ORONO, [nl]Maine — Move over, Maine — there are new Cats in town.
And they couldn’t care less about that old Alfond mystique.
On Sunday, behind the inspired play of senior netminder Travis Russell, Vermont silenced Maine 2-1 and earned its first Hockey East victory at Alfond Arena. Anchored by Russell’s 29-save performance, the Catamounts [10-3-0, 4-3-0] rebounded from a tough loss to UMass last weekend to collect another all-important road win. For the Black Bears [9-4-0, 4-3-0], the loss marked their second straight loss in the conference and at home.
“This is huge,” said Vermont forward Jeff Corey. “We dropped two close games to BC and UMass at home and we just wanted to play hard hockey and do the little things right.”
After the decision, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon had high praise for his keeper, who sparked the upset of the fourth-ranked Black Bears.
“Travis played a phenomenal game,” said Sneddon. “They obviously peppered some really good shots at us. I thought he did a real good job of controlling rebounds. I am really pleased for him; he’s had an injury-plagued season so far. It’s nice for him to get in there and get a huge win for us.”
In only his second start this season, Russell, replacing regular starter Joe Fallon, caught the Black Bears off-guard.
“We weren’t expecting to see him,” said Maine defenseman Mike Lundin.
“Travis was unreal tonight. He was by far our best player; without him I don’t know where we would be,” said Vermont winger Corey Carlson.
Halfway through the third period, however, it was Carlson who found the limelight.
With the Black Bears pressing in the Catamounts defensive zone, Dean Strong beat out a pinching Lundin. The puck bounced free to Corey, who was waiting just over the centerline.
“To be honest, I have no clue how my puck got on my stick at the blue line,” said Corey.
From there, Corey raced into the Black Bears zone for a 2-on-1 with Carlson. Waiting until the perfect moment, Corey feed Carlson a low pass just under the left faceoff circle.
“The goalie was giving me a shot but I saw Corey Carlson coming down on the wing and I knew he was going to get a one-timer, so I just fed it to him,” said Corey.
Carlson rifled the pass home for his second goal of season at 10:02. The assists went to Strong and Corey.
“A lot of credit went to Dean Strong — he was the guy who started that whole play,” said Corey.
The score capped the scoring in the period, which only ten minutes earlier had begun with two goose eggs on the board.
“We knew they would be comfortable and enjoy that atmosphere; they were certainly not intimidated by it, but that’s what we expected,” said Whitehead. “We knew it was probably going to be a close game and in the end they were one goal better today.”
Vermont got on the scoreboard first at :58 of the third period when Mark Lutz sent a laser by Bishop. The shot from the far point found the back of the net compliments of good positioning by the Catamount forwards.
“I didn’t see it,” said Bishop, who recorded 15 saves in the loss.
Maine responded quickly, though, with Billy Ryan feeding John Hopson a beautiful pass from behind the net. The goal, at 2:26 of the third period, also saw an assist from Keenan Hopson.
For the remainder of the period, the Black Bears failed to generate many second-chance opportunities on Russell.
“I thought they did a great job protecting the front of their net,” said Whitehead. “Certainly on the penalty kill they blocked a ton of shots. It just made it very difficult for us to get to the net front.”
The Catamounts, owners of the second-best penalty-kill unit in the nation behind Maine, shut down the Black Bears’ power play five times on the night.
“I think they’re a well-disciplined team defensively,” said Hopson. “We just didn’t get to the net. That’s what it really came down to.”
Vermont went 0-for-2 on the power play.
In the final minutes, Maine pulled Bishop in hopes of finally beating Vermont with the extra skater. The move nearly paid off when the Black Bear forwards nearly trickled a puck in as time expired. However, the shot slid just wide of the post, ending the game.
“I thought we did a pretty good job limiting their grade-A opportunities,” said Sneddon. “They certainly got some shots on us but not anything too tough for us to handle.”
Overall, Sneddon was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I thought we were good at times and bad at times,” said Sneddon. “It was real tough to generate offense. I thought we played very patient. I would probably grade us as above average but not excellent.”
The loss was Maine’s third in the past four games.
“We just have to put this game behind us and work hard this work focusing on Providence,” said Lundin. “We want to get back on track, especially in Hockey East.”
The Black Bears return to action against Providence on Friday, while Vermont is set to tussle with New Hampshire the same night.
As far as their newfound title of league power, Carlson isn’t too worried.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is that it feels good to get a win and get out of here with two points,” said Carlson.