ALBANY, N.Y. — With an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament on the line, this was anything but your run-of-the-mill third-place game.
The Colgate Raiders (25-10-3) were confident that a win or tie would continue their season. The Vermont Catamounts (21-14-4) understood they had to win and get help in order to advance. Meanwhile, the Dartmouth Big Green watched from Hanover knowing it needed a few things to bounce its way as well.
“This team deserves to be in the tournament,” declared Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. “I can’t see any team around us that deserves it more than us.”
In the end, it was the Raiders who came away with a 2-1 victory in a special teams-filled affair in which each goal came on the man-advantage. Colgate will now start its travel plans for what will likely be a trip West in the first round of next weekend’s NCAA tournament.
“It’s an emotional time,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon, whose team’s season ended with the loss. “We came down to Albany to compete for a championship and we did that for 120 minutes. As painful as it is for these guys, and I feel pain too, looking back on the season it was a great ride for us.”
“I want to publicly recognize and commend my team tonight,” said an equally proud Vaughan. “It was an unbelievable effort from the goaltender on out … [especially] after what we went through last night.”
Specifically, that was a double-overtime loss to Harvard in the semifinals.
“Last night hurt a lot,” added tri-captain Darryl McKinnon. “But it wasn’t a big problem getting ready for this one.”
Despite nearly five full periods of hockey less than 24 hours prior to Saturday’s game, the Raiders jumped out a 2-0 lead after the first period — built upon the strength of a pair of power-play goals.
“We did exactly what we needed to do,” said Vaughan.
The first man-advantage goal for Colgate came 5:17 into the contest when the rebound of McKinnon’s shot bounced to rookie Tyler Burton at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. He wasted little time depositing the puck by UVM’s Joe Fallon for his 19th of the year.
“I’m playing with some pretty unreal guys out there,” said Burton about his time — and success — on the power play this season.
A late penalty on Vermont junior Matt Syroczynski for roughing afforded the Raiders another opportunity to extend their lead, and they did not pass it up.
On a beautifully designed play, nearly every Colgate player touched the puck before blueliner Art Femenella passed it down the left circle where Burton quickly slid it across the ice to Mormina, who had snuck in from the right point. The senior redirected the pass into the open side of the net for his third goal of the weekend.
“He has a calming effect on the team and the coaching staff,” said Vaughan about his senior blueliner. “I think he has a future in this game.”
The Catamounts finally connected at 8:24 of the second period while on their fifth power play of the game. Senior Chris Smart’s shot on Silverthorn bounced off the netminder’s pad and back out to the slot where Syroczynski put it into the open right side of the net. It was his seventh of the season and swung the momentum in UVM’s favor.
The Catamounts had a series of prime opportunities to pull even when they were awarded four consecutive power plays late in the second period, including a 5-on-3. But the usually reliable and dangerous UVM man-advantage came up empty.
“It was the way the puck bounced,” Sneddon explained. “The puck bounced against us at times. But a lot of credit goes to Colgate for the way they killed penalties. And we gave up opportunities on their power plays. That was the difference in the game.”
Silverthorn, who earned his school record 55th victory, finished the game with 34 saves, including 16 in the second period, while Fallon ended the contest with 18 stops. The Raiders were 2-for-9 on the power play. UVM was 1-for-12.
“The penalty killing did a tremendous job,” Vaughan said.
With the loss, the Catamounts wrapped up their time in the ECACHL, as they will play in Hockey East next season.
“It’s been a great 16 years for me,” said Sneddon, who played (Harvard) and coached (Union and UVM) in the conference. “It’s a classy league. I want to thank everyone for how they’ve handled things in a transition year.
“It showed a lot of class.”
“We set some goals,” said senior Scott Mifsud, “to finish in the top four and to get to Albany. We got the Vermont program back on the map. It should be a top program in the country and kids should want to play at Vermont.”