BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Double overtime and two referee reviews later, we finally found out who won the East Regional and is heading to the Frozen Four. At the end of the 105:59 minute game, the third longest in playoff history, the players of Vermont and Air Force shook hands and commended each other on a good game.
But, what they really meant was great game, because this game was better than just a good game between two clean and solid teams. It provided entertainment and intensity better than some Hollywood script boy could ever dream up.
As if to show how even the playing field really was, the first period came and went with no score. The scoreless period lengthened goaltender Andrew Volkening’s shutout-in-first -period streak to five games with 47 saves in the period, eight from this game. But Volkening’s shutout streak was soon to be over.
Air Force was on the board first, early in the second period at 3:46. Tim Kirby worked the puck down the ice and passed to Scott Mathis who deflected it to Sean Bertsch. Bertsch then crossed it left to Paul Weisgarber whose slap shot scored the game’s first goal.
A one-goal lead does not make a team relax, and it certainly did not allow the Falcons to breathe easy. But as the period continued neither Volkening nor Vermont goaltender Rob Madore would allow a goal. The second period ended just 1-0, Air Force, but not for the lack of offenses trying.
Just as the Falcons did in the second, the Catamounts opened the third period with an early goal at 3:56. Justin Milo and Patrick Cullity fed the puck right to Josh Burrows who shot it in from the blue line for the game-tying goal.
A new game began at 1-1. At 9:29 Dan Lawson scored off a pass from Corey Carlson giving Vermont the lead. But Air Force echoed two-minutes later, at 11:18 when Mike Phillipich fed the puck to Bertsch who tied the game with his goal. The clock ran out with the teams remaining tied 2-2.
Overtime began; up to 20 minutes of play in a sudden death format. The already low penalty count tallied one last player, Vermont’s Jack Downing for boarding. The Catamounts released some of the pressure they had been hammering the Falcons with, but did not let up a goal. Neither team did for the entirety of the period.
The second overtime ensued. Again it was filled with near-goal shots, causing everyone to rise to their feet. Then, at 14:10 into the period, just over five minutes left in play, the game-winning goal was scored. Lawson, of Vermont, was fed the puck by Wahsontiio Stacey and Viktor Stalberg. Lawson fired the puck, which hammered into the net and out the back, right through it. No whistle was blown, no goal declared. Play continued until 4:01, the first stoppage after the shot.
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon commented on the goal; “Associate head coach John Micheletto and I we’re the ones signaling to the referees because I saw Danny take the shot and I saw the back of the net move on the other side. And the puck took a weird bounce after that and it just didn’t make sense how it came out of the net. It went a while before we even had a review. The refs took their time, but they made the right call.”
The referees entered the booth and reviewed the play. Twelve minutes, or for the players what seemed like twelve hours, later they returned to the ice.
“The puck was shot and I observed the net move,” explained official Marco Hunt. “At the first stoppage of play, after conferring with the rest of the on-ice crew, we determined a review was necessary. Because of the length of time between the net moving and the first stoppage of play, it took the technicians time to find the point in the game that we needed to review.
“Once that point was determined, we used every possible angle to render our decision. Video confirmed the puck entered the net inside the post and under the crossbar.”
A mess of green and gold engaged in massive huddle of excitement. Players pointed to their fans then composed themselves to go through the game ending handshake/high-five show of good sportsmanship line.
“I thought the fans here in Bridgeport were treated to an outstanding college hockey game,” said Air Force head coach Frank Serratore. “I saw how several of the other games turned out with some phenomenal endings, just as we went into two overtimes. Everyone in attendance really got [his/her] money’s worth. It was a very entertaining game.
“It was one of those games where you truly hate to see someone lose because both teams played so hard. Going through the line, I noticed some of the Vermont players were cramped up from playing so hard and our guys gave it their all too.”
Dan Lawson’s game-winning goal earned him the title of Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional. He also earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team as a defenseman as well as his teammate Viktor Stalberg who was named as a forward.
Among Air Force players, Volkening as goalie, Jacques Lamoureux and Sean Bertsch as forwards, and Greg Flynn as defenseman were named to the All-Tournament Team.
“First and foremost, obviously a great college hockey game,” said Sneddon. “Air Force had a tremendous season. Their student-athletes played their hearts out tonight and deserve a lot of credit.”
The game was long, clean, and just plain great college hockey. The combined total of 83 shots (48 for AF, 35 for UVM) is the fifth most in NCAA Tournament history.
The 3-2 win over the Falcons propelled Vermont into the Frozen Four. On April 9th, they will face either the New Hampshire Wildcats or the Boston University Terriers, which will be decided tonight.
“We’re not going to participate, “ said Sneddon. “We’re going to win it. That’s what we’re in the Frozen Four for.”
“My congratulations to Vermont,” said Serratore. “I’m sure they’ll represent our regional very well in the Frozen Four.”