College Hockey:
Special teams strike three times as Novak, Union roll past Vermont in East Regional

Union’s Matt Hatch scored twice in an East Regional semifinal victory over Vermont (photo: Matt Eisenberg).

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The No. 1 Union Dutchmen used their special teams, which scored two power play goals and a short-handed goal, to defeat Vermont 5-2 on Friday in the NCAA East Regional semifinals.

Junior Max Novak led the Dutchmen, who have won nine in a row and are unbeaten in the last 14 games (13-0-1), with two power-play goals.

“We were moving the puck well but more importantly we were winning the battles down low and that’s a huge component of our power play, both goals from hard work down low,” Novak said.

Novak’s first goal broke a 1-1 tie in the first period, and his second put the Dutchmen ahead 3-1 in the second.

Just 1:09 after Vermont scored to make it 1-1, Novak took a cross-ice feed from senior Kevin Sullivan and was able to kick the puck from his skate to his backhand to beat Catamounts goaltender Brody Hoffman from his knees.

Novak made it 3-1 when his centering pass intended for Daniel Carr redirected off Yvan Pattyn’s stick and into his own net.

The Dutchmen opened the scoring in the first five minutes of the game when senior Matt Hatch broken in short-handed and slid the puck past Hoffman.

Union coach Rick Bennett saw special teams as a big part to his team’s victory.

“I thought it was pretty crucial,” he said. “The short-handed [goal] really got us going. I thought we were a bit flat coming out and I thought Matt Hatch using his speed scored a big goal for us.”

Vermont found an answer for Hatch’s goal at 13:18 of the first. Senior Chris McCarthy’s centering feed to Mario Puskarich was deflected, and McCarthy picked the puck up and beat Union’s Colin Stevens.

Through the team’s fight Senior H.T. Lenz was able to see growth in the team from when he started at UVM to his senior year.

“(Scoring after giving up a short-handed goal) was symbolic of how far we have come,” Vermont senior H.T. Lenz said. “My sophomore year, it would have been game over as soon as that happened. There was no panic on the bench. We kept playing our game after that. That was a stuff we have improved on since we have been here and why we were a winning team this year.”

But the Catamounts didn’t have an answer for the Dutchmen’s power-play goals.

“The one disappointment I had tonight, our kids played our hearts out but we just took too many penalties,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said.

Senior Mat Bodie added some third-period insurance for the Dutchmen as he wristed a pass from Sullivan on a four-on-one rush to make it 4-1.

Bodie said he sees this year’s team as deeper than the squad that lost to Quinnipiac in last year’s the regional final.

“We had a really solid team last year as well,” Bodie said. “The biggest difference is the depth up front. We have been able to roll four lines as last year we cut it down to three sometimes. I think it is tough for any team to watch four lines. I think that has been huge for our success so far this year.”

McCarthy added his second goal for Vermont to make it 4-2, but Hatch added his second goal of the game into an empty net to increase the Union lead to 5-2.

Stevens made 23 save to earn the victory, while Hoffman made 34 saves.

Union, which has made three straight regional finals, will play Quinnipiac or Providence in Saturday’s regional final.

Bennett said he is proud of his team’s achievements so far but he said it needs to take things one step at a time.

“We are very humbled and very honored. We do not want to take anything for granted,” Bennett said. “I heard someone mention Frozen Four; that is light years away. Know what is important now — these guys getting their rest, our video session and get ready for the game.”

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