BURLINGTON, Vt. — Neither team deserved to lose.
Fifth-ranked Vermont and N0. 10 New Hampshire skated to a 3-3 draw in a high-energy, up-tempo game in front of a spirited crowd at sold-out Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday.
Was UVM coach Kevin Sneddon upset when senior defenseman Brian Yandle ripped a perfectly placed shot on the power play just under the crossbar at 13:22 of the third period?
Sneddon answered with his own question after the game: “How can you fault us on a shot like that? I don’t feel like we let anything slip away. I think they earned it.”
Even so, the Cats continued their Jekyll and Hyde ways in Hockey East play to start the season. They haven’t, to this point, been able to string together consecutive wins in the league after going 6-0 to start. Add to that an 0-2-1 record in the last three Hockey East games at home.
“I’m not worried at all,” said Sneddon. “I got no worries, we played a great college game.”
UNH coach Dick Umile agreed. “I just think it was just what I thought it would be – a typical hockey East game.”
Jacob Micflickier led the way for the Wildcats with a goal and two assists, followed by Daniel Winnik with a goal and one assist for UNH, which itself is 0-2-2 in the last four.
UNH struck first on the power play. Winnik redirected a point shot from Micflickier at 14:36 for the 1-0 lead. Yandle got the second assist on Winnik’s seventh of the year.
UVM answered three minutes later. After Joey Gasparini took an interference penalty in the offensive zone, Corey Carlson tallied Vermont’s first shorthanded goal of the season. He broke into the offensive zone, made a brilliant move to shake a defender and snapped the puck over goaltender Kevin Regan’s glove. Jaime Sifers and Dean Strong assisted on Carlson’s second in as many games.
“We were coming down 2-on-2, Jaime Sifers and me,” said Carlson. “We interchanged lanes, and I just faked the shot, and the kid stepped up so I went around him, shot it and it just trickled in.”
The period was an entertaining, up-and-down affair. Both Russell, making back-to-back starts for the first time in over a year, and Regan were tested often. Both made eight saves in the frame. The Cats had the better chances with seven of Regan’s stops in the period coming from the grade-A scoring area from the slot to the circles.
Vermont cashed in a power play carried over from the first period. Mark Lutz converted a left point shot with traffic in front as Vermont regained the lead. Strong and Sifers assisted on the third goal of the year for Lutz.
The lead lasted less than seven minutes as Micflickier scored his seventh off of a pass from Brett Hemingway at 7:41. Four minutes later, Russell removed himself from the action with an apparent left leg injury. Joe Fallon relieved the senior and made a big stop immediately, stoning Mike Radja on a shorthanded bid.
UVM snatched the lead right back with another power-play goal. Torrey Mitchell one-timed a Sifers feed through Regan five-hole. Mitchell’s fifth was a blast from the left circle for the 3-2 lead.
Vermont had opportunities to grow the lead in the third. The best of these came when Mitchell rang the underside of the crossbar after some great puck possession in the offensive zone.
Then Yandle knotted the game from the right circle for the visiting team’s second power-play goal in three chances against the nation’s second leading penalty kill unit.
Each team had chances to claim victory in the waning minutes of regulation but couldn’t convert.
In the last minute of overtime, Micflickier was whistled for a hitting from behind major, giving Kenny Macaulay a chance to be a hero during the ensuing power play.
The junior defenseman pushed the puck wide of a gaping net though, and the teams settled for the tie.
Regan finished with 31 saves while Russell and Fallon (14 stops) combined for 27.
Vermont was 2-for-6 on the power play.
“I thought my team played hard, and I like the way that they played,” Umile said. “They stayed composed at the end. There’s a great atmosphere here. I just wanted to get out of there at that point, especially in overtime and have a chance to score and not have the roof come down on us like last year,”–referring to UVM’s 5-4 win last November at home over the Cats in the last second.
Umile came away impressed with his new league-mate.
“Vermont’s a good team, and I think [they will] compete very quickly in the top bracket [of Hockey East]. I think there’s no question.”
Although Sneddon said there would be visions of Macaulay’s near miss in his sleep, he thought his team played well, especially on the power play.
“We moved the puck well, and most importantly, we got pucks to the net more than we have in the last few games.”
He was particularly proud of the way Fallon played in relief of Russell.
“I thought he played fantastic. He only let in one, and that was an NHL shot right there by Yandle on the power play, and I think he was screened as well.
“It’s really hard to come off the bench, unexpected like that, and he made some big saves. I thought he looked great,” said Sneddon.
After the game, UVM head athletic trainer Allison Shepherd confirmed that Russell’s injury was a torn left hamstring. He is expected to recover before the end of the season.
“It hurts, obviously,” Sneddon said of losing a point in the standings. “We carried a lead going into the third and you wanna win it, but I thought it was a great college game. I’m not disappointed in any way. I thought we played some good hockey tonight.”
New Hampshire and Massachusetts-Lowell swap opponents on Saturday. UNH plays St. Lawrence, while the River Hawks, fresh off a date with the Saints, play Vermont.