BURLINGTON, Vt. — In a top 10 showdown of Hockey East leaders, No. 7 Vermont defeated ninth ranked New Hampshire, 6-4, Friday night before a raucous, sell-out crowd of 4,003 at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Eleven different Catamounts registered at least one point, led by junior Brian Roloff who scored his first career hat trick. Hobey Baker candidate Viktor Stalberg added a shorthanded goal and an assist while freshman goaltender Rob Madore (28 saves) made several key stops down the stretch to backstop Vermont to victory.
After entering the game with identical conference records, Vermont now takes sole possession of third place in Hockey East and improves their overall record to 20-8-5 (15-7-4 in Hockey East). The loss drops New Hampshire to 18-10-5 (14-8-4).
I thought it was a great entertaining game, said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. It showed that we can win games in a different way. We havent been in that situation very often where we score six and give up four. Its important for us as a program and as a team to develop down the stretch here that we can win the real close 1-0 game or a game that is a little bit more wide open.
It was good hockey out there, back and forth, added New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. Obviously they move the puck pretty well. You give them opportunities to score and theyre going to bury it. I was just disappointed. I think we helped them get a couple goals. If we play like that in the playoffs were not going anywhere.
With offsetting penalties just 15 seconds into the game causing both teams to skate four aside, Vermont took advantage of the open ice and claimed an early 1-0 lead just 1:30 into the first period.
Taking a breakout feed from freshman defenseman Drew McKenzie, Stalberg raced up ice along the left sideboards and then cut in near the left dot.
Noticing Wildcat goaltender Brian Foster at the top of his crease to cut down the shooting angle, Stalberg slid the puck back to Roloff who blasted a one-timer into the open net for his eighth goal of the season.
However, Vermonts lead would quickly evaporate just 1:04 later when New Hampshire battled back to tie the score, 1-1. Proving the old hockey adage true that any shot on net is a good shot, Wildcat defenseman Damon Kipp crept in from the blue line and snapped off a quick wrister near the top of the left circle.
Seemingly harmless, Kipps shot squeaked through a maze of skaters in front and beat the heavily screened Madore for his first goal of the season.
Vermont reclaimed the lead midway through the first period to make it 2-1. Once again, it was Roloff doing the damage. Junior blueliner Patrick Cullity sparked the play when he blasted a shot from the right point. Foster made the initial stop, then promptly denied a rebound bid by sophomore Justin Milo on the doorstep. However, the third time proved to be the charm as Roloff collected Milos rebound and roofed it past the frantic Foster.
Continuing to surge, Vermont extended the lead to 3-1 on the power play with less than four minutes remaining in the opening period. Junior defenseman Kyle Medvec ignited the play by gloving down an attempted clear at the blue line and then quickly feeding a cross ice pass to his defensive partner Dan Lawson at the right point.
Catching Foster moving from side to side, Lawson one timed a blistering slapshot between the goaltenders left pad and the post for his fourth tally of the season.
Simple, simple, simple, said Sneddon of his teams strategically successful power-play unit. Roll four lines, use our defenseman, get pucks to the net, thats really all that it comes down to. We were trying to be way too fancy, this time of year its all about winning battles, winning races to loose pucks and getting pucks through.
Symbolic of the back and forth play of the game as a whole, New Hampshire clawed back to make it 3-2 at 13:07 of the second period when James Van Riemsdyk jammed home a centering feed from linemate Jerry Pollastrone.
Vermont quickly answered just 2:03 later to make it 4-2 when Brayden Irwin corralled a drop back feed from fellow junior Colin Vock in between the circles and fired a wrister between the pads of Foster for his sixth goal of the year.
Displaying their resiliency, the Wildcats responded nearly two minutes later to cut the deficit to one. Similar to Lawsons goal, New Hampshire defenseman Blake Kessel gloved down an attempted clear then quickly blasted a slapper on net which forward Danny Dries was able to deflect past Madore to make it 4-3.
Less than two minutes later, Roloff scored his third goal of the game and prompted a barrage of hats to litter the ice when his coast to coast rush beat Foster and extended Vermonts lead to 5-3 heading into the final period.
He was in a zone tonight, Sneddon said of Roloff. Faceoffs, penalty kill, backcheck, forecheck, blocked shots. He did everything right tonight. It was the best performance Ive seen him have in his career, and obviously capped off by a hat trick.
I cant really describe it, explained Roloff. I cant remember the last time I had a hat trick. I came to the rink and it seemed like another normal day but it turned out to be something special.
Despite being down 5-3, the Wildcats had a golden opportunity to get back into the game when Vermont took two consecutive penalties midway through the third period. However, Stalberg shocked New Hampshire at 10:26 when he picked the pocket of Kevin Kapstad and lifted a backhander by Foster to make it 6-3.
The shorthanded tally was his team-leading 21st goal of the season. Senior captain Dean Strong, playing is his record-breaking 129th consecutive game for Vermont, picked up the lone assist, his team-leading 19th of the year.
Blake Kessel would roof a goal past Madore less than two minutes later to make it 6-4 but that was as close as the Wildcats would get to tying the score.
I give them credit, they come with speed, but you know what, weve got speed on our own team we practice it every day we just didnt handle it well tonight, admitted Umile. On a couple of the rushes they skated right around us and took it to the net. They executed, but they should have never got to that point.
Sneddon credited his defenseman with setting the unrelenting tone on offense by jumping into the play and leading a plethora of odd man breaks. Amazingly, five of Vermonts six defensemen registered at least one point.
I thought our offensive rushes were very good tonight, said the Vermont coach. We had contributions from our defenseman joining the rush which kind of put them back on their heels a little bit. We were able to make some plays because of that.
Still, despite the excellent play from his defensive corps, Sneddon cast the spotlight on Roloff and Stalberg, rightfully so.
I think the difference in the game tonight, with all due respect to [UNH], I thought Viktor Stalberg and Brian Roloff were the best two players on the ice, probably the best performance Ive seen all year out of those guys. It was a total team effort but when you see a special performance in front of you have to mention it.
Kessel finished with a goal and an assist for New Hampshire while Foster added 29 saves.
It was a see-saw game but nobody gave up, concluded Lawson. I feel like they threw a lot at us tonight. Robbie [Madore] played another amazing game. The defense really came together tonight and the offense put pucks to the net when we needed them to put pucks to the net.