DURHAM, N.H.– At this point in the season, taking four points from a weekend in Hockey East is nearly impossible — just take a look at the standings. So after UNH came out of Saturday night’s game against Vermont with a 3-3 tie, there were few complaints.
Because like they say, three out of four ain’t bad.
In a weekend that left more to be desired, the Wildcats did manage to come out in Saturday night’s game with a little more urgency and desire than the previous night — at least for the first period. Going up early 2-0 at the end of the first frame and outshooting the Catamounts 22-8, UNH quickly lost it in the second period, letting by three unanswered Vermont goals. It wasn’t until UNH’s Mike Borisenok netted a goal in the third period that UNH tied the game back up and tried to come up with another late game victory.
But eerily similar to last night, regulation ended and fans got some more free hockey.
Unfortuatnely for the Wildcats, there was no overtime hero this time, though Vermont’s David Pacan nearly ended the game from the right side when his shot slipped behind Foster, but rang off the opposite post and to the boards. While the Wildcats are becoming accustomed to this extra hockey after regulation, it perhaps will prove to be to their advantage coming down the stretch.
With playoff hockey right around the corner and the standings as close as they are, it’s not unreasonable to think a lot of games will be decided in overtime, or overtime type situations.
“It’s playoff hockey for the rest of the way and it’s good to get that kind of game — 3-3 or 4-4 — whatever, and just be in playoff mode and get the game winner,” UNH captain Bobby Butler said. “So it’s good to get that experience so come playoff time when it’s really playoff time when you need the goal to win the game.”
Though the last goal of the game tends to be the most important, the first couple didn’t hurt either.
The first period quickly became UNH’s time to shine. In what has become almost an expectation, Butler drew first blood. While being tripped up in front of the crease, he still managed to find the rebound from a Paul Thompson’s break away shot and put the puck up and over Vermont goal miner Rob Madore for his 24th goal of the year, 10:37 into the game.
The barrage of shots continued, but Madore remained magnificent including an opportunity from a wide open Matt Campanale who rifled a shot from the blue line but was swiped away in an instant by Madore.
“He’s a fantastic goaltender who’s faced a lot of rubber this weekend,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said about Madore. “And he’s a big part of what we are going to do down the stretch here.”
Despite Madore’s best efforts though, UNH freshman Greg Burke also found a hole and put up a goal for the Wildcats with a shot from the outside wall on the left. Madore made a partial save, but it slipped past him and into the net with under two minutes to go in the period, giving UNH a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.
“I was worried last night after the game, they gave it their all,” Sneddon said. “We played as well as we played all year and nothing to show for it. I was worried on how we would come out.
“I think we still had a little bit of that left over from last night in the first period. Again credit to UNH because they played unbelievable in that first period and really put us back on our heels, but I think we were still a little in disbelief whether or not we could do it.”
But all that disbelief was soon squashed when in the second period, the Catamounts came out with three goals of their own, putting UNH back on their heels for a change.
The first goal came via Sebastian Stalberg who found a rebound in front of Foster and stuffed it in before Foster could find the puck. Stalberg picked up his fifth goal of the season and cut UNH’s lead in half.
The second period certainly was all Vermont, though the Wildcats were able to slip some plays in here and there. At the five minute mark, Speelman found himself with a breakaway opportunity coming off the bench, but was promptly stuffed by a right pad save by Madore.
After the first penalty of the game was called on Vermont’s Kyle Medvec when he dragged down Thompson in the crease, UNH hoped to convert early, but was denied several times.
UNH had a great opportunity 1:17 into the power play when Thompson found DeSimone backdoor, but Madore was ready and kept the score 2-1. Instead, Vermont found the back of the goal once again in a 3-on-1 opportunity. UVM’s Brett Leonard made a smooth right to left move which forced Foster to commit. Leonard then took the puck up over Foster for his first goal of the year.
Towards the end of the period, both teams showcased their speed and opportunistic ways. Both UNH and UVM would suffer an odd man rush before taking the puck back up the ice for their own. And coincidentally, both goalies showcased their talent and proved why they do what they do.
With 1:25 left to go in the period however, a faceoff blunder made UNH pay when Vermont forward Colin Vock fired it into the net for his ninth goal of the season.
“The second period, we kind of deviated from our systems,” Borisenok said. “And when we deviate from our systems we start turning the puck over and things like that.”
If three points wasn’t enough for UNH, the announcement made over the loud speaker certainly helped.
UNH has now earned enough points that they have clinched home advantage for the first round of Hockey East playoffs –for a league-best 14th consecutive season. And while that doesn’t necessarily determine anything, Umile certainly would take it.
“We play well here, so it’s better to play here rather than somewhere else, I can tell you that,” Umile said. “So I am happy.”
However, with only a couple points separating first from eighth, Umile was far from comfortable.
“I don’t want to play anybody [in the first round],” Umile said with a chuckle. “I just want to go to Boston. I’ll try to figure that one out.”