They did it again. For the second time in three years, Vermont eliminated Clarkson, on the road, in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. In 2000 the 10th-seeded Cats defeated the No. 1-seeded Knights in one of the biggest upsets in ECAC playoff history. This year, the 10th-seeded Cats knocked off No. 7-seed Clarkson with a convincing 6-1 win on Saturday night.
And again, goalie Shawn Conschafter was much of the reason.
“I thought Shawn played terrific again tonight,” said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. “Clarkson played real solid tonight, and it could have been two or three to zero after the first.”
Thanks to Conschafter’s solid play in the first, instead of 3-0, it was 0-0. Conschafter turned away all 10 shots he faced. On the other end freshman Dustin Traylen stopped seven shots in the first frame for the Knights.
Clarkson came out in the second and played with an intensity that was missing from Friday night, and notched the first goal of the game at the 13:54 mark of the second. Chris Blight fired a snapshot from the right circle. Conschafter made the initial save but could not hold the puck, which dropped through his legs and trickled over the goal line giving the home team a 1-0 advantage.
Vermont answered back in a big way registering six unanswered goals.
Jamie Sifers, who tallied the game winner on Friday night, scored on a 5-on-3 power play, knotting the score at one, blasting a one timer from the top of the circles and beating Traylen high to the glove side.
UVM carried this momentum into the third and came out with a five-goal period and a series victory.
Brady Leisenring scored Vermont’s second power-play goal as he snuck a snapshot past an unsuspecting Traylen, giving Vermont the lead at the 4:17 mark of the third.
It was Leisenring again at 8:38, this time collecting a rebound off a Jeff Miles shot and sneaking the puck over a sprawled out Traylen, putting the Cats squarely in the driver’s seat.
Vermont put some icing on the cake 1:16 later, as Tim Plant raced down the left side and slapped a shot low which snuck between Traylen and the pipe, giving Vermont a 4-1 lead with 10:06 remaining in the game.
“I thought we really got it going in the third,” said Gilligan. “We picked up our play. That five-on-three really helped.”
Clarkson coach Fred Parker had other thoughts about the power play and head official Tim Kotyra.
“I’d call it borderline cheating,” said Parker. “When we had been taking it to them for half the game and somebody decides to throw us in the box for some real questionable calls. We have had our times when we deserved the calls we got this year, but when you pick on kids in a game like this I’d call that cheating.
“When you’re battling this time of year, you expect to get some calls against you, but to see no call, after no call, after no call, it’s a little frustrating. I mean this thing won’t affect Fred Parker, this will affect the 25 guys in that locker room.”
Vermont added two goals in the last 2:20, sealing the series. Phil Youngclaus scored his second goal in two games firing in an empty net goal and Bryson Busniuk made things academic by scoring his eighth of the season with 34 seconds remaining.
“Right now this is better than three years ago,” said Conschafter. “Tonight was a total team effort. Last night we had our freshmen step up, and tonight we had everyone contribute. I’m a senior and I don’t want this to end. I’m still having too much fun.”
Parker, who took over as interim coach when Mark Morris was fired early in the season, most certainly coached his last game for Clarkson. According to the reports, the school recently named four finalists for the permanent job, and he wasn’t on the list.
“Tonight was a lot better than last night,” said Parker. “It’s disappointing, but I feel that the team left everything on the ice tonight. After some of the things that happened this year, the league really stuck it to us. We fought through as much as we could but this year we just had to expect the unexpected. And tonight we definately got that”
“It’s been a bit of a tough go but we battled through it,” said Clarkson captain Kevin O’Flaherty. “This is type of a old boy’s league and sometimes it seems like Fred didn’t get a fair shake. I appreciate what Fred has done. He’s taught me a lot as a player and as a person, this whole team really respects Fred Parker. They have a lot of character coming back and they can put this program back to where it belongs.”