Amherst, MA- Saturday night offered the Massachusetts Minutemen a chance for their first playoff series win since 2007. They had momentum after an emotional overtime victory and the loudest crowd at the Mullins Center in a decade. The Vermont Catamounts were on the ropes and needed some answers to extend their season. Vermont found the answers while UMass played young.
UMass controlled the pace for much of the first period, outshooting UVM 14-9. Despite their control, Stefanos Lekkas kept UMass off the board. He fought the puck and created plenty of rebounds, but Lekkas stopped the Minutemen and his defense cleared the pucks. His offense helped as well. Ross Colton put Vermont ahead on a rebound goal just after the halfway point and the Catamounts carried a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
Vermont got the early jump in the second period, aided by a critical UMass mistake. Goaltender Matt Murray controlled a puck out of the air. Instead of taking the faceoff, he tried to pass the puck to a teammate. Derek Lodermeir got to the puck first. He passed it to Matt Alvaro for an easy shot and the Catamounts led 2-0 only 5:33 into the second period.
UMass had plenty of fight in them, though. Less than two minutes after the bobble, Austin Plevy landed a transition shot to get the Minutemen on the board. UMass continued to pound Lekkas in net, outshooting UVM 18-4. But again, Lekkas was exceptional. He kept Vermont in the lead despite an offense that jumped on every loose puck and gave the Mullins Maniacs plenty to cheer about. Late in the period, though, UMass broke through. Austin Plevy fired a seeing eyes wrister through traffic and tied the game shortly before intermission.
Twenty-nine seconds into the third period, Austin Albrecht scored a transition goal to give UMass a lead. The rest of the third period showed the Minutemen’s inexperience. UMass committed three penalties, gave UVM chances to hang around in the game, and broke against the Vermont captain. Rob Darrar played a puck on the doorstep to tie the game.
UMass tried to answer, but Lekkas was again extraordinary, making 9 of his 39 saves and keeping the game tied through several Grade A chances for UMass.
For the second consecutive day, the Catamounts and Minutemen went to overtime. Unlike Friday night, this was a fast ending. UVM won the faceoff and drove into UMass ice. Ross Colton shot and Murray made the save. Corey Thomas controlled the rebound and the freshman from St. Brieux, Saskatoon, scored his first collegiate goal 12 seconds into overtime.
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon was relieved after the game.
“I thought our team showed a lot of heart and a lot of resilience tonight. None of our guys wanted to put the sticks away for the summer. I thought UMass played a great game. We struggled to control their speed in our zone. Proud of my team.”
With the win, Vermont’s record improves to 10-18-7.
Meanwhile, UMass head coach Greg Carvel was furious with his team after the game.
“Very disappointing way to lose that game. But for me, it was a disappointing game overall. Again, we didn’t come out with energy. Tonight’s game was uncharacteristic. Some of their goals were more us making mistakes than them creating the offense.
“That overtime goal was about four guys not being ready to compete. Great job by Vermont, but that game should be over. We’re a good hockey team. We should be able to shut down the ninth-placed team with a one-goal lead in the third period.”
With the loss, UMass drops their record to 15-18-2.
The teams get an off day on Saturday and will matchup for the deciding Game three on Sunday afternoon. Puck drops at 3 pm at the Mullins Center.