College Hockey:
Russell Backstops Vermont Past Massachusetts

— Vermont showed it has more than one very capable goaltender Tuesday night at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Junior Travis Russell got his third start of the year and stopped 23 shots in a 5-2 win over Massachusetts.

The win extends the nation’s longest unbeaten streak to nine games. In that span UVM has gone 6-0-3.

“Travis was outstanding tonight,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “Give him a lot of credit he didn’t play for almost a month, if not more than a month, and made some key saves tonight. I’ve said all along that we really have two good goaltenders with Jeff Hill as a third one coming along. We’re blessed to have depth at all positions and that’s going to be a key down the stretch.”

Vermont got contributions offensively from everywhere, including a goal and an assist from both Chris Smart and Jeff Corey. Joey Gasparini also chipped in three assists to help move the No. 15-ranked Catamounts to 7-4-3, 4-0-2 ECACHL.

The national ranking for the Cats marks the first time since the week of Jan. 8, 2001 the team has been in the top 15.

“I just give our guys a ton of credit right now,” said Sneddon. “It took a lot out of us this past weekend to play well against Cornell and come back and beat Colgate, and then really not have much rest at all and not much game preparation, to come out tonight and play with that kind of enthusiasm and that kind of energy, it looked like we didn’t even play on the weekend.”

Vermont got on the board first at the 14:33 mark of the first period when Chris Myers scored his seventh of the year. UMass goaltender Tim Warner (18 saves) gave up a rebound of a shot off a faceoff and Myers put it in, high from Gasparini and Tom Collingham.

Travis Russell, getting the start in place of freshman phenom and ECAC Hockey League Goaltender of the Week Joe Fallon, bailed Vermont out of a couple sticky situations in the period. Most notably, Russell stopped UMass leading scorer Matt Anderson by smothering a rebound attempt from the low slot with 8:50 left with the teams skating 4-on-4. Russell also made two huge stops on Steven Warner–one on a UMass power play early in the period from the right circle–and the other just below the left circle.

Vermont came on late in the period and held a slim 7-6 shots on goal advantage in the period.

Early in the second, Scott Mifsud, coming down the left wing found Torrey Mitchell streaking down the slot. Warner made the save 1:10 into the period.

Russell continued his strong play in the period making some very solid stops before UMass broke through with one second remaining on its power play. Defenseman Jeff Lang scored his second of the year on a slapshot through a screen from Tim Vitak to pull even at the 8:20 mark. Russell had little chance on the play.

Vermont came back with a power-play goal of it’s own, minutes later. On a scramble in front, Warner made an initial kick save but Tim Plant, Gasparini and Smart, who were all there for the rebound, kept plugging away and finally nudged the puck over the line. The goal was given to Smart for his second in the three games and third overall. Plant and Gasparini got the assists on the goal at 13:05.

“We knew there were going to be rebound opportunities, ” Sneddon said. They are such a tough team to play against because they do keep everything to the outside. If we were just going to shoot and not have guys go to the net, it was going to be a long night.”

Just :49 later, Vermont struck again. Mifsud won a faceoff in the Minutemen zone directly back to Slavomir Tomko. Tomko ripped his shot wide on the glove side off Warner. The puck came hard off the back boards out on the other side of the net. Corey was there and threw it off the goalie’s skate for his fourth goal of the season, it was the eventual game–winner at 13:54.

But Vermont wasn’t done. Torrey Mitchell scored an extremely impressive goal getting a pass at center from Gasparini, for his third assist of the night, and dangling in the high slot before beating Warner. Mitchell wristed a shot through a UMass defenders legs for his third of the year.

Marvin Degon scored for the Minutemen at 11:51 of the third to bring the visitors within two at 4-2.

Russell made some key saves in the final minutes, not allowing UMass to get any closer. He made outstanding stops on John Toffey with 6:50 left, and Anderson again with 4:28 remaining.

Mifsud tallied his team-leading tenth goal of the year into an empty net for the final margin. Smart had an open shot at goal but elected to dish to Mifsud in a classy move. Corey also assisted on the goal, which sent a sell-out crowd home happy.

Both teams were 1-4 on the power play. Each team took five penalties for ten minutes in the game. Shot totals were 25-23 UMass to Vermont.

“Honestly, I thought if we had a little more puck luck early … we might have gotten our jump, a goal or two.” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said. ” Instead, we made a couple of bad play, and we paid the price each and every time we made a bad play.

“We’re grinding, pressing,” he continued. “We’re playing sporadically well, but, not well enough over the course of 60 minutes.”

UMass is now is 1-3-1 against ranked opponents this season. Overall the Minutemen drop to .500 at 6-6-1, 3-3-1 Hockey East and will look to improve on that mark facing No. 5 Colorado College on Friday. Vermont’s road doesn’t get any easier facing No. 6 New Hampshire at home Saturday.

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