BURLINGTON, Vt. — Jeff Corey struck for his second of the night 3:17 into the overtime session as No. 7 Vermont narrowly averted a one-point weekend against Hockey East cellar-dwelling Merrimack, 4-3, at Gutterson Fieldhouse Saturday.
The Warriors played an exceptional road series, winning on Friday and giving the Catamounts fits by tying the contest late in regulation before Corey’s game winner.
On the play, Corey took a backdoor pass from Ryan Gunderson and deposited it past Merrimack goaltender Jim Healey (30 saves) with 1:43 left on the clock. It was Corey’s team-leading 11th goal of the year and third of the weekend.
“I was trying to come down there on the wing, trying to beat a guy,” Corey said, describing the winner. “And I got the puck, and threw it back to Jaime [Sifers], who threw it to Ryan Gunderson, who hit me with a backdoor pass. And the guy went down, and I shot the puck on net, hoping that it would either go, or hit off someone, or deflect in. And, fortunately, it went right in for me.”
“Obviously, we made a big mistake there, [on the tying goal],” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon, “but for our guys to respond, I think it’s big for us, right now,” We needed to get that win in overtime, get some confidence back. I think that was very important, for tonight.”
The win ensured that Vermont (16-8-2, 8-7-2 Hockey East) would salvage two points in the standings heading into a crucial league series starting Friday with Providence.
“We’re certainly pleased for our guys,” said Sneddon. “That was a real tough series. I think Merrimack played with a lot of heart and deserved to win last night and tonight. It could have gone either way. Fortunately, we were able to come up with some big goals at the right time.”
Vermont came out flying in the first, but, for the second time in two nights, found itself in an early hole, despite dominating play. Merrimack (5-18-2, 2-14-2) drew first blood. Matt Johnson poked the puck underneath Travis Russell (16 saves) – making his first start since Dec. 2 – in a scramble. The goal, just 3:49 into the game, was Johnson’s team-leading 13th of the year and, again, stunned the hosts and their fans.
But just as he had Friday, Corey drew the Cats even with 15 minutes gone in the period on the power play. Brady Leisenring found Corey in the left circle, and he beat Healey.
UVM took its first lead of the weekend shortly thereafter when Dean Strong found the twine at 17:21, with Jaime Sifers and Leisenring getting assists.
The Cats defense was terrific in the period. It only allowed six shot attempts, three of which went on net.
Vermont held the territorial advantage in the second period, but the teams traded goals. Ben Driver opened the period with Vermont’s third goal. He was rewarded, going hard to the net on a low slap shot by Mike Arcieri. Healey left a juicy rebound, and Driver made him pay, putting it behind him 2:22 into the period. It was the senior’s first goal of the year in 13 games.
Sneddon said that the fourth line of Driver on the left, Andy Corran on the right, and centered by Arcieri was the team’s best line of the night.
The Cats let Merrimack back into the game with 1:34 left in the period on what looked like a harmless rush. Hank Carisio scored his second of the weekend, to pull within one.
With 8:52 remaining in the third, both Carisio and Matt Syroczynski got the gate for fighting and will be sitting out next Friday’s games. Mitchell got an extra penalty on the play giving Merrimack a chance to tie the game on the power play.
Referee Joe Andrews broke his skate blade just before the fight began. There was a lengthy delay to get him a pair of skates. After play had resumed, the Cats killed off the power play.
UVM wasn’t out of the woods, though. The Warriors never quit, tying the game when defenseman Mark Lutz misplayed the puck sending Chris Nugent in on Russell. Nugent put it way with 2:08 left.
Scott Drewicki took a cross-checking minor with 40 seconds to go in regulation, giving UVM 1:20 of power-play time and fresh ice in overtime. The Cats couldn’t convert on the man advantage but put constant pressure on the Merrimack net. Corey broke through, sending the home crowd into delirium with his second goal of the game.
Warriors head coach Mark Dennehy was proud of the way his team played all weekend against a top team like Vermont.
“I’m sure Kevin would agree that the polls sometime get in the way,” he said. “Whether that team is ninth team in the country, or the first team in the country, I think it’s pretty safe to say that UVM’s pretty darn good. And for us to come in here, and go toe-to-toe with them in their own barn, and give that type of effort and resiliency to come back being down two goals, I’ve said this a number of times: it’s humbling as a coach to see that type of effort and that type of desire.”
Hopefully for Merrimack, it can carry on that effort to next weekend’s game with Northeastern at home.