CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Matt Hanson’s Vermont teammates earned him another game puck Friday night. This time, he accepted it in person. Hanson, the sophomore goaltender who fractured his fourth cervical vertebrae two weeks ago, was standing upright at Bright Hockey Center, watching the Catamounts blitz Harvard with three power-play goals and score their first shorthander of the year in a 6-4 win before an announced 2,128.
Vermont (9-19-4, 7-13-1 ECAC) has won three in a row on the road and five straight overall. Hanson, whose No. 31 sweater was again hanging behind the bench Friday, has the victory puck from each one.
“All the wins are for him, all the pucks are for him,” said assistant captain Brady Leisenring, who scored two goals and added an assist. “It’s a tragic thing that happened in practice, a fluke thing, and we’re trying to win the rest of the year for him.”
At the rate they’re going, that’s not out of the question. Suddenly, the same team that began the year 0-11-2 is the only 11th-place team in college hockey that no one wants to draw for the playoffs.
“That wasn’t a pretty hockey game by any means, but the bottom line is that our guys have enough confidence to win those games right now,” first-year UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said. “You have to win, even when you don’t have your ‘A’ game, and we did that tonight.”
The victory, which gave the Catamounts their longest win streak since winning five straight in November 2000, came one night after the Vermont team bus surprised Hanson at his home in Peabody, Mass., where he has been recuperating.
“Only a couple of us knew we were going,” Leisenring said. “It was fantastic.”
Somewhat unknowingly, the Catamounts crashed the birthday party of Hanson’s brother, Bobby — you know, Dave Silk from “Miracle.”
“I think we ruined his birthday,” Leisenring joked. But the Hansons welcomed them warmly, and the team stayed an hour — 40 minutes longer than they thought they would.
“We’re a tight family,” Sneddon said. “That’s above any hockey game.”
Vermont is a team on a mission, skating as if it believes it can do no wrong and determined to win for a fallen teammate. The Crimson, meanwhile, reverted to bad habits in its own zone and was done in by its own penalties.
Harvard (11-14-3, 9-10-2) entered the weekend as the league’s least-penalized team, but was whistled 11 times for 22 minutes. Three calls were for hitting after the whistle.
“I think that hurt us tonight, took us out of our flow,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said of the penalties. “No question about it.”
Vermont, which has the league’s fifth-best power play, was 3-for-6 with the extra man. Harvard was 1-for-4. The Catamounts took nine penalties of their own in a physical, emotional game between two teams that — if the season ended one night early — would be playing each other, same time, same place, next weekend in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.
“Vermont got us to play their game, a chippy game,” said Harvard senior Tim Pettit, “and we got a few more calls against us [than they did].”
Harvard took its only lead at 3:21 of the first on a sharp-angle, off-the-skate goal by freshman Steve Mandes, his first since Dec. 13.
Then the Special Teams Spectacular began. Referee Joel Dupree called 18 minutes of penalties during the final seven minutes of the period, including matching double-minors for roughing to Harvard’s Noah Welch and Vermont’s Jaime Sifers. The two traded blows behind the Harvard goal at 14:59, just after Jeff Miles scored on the power play to tie it at 1-1.
Less than two minutes later, Leisenring scored on a shorthanded 2-on-1 to give UVM a 2-1 lead. It was the first shorthanded goal the Crimson allowed since Jan. 4, 2002.
“You allow one shorthanded goal a year, some people say that’s one too many,” Mazzoleni said. “But it happens.”
This time, it was a definite momentum-changer. Harvard never led the rest of the way, though Tyler Kolarik tied it early in the second — yes, on the power play — before Leisenring caromed his second of the night off Crimson defender Peter Hafner for a 3-2 lead at 3:21.
About five minutes later — and on the power play again, after Tom Cavanagh hooked Evan Stoflet — Sifers provided a two-goal cushion after his laser from the point was deflected in front, past Dov Grumet-Morris. UVM never trailed again.
Harvard regained some momentum when Pettit rebounded Kenny Smith’s shot at 12:47 for a 4-on-4 goal — hey, no one had scored that way yet — but gave it back late in the period on another power-play goal. The goal, by Chris Myers, was tough to take from Harvard’s standpoint for four reasons: First, on the penalty that caused the power play — Pettit’s obstruction-holding of Myers with 2:44 left — Dupree’s arm went up a full two seconds after the act, drawing Pettit’s ire on his way to the box. Second, Myers scored by shooting the puck off an out-of-position Grumet-Morris, who admitted he had overplayed Stoflet’s initial shot.
“That one,” Grumet-Morris said, “I’d like to have back.”
Third, the timing couldn’t have been worse for Harvard. It came late in the period (only 50 seconds left), and with only six seconds remaining on Pettit’s penalty. Finally, it stood as the game-winner.
“That goal was definitely the turning point in the game,” Leisenring said.
Harvard’s Ryan Maki drew the deficit to 5-4 just over a minute into the third with his first collegiate goal, and the Crimson outshot the Catamounts 14-7 in the period (36-26 in the game). But Tom Child had the final say with his empty-netter, extending Vermont’s improbable win streak and giving Hanson some hard-earned cargo for the ride back to Peabody.
“It was great to present him with this game puck in person,” Sneddon said.