BURLINGTON, Vt. — Eerily similar to Friday night’s come-from-behind victory, No. 7 Vermont made it a clean sweep against Providence Saturday night, posting another 4-1 win before a sellout crowd of 4,003 at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Once again, junior Viktor Stalberg led the way on offense, registering two goals and an assist, while linemates Brian Roloff and Wahs Stacey pitched in with two points apiece.
Continuing his stellar play of late, freshman goaltender Rob Madore made 29 saves, including 14 in the third period, to backstop the Catamounts to victory. The Hockey East win improves Vermont to 16-6-4 (11-5-3 HEA) while Providence drops to 7-16-3 (4-12-3 HEA).
“I don’t think it was a very good game at all,” lamented Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I don’t want to knock down Providence’s effort, [but] for us to win 4-1 tonight, pucks bounced for us the right way and probably didn’t for them. I thought they had a lot of great opportunities, they worked their tails off. I thought they were the better team for good chunks of that game.
“It was kind of three different periods, really. I thought Providence played a great first period, pumped 11 shots on us, then we came to life a little bit in the second period, then they took it over again in the third.”
Despite being outshot 11-4 in the opening stanza, Vermont scored the lone goal of the period at 4:23 to take a 1-0 lead. Taking advantage of a Friars’ turnover in the neutral zone, Roloff sliced into the Providence zone and found himself uncovered near the right hashmarks.
However, with goaltender Alex Beaudry (13 saves) out at the top of his crease to cut down the shooting angle, Roloff elected to nudge the puck wide near the left dot in the direction of a streaking Stalberg. Displaying the gifted touch of a true scorer, Stalberg one-timed the feed between the left post and Beaudry’s blocker side for his team-leading 17th goal of the season.
“To me, that’s what makes good players,” said Providence coach Tim Army of Stalberg’s goal. “If you break down, they take advantage of it and they don’t waste it.”
After failing to convert on any three of their opportunities with the man advantage in the first period, Providence was finally able to cash in on the power play at 8:02 of the second period to make it 1-1. Set up near the cornerboards to Madore’s left, Matt Bergland threw the puck on net and a maze of traffic in front engulfed the Vermont crease. Taking advantage of the confusion, Nick Mazzolini jammed home the rebound amidst a wild scrum for his sixth goal of the year.
Vermont reclaimed the lead less than four minutes later to make it 2-1. Executing an odd-man rush to perfection, Stalberg secured a loose puck near center ice and then cut into the Providence zone with speed. Sharing the wealth, Stalberg dished the puck to Stacey near the top of the right circle. Noticing Roloff gliding in from the blue line, Stacey hit his linemate in stride and Roloff ripped a wrist shot between Beaudry’s pads for his seventh goal of the season.
“As the coaches tell us to do, [Stalberg] put his head down and he went right to the net,” said Roloff of his eventual game-winner. “Sure enough [he] took the ‘D’ right with him and I just kind of slipped in behind. Wahs made a nice play.”
The Catamounts extended their lead to 3-1 at 17:44 of the second period when a shot from the blue line by Kyle Medvec was deflected by Friars’ forward Kyle Laughlin past a helpless Beaudry.
Down by two goals to open the third period, Providence poured it on Vermont in the final stanza, outshooting the Catamounts by an astounding margin of 14-2. In what has now become a recurring theme for Vermont, the Catamounts leaned on Madore during crunch time, and the freshman netminder did not disappoint, steering aside all 14 shots he faced in the third period.
“I think a lot of their mentality in the third was just get pucks to the net from everyone and Rob did a good job of not being shocked by any of that,” explained Sneddon. “They were playing desperation hockey at that point so any shot in the offensive zone was a good shot for them.”
“I liked that in the third period we didn’t panic and we just tried to get one to get to 3-2 and I thought we stayed with it well, but we just, unfortunately, couldn’t get that second goal,” added Army. “To their credit, they do a good job of taking away lanes and [Madore] made some good stops and that always helps.”
“He was great, sensational,” Sneddon said of Madore, now 10-4-3 on the season. “Again, I know I’m repetitive, I say that word too much, I have to go to the thesaurus and come up with some different descriptions of his play, but he was brilliant all weekend. Just calms us down. Mistake management is a lot easier when he can cover up for a lot of them.”
Vermont iced the win with ten seconds remaining in regulation when Stalberg broke free from Pierce Norton near center ice and slid the puck into the empty net for his second goal of the game.
One of the main reasons for Vermont’s offensive ineptitude and overmatched defense in the final period was the snowball effect created early in the first period when senior captain Dean Strong left the game with an undisclosed foot injury.
“He just took a puck off the foot. It’s too sore for him to put pressure on,” said Sneddon. “We missed him a lot tonight. He’s such a great leader for us and it’s pretty evident when he’s not there, just the little things he does for our team.”
The major void left in the lineup had a trickle down effect for Vermont, forcing other players to make up for the loss of arguably the team’s best player.
“Dean’s just an absolutely solid player all over the ice,” added Roloff. “He plays a lot of minutes for us so he goes out and everyone’s got to pick up the slack and I think come the last ten minutes of the game everyone was feeling it because pretty much everyone was playing every third shift as opposed to every four. It took its toll.”
Luckily for Vermont, the super line of Stalberg (2 G, 1 A), Roloff (1G, 1A) and Stacey (2 A) stepped up when it mattered most.
“They were our best line, hands down,” said Sneddon. “I thought they did some good things offensively and defensively. They were probably our best line all weekend. They produced the most. They had great jump in their legs, great energy, caused a lot of things to happen out there. Providence did have some good chances. The difference was when our guys had the opportunities they put it away.”