HANOVER, N.H. — In the final ECACHL league game of 2004, Jaime Sifers scored a goal and added two assists, and Joe Fallon posted 29 saves to lead the No. 14 Vermont Catamounts to a 5-1 road victory over the Dartmouth Big Green in front of 3,963 fans.
“I thought we played a very, very good first period,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon about his club, which had been off since December 7 for exams. “We had only two real full practices [because of exams].
“I’m proud of our guys. Now they want me to say that we only need two practices [all the time], but I’m not falling for that.”
The Catamounts struck first in a free-wheeling first period. While on the power play, senior Chris Smart worked the puck up the left boards to Sifers at the point. The captain took two strides to his right and ripped a slapshot between the stick and pad of Dartmouth netminder Dan Yacey. The tally, at 15:26, was Sifers’ second of the season.
The Big Green tied the score early in the second period while enjoying a power play of their own. Seconds after an impressive Fallon glove save that ended a Dartmouth flurry, sophomore defenseman Grant Lewis wristed a shot from the right point that eluded the screened goaltender. Lewis’ second of the season came at 5:28.
The Catamounts regained their lead, however, when junior Ben Driver connected at 14:00. Skating into the Dartmouth zone two-on-one, Driver’s shot was stopped by Yacey with the rebound cleared just out of Smart’s reach. The senior followed the puck into the right corner where he moved it back to Driver, who skated untouched out from the boards to the right circle. Once there, he wristed a perfectly placed shot just under the crossbar for his second of the year.
Dartmouth had a chance to even the score late in the stanza as it poured on the pressure during a power play, but Vermont escaped unharmed before being awarded a man-advantage of its own at 19:20.
“Joe [Fallon] kept us in the game for a 10-minute stretch there,” said Sneddon. “He lets us make mistakes without us looking like fools.”
“Joe always provides stability,” said assistant captain Scott Mifsud, “and gives us such confidence. We know he’ll be there for us.”
It was Mifsud, however, who gave his entire team a shot of confidence with time winding down in the second period. When he threw the puck in front of Yacey from the right corner, it bounced off Lewis and between the goalie’s legs with just four-tenths of a second remaining. Mifsud was credited with his 13th tally of the season.
“That was a huge goal for us,” said Mifsud. “I knew time was running out, so I just threw it at the net.
“We’ll take it.”
“That’s the kind of goal that can really hurt a team,” he said. “On the flip side, it really sparked us.”
What made the last-second goal even more of a Dartmouth backbreaker was that the Big Green felt the second period was their best of the game.
“I thought we played well in the second period,” remarked Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. “The puck just went in for them. We were close to clearing it, close to tying them up. All of a sudden, the puck was behind us.”
Hoping for a spark, Gaudet pulled Yacey for backup Sean Samuel to start the third period.
“I was trying to change the momentum,” Gaudet explained. “It was worth a shot.”
Vermont maintained its edge over the final 20 minutes, though, as rookie defenseman Slavomir Tomko one-timed a perfect pass at the side of the net from classmate Torrey Mitchell. It was the fleet-footed blueliner’s second of the season and made the score 4-1 at 6:05.
Junior Joey Gasparini’s power-play goal — the third on the night for UVM against a team that had killed off 90.3 percent of shorthanded situations entering the afternoon — rounded out the scoring and came on an excellent pass from behind Samuel by linemate Chris Myers. Gasparini’s second goal of the year came at 17:49 and improved UVM’s success with the man-advantage, which was at 20.4 percent entering the contest.
“We couldn’t make a lot of passes out of our zone,” explained Dartmouth defenseman Grant Lewis. “They always seemed to be tipped or deflected.”
What’s worse for the Big Green is that they were playing without the services of four key forwards, including Tanner Glass — serving an automatic suspension for his recent game disqualification — and the injured Hugh Jessiman. In addition, juniors Max Guimond and Darcy Marr recently left the team to focus exclusively on academics.
“It’s a tough stretch,” said Gaudet. “We can’t seem to get a full complement of players on the ice. There are no excuses. We have to fight through it.
“To lose a couple of guys, it happens at schools at this level. To do both is difficult and sometimes choices have to be made.”
Dartmouth finished the evening 1-5 on the power play to UVM’s 3-6. Yacey made 20 saves in his two periods of action, while Samuel stopped eight shots in the third period. The two teams could meet again at the end of the year as they are both participating in the Big Green’s annual holiday tournament, the Ledyard Bank/Auld Lang Syne Classic, December 29-30.