray Ortiz scored the game’s only goal and the first of his collegiate career at the 13:46 mark of the first period. Fellow freshman Yale Lewis threw the puck into Vermont’s crease from the right face off circle, and Ortiz tapped in the only goal NU would need to snap its skid.
“I think the nice surprise this year has been Yale Lewis,” Crowder said of Northeastern’s top freshman scorer with five points. “He’s kind of a throwback to the Lake State teams in the late ’80s. He’s very good in the corners, he’s a big body, he doesn’t throw the puck away and he makes good plays. He made a nice play to get the puck over to Ray for the tap-in goal.”
Northeastern had to weather a late batch of action in its own end to preserve the victory in the third period. Vermont forced Gibson (25 saves) to stop a few shots within the final minutes of play, but center Jason Guerriero blocked a blast by Joey Gasparini with two seconds left to end the rush.
“I was probably most pleased with the last two or three minutes. We haven’t had a lot of leads late in the game, and they handled it pretty well,” Crowder said with a grin. “We didn’t panic.”
Both Gibson and Vermont goalie Travis Russell (32 saves) made impressive saves between the pipes, but each received a bit of luck as well. Northeastern cracked four posts on the night, while Vermont players nailed the iron three times.
For NU, the victory ends an unforgiving early season.
“We can’t really get caught up in what’s happening in the press or what people are saying,” Crowder said. “We’ve just got to stay focused and keep ourselves going in the right direction. For the most part, we’ve done that over the last six games. My only real disappointment, except for the losses, was the way we played last Saturday night against [Boston College] in the third period. I wasn’t impressed, but all the other games we’ve played extremely well and we kept coming and played hard. We just weren’t getting any rewards for our effort.”
Northeastern will face Princeton at home on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.