“We have to find our Fenway.”
The Vermont Catamounts have endured a brutal season so far, entering their Frozen Fenway contest against Massachusetts with a 4-14-1 overall record and even worse, a 1-10-1 mark within Hockey East. That left them seven points behind in the race for the last playoff berth. But going against UMass, an old Division II rival and a burgeoning D-I “border war” rival, gave them not only a chance to enjoy the Fenway Park experience but also gain two points against one of the teams they need to catch.
Arguably, a critical win on Fenway Park’s huge stage could have acted as a springboard to a strong second half and a playoff berth. So the failure to capitalize on a UMass five-minute major late in the third period only to surrender the game-winner near the end of overtime was an especially bitter pill to swallow.
“If this had been a non-conference game, it still would have been tough to lose,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said. “But we know the magnitude of every game for us now. That adds to how down they are right now. They knew this was an opportunity to play catch-up.”
The question now has become whether the Catamounts have dug a hole too deep to crawl out of.
“It’s hard to be positive, but we have no other choice,” Sebastian Stalberg said. “The last four games we’ve battled really hard but haven’t gotten the results. Early on in the season, it was more lack of effort and stupid individual play. Now we’re playing as a team, and I think we’ve made a lot of big strides in the second half even though we haven’t gotten the results.”
Vermont now stands at 1-11-1 in Hockey East and has missed its shot at a springboard effect from its highest profile game of the year. What comes next?
“We have to find our Fenway,” Sneddon said. “We realize that hockey is a game again. It’s about having some fun. The way you have fun is competing and battling for each other. As [Stalberg] alluded to, there was some individual play at the beginning of the year. We are just stating to gell as a team.
“It’s my fault that it’s happening this late, but I believe in our guys. We’re seeing tremendous growth . If we can get some injured guys back, it’s not too late.
“But we have to find our Fenway, what makes it fun every day to come to the rink and practice. You saw all the smiles all weekend here. We have to dig down and find that within every time we practice or play a game.”