CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After a disheartening 7-1 loss on Saturday night to Boston College, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon knew his team needed to put the opening game of a two-game road series against the Eagles behind them quickly.
Easier said than done, most certainly, unless you receive a heroic performance from your goaltender.
A night after the Catamounts’ goaltending tandem put forth an empty effort, netminder Mike Spillane responded with an incredible performance in just his second start of the season and backboned Vermont to a 3-2 victory on Sunday afternoon at Kelley Rink.
Spillane was put into Saturday night’s debacle in the third period with Vermont trailing, 4-1, and promptly allowed three goals on the first four shots he faced. However, Sneddon defended his senior goaltender, saying Saturday was merely “20 minutes worth of practice,” noting it’s difficult to expect a lot from a goaltender coming off the bench.
Sunday was different. Starting with expectations, Sneddon hoped he’d get a great effort from Spillane, and did so, as the netminder stopped 30 shots, including 10-of-11 from the grade ‘A’ area.
“I thought Spillane made some huge saves when we did have some breakdowns,” said Sneddon. “We knew [BC] would come at us pretty hard, and they put us back on our heels a little bit. And I thought Spillane was fantastic. He was there to answer.”
The win is the second for the Catamounts over BC this season, clinching the season series, two games to one. It’s also somewhat historic, as it’s just the second time that Vermont has won at Boston in the program’s history; the only other came nearly 15 years ago when Martin St. Louis was skating for the Catamounts.
For the Eagles, the loss is somewhat frustrating, as BC head coach Jerry York believed his team actually put forth a better effort on Sunday than they did in Saturday’s blowout.
“I thought tonight we did a lot of really positive things,” said York. “It was a better effort tonight. Vermont got exceptional goaltending, which made them a more formidable team. Last night, pucks were just going in for us.”
Vermont showed its ability to put Saturday’s debacle behind them early, coming out with plenty of team speed and zip in the opening period.
That paid dividends, as a newly-assembled line of Chris McCarthy, Brett Leonard and Wahsontiio Stacey connected at 2:44. Leonard found Stacey at the left post for what looked like an open net. Stacey though, bobbled the puck, allowing BC goaltender John Muse (22 saves) to move in front of the winger. Muse over-committed, though, and Stacey patiently found McCarthy coming through the slot, and he buried the puck into the open net for the 1-0 lead.
BC would have its chances on the power play, most notably a Jimmy Hayes bid where he froze Spillane and moved around him, only to hit the post as he attempted to stuff the puck.
BC held a 10-7 advantage in shots through one, but the Catamounts came out of the frame with the 1-0 lead.
In the second, BC was able to generate better scoring chances at even strength and at 3:42, Cam Atkinson drew the Eagles even. Atkinson fired a high shot from the right faceoff dot that surprised Spillane, glancing off his left bicep before floating into the net.
BC had a glaring opportunity to extend the lead when Vermont took back-to-back penalties that resulted in an extended one- and two-man advantage for the Eagles. Too much aggression, though, hurt BC, and Vermont countered with a short-handed goal.
The play began with BC skating four-on-three, seconds away from going up two men as Matt Price was about to come out of the box. Carl Sneep mishandled the puck at the point and Catamounts’ defenseman Kevan Miller got a breakaway from the top of the faceoff circle and skated the length of the ice, beating Muse with a wrister glove side at 6:05.
Price’s penalty had just expired, meaning that the goal was recorded as a rare three-on-five short-handed tally.
“We got collapsed down,” said York about the play. “We got too antsy trying to score a goal and had all four of our guys down below the dots. One turnover sends it the other way.”
In the third, BC came with full pressure from the get go, but a five-minute major to BC’s Paul Carey for hitting from behind gave Vermont the power play.
Justin Milo scored his fourth goal of the season with the man advantage at 9:47 to give Vermont a two-goal lead.
The Eagles drew within a goal when Ben Smith buried the rebound of Chris Kreider’s shot with 6:15 remaining, but that’s as close as BC would get, thanks mostly to Spillane, who was forced to make possibly his best save of the night, stopping BC’s leading scorer Brian Gibbons on a partial breakaway with 53 seconds remaining.
The bounce back win for Vermont splits the weekend road series, the fourth of four Hockey East series to be split this weekend.
“That’s parity,” said Sneddon. “We have great teams from top-to-bottom. It’s the strength of our league and the reason we’ve won back-to-back national championships.”
It also faces Sneddon with what could be a difficult decision when it comes to goaltending. Rob Madore led the Catamounts to the Frozen Four last year almost single-handedly, but has struggled in the early parts of this season.
Spillane, for the second straight week after shutting out Providence in his first start coming back from injury, looks like he may be edging himself towards becoming an exclusive number one.
That thought remains to be seen, and the Catamounts now have eight days off before needing to make that decision.
“Coming off this weekend, Mike was the better goaltender,” said Sneddon. “But we always use practice to make those decisions.”