LOWELL, Mass. — The No.16 Vermont Catamounts came into the game looking to either win or at least salvage a tie to keep their playoff hopes alive. They did just that, tying the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, 1-1, in front of 6,121 fans at the Tsongas Center.
It was a crazy night of scoreboard watching to figure out what the final pairings were going to be for next weekend’s first round of the playoffs.
Vermont was ninth coming in, and with Northeastern losing to Boston University, they were able to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot. They will be heading to New Hampshire to take on the top seed Wildcats.
On the flip side, the River Hawks came in looking to lock up the fourth and final home ice spot, but with the tie, and BU sweeping Northeastern, they end up with the fifth seed.
Lowell will be traveling to Orono, Maine, to take on the Black Bears at Alfond Arena. Maine was swept by UMass, and with BU gaining four points, they skipped over Maine for the third seed.
It all sounds very confusing, but that summarizes Hockey East this season.
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon was happy to know that his season will be continuing.
“I am obviously thrilled for our guys. It’s been a tough regular season for us. We had a lot of ups and downs. They deserve to be playing in the postseason. I have felt that all along, especially the last couple of weeks.”
Lowell went down a man early in the first period when captain Ben Holmstrom received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
The River Hawks managed to kill off the five-minute power play, not letting Vermont really set up in the offensive zone.
Vermont struck first late in the period at the 18:51 mark. Sebastian Stalberg received a diagonal pass from Kevan Millar down at the left circle faceoff dot. Stalberg shot the puck along the ice, beating goaltender Carter Hutton (18 saves) far post.
Lowell came out hungry in the second, looking get one past Rob Madore (36 saves). They were putting lots of pressure on Vermont, but Madore was there to make the saves.
Scott Campbell finally got one past him at 7:27. Jeremy Dehner had the puck at the left circle and sent a pass through traffic to Campbell, who was standing far post, and just tapped it in.
The story of the third period was the play of both goaltenders. Madore played a stellar game, making save upon save. He saw a little bit of everything; tipped shots, shots right in front, slap shots from the point, and shots through traffic.
River Hawks’ netminder Hutton wasn’t tested with a lot of quality shots, but he made the saves when called upon.
Sneddon thought Madore played his best game of the year.
“I just told him it might be his best game of the year. He has been struggling and given us great minutes, but he is struggling on those one or two he seems to always want back. I put a challenge out to him, and he answered the call; he was phenomenal tonight.”
River Hawks’ coach Blaise MacDonald was pleased with the overall play of his team this weekend.
“I am extremely proud of how we played this entire weekend and in particular tonight. I thought we played with a lot of structure. The system looked great, turned the puck over a ton, and delivered a lot of shots. We did everything but win the game. ”
Now it’s on to the playoffs. Sneddon said after the game he loves the parity that is in Hockey East, and is excited about the challenge of facing UNH.
“I have always said in this league, I know UNH is a great team, that’s our opponent, but just get in the dance. The parity in the league is incredible. We have a huge challenge in front of us, but we’re excited it’s a whole new season, and hopefully we can get rested up from this weekend and be ready to go. ”
MacDonald said Maine is a good team, and the Alfond Arena is a great place to play.
“When you play on the road, you are playing a good team in a great environment, and Maine fits that bill. They thumped us pretty good up there 8-4 not too long ago, so we got a chance to see if we can play with them.”