This Week in Hockey East: Vermont finding its rhythm, Catamounts veterans ‘starting to come around’

Jarrid Privitera (UVM - 19) celebrates his goal early in the third period. (Melissa Wade)
Jarrid Privitera has 10 points in 27 games this season for Vermont (photo: Melissa Wade).
Truth be told, Jan. 19 could have been the day that broke Vermont.Could have.The Catamounts hadn’t won a game since Nov. 25, going 0-5-3 over an eight-game stretch. Vermont was hosting Lowell and held a 2-0 lead heading into the third period at Gutterson.Then everything began to go wrong. Lowell scored a goal near the midway point of the period. Vermont got a power play shortly thereafter with a chance to seemingly put the game away.Instead, the River Hawks picked off a pass and scored short-handed. When the River Hawks scored midway through overtime, Vermont’s winless skid had extended to nine, and this was likely the most difficult to stomach.No one would be surprised if that game killed Vermont’s spirit, making the final month and a half an exercise in futility.Instead, the Catamounts responded, beating Lowell 6-3 the following night. They earned a road sweep at Merrimack the following weekend. Last Friday, Vermont tied then-first place Providence at home. The following night, Vermont upset the Friars to take three points on the weekend.Somehow, this Catamounts team found their rhythm.“This is one of the most fun groups that I’ve had to work with,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “Just when you think that Monday I’ve got to be the super hero in lifting up their spirits (after a difficult weekend), they’re the ones lifting us up as coaches.“They’re so eager to get better and so eager to learn. As a coach, what more can you ask?”The recent turnaround has taken Vermont from dead last in Hockey East into a tie for eighth place with New Hampshire. Those two schools will square off this weekend in a two-game set in Durham each knowing that a sweep could be key in the standings race to finish eighth place or better and earn a home-ice spot in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.“This group is oozing with character,” said Sneddon. “It’s nice to see that start to get some reward for that.”A major key to recent success has been Vermont’s offense showing signs of life. In the nine-game winless skid, Vermont scored just 16 goals. They’ve scored the same number in the five-game unbeaten streak (4-0-1) since.“We knew coming into the season, we’d be extremely young on the blueline and we’d have to weather some storms,” said Sneddon. “But we thought we’d at least have some scoring. We just had a lot of veteran players who were cold. Now they’re starting to come around, which is great news for us. And at the same time, our young defensive corps is getting better and better.”While the end of the season is on the horizon and the thought of possibly hosting an opening playoff series is running through minds, for Sneddon, he still has to take things day by day. Really, nothing has changed from when his team was desperately looking for wins.“I think the best approach we’ve had with our team this year is one day at a time,” said Sneddon. “We really haven’t talked about the standings. Certainly I know the guy would like nothing more than to play a playoff series in front of our fans who, I’m sure, have been disappointed at times in the season.“But to be playing our best hockey heading into the stretch, so rewarding the fans with a home playoff series would be great. But it’s not something that we really talk about now.“We’ve learned to be really good on Mondays after a tough weekend. Now it’s being really good on Mondays in preparation after a good weekend.“If we continue that approach, the points and climbing in the standings will take care of themselves.”

New Hampshire’s Sato scores a first for college hockey

Skating past the right post of the net, Kohei Sato caught the eye of fellow New Hampshire rookie Max Gildon.Gildon was on the far side of the offensive zone, but knew he had Sato streaking towards the back door. With a quick snap of the wrist, Gildon found Sato who directed the puck into a near empty net.With that play, it is believed that Sato is the first Japanese-born player to score a college hockey goal.The goal stood up for the game-winner in a 3-1 decision against Massachusetts, a much needed win for UNH ending a 12-game winless skid.“It felt unreal,” said Sato of scoring his first collegiate goal. “It took me 20 games, but I got it done.“[Gildon] made a really great pass. It was all [my linemates].”Sato, who was born in Japan, has been in North America since age 12 and came here with the pure intent of playing hockey. He’s moved around the continent with stops in Quebec, Ontario, Iowa and Massachusetts before landing at UNH. Last year, he played his junior hockey in the NAHL and was invited to play in the top prospects game.Saturday’s goal, though, has been a long time coming.“The last time I scored was probably last year around this time [playing juniors],” said Sato.Here’s hoping it’s the first of many.

Massachusetts offense struggling to finish

On Tuesday night, UMass struck for five goals in a 5-2 win against Merrimack.It was probably one of the betters feelings of the season for coach Greg Carvel.Prior to that, UMass had scored three or more goals in a game just twice since Jan. 12, something that wasn’t lost on Carvel.“We still have a hard time scoring rebound goals,” said Carvel after Saturday’s 3-1 loss to New Hampshire. “It’s taken ‘til after Christmas to realize that [finishing is] where we’re lacking. As young as we are, that’s where you notice how physically weak you are or how young you are. You can’t win those battles around the net and score those goals.“That’s how most goals are scored. We don’t score a lot of goals because we don’t score the ugly ones. We score some nice goals. Believe me, it is a focus for us to get to the net to score some of those goals, but it’s easier said than done.”Even in Tuesday’s five-goal outburst, most of the goals came off first shots. There was a nice finish of a 2-on-1 with the finish coming right at the crease and there was also a redirect in front of the net.But rebound goals are so often what make teams successful and will certainly be something the Minutemen continue to make their focus.

Amonte’s Beanpot legacy

Ty Amonte’s goal in double overtime will be one that will be memorable in Boston University Beanpot lore.But it also continues a family legacy in the tournament started by his father Tony, the Beanpot MVP in 1991.Many of the younger readers may not remember Tony Amonte’s performance in the 1991 Beanpot final. And if that game were played with today’s concussion standards, there’s a strong possibility that Tony’s MVP performance may never have happened.In the championship game against Boston College, the elder Amonte was bulldozed early in the game and laid on the ice for an extended period of time. Finally to his feet, he skated to the bench.In today’s era of hockey, Amonte would have likely headed to the locker to undergo a series of concussion tests. In 1991, Amonte was back on the ice by the time the second period started and then scored a hat trick in the span of 5:24.On Monday, with father Tony in the stands and likely seeing more clearly than 1991, son Ty kept the legacy going, firing a shot from the right half-wall at 1:55 in the second overtime that found the net to set off the celebration and send the Terriers to next Monday’s title game.“I wanted to make a backhand saucer pass to Dante (Fabbro), but I knew Coach (David Quinn) would cut my head off,” Amonte said. “So I just turned it up ice. We’ve been talking a lot about beating guys down to the hash marks and taking the puck wide. I just wanted to get the puck on net, and it went in. It’s a good feeling.”