BURLINGTON, Vt. — Coming off a close 4-3 victory on Saturday against Alabama-Huntsville, the Vermont Catamounts won the championship game of the Catamount Cup in much more decisive fashion, toppling No. 12 Minnesota-Duluth 5-2 at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
This is the second year in a row that the Catamounts have won the tournament, and the third time in the last five years.
“I thought we executed our game plan to a ‘T,’ and I’m really proud of the way our guys competed against a great team,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “Duluth’s got a ton of skill and I think we did a great job taking time and space away from them in their zone. We wanted to work them low and I think our guys did a great job on the cycle, obviously created a couple great plays down low and more importantly we kept them out of the neutral zone and offensive zone as much as possible.”
Senior Brayden Irwin, freshman Tobias Nilsson-Roos, junior Justin Milo, junior Wahsontiio Stacey, and freshman Sebastian Stalberg scored for Vermont while sophomores Travis Oleksuk and Jack Connolly scored for UMD.
The first period was marked by penalties, largely from the Bulldogs, who had seven penalties.
“Obviously Duluth got into a little bit of penalty trouble there and used a lot of their top players to kill those penalties,” Sneddon said.
UVM freshman Sebastian Stalberg went to the penalty box for boarding at 4:01. The Bulldogs fought to take advantage and fired shots that did not make it past sophomore goalie Rob Madore. One of their best chances was when junior Mike Montgomery fired a hard one-timer from just outside the right circle, but Madore made the save.
The Bulldogs came close to scoring again on the same power play, but sophomore Drew MacKenzie knocked away a loose rebound and prevented UMD from taking an early lead.
Instead, UVM took the lead during their own power play opportunity at 12:25. Senior Colin Vock passed the puck to Irwin, who was waiting at the blue line. Irwin made a hard one-timer that went directly through the legs of sophomore goalie Brady Hjelle. This gave Vermont the 1-0 lead that they held for the remainder of the period.
The Catamounts increased their lead to 2-0 at 5:28 in the second when freshman David Pacan got the puck from behind the net to Nilsson-Roos, who was in the slot to collect the puck and one-time it past Hjelle.
Milo took the puck up the ice and added another at 11:25 . Avoiding defenders, Milo fired a wrist shot that seemed to be caught in the glove of Hjelle, but he bobbled the puck and it dropped, sliding behind the goal line. Milo’s sixth goal of the year put the Catamounts up 3-0 to start the third period. Following the goal, UMD decided on a goaltender change to sophomore Kenny Reiter.
“I thought the third goal that they got was kind of a backbreaker,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “Two-nothing’s a lot better than three.”
A late slashing penalty on UVM senior co-captain Brian Roloff that carried into the third gave the Bulldogs a chance to start a comeback but they were unable to score, despite largely keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
UVM scored a power-play goal to make it 4-0 at 5:53 when Stacey slid the puck past Reiter from a rebound as players from both teams crowded around the crease.
Sebastian Stalberg scored his first career goal as a Catamount at 10:16, bringing the score to 5-0.
It was then that the Bulldogs began to try and force a late comeback, beginning with a power play when UVM senior Jonathan Higgins went to the box for hooking. Sophomore Scott Kishel made a hard shot at the blue line but Madore made the glove save as he fell to the ice.
Oleksuk got revenge for UMD soon after though, when, while still on the power-play, at 13:57, he took the puck around to the front of the net and fired a wrister, beating Madore on the glove side and recording the first goal of the night for the Bulldogs.
UMD’s late-game efforts were not over, as Connolly took the puck up the ice at 17:51 and found an opening in the net as Madore was shuffling back and forth in the crease. Connolly slid the puck past Madore on the glove side, scoring the second and final goal of the night for UMD.
UVM held the 5-2 lead for the remaining minutes of the game, securing the win and the tournament.