GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Vermont Catamounts coach Kevin Sneddon knew his 10 freshmen were going to get their feet wet, and then some, in making their debuts in front of sellout crowds at the raucous Ralph Engelstad Arena this weekend.
“I talked to a couple of them this morning, and they don’t even remember (Friday’s) first period, they were so nervous,” Sneddon said.
The Catamounts (0-1-1) got over their nerves and got over a two-goal deficit to salvage a 2-2 tie with North Dakota (1-0-1) Saturday night in front of a crowd of 11,803.
Drake Caggiula had another multi-point night, registering a point and an assist, but ultimately Vermont weathered a first period storm packed with two goals and 14 shots on net and somehow climbed back into the game to stake out a tie.
“Certainly not the start we wanted,” Sneddon said. “North Dakota did a great job in the first period of putting us back on our heels. I thought we played very tentative, very nervous. But all the credit goes to them. I thought they did a real good job. It was a great response for us in the second period. I thought we came out with a lot more energy and a lot more resilience. We played relentless.”
Caggiula created both first period goals himself. The sophomore linemate made a great play to keep the puck in the offensive zone on a power play, then dished to linemate Rocco Grimaldi to make it 1-0 at 10:58. Then at 19:17, Caggiula finished a rush created by linemate Adam Tambellini, roofing a backhand shot over Mike Santaguida’s (31 saves) shoulder for a goal of his own.
Caggiula and Grimaldi made for an electric tandem last season, and that chemistry appeared to build in both Friday and Saturday night’s games. The two combined for three of the five goals in Friday night’s 5-3 victory, too.
“Rocco and I like to play a little fast; he’s a bit, not slower, but more controlled, and it’s a good blend,” Caggiula said.
That speed continued, but Vermont held them and the rest of North Dakota’s speedy forwards off the score sheet the rest of the way. Robert Polesello’s goal at 3:34 of the second tilted the ice in the other direction, and despite UND making every attempt to push the lead further, Chris McCarthy’s short-handed goal at 17:14 evened it up.
“I thought they had a real good push coming out of the second,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “I thought that was the best hockey they played throughout the weekend. You know that’s coming. We did a pretty good job getting through that rough patch. We turned one puck over at the blue line and that puck ended up in the back of the net. After that, I thought we smoothed things out at 2-1 and then they scored short-handed.”
UND had chances to pull away, but instead of the back of the net, UND’s offense found the goal post three times down the stretch.
Vermont kept the foot on the gas, peppering Zane Gothberg (25 saves) with 10 shots in the last 20 minutes, but neither team could pot the winning goal, forcing overtime.
Both teams had two shots on goal in the extra five-minute session, but despite rushes in both directions, the game ended with no victor.
Vermont rarely sees ice time in such big arenas, but before returning to the more cozy confines in Hockey East, the Catamounts will play Penn State on Oct. 26 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Sneddon told his guys to appreciate the experience.
“It’s a great experience for our guys,” Sneddon said. “We played these two games in front of 12,000 fans; our game (in two weeks) is at Wells Fargo Arena in front of 19,000 fans. For those freshmen to get that experience was huge.”
North Dakota won the unofficial postgame shootout, 2-1, with Grimaldi and Michael Parks beating Santaguida. Nick Bruneteau tallied the only shootout goal for the Catamounts.