BURLINGTON, Vt. — It may be hosting the Sheraton/Banknorth Classic, but the University of Vermont showed no hospitality to visiting Minnesota State. After giving up two early goals, the Catamounts came from behind to take a 3-2 victory over the visiting Mavericks in front of a boisterous crowd of 3,814 at Gutterson Field House.
“The thing that I liked about our guts is that we didn’t get down about it,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said of his team’s early deficit. “We just kept saying, ‘Hey, we’re playing well, let’s keep it going.’ We chipped away one at a time, and obviously felt like we played three solid periods tonight.”
The Catamounts took the game to their opponents early, suffering several near misses after drawing sophomore goalkeeper Kyle Nixon (24 saves) out of position.
However, the Mavericks drew first blood as captain Shane Joseph scored his team-best ninth goal of the season, assisted by linemates Jake Brenk and David Backes. Joseph came in from the right side, carried the puck past Vermont keeper Travis Russell (25 saves), then backhanded it past Russell’s stick and into the net.
The Mavericks added a second goal shortly thereafter, although not without controversy. Joseph scored his second goal of the night, lifting the puck over a fallen Russell off of an assist from Backes. The goal was roundly booed, however, as it appeared that another Maverick was holding Russell down as Joseph shot. Nonetheless, the goal was counted, and the Catamounts faced an early deficit.
“That’s two great plays by an all-American hockey player,” said Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting. “Obviously, it was nice to get out to a 2-0 lead.
Things didn’t stay “nice” for the visitors, though. Shortly after Joseph’s second goal, a pair of penalties to MSU freshmen Kyle Peto and Chad Brownlee gave Vermont a 5-on-3 power play. While Nixon withstood the pressure for most of the two minutes, the numbers finally proved to be too much, as senior Jeff Miles scored with 17 seconds remaining on the two-man advantage.
Baron Becker and Ryan Gunderson were credited with the assists, as the Vermont crowd made its presence felt. Both the home crowd and the home team sustained their intensity through the remainder of the period, but the Mavericks preserved their 2-1 lead through the first intermission.
The Cats’ momentum appeared to run out during the second period, but Russell kept the Catamounts in the game with strong play in net. Meanwhile, the Catamounts offense got a shot in the arm via a breakaway with just over five minutes left in the period. Miles potted his second goal of the evening, beating Nixon stickside on assists from 6-foot-7 freshman defenseman Art Femenella and linemate Tim Plant.
The lively crowd exploded barely a minute later, as new UVM co-captain Oriel McHugh lifted the puck into the top of the net, beating Nixon off of assists from freshman Dan Owens and sophomore co-captain Jamie Sifers. Russell continued his strong play in net, and as the second period ended, the smell of blood was detected by every citizen of Catamount Country.
“We’ve got the best fans in the country,” said Sneddon, “and I’ve always felt that this is a phenomenal place to play. It really sparks us. I think they appreciate hard work and effort, and we gave it to them tonight.”
Most of the hard work in the third period was done by the goalkeepers. While Nixon kept the Catamounts from extending their lead, Russell kept the Catamounts in the lead with several difficult saves. Russell also had significant help from the Catamount defense, as the UVM blueliners stopped several shots before they even made it to the sophomore netminder from nearby Essex Junction, Vt.
With 42 seconds to play and Nixon already pulled in favor of an extra skater, the Mavericks called timeout, as Jutting hoped to rally his troops. Once again, though, it was the UVM fans that did the rallying, sustaining a chant of “Go Cats Go” throughout the timeout. The Cats held strong in their own zone, and finished off their second straight win.
Both teams play again Sunday. The Mavericks (4-10-3) take on No. 14 Dartmouth (4-2-5) at 4 p.m., while the Catamounts (2-11-2) host No. 9 Massachusetts (9-4-4) at 7 p.m. Both games will take place in Gutterson as the Sheraton/Banknorth Classic comes to a close.