BURLINGTON, Vt. — In hockey, superstitions and luck can be found everywhere.
Borrowing a tie from the school’s victorious swimming coach, whose team beat Maine for the first time in over a decade earlier in the day, Vermont hockey coach Kevin Sneddon watched his team skate past Merrimack, 4-1 Saturday.
“Today in the hallway, I saw [swimming coach Gerry Cournoyer] wearing it and I said, ‘Listen, if you beat Maine, it’s been 13 years, I’m wearing your tie for tonight’s game for good luck,’” explained Sneddon.
The Catamounts used a balanced scoring attack, getting each goal from a different skater and pushing their winning streak to three games.
Vermont (5-4-1, 3-1-1 overall) controlled play for long stretches in the game but couldn’t shake Merrimack (1-9-1, 1-5-1) until the third. The Warriors were finally worn down by the number of power plays they defended.
“They worked hard, they’re very disciplined in their systems,” said Sneddon of Merrimack. “They don’t take a lot of chances so you don’t find yourself in a lot of odd-man rushes … they played hard from start to finish.”
Sophomore Peter Lenes led the way, totaling a goal and an assist. Freshman Brayden Irwin also chipped in his second and third assists to the win.
Vermont jumped on top early in the first period. The Cats’ leading scorer, Dean Strong, potted his seventh of the season on the power play, stuffing home a rebound at 2:45 of the period for a 1-0 lead.
Merrimack, after starting slow, answered with a power-play tally of its own. Derek Pallardy scored from behind the goal line, banking the puck in off of goaltender Joe Fallon’s skate at 8:49. The goal turned out to be the only blemish on the Cats’ night.
With Jordan Hart already in the box, Ryan Sullivan was sent off for cross-checking at 16:27. The call gave UVM 1:34 of a two-man advantage. The Cats put plenty of pressure on Warriors goaltender Jim Healey, but the senior stood tall and helped his team emerge unscathed going into intermission.
Vermont dominated play for stretches in the middle stanza, regaining the lead going to the third.
The Cats created a number of great scoring chances in the period but were only able to strike once.
The only goal in the period, which turned out to be the game winner, came off the stick of Lenes from the slot. On the power play at 11:57, defenseman Ryan Gunderson fed Lenes after creeping in from the midpoint. The one-timer, Lenes’ third goal of the year — all on man-up situations — beat Healey high to the glove side.
“We were definitely trying to pump-fake first and then get the pass over, because they’re a very good shot-blocking team, so we just had to get around that first defender,” Lenes said of his goal.
Vermont nearly added another in the latter stages of the period, this time while killing a penalty. With Healey scrambling back to the net, Torrey Mitchell just pushed one wide of the gaping cage.
“We felt pretty good about the way we played in the second period,” Sneddon said. “Our forecheck was really giving them a hard time. They weren’t able to come out of the zone at all with any sort of offensive attack.”
The Cats opened the game up a bit with two goals in the final frame. Slavomir Tomko added his first of the year at 6:38 from the left point off of a faceoff to make it 3-1.
Then Colin Vock put the game away for sure at the 16:15 mark, scoring from the slot with Irwin and Kenny Macaulay assisting on the goal, Vock’s forth.
Merrimack had a glorious opportunity to pull closer before the Cats sealed it with their final goal.
Dan Owens was whistled for four minutes in penalties (interference and roughing) giving the Warriors time to work with on the power play.
The Vermont penalty killers did their job, allowing only one shot on the extending man-advantage.
“I think penalties wore us down, you don’t kill that many penalties and stay fresh,” said Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy. “I thought we had plenty of chances, just didn’t capitalize.”
For the game the Cats were six-for-seven in killing penalties, while the Warriors killed five of the hosts seven chances with the power play.
“I think our penalty kill has been pretty good. The power play, we just have to kill too many,” Dennehy said. “Even if your batting 80 percent, if you give up ten power plays, you’re gonna give up two goals.”
Fallon stopped 14 shots for the win; Healey had 27 in the loss.
Vermont travels to play upstart Massachusetts on Tuesday, while Merrimack is also on the road the Tuesday after that at Northeastern.