Despite being outshot 25-22, the #15 Vermont Catamounts hung on to defeat the visiting Merrimack Warriors, 2-1, in a Hockey East Sunday matinee at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Sophomore defenseman Josh Burrows scored his first goal of the season for the Catamounts and junior Brian Roloff added a power play goal in support of junior goaltender Mike Spillane. The conference victory improves Vermont to 5-3-2 (2-3-1 HEA) while Merrimack slips to 3-5-2 (1-4-1 HEA).
â€œIt was a tough game to play,â€ said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon. â€œMerrimack is a very disciplined team. I thought they did a good job of negating our speed at times through the neutral zone. We knew that we were going to have to play a smart game and I thought for the most part we did a good job of that.â€
After failing to capitalize on two early power plays, the Catamounts secured an even-strength goal at 14:51 of the first period to grab a 1-0 lead. Entering the offensive zone with speed, Corey Carlson dropped the puck for senior captain Dean Strong at the right point. Noticing Burrows crash the net from the blue line, Strong ripped a cross-ice snapshot just wide of the goal that Burrows managed to deflect past Merrimack netminder Andrew Braithwaite. The late-period tally was Burrowsâ€™ third of his career.
Vermont extended their lead to 2-0 on the power play just over six minutes into the second period. After Merrimack senior Grant Farrell was called for tripping at 5:14, Sneddon elected to send out a power play unit comprised of five forwards, with senior assistant captain Peter Lenes and sophomore Justin Milo sharing quarterback duties at the blue line. The move paid off as Milo threaded the needle from the left point to Roloff all alone on the doorstep. The junior corralled the blistering feed and beat a helpless Braithwaite for his fourth goal of the season.
â€œWe felt like we needed to overload the one unit with our most talented puck moving, shooting forwards,â€ said Sneddon. â€œItâ€™s a little bit risky in that teams that come at you aggressively you donâ€™t have a defender back there. But Lenes in particular and Milo are good enough skaters that they can field the rush if you have a turnover.â€
Merrimack fought back to cut the deficit to 2-1 with just under five minutes remaining in the second period. Freshman forward Jesse Todd unleashed a slapshot from the left circle that sailed wide and ricocheted off the end boards behind Spillane. Anticipating the long rebound, junior defenseman and captain Joe Loeprino pinched in from the blue line and blasted a one-timer that trickled off the inside of Spillaneâ€™s right pad and into the net. The strike was Loeprinoâ€™s first of the season.
Despite two opportunities with the man advantage in the final period, Merrimack was unable to find the equalizer. Braithwaite was pulled for an extra attacker with a minute remaining but the Warriors were unable to force overtime. Recently named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week, Braithwaite finished with 20 saves.
â€œItâ€™s a good hockey game in the sense that there really wasnâ€™t much that differentiated the two teams,â€ said Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy. â€œIt really came down to one or two plays and Vermont made them tonight.â€
The Catamounts won the special teams battle, going 1-4 with the man advantage while shutting down Merrimack in its three attempts. In total, the Warriors only managed to register two shots on the power play.
â€œGood power plays do two things,â€ said Dennehy. â€œThey can help the momentum of your team and then theyâ€™re good when they need to be. I thought our power play got better as the game went on but you just canâ€™t pass up opportunities in this league because it will come back to bite you. At the end of the day itâ€™s about their power play beating our penalty kill and their penalty kill beating our power play.â€
After sitting Friday night against Northeastern in favor of freshman Rob Madore, Spillane finished with 24 saves and improved his overall record to 3-2-1 on the young season.
â€œFor the most part I really thought our D played phenomenal,â€ said Spillane. â€œMost of the shots were from the outside of the dots. They probably had maybe three Grade A [chances] in the entire game. Any time you limit those you put yourself in a good place to win.â€