BURLINGTON, Vt. — In the second game of a weekend set at Gutterson Fieldhouse, No. 7 Vermont and Hockey East adversary Massachusetts battled to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 4,003.
Hobey Baker award finalist Viktor Stalberg gave the Catamounts a 1-0 lead midway through the third period, but a penalty to linemate Brayden Irwin just 15 seconds later opened the door for the Minutemen to tie the score. Taking supreme advantage, Casey Wellman secured the equalizer when he one-timed a cross crease feed from Chase Langeraap into the back of the net.
In a battle between two streaking goaltenders, freshman Rob Madore finished with 21 saves for Vermont while Paul Dainton recorded 27 stops for the Minutemen. The hard fought tie moves Vermont to 14-5-4 (9-4-3 HEA) and Massachusetts to 10-11-3 (5-7-3 HEA).
“That was a playoff-style game,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “There was not a lot of room to move out there in terms of discipline and positioning. Bottom line, we played 65 minutes and that’s what we were after tonight. Obviously not happy about having to settle for a point but at the same time if we play like that all the time were going to be a very tough team down the stretch.”
“I thought tonight’s game felt like a playoff type of game. It just had that type of intensity,” added Massachusetts coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon. “Two pretty quick teams out there. Two teams that know how to transition. Two teams that move the puck through the middle of the rink. I thought it was a real good college hockey game, disappointed that we didn’t get two points but nonetheless you can walk away from it saying everyone left it on the ice.”
Looking to jump on the visiting Minutemen early, Vermont nearly took a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the first period. Skating up the right side boards, Irwin saw Stalberg streaking to the net, but elected to drop the puck back to Brian Roloff uncovered near the left dot. Fortunately for Massachusetts, Dainton was able to get a piece of Roloff’s sizzling wrist shot with his right shoulder to keep the game scoreless.
Dainton finished with 13 saves in the opening period while Vermont held the Minutemen to just five shots on goal.
Vermont came close to taking the lead yet again less than five minutes into the second period. Leading an odd-man break, freshman Matt Marshall unleashed a wrist shot near the right dot that popped high into the air above Dainton’s crease. Looking to cash in on the loose puck, Chris Atkinson crashed the net and attempted to hammer home the rebound, but was instead dumped into the goal by Cory Quirk to give Vermont a power play.
Unfortunately for Vermont, much like their previous three opportunities with the man advantage, a combination of unlucky bounces, stifling defense and stellar play by Dainton kept the game scoreless after the ensuing power play.
Returning the favor, the Catamounts committed four of the next five penalties during the second period to give the Minutemen a handful of power plays to work with. Nevertheless, the game headed into the final frame still tied 0-0.
Stalberg finally broke the deadlock at 10:00 of the third period to give Vermont a 1-0 lead. Corralling a loose puck near center nice, Stalberg sliced into the Massachusetts defense and found himself all alone against Dainton. Forcing the Minutemen goalie to commit, Stalberg faked Dainton with a slight hesitation move and then went wide and roofed a forehand into the open net for his team-leading 14th goal of the season.
“The goalie was kind of not standing in the middle of the net there,” said Stalberg. “He came out so far on me so I just decided to go around him and I guess it worked out pretty good.”
“The kid’s a great player and he put a quality move on [Dainton],” added Cahoon. “Dainton made a decision to live with it and I won’t fault him for that. Stalberg made a great move in buying time and being patient.”
However, just 15 seconds after Stalberg’s goal, Irwin received a ticket to the sin-bin for boarding to give Massachusetts yet another shot on the power play. After going 0-14 with the man advantage during the weekend series, the Minutemen finally found a way to beat Madore and, more importantly, tie the score.
“Hopefully Brayden will learn from that,” said Sneddon of the untimely penalty. “We always talk about the importance of the shift after a goal. Just a really, really bad penalty to take.”
Parked just outside the crease to Madore’s right, Wellman tapped in a tape-to-tape feed from Langeraap past the helpless Vermont goaltender for his sixth tally of the year. Even more painful for the Catamounts, the equalizer came at the end of a long and dominant man advantage for the Minutemen played almost entirely in the Vermont zone.
“Our kill was very effective, but you give a team 15 power plays on the weekend, they’re probably going to find one,” lamented Sneddon. “We almost had it killed and just kind of a bad bounce we didn’t get it out and they found the back door. We had chances to get it out a couple times, bouncing pucks and we didn’t. That’s tough to give a power play almost two full minutes, they’re going to find a good shot at some point and they did.”
With neither team able to secure the game winner in the second half of regulation, the 1-1 stalemate moved to sudden death overtime. Vermont caught a break just 25 seconds into the extra frame when Alex Berry was called for tripping. Unfortunately for the Catamounts, Dainton made sure the tie would stick.
Failing to register a goal with the man advantage (0-5), Vermont’s impressive string of eight consecutive games with a power play tally came to an end.
“Bottom line is we had a lot of chances tonight and we just didn’t bury it,” said Sneddon. “Our power play did some great things out there, did everything we wanted them to do and for whatever reason the puck just didn’t slide across the line for us a couple times.”
In turn, Massachusetts went just one-for-seven on the power play. One can look no further than the calm, collected play of Madore to explain the Minutemen’s special teams ineptitude.
“I’m not much of a goalie person,” said Sneddon. “I just like goaltenders that look relaxed and make things look easy and pucks hit them and there’s not a lot of extra movement out there. Yet [Madore] did have to be athletic on a couple saves and he was there. He’s just. as I’ve said over the last six or seven games, he’s in a groove. Seeing the puck I think probably looks like a beach ball to him and he’s doing a great job for us.”