BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The play seemed innocent enough. A shot sailed from the point toward the goal before deflecting off the boards. Play continued, and, except for a few anxious cries from the Vermont bench, no one thought anything of it.
The game didn’t stop for another five minutes, when a UVM player collapsed on top of Air Force goaltender Andrew Volkening.
The puck settled somewhere under the pile, so when referee Marco Hunt receded to the video booth to take a look at the play, everyone thought he was verifying that the puck stayed under Volkening.
It probably did, but Hunt wasn’t checking the play that happened just before the whistle. He was checking the shot five minutes prior that no one thought anything of.
The shot came from UVM defenseman Dan Lawson and beat Volkening at 14 minutes, 10 seconds of the second overtime. The issue was that Lawson’s shot broke through the twine and quickly exited the back of the net.
“John Micheletto, my associate head coach, and I were the ones screaming to the referees,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I saw Danny take the shot as the left defenseman, and I saw the back of the net move on the other side.
“The puck kind of took a weird bounce after that; it was a bullet of a shot. It just didn’t make sense how it came out of the net. [Play went on] for like six minutes after that, so I was hoping that they would at least go to review.”
The delay lasted for 12 minutes before Hunt emerged from the booth with his finger extended toward center ice, proving Sneddon’s suspicion true, giving Lawson his second goal of the evening and sending the Catamounts to the second Frozen Four in program history — the first since 1996 when UVM was a part of the ECAC — with a 3-2 double-overtime win over fourth-seeded Air Force.
“We’re excited,” UVM senior assistant captain and Shelburne, Vt., native Peter Lenes said. “It was crazy how it went down. We didn’t really get to celebrate on one guy, so we all celebrated together. Everyone is just really pumped right now.
“I remember the 1996 [Frozen Four]. I got taken out of school for it. It was great as a fan, so to participate in something like that as a player is amazing.”
The official decision ended Air Force’s run toward its first Frozen Four bid, a day after it won the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game.
“Hunt and [second referee Todd] Anderson were outstanding,” AF coach Frank Serratore said. “They took the time they did because they wanted to get the call right. There’s no doubt in my mind that they made the right call.
“The longer it went, the more optimistic I got,” Serratore said. “It was obviously conclusive, but it wasn’t blatantly conclusive or it wouldn’t have taken 12 minutes to figure it out. So, at first, I had a sick feeling; but the longer it went, I thought maybe either it didn’t go in or it’s not conclusive.”
The goal came just as the previous two UVM goals had. The Air Force defenders played tight to goal, preventing the Catamounts from capitalizing on any second chances Volkening allowed. The UVM forwards adjusted by making short runs toward the slot, collapsing the AF defensive formation, and then sliding the puck back to the point.
Not only did the game plan provide the UVM blueliners space to shoot, but it created screens in front of Volkening.
Volkening made 46 saves against top-seeded Michigan Friday afternoon in the Falcons 2-0 win, but the Wolverines rarely created much traffic in front of the AF goal.
The Falcons carried a 1-0 advantage into the third period before Josh Burrows knotted the game with a fluttering wrister from the right point. The effects of Burrows’ goal echoed beyond the scoreboard; buoying the Catamounts and energizing the green- and yellow-clad segment of the crowd who made the trek from Burlington.
Volkening was as sharp Saturday as he was Friday, but UVM goaltender Rob Madore matched his counterpart’s earlier effort with 46 saves of his own on Saturday night.
Even when the Falcons managed to slip one past Madore, the freshman did his best to keep the puck out of the net.
With the score 2-1, after Lawson gave UVM its first lead of the night with his first goal of the evening, Madore robbed AF sophomore Sean Bertsch on a redirection in front of the crease. Senior winger Mike Phillipich won a loose puck in the corner to Madore’s right and blindly fired it toward the goalmouth.
Bertsch darted in and redirected it toward the crossbar. Madore slid across the crease, and snatched the redirection out of the air.
Rather than wait until the final minute of regulation like his counterparts around the country, Bertsch redeemed himself, tying the game at 2 one minute, 49 seconds after Lawson’s goal. Set up again by Phillipich, he collected a pass and quickly snapped his wrists.
Madore, again moving across the crease from right to left, got his glove on it but couldn’t control it entirely. It deflected into the air and plopped down just before the goal line just and drifted across the crease an instant before UVM defender Kyle Medvec swooped in to clear it off the line.
At the end of the first overtime, Hunt reviewed his first play of the night. After UVM leading scorer Viktor Stalberg’s shot slid past Volkening, the puck danced toward the cage and made it halfway across the line before junior center Brett Nylander cleared it.