Playing their fourth Hockey East contest in eight days, No. 13 Vermont overcame a 2-1 deficit entering the third period and held on to defeat Maine 3-2 in front of a post-Thanksgiving sell-out crowd of 4003 at Gutterson Fieldhouse.
Sophomore defenseman Josh Burrows paced the comeback, assisting on the tying goal by Wahsontii Stacey at 5:19 and later scoring the winning goal with 9:32 remaining. Vermont junior goaltender Mike Spillane made several key stops in the final two periods and finished with 21 saves.
The come-from-behind victory extends Vermont’s winning streak to five games and improves their overall record to 9-3-2 (6-3-1 HEA). The hard luck loss drops Maine to 7-4-1 (4-3-1 HEA).
“I think the third period really was just a matter of our guys finding the reserve tank,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon. “I thought we just showed great composure and played as a team. I think that was the big thing. We played collectively very well, used each other for energy on the bench and on the ice and found a way to win.”
“I love the way Vermont plays,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “We knew we were going to get a heck of a hockey game. I wish we were up there for two. I’d love to have the opportunity to play them again tomorrow but we don’t have that chance.”
The Black Bears nearly took a 1-0 lead less than a minute into the first period. Leading an odd-man break, Maine freshman Spencer Abbot penetrated the Vermont zone with speed and dropped the puck off for junior linemate Kevin Swallow, who was trailing the play. Swallow blasted a slap shot from just inside the hashmarks, but luckily for Spillane the shot clanged off the right post.
Vermont answered by scoring the first goal of the game at 7:51. Securing a face-off win by Brian Roloff in the defensive zone, fellow junior Viktor Stalberg broke free and rushed up ice along the right boards. Patiently waiting for the Black Bears’ defense to cave, Stalberg curled around the faceoff dot to the left of Maine goaltender Scott Darling and found linemate Brayden Irwin streaking toward the net. Irwin one-timed the cross-ice feed in stride and beat Darling high, blocker side. The tally was Irwin’s fifth of the season.
Despite being outplayed for most of the period, Maine responded to tie the score with less than three minutes remaining before intermission. Securing the puck along the boards at center ice, Black Bears’ forward Brian Flynn found linemate Gustav Nyquist near the far boards, springing the fellow freshman into the Vermont zone with speed. Cutting inside, Nyquist held off Burrows and fired a wrister that squeezed between the left post and Spillane’s blocker.
“[Vermont got] out of the gate really strong and I thought we were fortunate, obviously, to get out of that first period [1-1],” said Whitehead.
After being outshot 12-6 in the first stanza, Maine countered by dominating play in the second period, holding Vermont to just four shots while registering six of their own.
The Black Bears set the tone early by killing off a cross-checking penalty to freshman defenseman Ryan Hegarty just 23 seconds in. Gaining momentum, Maine cashed in on a broken play to take a 2-1 advantage less than two minutes later. Capitalizing on a wild scrum in front of the Vermont goal, junior David De Kastrozza edged the bouncing puck to Flynn, who promptly fired it off a Catamounts’ defender and past a helpless Spillane for his third goal of the season.
“I think the second period they dominated us and we looked like we were starting to fatigue from the four games in eight days,” said Sneddon. “I really thought the second period we just looked slow. To Maine’s credit I think they could smell that and they really came at us hard and did a nice job.”
The Black Bears had an opportunity to extend their lead to two goals when Vermont sophomore defenseman Kyle Medvec was called for tripping in the final minute of the second period. The power play spilled over into the third period and Maine caught another break just 1:02 into the third period when Catamounts’ senior assistant captain Corey Carlson was called for hitting from behind. Despite the back-to-back man advantages, Spillane and Vermont negated Maine from finding the equalizer.
“The third period I thought we lacked that killer instinct,” said Whitehead. “We had a minute of power play and then they took another penalty and that was our opportunity there to make them pay. Vermont did a great job on the kill and I was impressed with how Spillane kind of recaptured that game.
“Hockey is such a game of momentum and in this case that allowed them to regroup and really come back at us. That was our opportunity right there to make them pay and we did not. As a result they got strength from that.”
Infused by thunderous cheers of “GO-CATS-GO,” Vermont came back to tie the score at two just over five minutes into the final period. Pinching in from the left point, Burrows secured a loose puck in the corner, kept his head up and found Stacey streaking in near the hashmarks. After freezing Darling with a quick deke, Stacey jammed the puck through the five-hole.
Burrows played the role of hero when he scored the game-winner at 10:28 of the final period. After sophomore Jack Downing dumped the puck in the Black Bears’ zone, Roloff secured the rebound and found Burrows alone at the left point. Slicing through a maze of defenders, Burrows’ wrist shot rattled off the inside of the post and squeezed by the left pad of Darling for his second goal of the season.
“There were a bunch of bodies in front and [I] just threw it on net and it went in,” said Burrows.
Whitehead elected to pull Darling in favor of an extra attacker in the final minute, but Spillane made several key stops to secure the victory for Vermont.
“I thought [Spillane] was fantastic,” said Sneddon. “He saved us big-time in the second period and made some big saves in the third as well. He was very good for us tonight and gave us every opportunity to win that hockey game.
“It’s always this type of game with Maine. Every time we play, it’s a fantastic game. I don’t think we’ve had many games where it hasn’t been a one-goal game or a tied game. I think their staff deserves a lot of credit. They played a great game.”
After winning a pair of 4-3 thrillers last weekend at Agganis Arena against then No. 2 BU and then coming from behind to defeat UMass 4-3 in OT Tuesday night, Vermont has mastered the art of coming from behind lately. The 3-2 victory over Maine also capped a string of four games in eight days for Vermont.
“It seems like one of our strengths right now is being able to regroup and finish games in the third period,” said Roloff.