Providence, RI- Ivy League hockey teams began their seasons on Friday night. Brown hosted Yale to open the schedule and lost a narrow game. Vermont, meanwhile, opened their season with a high profile upset over Michigan but struggled in close games since. The most painful was a heartbreaker on Saturday night in Durham, NH, to the Wildcats in overtime. The Bears and Catamounts met at Meehan Auditorium late Sunday afternoon looking to reverse direction. Both played admirably and showed positive signs, but Vermont got the better end of the night.
Brown opened up running the show. They outshot Vermont 9-7 in the first period and 13-10 in the second. The Bears stretched Stefanos Lekkas out in both periods and skated well against the Catamount’s defense. In a remarkably clean and fast first period, Lekkas stonewalled the Bears and kept an underperforming Catamount squad in the game. He did likewise for most of the second period as well.
But with 2:45 left in the frame, Justin Jallen took the puck from the corner boards to across the crease. The St. Paul, MN spread Lekkas out, then fired top shelf for his first collegiate goal and a 1-0 Brown lead; their first lead of the season. They held that lead into the intermission.
Vermont turned the tied with the aid of an Alex Brink slashing minor. Brown killed most of the penalty and appeared out of danger. But with one second left on the power play, sophomore Christian Evers fired a puck from beyond the left circle. It appeared harmless but found uncovered twine behind Brown goaltender Matt Nieto to tie the game with 14:01 still to play. More special teams aid came for Vermont when Brady Schoo committed a holding and a boarding minor on one play.
The Catamounts pulled Lekkas for the extra attacker on delayed penalties and capitalized on the opportunity. Craig Puffer got the puck on the left doorstep and tossed a backhander through Nieto for a Catamount lead. Brown mounted a good kill and stopped Vermont from extending their lead. With less than six minutes left, Brown started attacking Lekkas and the Catamount defense to force overtime, even pulling Nieto for the final minute.
Alas, Lekkas made the critical saves and Matt Alvaro sprawled out at the buzzer to block a final Tony Stillwell shot as Vermont sealed a 2-1 victory. Emotions boiled over at the buzzer as Jake Massie and Zach Giuttari traded pleasantries, but the game was over.
Vermont pushes their record to 2-2 with the win, their first since beating Michigan on October 6th. Head Coach Kevin Sneddon was complimentary of Brown and offered harsh criticism of his own team.
“I thought Coach Whittet had his team ready and prepped, and I thought their pressure, especially in our zone, gave us fits in the first half of the game in particular” Sneddon said. “I thought it took us a while to get going tonight. We certainly weren’t happy with our play until the second half of the game. I thought we got better and better. We adjusted the forecheck in the third period and used our speed to pressure their D. Hard fought game, not a lot of space out there.”
Concerning his goaltender, Sneddon was remarkably complimentary.
“He’s been sensational throughout his career,” Sneddon said. “Certainly, last year was difficult with a younger group in front of him, but he gave us a chance to improve as the year went on. And then this year, he’s obviously kicking out some amazing saves. We want to be better defensively and we need to make some adjustments in that area so he doesn’t have to be so spectacular.”
Lekkas recorded 27 saves on 28 shots faced. Puffer’s goal was his first of the season.
Vermont returns to Burlington, VT next weekend for two-game, conference series with the Connecticut Huskies. Puck drops at Gutterson Fieldhouse at 7:05 pm on both Friday and Saturday.
The loss drops Brown to 0-2 after their opening weekend. Head Coach Brendan Whittet was disappointed with the outcome but spoke positively about his assembled group.
“I thought we played pretty good hockey for the most part,” Whittet said. I thought we hemmed them in, I thought we had them on the ropes. We have to find a way to extend a 1-0 lead to a 2-0 lead. We let them hang around and they found a way to sneak one in from a weird angle. And we’ve gotta find a way to close out teams. We’re not naturally gifted scoring around the net. It’s hard to score goals.
“I talk about making a 1-0 lead a 2-0 lead, but if we don’t, we have to win 1-0. I mean, Cornell has done it for 25 years. So we have to find a way to do it. We’ll continue to work and push and prod to get this team where it needs to be. I like this team a lot. We work extremely hard, and if we work that hard, eventually things go your way.”
Brown returns to ECAC play with an Upstate New York trip next weekend. They start in Hamilton on Friday night to face the Colgate Raiders. The next day, they move to Ithaca and play the conference favorite Cornell Big Red at Lynah Rink. Puck drops at 7 pm both nights.