BURLINGTON, Vt. — The culture of the Michigan Tech hockey team is changing — in years past, the Huskies would step on the ice hoping to win. Now they are expecting to be victorious.
The Huskies may have been the only people in college hockey who thought they could take two from tenth-ranked Vermont on the road, but that is exactly what they did this weekend. Sophomore Rob Nolan turned in a stellar 28-save performance, anchoring his team in a 2-1 win at Gutterson Fieldhouse while completing the sweep of the Catamounts.
The sweep is the first for Tech since Jan. 13-14 at Minnesota-Duluth.
The win was Nolan’s first of his college career after going 0-12-2 as a rookie. Freshman Phil Axtell paced the Huskies offensively, notching a goal and an assist.
“Obviously, I’m very excited for our team,” said Tech coach Jamie Russell, whose squad moves to 3-1-0. “Very rewarding for our kids: coming on the road, sweeping the No. 10 team in the country in their own building. Gutsy effort by our kids.
“It’s a big statement for our hockey teams and our program.”
UVM coach Kevin Sneddon juggled the lineup a bit to find more offense and to give freshman Mike Spillane (14 saves) his first start.
The offensive changes produced more chances, but not goals.
“We’re squeezing the sticks right now,” he said. “We want to win so bad, especially at home, that we fought ourselves when we had scoring opportunities. We just couldn’t put them away.”
For Vermont, Chris Myers rang the crossbar less than four minutes into the game from the right circle. Then just a couple minutes later, Corey Carlson nearly got the UVM on the board shorthanded, but Nolan flashed out his glove to stone the speedy winger from the slot.
Spillane was solid, in his first period of action as a Catamount, making four saves total including three stops on the penalty kill.
Tech almost broke on top on that same kill, though, when Jimmy Kerr narrowly missed sneaking home a rebound with the left wing side of the net open.
The Huskies got on the board in the second, tallying two goals.
On the power play 3:51 in the period, Phil Axtell got a pass from Alex Gagne in transition and hit a 0ne-timer beating Spillane cleanly. Gagne’s assist on the play was his third point of the weekend.
With Jordan Foote in the box for slashing, Dean Strong almost knotted the game at one. Strong received a diagonal pass from the right point and, from the left circle, slid the puck just wide, midway through the period.
Tech added to its lead at 12:56 of the period. Peter Rouleau made a move on a defender potting it past Spillane. Axtell and Mike Batovanja assisted on the goal.
Vermont, in the third, finally looked as though it was hitting its stride as the Cats peppered Nolan with 14 shots in the period, eight of which came on four power plays.
Nolan was up to the task in the final frame, as he was all game, playing positionally sound in the net.
UVM busted his shutout bid with just 2:15 left. On the power play, Spillane was pulled for the extra skater to make it a 6-on-4 advantage. The move paid off when Kenny Macaulay’s drive from the point was tipped from in front by freshman Viktor Stalberg. It was the Gothenburg, Sweden native’s first collegiate goal.
But it wasn’t enough as the Huskies held off the hosts in the end.
Asked to compare the last time his team swept a ranked opponent on the road, (No.1 Minnesota January, 2006) to this weekend’s occurrence, Russell pointed to a change in attitude.
“It’s a little bit different, because I think we’re a team that wanted the sweep when we got the win on Friday night,” he explained. “We expected to come out and play a very sold game [Saturday]. … The expectation of the team has a very different feel this year.”
Sneddon was quick to commend Tech on the sweep.
“Michigan Tech had a great weekend. Very similar to where we were a couple years ago, going out to Duluth and [getting three] big points on the road,” he said. “That’s gonna be a great hockey team in the WCHA this year. They played hard and got great goaltending all weekend.
After starting the season 2-0-0, the Cats missed a beat at home, but Sneddon is seeing improvement.
“We’ve got a lot to work on, but what I told our guys is, if we can play with that intensity like we did in the third period for 60 minutes, we’re going to be a pretty good hockey team.”
Vermont (2-2-1) travels to Dartmouth next Sunday, while Michigan Tech returns home to open league play against Alaska-Anchorage on Friday.