BURLINGTON, Vt. — Coming into this weekend’s games, it’s safe to say neither of Vermont’s assistant coaches envisioned doing what they did against St. Lawrence Saturday.
John Micheletto and Damian DiGuilian took over the reins of the Catamounts for the night, as head coach Kevin Sneddon watched from the press box. Sneddon served a self-imposed, one-game suspension stemming from critical remarks he made directed toward referee John Murphy following UVM’s 3-2 loss to Clarkson Friday.
The Cats, fired up, were pleased to deliver a 4-1 victory to the coaching staff.
“Obviously [it was] kind of a unique experience for the guys,” said Micheletto. “I thought they handled the adversity of last night very well. So, from a mental standpoint they did a great job coming out and sticking to the game plan. So, we’re real excited as a coaching staff.”
Micheletto described co-coaching with DiGuilian as “interesting.”
“You get a chemistry going and a dynamic as a staff.” he explained, “Working together on the bench and in the locker room. … I think we found our way and the guys kind of settled in after the first couple of minutes without hearing the calming voice of Coach Sneddon.”
Matt Syroczynski scored the eventual game winner late in the second period. This time Vermont held on for the win, adding two empty net markers in the final seconds of the game. Goaltender Joe Fallon made 18 saves for his 12th win of the season, and in the process guaranteed his team its first winning season since 1996-97. Harkening back to that year one more time, Scott Mifsud’s assist on the Syroczynski goal was his 38th point on the year. His 39 points are the most since Martin St. Louis had 60.
Vermont remains tied for the final ECACHL first-round playoff bye with Dartmouth, in fourth place.
After one period, the game was knotted at one, although St. Lawrence could very well have had the lead if not for Vermont’s penalty killing. The Cats wiped out three Saints chances before they finally cashed in just as a power play expired. Mike Zbriger beat Fallon with a nice move, in close, to tie the game at 16:08. Max Taylor and Tony Maci assisted on Zbriger’s fourth.
Chris Myers put the Cats on the board first, 8:36 into the game, gaining the puck in the neutral zone in a quick transition play. He worked his way around an SLU defender at the far boards before snapping a wrister past McKenna (28 saves) for the early lead. Myers’ eighth of the year was assisted by Joey Gasparini and Kenny Macaulay.
Including the three Saints power plays in the period, SLU only managed 14 shot attempts — only four of which went on net. Vermont led in shots 5-4 heading to the second.
Vermont took over in the second. The Cats scored late in the period to carry the lead into the final frame. The Saints nearly broke the tie with 8:37 left in the period. Kyle Rank got behind the defense and in on Fallon. Rank rang his shot off the crossbar, and with Fallon out of position, Slavomir Tomko hurried back to knock the net off its mooring and stop play.
The Cats began to buzz shorthanded on the delay of game penalty that ensued, when Hobey Baker candidate Mifsud just missed the far post, charging down the left side with under five minutes remaining in the period.
Then two minutes later Jeff Corey dropped it to Torrey Mitchell on the rush but Mitchell got in a little too close and McKenna made the save.
Syroczynski tallied his sixth of the year, putting a rebound past McKenna off a tipped Mifsud shot on the power play at 18:28. Corey got the assist on the go-ahead goal.
The Saints pushed for the equalizer in the third, but Fallon was up to the task on all eight shots they threw at him in the period. Vermont outshot SLU 29-19 for the game. The Cats tacked on two empty-netters by Corey and Garparini for the final margin. Corey led all players with a goal and an assist in the Cats’ 16th win of the year.
“Joe has a remarkable ability of making tough saves look easy,” Micheletto said. “He’s got the philosophy that, if he has to make a spectacular save, he probably wasn’t in the right spot originally.”
The UVM penalty-kill unit was perfect on the night in six chances, while the Cats converted one opportunity out of three.
“It’s just kind of a tough cycle we’re in, right now, to break,” said SLU coach Joe Marsh. “They chipped that one in … and that off the crossbar I thought for sure was in. We just don’t seem to be getting those things to go in for us right now. I think that’s the difference.
“I think the biggest difference is we didn’t get great puck support. We didn’t seem to generate a lot of second and third chances,” Marsh continued. “Credit their defense a lot on that. We didn’t have a lot of sustained opportunities.”
Speaking of Sneddon’s choice not to coach, Marsh added, “That’s a pretty classy move on his part. I’m sure he was frustrated last night. Kevin is a pretty top-shelf guy. I think he is making a statement here to step back. I think it’s important that the league recognize that he is trying to rein it in a little bit.”
Both teams hit the road next weekend. For St. Lawrence (13-15-2, 7-10-1 ECACHL) it will be a continuation of a four-game trip at Brown and Harvard. Vermont (16-11-3, 10-6-2) is at Yale and Harvard.