DURHAM, N.H. — Vermont certainly didn’t look like a team that has nothing to play for.
The last-place Catamounts sacrificed their bodies all over the Whittemore Center Friday night, blocking 15 shots and dishing out countless hits. They played tight defense and refused to be put away, despite playing a University of New Hampshire team that has everything to play for.
“I think mentally, as tough as this year has been on their confidence, they’re finding ways to get tougher in situations like that,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, whose Catamounts gave up the go-ahead goal with 10:44 to play in the third period. “They have a better resilience than their bench boss.”
Trailing 3-2 with goaltender Rob Madore on the bench for the extra attacker, H.T. Lenz blasted home the game-tying goal from 50 feet out with 13.3 seconds to play, and Drew MacKenzie finished off the comeback when he popped home the rebound of a Mike Montagna shot at 1:38 of overtime. The 4-3 result halted the Wildcats’ four-game winning streak and gave the Catamounts (6-22-1, 3-18-1 HE) their first win since January 13, and their first on the road since October 23.
“We gave the game away,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats (12-15-3, 9-12-2 HE) have lost four games in overtime this season, three on home ice. “Obviously Vermont played hard, but we should have not let them back in the game.”
It was the second time this season that Lenz stymied UNH. Vermont’s senior captain also scored the game-tying goal with 1:20 remaining back on November 12. That game ended in a 4-4 tie.
“He’s a great leader for us and scored a big goal in a time that we needed it,” Sneddon said.
Not only was it a demoralizing loss for the Wildcats, but it allowed Northeastern (which tied Providence, 1-1, Friday night) to close within three points of seventh place in the standings.
“We’re a much better team than that all around; including myself, a lot of guys can play better,” said sophomore forward Kevin Goumas, who put UNH ahead 3-2. “It’s a big weekend, we needed those two points and unfortunately we couldn’t hold them off for the last couple seconds.”
Vermont played a tight defensive game after giving up a pair of goals in the first period and watching the Wildcats skate into the locker room with a 2-1 lead after the opening 20 minutes. The Catamounts filled shooting lanes and played a gritty style that kept UNH from using its speed, particularly 20-goal scorer Stevie Moses.
Nevertheless, the Wildcats were still poised to take the two points when Goumas finished off a brilliant tic-tac-toe play with linemates Moses and Nick Sorkin. Goumas’s play from just off the right post came only 45 seconds after Michael Paliotta tied it at two.
“I know it took the wind out of my sails,” said Sneddon. “I give our guys a lot of credit, they just kept battling.”
As resilient as the Catamounts might have been, the Wildcats were the better team following Goumas’ tally. UNH poured shot after shot — 11 total in the third period — on Madore (30 saves), but the senior netminder stood tall long enough for his team to tie it.
Scott Pavelski and Eric Knodel scored first-period goals for the Wildcats. Pavelski put the Wildcats up 1-0, finishing off an odd-man rush with a snipe into the top-right corner. Kevin McCarey hit Pavelski streaking down the right wing and Madore, anticipating a return pass to McCarey, leaned to his left and Pavelski roofed it just 7:18 into the contest.
Vermont countered with a goal of its own just 35 seconds later when Paliotta’s low shot redirected off Lenz in front of the net and found its way past UNH freshman netminder Casey DeSmith (17 saves).
The Catamounts took the play to the Wildcats, getting several quality bids on DeSmith over the next 10 minutes until a penalty by Vermont’s Connor Brickley put the Wildcats on the man advantage for the final two minutes of the frame. With 50 seconds remaining, Knodel blasted a one-timer from Jeff Silengo into the top-right corner to put UNH back out in front, 2-1.
Neither team was able to break through a scoreless second period that included a three-on-three and two four-on-fours. Madore and DeSmith were each strong between the pipes, with Madore turning aside eight shots in the middle frame, while DeSmith made nine saves. One however, was a scintillating save on Montagna, who tried to deke the freshman goaltender with a backhander to the near post, but DeSmith was quick with his pad, keeping the puck out and preserving UNH’s one-goal lead into the chaotic third period.
“We needed the four points this week; a loss is not good for us right now,” said Knodel, when asked if the loss on Friday night is better than losing Saturday night’s home finale against the Catamounts. “This was not what we needed. We need to keep the momentum going from the last couple weeks.”