BURLINGTON, Vt. — Sometimes, it’s just one bounce that gets a team off and running. Vermont got that bounce in the second period against Maine on Saturday en route to a 3-2 win over No. 2 Maine at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
In a tight game that has come to be the norm in the recent history of the Maine-Vermont series, Vermont got going on a shot deflected high in the air that Maine goaltender Ben Bishop (23 saves) couldn’t snare with his glove. Freshman Colin Vock was there to put it into the vacant net giving the Cats the lead that they held through the game.
“We knew it was going to be a close game, we knew that from the start,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “It wasn’t necessarily going to be a pretty goal that would be the difference in the hockey game. I think we did a nice job of staying patient when we had opportunities. We were fortunate to get a couple by a very good goalie.”
The Black Bears made it a game, scoring twice in the final minute, but it was too little too late.
The game featured a bit of everything. Some great defense, terrific goaltending, hard hits, good power plays and phenomenal penalty killing, no to mention opportunistic goal-scoring.
“It was a great college hockey game from start to finish,” said Sneddon. “A couple of those shifts were some of the best college hockey I’ve seen in quite some time. I thought we did a nice job of shutting them down, and Joe [Fallon] played very good for us again.
Spanning three games, Fallon (27 saves) broke his own school record for consecutive scoreless minutes. The new mark stands at 170 minutes, 41 seconds.
The victory, Vermont’s first at Gutterson versus Maine since February 15, 1983, stretches the team’s season-long unbeaten streak to five — all in Hockey East play.
Vermont looked to have broken on top at 6:43 of the first period, when the goal light behind Bishop went on but the puck didn’t go in. It instead, found the wrong side of the net, resting on the cage.
Under two minutes later UVM got a golden chance. Bryan Plaszcz received a hitting-from-behind major and game misconduct. That proved fruitless for the Cats, as after a few good opportunities with the extended man-advantage, the Black Bears did a terrific job defensively, stifling the hosts.
After controlling the play for most of the period, The Black Bears got their chance on the power play, courtesy of a Dean Strong boarding call, coupled with Art Femenella taking an extra two for hitting after the whistle.
Maine showed why it is the second-ranked power-play unit in the country zipping the puck around the zone and creating chances. Fallon was up to the task, stopping all Black Bear attempts before both players emerged from the sin bin to a thunderous ovation from another packed house.
In the second, it was the Cats turn to face, and ultimately killed, a five-minute major. This time captain Kenny Macaulay was sent off at :58 on a hit from behind on Maine captain Michel Leveille. Levielle did not return to the game after suffering an injury on the play. His status was not clear postgame.
The Bears were already a man up due to a period-ending call to Tom Collingham. Fallon again stood tall keeping the visitors off the board.
Then came the bounce that changed the game.
Brayden Irwin’s shot from above the right circle was deflected high into the air drawing Bishop out of the net. Unable to make the save, the puck fell to ice and Vock pounded it into the wide-open cage. The goal at 8:16 was Vock’s fifth of the year.
Keith Johnson had a great opportunity to knot the score at one on a shorthanded breakaway with 6:14 left in the period. Fallon made the save on the shot along the ice.
The Vermont penalty killers neutralized the potent Maine power-play unit once more midway through the third. In all, Vermont managed to keep the Maine power play scoreless in five chances. Conversely, the Bears’ killed Vermont’s five opportunities.
“That was the difference,” Sneddon said of the UVM penalty kill. “I know there are a lot of bumps and bruises in there from blocking shots and they did a superb job.”
Fourth-liner Dan Owens then lengthened the Cats lead. Owens knocked in a rebound of a Reese Wisnowski shot to seemingly put the finishing touches on the game, at 8:30 of the third.
As it turned out though, Maine kept on coming and was finally on the board via an extra-attacker goal. With just :31 left Billy Ryan’s goal from inside the right circle gave the Bears hope.
Just six seconds later, the Cats’ leading goal-scorer Dean Strong, added an empty-netter. The goal proved to be the winner, as Keenan Hopson tacked on his fourth of the season in the waning moments to account for the final margin.
After starting the season 8-0-1, Maine has now dropped three in a row.
“We played a little more consistently than we did the past two games,” said Black Bears coach, Tim Whitehead. “We played better as a team defensively, which was our big objective tonight. So we made some progress there. Unfortunately, it’s a little clouded by the end result. On the positive side we did make some progress, which is what we have to do. We have to keep building to get back to where we were at the start of the year.”
Maine (8-3-1, 3-3-1 Hockey East) hosts Providence Friday, while Vermont (7-4-1, 5-1-1) is on the road at Harvard on Tuesday.