BURLINGTON, Vt. — In the final minutes of the third period, it looked as though Vermont had the game all wrapped up for a 2-1 victory. Merrimack had a different ending in mind and they made it happen, scoring two goals within seconds of each other with under two minutes to play, taking back the lead and defeating the Catamounts 3-2 in Hockey East action at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Sophomore Jeff Velleca, sophomore Jesse Todd, and freshman Stephane Da Costa scored for Merrimack while junior Jack Downing, and freshman David Pacan scored for Vermont.
With the win, which followed up a 2-2 tie on Friday, Merrimack departs from Vermont with three points on the weekend.
“These last three games were probably the best three games we’ve played all year; this is when the league really starts is January, February,” Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy said.
“I’ve got nothing to say except congratulations to Merrimack for a three-point weekend,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “Not much else can be said about the final two minutes of that hockey game.”
Just like Friday night’s contest, it was a scoreless opening period for both teams, though the Catamounts had chances to score. Senior Jonathan Higgins made a one-timer after collecting the puck from senior Colin Vock who was coming around the back of the Merrimack net. Sophomore goaltender Joe Cannata was there to make the save though and keep the score at 0-0.
Later on, when the Warriors were on their only power play of the first, senior Pat Bowen shot a hard wrister, but sophomore goalie Rob Madore made a high, glove save.
The Warriors put an end to the lack of scoring and took the lead just 29 seconds into the second period. Da Costa got the puck in the slot and got it to an eager Velleca on the right side of the net. Velleca shot the puck through the legs of Madore, putting Merrimack in front.
The Catamounts did not let the lead last long though, coming back to tie at 5:21. Cannata made the initial save on a shot from senior Patrick Cullity, but Downing was there to pick up the rebound near the crease and knock it in to tie.
Pacan increased the lead for the Catamounts at 4:46 in the final period. Junior Kyle Medvec took a straight shot from the point after picking up the puck from freshman Chris McCarthy and Pacan was there to tip it in for the score.
Merrimack took a timeout with 1:52 left to play in the game and Vermont followed with a timeout of its own right away before play started up again. It was then that the tide rapidly turned against the Catamounts.
“You know 1:52, I know we’ve got an offensive zone face off, let’s just go after it,” Dennehy said. “I’d like to say that’s how I drew it out, but it worked.”
Todd struck first at 18:12 to tie the game. Da Costa followed up just seconds later at 18:31 to take back the lead and cement the victory. Da Costa carried the puck close to the net and slid it around Madore.
“He’s electric, he vanished on that goal,” Dennehy said of the play of Da Costa. “There were three guys around him and all of a sudden he was behind them and I don’t think he could tell you how he got there. He’s an exceptional player, probably the best I’ve coached.”
McCarthy was given a game disqualification penalty for hitting from behind in the final seconds and this proved to be the end for the Catamounts.