PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Perhaps the tone was set Friday night at Schneider Arena when Providence failed to take the ice on time.
The Friars were penalized for a rare violation of protocol penalty before their Hockey East game against Vermont even started and the Catamounts did the rest to make sure that Providence never got comfortable, scoring three first-period goals to chalk up a much-needed 4-2 victory.
Vermont snapped its four-game losing streak by breaking out of its scoring drought, putting away more goals on Friday than it had in its previous three games combined (three) thanks to a three-point night by Torrey Mitchell and eight points combined from its top line of right winger Mitchell, center Dean Strong and left wing Viktor Stalberg.
“We saw that line produce during the exhibition game on Sunday (a 5-2 win over the University of Ottawa) and we were hoping that it would give them some confidence going into an important league game like tonight,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “It did.”
“We were going out there, skating hard and getting to loose pucks first,” Mitchell said. “It was a joy playing with those two guys.”
The Friars didn’t take the ice until less than six minutes before the opening faceoff, drawing the first of two minor penalties that they killed off in the game’s opening stages.
Nonetheless, Pierce Norton’s first two-goal game of his career and an excellent third-period effort were not enough to save Providence, which lost for the sixth time in its last eight games and fell to 2-6-0 on home ice.
Mitchell’s goal 10:13 into the second period gave Vermont a solid 4-1 lead, significant considering that the Catamounts had allowed a mere 13 goals in seven games coming into Friday and that Vermont goalie Joe Fallon (1.82 GAA, .918 save percentage on the season) is riding a hot streak that earned him a spot on the most recent Hockey East Weekly Honor Roll. Fallon finished the night with 35 saves, stopping all 16 shots that he faced in the third period as Providence desperately tried to get within striking distance.
“To Providence’s credit, they did a nice job of getting bodies to the net and pucks to the net,” Sneddon said. “Unfortunately, we made some mistakes, and Joe saved us as he often does. He gives us confidence to try different things offensively.”
The Catamounts netted the backbreaker late in the opening period, restoring the two-goal cushion they had built inside the opening 8:55. Strong netted his fifth goal of the season by tipping home Mitchell’s shot from the top of the right circle with just 45 seconds to play, staking Vermont to a 3-1 lead heading into the dressing room.
“That was a classic example of just getting it to the net off of a cycle,” Sneddon said.
“Traffic was there and it found its way through. That was big. That gave us back the momentum.”
Strong’s timely goal stopped the steam Providence had gained thanks to some physical play by Jamie Carroll and Norton’s opening goal off a pretty feed by Nick Mazzolini at 12:01.
“You start to get your legs under you, start to have some good minutes, and in the worst case you come out down 2-1 and you’re a shot away,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “You give up a goal late, kind of sloppy, kind of a broken play, and it’s 3-1. When you’re not winning games it takes a whack on your confidence as a team.”
Mitchell’s second-period score accounted for his final point, as he rifled a shot from the top of the left circle that hit off the shin of Providence defenseman Dinos Stamoulis and bounced past Friar goalie Tyler Sims at 10:13. Sims had come on less than three minutes earlier in favor of freshman Ryan Simpson, who injured his right leg while making his first career start in conference play and just his second of the season.
Vermont forward Chris Myers crashed into Simpson while trying to connect with a pass through the slot from teammate Slavomir Tomko, and Simpson had to be helped from the ice by a pair of his teammates.
Providence was left playing catch-up on Friday after conceding the first two goals in a game for the sixth time this season. The Friars dropped to 1-5-0 in those games, and turnovers by Providence defensemen set up each of Vermont’s first two scores. Myers intercepted a pass at the Providence blue line and snapped a shot into the upper-right corner at 7:38 and Vermont raced away on a 2-on-1 break after a giveaway by the Friars at the Catamounts’ blue line just over a minute later.
Stalberg converted Mitchell’s pinpoint pass to the slot to put the visitors on top by a pair, leaving Simpson with no chance to make a save by ripping a quick shot inside the left post.
“We gave up two odd-numbered rushes in the first period,” Army said. “I don’t think we played badly, but we made a couple of mistakes and they both ended up in our net.”