BURLINGTON, Vt. — What a time to score your first collegiate goal.
Freshman defenseman Mark Lutz’s slapshot from just inside the blue line beat Dan Yacey cleanly for the eventual game winner, as Vermont took a 2-1 decision to close out its best-of-3 ECACHL quarterfinal series with Dartmouth.
UVM squandered leads in all three games, but in the last two found a way to come out on top and move on to play Cornell in Albany on Friday.
“I thought we just left everything out there last night and again tonight,” said an extremely pleased Catamount coach Kevin Sneddon. “For us to be able to play that kind of energy, after what we went through last night … to come back after losing Game 1 and to sweep the next two games, it’s all character in that room. That’s what got the job done. [I'm] real proud of the guys, and I think they’re very proud of each other right now.”
Vermont (21-12-4) came out with a purpose in the first period and by the end of it had the lead, 1-0. Vermont established an offensive presence early, controlling play and spending much of the period in the Dartmouth zone.
The lone goal came with the Cats skating on an extended two-man advantage — 63 seconds worth, to be exact. The power-play unit made good on the chance as the puck was held in the zone and worked around with precision.
Jamie Sifers wound up with the goal, his fourth, as each cycle of the puck allowed him to creep that much closer to the net. He fired a wrister that beat Dan Yacey (24 saves) top shelf at 6:05. Scott Mifsud and Kenny Macaulay recorded the assists on the play.
Soon after the goal, though, David Jones nearly tied it up with a drive from above the right circle. The shot beat Fallon on the glove side, but found the crossbar and bounced harmlessly away.
Jeff Corey almost grew the lead to two with seven minutes left. He skated the puck down the left side alone on Yacey, who made the save.
Then, with 6:30 left, Fallon robbed Eric Przepiorka on the doorstep. The phenomenal freshman netminder, who possessed a miniscule goals against average of 1.99 entering the game, got a piece of it with his glove to keep the Big Green off the board.
Dartmouth (20-13-2) had a golden opportunity to even the game with a minute of five-on-three of its own. Vermont killed it off well, only allowing one shot through to Fallon, and the Cats got out of a sticky situation unscathed.
A factor in the victory was that the Cats, along with a good performance from Fallon (24 saves), blocked 26 shots on the night, many on the nine Dartmouth power plays. For the series, Vermont did not allow a power-play goal, holding the Big Green scoreless in 20 attempts.
“Penalty kill is all about good goaltending, and all about character,” said Sneddon. “It’s blocking shots, it’s leaving it all out there every shift to try to make the kill. I think that speaks volumes in terms of how far our team has come.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that both goals for the Cats came while a man up. Referee Alex Dell called nine penalties in the first, and a total of 18 for the game.
It’s a tough one,” said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet, whose team played six games in just ten days. “They played great. We played hard, I’m really proud of our team. We battled right through to the very end.”
In the second, the Cats kept the pressure on, outshooting the Big Green 10-7. Chris Myers, Saturday’s hero with the overtime winner, appeared to have put the home squad up 2-0 midway through the game as the puck was pinballing in front of Yacey. Myers knocked it out of the air and in, but Dell ruled it was done with a stick above the crossbar.
Both goalies were stellar in the period, as Fallon had to stop Nick Johnson, Przepiorka, Mike Hartwick, and Lee Stempniak — each from prime scoring areas. Yacey first stoned Matt Syroczynski, Corey next, and then Ben Driver with an acrobatic glove save to keep his team in it going into the third.
Przepiorka solved Fallon 2:10 into the final period, banging home a rebound of a Jarrett Sampson shot to knot the game at 1. It was the junior’s 15th goal of the season.
The game stayed that way until Lutz, the steady blueliner from Stevens Point, Wis., who admitted after the game to being “snakebitten” when it came to goal-scoring, finally found the net.
“We drew that play up,” joked Sneddon of the winning goal. “Thought we’d bobble it around a little for a while and then have him just skate up the ice and put it in. Great timing, obviously, for his first collegiate goal. I don’t think he’ll forget that one.”
All that is left for Gaudet’s squad is to hope that they have done enough to be invited to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid.
“I think we’re up against it,” he said. “Quite honestly, I don’t know. I’m not optimistic.
Sneddon thinks the Big Green deserve to be in the field of 16.
“That’s an NCAA team,” he said. “I don’t know if they are going to get in, but that is a great hockey team across the way there.”
For Vermont, it is on to the ECACHL Final Four, for the first time since 1995-96. For captain Sifers and the rest of the team, it’s just another goal accomplished.
“The first was to get a first-round playoff bye,” he said. The next was to get to Albany … ”
The next step?
“You’ll find out soon enough,” he said.