BURLINGTON, Vt. — St. Lawrence came to Gutterson Fieldhouse Saturday motivated to take down No. 3 Vermont. Vermont was equally motivated to defend its home ice.
In an even, well-played game, the 15th-ranked Saints prevailed, upsetting the Catamounts 2-1, in the renewal of an ECACHL rivalry dating back to the early ’70s.
The visitors used a combination of great defense, limiting UVM’s chances with a stifling forecheck, and timely scoring. Mike Zbriger scored his ninth goal of the year with five minutes remaining and the Saints held on for the victory.
Referring to the atmosphere at Gutterson, longtime SLU coach Joe Marsh said it best: “If you can’t get up for a game in here, you don’t have a pulse.
“We’ve been trying to tighten things up and I thought our guys did a great job,” said Marsh, in his 21st year behind the bench in Canton. “I just thought we had to play a complete game — all three zones. I thought our guys really played with some poise and worked real hard.
“That was anybody’s game, obviously. They’re a heck of a team, and we know how games can go in this building — tough building to play in — and that’s a big win for us … certainly one of our best wins of the year.”
The two teams skated to a scoreless first period as St. Lawrence came out quick and neutralized Vermont’s offense in the early going. The Saints controlled the play in the first half of the period, while Vermont came on to close the period.
UVM’s Brady Leisenring had a sparkling chance nine minutes into the period. The senior right winger made a move on a defender but rang the post.
Catamount netminder Joe Fallon (17 saves) made a handful of saves on a flurry for the Saints with seven minutes left in the period. Zbriger had a couple of whacks on the doorstep, but Fallon stopped him with his pad and sprawled to cover the rebound.
Quality scoring chances were again scarce in the second. Leisenring had another great shot to put the Cats on top eight minutes in, when he blasted a shot that Saints goaltender Justin Pesony (20 saves) kicked out.
Fallon made another big save on Kyle Rank coming down the wing while shorthanded midway through the period.
St. Lawrence finally got on the board first 16:23 into the period on the power play. Kevin DeVergilio tallied his ninth of the year, sneaking a shot from down low through the five-hole of Fallon, for the 1-0 lead. Max Taylor and Matt Generous assisted on the goal.
The Cats nearly answered going into intermission, when Corey Carlson rifled one under the arm of Pesony that narrowly missed the far post in the last minute.
SLU’s Mike Madill took a holding penalty in the waning seconds of the period, giving Vermont almost a full power play and a fresh sheet of ice starting the third, and Mark Lutz tied the game on that man-advantage 1:41 into the period. The sophomore defenseman beat Pesony with a point shot through a maze of players for the equalizer, his fourth goal, from Carlson and Jeff Corey.
Riding the momentum, Vermont’s Torrey Mitchell picked up a loose puck in the slot and seemingly had all day to put it home, but Pesony guessed right, seeing the puck into his glove. Saints sniper T.J. Trevelyan then rang the crossbar squarely with a big slapshot with nine minutes left.
Zbriger’s game winner came on a deft tip of a hard Zach Miskovic shot from the point.
Vermont was 1-of-4 on the power play, St. Lawrence 1-for-5.
Catamount coach Kevin Sneddon liked his team’s effort, but thought it didn’t execute as well as it could.
“It’s a game of inches and unfortunately one tip ends up beating us,” he said. “I thought we had some momentum in the third getting that goal … I come away from this game thinking that our work ethic was really good; we just didn’t look as we have been. They did one thing a little better than we did tonight.”
UVM (11-4-1) is off until after Christmas when it hosts the TD Banknorth Catamount Cup. The Cats play Dartmouth on Dec. 30, and either Clarkson or Bemidji State on New Year’s Eve. SLU (12-6-10) next faces Clarkson at the Corel Centre in Ottawa Jan. 7.