Amherst, MA- The Vermont Catamounts and Massachusetts Minutemen opened the postseason with two thrilling overtime matchups on Thursday and Friday night. They traded victories and thrilled the fans at Mullins Center in beautiful exhibitions of playoff hockey. The first two games proved they could each win, but the series was not over. The teams met on Sunday afternoon to determine the final team in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. UMass looked to earn their first series win since 2007 and played like it.
Vermont controlled the scoreboard and pace of the first period on both Friday and Saturday night. The Minutemen flipped the script with the first two goals of the game. Mario Ferraro drove behind the net and put a wraparound shot by UVM goalie Stefanos Lekkas to get the lead 2:40 into the game. Jake Gaudet continued the attack with a sharp shot on the transition at the halfway mark of the period.
Vermont did close the shot gap late in the period, but Ryan Wischow, playing in place of an injured Matt Murray, stopped all 10 shots he faced and sent the game to the first intermission in UMass control.
Vermont shifted the pace early in the second period and hounded Wischow until they scored. Matt O’Donnell roofed a goal on Murray and cut the lead down to 2-1. After Vermont won the ensuing faceoff and forced UMass to ice the puck, UMass Coach Greg Carvel called a timeout to rally his team. It worked and UMass took control of the rest of the game.
Five minutes after O’Donnell’s goal, Austin Albrecht extended the lead with a transition goal for his second goal of the series and a 3-1 UMass lead. Three minutes later, Oliver Chau landed another transition goal to give the Minutemen a 4-1 lead. Amherst won the shot battle 14-7 and led the game entering the final period of the series.
Vermont peppered Wischow with 14 shots in the final frame and limited UMass to 5. However, the sophomore from Green Bay stopped every shot and completed a 30 save effort in the biggest game of his UMass Career. While UMass was limited in offensive chances, they converted enough chances to win. Amherst native John Leonard scored on a double toe drag highlight goal that will land him on the national TV shows. The goal ended the scoring and sealed a 5-1 victory for the Minutemen.
Vermont Head Coach Kevin Sneddon was disappointed but still optimistic after the game.
“That was a great series. UMass played their best game in the finale and we played our worst game of the season. But I’m proud of our group. They could’ve folded after a hard first half, but they battled back and our second half we were a hard team to play. I hope we can carry that forward with this young group, but it stings now.”
Vermont finishes the year 10-20-7. The Catamounts disappointed after last season’s 20 win team despite showing some fight late in the year. Seniors Anthony Petruzzelli, Travis Blanleil, Jarred Privitera, and Captain Rob Darrar conclude their careers in Burlington.
UMass Coach Greg Carvel was pleased with his team’s effort and the rise of the program.
“The difference tonight was that we came out in the first period and got the lead instead of being down. Our team’s common goal was to gain some respect for this hockey program. And I think we far exceeded even my hopes. To get home ice in the playoffs and win a series is big. We needed to win this series to convince the student body that this is team to follow. We’re now in uncharted waters, but I’m excited to go into Northeastern as an underdog. There’s absolutely no expectations for us going in there.”
The win improves UMass’s record to 17-18-2. The Minutemen win their first playoff series since Jonathan Quick manned the net in 2007. UMass will travel to Boston next weekend to play the second-seeded Northeastern University Huskies.
The playoff matchups have now been finalized for the Hockey East Quarter Finals with this series ending. Boston College hosts Merrimack. Providence hosts Maine. And Boston University hosts UConn. All the second-round series begin on Friday night.