BURLINGTON, Vt. — Over the past couple of seasons, the two things that make the Maine Black Bears outstanding have been their All-America goaltender Jimmy Howard and their defense. Judging from the Sunday afternoon opener with Vermont, nothing has changed.
Howard made 22 saves and Maine tallied seven goals from seven different players, including four in the first period, defeating Vermont 7-1 in front of a sold-out Gutterson Fieldhouse.
The Black Bears, second in the nation in the USCHO.com Preseason Poll, proved their worthiness, putting pressure on the Vermont defense all game. Maine scored early and often, peppering the net with 35 shots.
In the first period the Catamounts had no answer for the Maine attack, but as the game progressed, Vermont played better defense and proved to be a stronger opponent than the period indicated.
“Early on, I think Jimmy Howard played well,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “We had some opportunities early and didn’t bury it, and it seemed like when they had opportunities they put the puck away. They are very good at the little things. They blocked shots much better than we did tonight, they made it really hard for us to get in front of the net, their goaltender played very well and kept their composure at all times.”
Maine wasted little time, getting on the scoreboard two minutes into the first. Derek Damon skated out of the right-wing corner and found Tom Zabkowicz at the top of the circle. Zabkowicz wristed a shot high to the glove side of Vermont goaltender Travis Russell. Keenan Hopson got the second assist on the play.
The Black Bears scored again with nine minutes left in the period. Josh Soares found a loose rebound off of a shot from Tim Maxwell and put it past Russell. Rob Bellamy also assisted on the goal which made it 2-0.
The onslaught continued as Hopson scored Maine’s third goal, tipping a Mathew Deschamps feed through Russell’s legs at 17:37.
Maine wasn’t done. With :06 left in the period, Ben Murphy gathered the puck off of a turnover, cut across the right faceoff circle and flipped a shot past Russell high to the glove side again.
Russell allowed four goals on 18 shots and was relieved of his duties by freshman Joe Fallon.
The goalie change seemed to bring the Cats to life. Vermont got more scoring chances in the period and moved the puck on its power play effectively.
Senior winger Scott Mifsud thought he had Vermont’s first goal of the new season less than five minutes into the second. Freshman Torrey Mitchell, a fourth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, sped down the left side into the Maine zone. He hit Mifsud with a pass streaking to the net, but Howard stayed strong, sliding over to the far post and calmly stuffing two attempts on the doorstep.
Vermont’s Brady Leisenring hit the post with 3:26 left in the period while the Cats were on the power play, and Ryan Gunderson just missed lighting the lamp on a rebound attempt in front of Howard moments later.
Maine added to its lead even though Vermont carried the play in the period. Again, in the final ten seconds of the period, Billy Ryan pounced on a rebound created by a Damon shot. Vermont outshot the Black Bears in the second, 9-5.
Vermont finally broke through on Howard at 8:52 of the third period on the power play. Evan Stoflet beat the Maine goalie low after carrying the puck down the left side of the ice. Jeff Corey and Derek Wagar assisted on the goal.
But any Vermont momentum was quickly stopped when Maine added two power-play goals by John Ronan and Greg Moore five minutes apart.
Freshman goalie Mike Lundin spelled Howard for the rest of the contest, playing the final 4:39 and recording four saves.
The officials played a big part in the game, dishing out 25 minor penalties while placing increased emphasis on obstruction calls. The Black Bears finished three for seven with the man advantage, while Vermont was one for nine.
On the other side of the ice, Fallon made 14 stops in his two periods of work.
Despite the lopsided score, Maine coach Tim Whitehead believes Vermont is better team than it showed. “They’ll have a strong season. Obviously this is a tough result, but they will definitely use it as a positive. I think they’ll bounce back next weekend. They’re going to surprise a lot of people, in my opinion.”
Maine is home next weekend to play two with North Dakota while Vermont skates with Sacred Heart on Friday and Trois-Riveres of Quebec on Sunday afternoon.