BURLINGTON, Vt. — Never mind that Vermont had opened the season 0-11-2. Never mind that the Catamounts’ opponent, No. 9 Massachusetts, had contributed to that rough start with a 4-2 win over UVM last month in Amherst. As Vermont prepared to host the Minutemen in the final game of the Sheraton/Banknorth Classic, the most important thing for the Catamounts was that they had won two straight games, and a third straight was not out of the question.
It was, however, out of the answer. Still, the Hockey East hopefuls proved equal to their opposition from Hockey East, as the Minutemen and Catamounts skated to a 5-5 tie in front of a home crowd of 3,822 at Gutterson Field House.
“I’m just ecstatic at how the guys competed this weekend for 125 minutes,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon. “For our team to compete that hard against the ninth-ranked team in the country, I’m just real pleased. The guys are starting to believe in each other, believe that they can play with everybody, and believe that they can win games.”
“I was happy with the effort of what we would call a skeleton crew,” said Massachusetts head coach Don Cahoon, whose team was missing six regulars, including double-digit scorers Stephen Werner and Chris Capraro. “I thought we played pretty well within ourselves.”
The tie was the fourth in five games for UMass, who has cooled off after a torrid 9-2-1 start. In their last six, the Minutemen are 0-2-4, with their last win coming in that November game against Vermont.
The Catamounts’ appetite for a third straight win was whetted early in the game, as sophomore co-captain Jaime Sifers scored his first goal of the season on the powerplay. The defenseman from Stratford, Conn., carried the puck in from the right side of the zone, then lifted it over UMass sophomore goalkeeper Gabe Winer to give his team the early lead.
The Minutemen would come back with a power play goal of their own, as junior Greg Mauldin picked up the rebound off of a Thomas Pck miss, and lifted it over UVM keeper Travis Russell for the equalizing tally. Sophomore John Toffey also picked up an assist on the play.
With the score tied, the Catamounts looked to tie up their opponents on the ice as well, stopping many Minuteman shots before they started.
The game remained even through the first half of the second period, until a UVM power play picked up the scoring. At first, though, it was the visitors doing the scoring, as Pck scored his 11th goal of the season on a shorthanded breakaway, assisted by sophomore James Solon.
The Catamounts would use the man-advantage to equalize, however, as co-captain Oriel McHugh scored his third goal of both the tournament and the season, launching a slapshot from the right faceoff circle off of a pass from junior Tim Plant. Sophomore Jeff Corey was also credited with an assist.
More penalties led to more scoring, as a 4-on-4 yielded two UMass goals. Sophomore defenseman Marvin Degon made it 3-2, putting the goal into a gaping net off of a pass from Mauldin. Then, Pck, who also assisted on Degon’s goal, potted his second of the evening, as Craig McDonald and Degon assisted.
The two-goal advantage didn’t last however, as Catamount senior Tom Child scored his first career goal, on assists from linemates Ben Driver and Dan Owens. With the goal, the first second-generation hockey player in Catamount history — Child’s father, Ted, is in the UVM Hall of Fame — became the first second-generation player to score as well.
“My dad loves being up there,” the younger Child said. “I’ve worked my tail off just to get in the lineup here. There was a question a couple of years ago about whether I was going to make the team. I just kept working hard, and it was great to finally get one in.”
The Cats continued to pressure the Minutemen, and knotted the game early in the third, as sophomore Baron Becker slammed the puck past an out-of-position Winer after a pass from linemate Jeff Miles. With the ever-raucous Gutterson crowd behind them, Vermont put the Minutemen on notice that they weren’t out of the woods yet.
The Catamounts had several near misses, hitting posts twice, including once on a shorthanded breakaway. Those near misses served to make sweeter the eventual “hit” – Driver’s first goal of the season. Winer stopped point blank shots by Owens and Child, but Driver went top shelf for the go-ahead goal, the second tally of the night for the Catamount fourth line.
“Our job in the game is just to play defense,” said Driver, “and if we get the offense, it’s a plus. Tonight, we played real well, and it’s a bonus to get those points tonight. I thought my other two linemates played unbelievably tonight.”
The Minutemen weren’t done, however. With 3:32 to play, junior center Peter Trovato took the puck in on a pass from freshman Garrett Summerfield, and put a shot past Russell to knot the game once again at 5-5.
The Catamounts continued to pressure, looking for the game-winner. It appeared that Sifers had it as the buzzer sounded, but the shot was late, and the teams headed to overtime, the Minutemen’s second straight OT game and fourth in five outings.
The overtime, like regulation, was hotly contested. So hotly, in fact, that that a post-whistle skirmish broke out 13 seconds into the extra session. Still, the home team was the hotter team, as Vermont got the better scoring opportunities in the extra session. With under two minutes to play, Cahoon called timeout, looking to motivate UMass to its first overtime win of the season. The Minutemen earned several quality shots after the timeout, but just like his counterpart Winer, Russell proved up to the task, and the teams ended the game in a 5-5 tie.
The tie left the Catamounts just short of the tournament title. While the Catamounts tied Dartmouth with three points on the weekend, Dartmouth’s 8-5 victory over Minnesota State in the early game topped Vermont’s 3-2 win over the Mavericks last night, giving the Big Green the tie-breaker and the tournament title.
Two Catamounts did take home individual hardware, however, as McHugh and Miles were both named to the All-Tournament team. They were joined by Pck, who was named the tournament’s MVP.
“Tommy is as good a player as there is in college hockey right now,” said Cahoon. “I don’t think there’s a better offensive defenseman in college hockey, and he’s a great leader. I’m sure if he continues to play the way he has been playing, there’ll be lots of opportunities down the road for him.”
The next opportunities for Pck and his teammates will be next weekend, as the Minutemen play a Hockey East home-and-home with Massachusetts-Lowell next Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, the Catamounts will travel to Dartmouth on Friday, looking to carry their three-game unbeaten streak into ECAC conference play.