After a nearly three week long holiday break, No. 13 Vermont returned to the ice Friday night and held on to defeat Colgate, 6-4, in the opening round of the 13th Catamount Cup.
Sporting their jet black alternate jerseys in front of a sold-out crowd of 4,003 at Gutterson Fieldhouse, Vermont rang in the new year with four power-play goals and survived a late comeback by the Raiders to improve to 10-4-2 (6-3-1 in Hockey East).
Senior assistant captain Peter Lenes and sophomore Justin Milo led the offensive onslaught with two goals apiece while junior goaltender Mike Spillane finished with 14 saves. The non-conference loss drops Colgate to 5-8-4 (1-4-3 in the ECAC).
â€œOverall I was really pleased with our effort,â€ said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. â€œI thought for most of the game we looked like we were in our game-shape and executed some plays very, very nicely today on offense, did some really good things defensively for most of the game. It was the first time in a while that we actually fed off our penalty kill.â€
Despite being outshot 12-3 in the opening period, Colgate nearly took a 1-0 lead less than seven minutes in. With Vermont senior assistant captain Corey Carlson already in the sin bin for hitting-from-behind, junior linemate Viktor Stalberg was called for slashing at 6:10 to give the Raiders an abbreviated 5 on 3 power play. Almost cashing in, Colgate captain Nick St. Pierre unleashed a blistering slapshot from the left point that clanked off the goal post to the right of Spillane. Vermont went on to kill off the remainder of Stalbergâ€™s penalty.
Taking supreme advantage of Colgateâ€™s missed opportunities, Vermont stormed back on the power play midway through the period to go up 1-0. Set up in the right corner, junior Brian Roloff found Milo on the doorstep and the opportunistic center hammered the puck past Raiders goaltender Charles Long for his seventh tally of the season.
Gaining momentum as the opening period winded down, Vermont extended their lead to 2-0 at 14:13. Parked at the left face-off dot, junior winger Colin Vock found Lenes streaking in from the blue line. Displaying a calculated sense of urgency, Lenes fired a one-timer just before being buried by Colgate defenseman Mark Anderson. The shot deflected off a maze of skaters in front and slid by a helpless Long. The even-strength snipe was Lenesâ€™ sixth of the year.
Vermont continued to surge and secured a 3-0 lead on the power play less than two minutes later. Entering the Colgate zone with speed, Stalberg waited for Raiders defenseman David Sloane to commit to the shot and then dished the puck to Roloff near the left dot. Uncovered, Roloff unleashed a sizzling wrister past Long for his fifth strike of the season.
Attempting to energize his idling club, Colgate coach Don Vaughan pulled Long in favor of freshman Alex Evin to start the second period. Nonetheless, Vermont continued to dominate and extended the lead to 4-0 at 9:10. Intercepting an attempted clear, Vock found Lenes all alone in front. The bottle rocket winger promptly deked Evin and then lifted a backhand past the netminder high, glove side.
Vermontâ€™s seemingly commanding lead shrunk to 4-1 just over a minute later when Spillane mishandled a clearing attempt near the corner boards. Colgateâ€™s Austin Smith jumped on the loose puck and fired it into the empty net for his ninth goal of the season.
Just 30 seconds later Vermont responded on the power play to make it 5-1. Quarterbacking the man advantage, Milo fired a shot on net from the left point that deflected by Evin for his second tally of the game.
After a Wahsontiio Stacey power-play goal at 1:34 of the third period put Vermont on top 6-1, Colgate began a spirited comeback and scored three unanswered goals in less than three minutes to make it 6-4. Forward David McIntyre potted the first two, deflecting a feed from Anderson past Spillane at 4:16 and then beating the Vermont goaltender again with a wrister from the hashmarks just 42 seconds later.
Smith assisted on both tallies, the seventh and eighth of the season for McIntyre. Raiders forward Jason Williams lit the lamp on the power play at 6:55 to end the rally.
â€œCredit Colgate with their play in the third period,â€ said Sneddon. â€œSometimes itâ€™s tough when youâ€™ve got such a big lead- they play like they had nothing to lose. We kind of tightened up a little bit and didnâ€™t take care of business defensively.â€
Despite two more opportunities with the man advantage, including one in the final two minutes that allowed Vaughan to pull Evin for an extra attacker which produced an abbreviated 6-on-4 power play, Colgate failed to inch any closer before the final buzzer sounded.
â€œVermont capitalized on most of their opportunities and you have to give them credit,â€ said Vaughan. â€œI thought they were more ready to play than we were. You canâ€™t expect to come out against a team like that with a lack of energy that early in the game and expect to [win]. Youâ€™re down 6-1 to a team like this in this building, itâ€™s a tall order.â€
Vermont senior captain Dean Strong finished with one assist, leaving him four points shy of 100 for his career. Roloff ended up with a goal and two assists.
Winning the special teams battle, Vermont showed little rust after a 19 day layoff and went 4-8 on the power play while holding Colgate to just 1-5.
â€œYou never know what to expect after a long break,â€ said Milo. â€œI think we had a good week of practice, really battled hard, really focused on what we needed to do instead of what the other team is going to bring us. I think that really carried over into this game.â€
Vermont looks to avenge a Dec. 13 4-3 loss to St. Lawrence when they host the Saints Saturday night in the championship game of the Catamount Cup.