BURLINGTON, Vt. — In what has become a pre-Thanksgiving tradition, Massachusetts skated with Vermont on the Tuesday prior to the holiday. The Minutemen hung tough, scoring first and ultimately escaping with a 2-1 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Freshman Chris Davis broke the tie with 2:57 to play, and goaltender Jon Quick was outstanding in net for UMass, making 29 saves while helping to hand No. 5 UVM its third loss in five games after starting 7-0.
On the winning goal, Davis put a pinballing puck past Vermont’s Joe Fallon (nine saves), for his third of the year, assisted by John Wessbecker and Stephen Werner.
The Minutemen did exactly what they needed to do, beating the fast-skating Cats. They slowed the game down — playing a trapping style, clogging the neutral zone, and not allowing the Cats’ offense second and third shots on goal.
“We’re on the road, and UVM plays at a high tempo,” said UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon. “We knew that they were gonna come at us. We felt that we just had to be positionally pretty sound. I thought, for the most part, our guys did a good job.
“We’re working on just pulling ourselves together,” he said. “We’re just trying to gather ourselves and come up with a game plan and a way we play that can be successful. It’s nice to see we can get something done in a tough situation.”
UMass got on the board first, with 1:30 left in the period, as freshman Scott Crowder caught the puck above the right circle. Fallon got a piece of Crowder’s low slapshot, but not enough, as it dribbled across the goal line for the 1-0 lead.
The Cats answered as the period wound down. Torrey Mitchell stripped a UMass skater inside the blue line and went alone on freshman Jon Quick. Mitchell made a move and stuffed it in at the left post with two seconds left in the period. Matt Syroczynski assisted on Mitchell’s fourth of the year.
After a sluggish start to the period for UVM, as UMass controlled most of the play in the first 10 minutes, the Cats turned it on, ending up with a 9-2 advantage in shots on goal.
The deadlock continued through the second period. Vermont again carried the play, but, like in the first, wasn’t able to develop much flow. UMass stymied the Cats’ offense as Quick made nine more saves in the period, including at least six nice ones from close range. Quick stonewalled Mitchell, Peter Lenes, and Baron Becker right in front of the paint as UVM was buzzing in the zone midway through the period.
“Credit their goaltender,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “It was on our scouting report, He’s a good goalie. Unfortunately, I think we lost that battle tonight. He played better than our goaltender. He did a great job of making the first save.”
The teams traded the only two power plays of the game early in the third. UMass was unable to get past the nation’s second-best penalty kill, but the nation’s sixth-best power play couldn’t break through UMass, either.
Fallon was called upon to keep the game tied, a little over midway in the period. He made a nice poke check on freshman Cory Quirk, then another on Quirk, who was set up in the slot with a pass from behind the net. Vermont had a few quality chances of its own before the game-winner by Davis but couldn’t find daylight behind Quick.
The Cats pulled Fallon after a timeout with 1:14 remaining, but the UMass defense held the fort as Vermont pressed for the equalizer.
UVM dominated the final shot totals 30-11, despite the loss.
“It’s frustrating, obviously,” Sneddon said. “We didn’t come out to play very well in the first period … we just didn’t play well at all. I thought we did a better job in the second and third period of skating, getting to loose pucks — doing things that make us successful. We just didn’t have any finish to our game tonight.
“That play should have never happened,” Sneddon said of a mistake made by his defense on the go-ahead marker. It was a harmless play that turned into a good play by them.”
UMass (3-7-0, 2-5-0 Hockey East) next plays Colorado College on Friday and Denver on Saturday, while Vermont (9-3-0, 3-3-0) heads to Maine for a big No. 4 versus No. 5 matchup Sunday afternoon.
“These guys were just waiting to break out,” Sneddon said of UMass. “They played a great game against BU (in a 4-2 win at home last Saturday). They’ve played some good hockey and just haven’t found a way to win. And now they are starting to believe in each other. You kinda just see it, they are starting to gel a little bit more. I think this is gonna be a pretty dangerous team in this league.”