BURLINGTON, Vt. — In the second game of a Hockey East weekend set at Gutterson Fieldhouse, unranked Mass.-Lowell upset No. 6 Vermont 1-0 Saturday night before a thunderstick-laden sell-out crowd of 4,003.
River Hawks forward Paul Worthington scored the unassisted game winner with just 19 seconds remaining in the second period when he beat freshman goaltender Rob Madore (12 saves) with a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. Carter Hutton made 21 saves for Mass.-Lowell to earn the shutout.
Vermont had several chances to light the lamp on the power play but finished 0-5 with the man advantage, mustering just four total shots. The demoralizing loss drops Vermont to 17-8-5 (12-7-4 HEA) while Lowell improves to 15-13-2 (12-9-2 HEA).
“You can’t come into these tight hockey games and be a minus-one on the power play,” lamented Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I thought their kill outworked our power play and that’s unacceptable. Our guys were more worried about trying to create fancy plays instead of simplifying things.
“We can’t think we’re fancy, stick-handling players. We’ve got to make one or two passes, get pucks going to the net and score ugly goals if we have to. Right now the fancy plays aren’t there.”
“It was one of those games where it just didn’t have a lot of rhythm on our side because of a lot of penalties,” added Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald. “So we’re very disjointed in how we played compared to last night but you know, you’ve got to work hard to win games in a lot of different ways and we found a way to get it done tonight.”
Looking to jump on the River Hawks early and often after blowing a 3-2 lead in the final minute of regulation the previous night, Vermont was awarded a pair of power plays in the first period, but failed to capitalize on either.
“I thought they did a good job of keeping us on the outside on our cycle plays,” said Sneddon. “We just didn’t do a good enough job of getting it back to the point and getting shots through and being there for the rebounds.”
The frustrating trend continued in the second period, as the Catamounts came up short on two more opportunities with the man advantage. Ironically, Vermont’s best scoring chance on the power play came midway through the second period and did not even reach Hutton’s crease.
Intercepting a breakout feed, Catamounts’ forward Brayden Irwin dropped the puck back to linemate Jack Downing near the top of the right circle. Noticing assistant captain Corey Carlson uncovered on the weak side, Downing delivered a cross-ice feed to Carlson near the left dot. Attempting to catch Hutton off-guard, Carlson blasted a one-timer in the direction of the vacant net, but River Hawks’ defenseman Jeremy Dehner sacrificed the body and blocked the shot to keep the game scoreless.
“We might just be thinking a little too much,” explained Vermont forward Brian Roloff of his team’s floundering power play. “We’ve been doing, I guess, similar stuff for a couple months now and I think teams are kind of adjusting to it and then we might try things that we shouldn’t be trying or things that, you know, we’re not used to trying.”
As if the man advantage couldn’t get any worse for Vermont, it did at 19:41 of the second period. A microcosm of the game as a whole, the episode began optimistically, as Carlson slid a feed from behind the net to a streaking Wahs Stacey all alone in front. Unfortunately, Stacey couldn’t corral the pass and the puck squirted loose toward the neutral zone.
Taking supreme advantage, Worthington picked up the puck and skated along the sideboards and then fired a seemingly harmless wrist shot on goal. The shot appeared to handcuff Madore and then slid into the back of the net to give Lowell a 1-0 lead.
“That’s how the game goes sometimes,” said Sneddon. “It’s unfortunate, the one goal they scored, albeit a smart play by their forward to throw it to the net, Rob’s going to make that save 99 times out of 100.”
“Obviously he put it where he wanted to, but, you know, its a save I have to make,” admitted Madore. “It had a little bit of a knuckle to it. When it’s on an off-angle like that, as a goaltender, you’re supposed to take an extra step out and just try to get in front of it. I overplayed it a little bit and that’s what happens.”
Despite surrendering the crushing shorty, Vermont opened the third period with an abbreviated 53 seconds remaining on the power play and an opportunity to claw back into the game. Nevertheless, Hutton and the River Hawks denied the Catamounts a shot at the equalizer.
“It would be a clear understatement to say it was huge,” MacDonald said of Worthington’s goal. “The timing of it, 19 seconds left, the way we scored it, I’m sure they weren’t planning on that, so that was really big, but then it was big to come out and kill the rest of the penalty to start the third.”
Despite pulling Madore in favor of an extra attacker with just over a minute remaining in regulation, Vermont failed to tie the score and force overtime. One can look no further than the Catamounts’ ineptitude on the power play as reasoning for the defeat.
“That’s a tough way to lose a game on that particular goal, but I thought the game was lost on our power play,” said Sneddon. “The fact that we didn’t generate offense and didn’t generate momentum. Our power play can’t zap our energy, and that’s what it’s doing right now.”
Failing to register a point, Hobey Baker award finalist Viktor Stalberg had his seven-game point streak snapped.
The hard-luck loss also marked the first home defeat at Gutterson Fieldhouse since Nov. 14 against Northeastern. The Catamounts had gone 8-0-3 at home entering the game.
“I thought we had great energy today for 60 minutes,” concluded Sneddon. “We battled hard. Again, the only disappointment that we have right now is our power play didn’t battle hard. I think we got outworked by four guys. When you have five guys on the ice you better be willing to outwork them and that wasn’t the case.”