For the second time in four years, No. 13 Vermont hoisted the Catamount Cup Saturday night after shutting out St. Lawrence 4-0 in the championship game at Gutterson Fieldhouse. The sellout crowd of 4,003 watched joyously as freshman goaltender Rob Madore made 29 saves to earn his first career shutout.
Sophomore forward Jack Downing sparked the offense, scoring the first two goals of the game and then assisting on the third. The tournament victory improves Vermont to 11-4-2 (6-3-1 HEA) and avenges a heartbreaking 4-3 loss at St. Lawrence in the final second of regulation three weeks ago. The Saints fall to 8-9-1(2-5-1 ECAC).
“The team showed me today that they learned their lesson from last night against Colgate,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, referring to his Catamounts blowing a 6-1 lead against the Raiders en route to a 6-4 victory Friday night. “I thought some of our best defense was the fact that we were able to hold the puck in the offensive zone and cycle and pressure them down low. I think it was the first full 60 minutes that we’ve played very, very soundly from the net out.”
“Overall I think they managed the lead very well,” added St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh. “I thought we worked real hard. I thought our effort was there. We knew they were a real good team. We had to bring our ‘A’ game and it was close but not quite. I give our guys a pretty solid ‘B.'”
Despite entering the game with just five assists and no goals in 11 games this season, Downing lit up the Saints in the first period to stake Vermont to an early 3-0 lead. Setting up Downing’s first goal, senior assistant captain Peter Lenes corralled a loose puck in the neutral zone and fired a wrist shot from just inside the left circle. Saints’ goaltender Alex Petizian made the initial pad save but the rebound squirted directly to Downing on the far side, who promptly buried it into the back of the net just 1:15 into regulation.
Nearly three minutes later, Vermont stretched the lead to 2-0 on a power play. Skating untouched along the sideboards into the St. Lawrence zone, junior Viktor Stalberg curled around the left dot and then edged the puck to Downing in front, who one-timed the drop pass between Petizian’s left pad and the post for his second goal of the game.
Sharing the wealth, Downing picked up the lone assist on sophomore Wahs Stacey’s fifth goal of the season at 12:50. After stealing a break-out feed near the blue line in the Saints’ zone, Downing carried the puck wide before connecting with Stacey all alone in front. Stacey did the rest, roofing the centering feed by Petizian to give Vermont a commanding 3-0 first period lead.
“I thought they played exceptionally well in the [opening] period,” said Marsh. “That’s the one thing you want to guard against is to not let them blow the lid off the place early on. Unfortunately for us, they did.”
Looking to spark his overmatched club, Marsh elected to pull Petizian (12 saves) in favor of Kain Tisi to start the second period.
“I’m not one to pull the goalie but I figured at that point what the heck,” said Marsh. “You’re going to have to use it once in a while so in a game like that maybe we can chuck one in and make it interesting.”
Neither team scored in the second or third period until Stalberg iced the victory for Vermont when he scored an empty net goal with just 2:19 left in regulation. Despite the Saints hitting several posts and a heroic performance by Tisi in relief (17 saves), the difference was Madore.
“[At] different phases of the game [we were] running around a little bit in our own zone and Rob settled the play very nicely,” said Sneddon. “I thought he certainly deserved the first star of the game. He played great, especially towards the end when they were taking a lot of chances. I thought he made a bunch of huge saves for us.”
Deflecting the spotlight, Madore chose to acknowledge his teammates for putting him in position to succeed.
“I definitely felt pretty calm in there,” said the freshman netminder. “I think a lot of the credit should go to the defense and the forwards for getting back and allowing me to feel the puck and see those shots from far out. I thought overall the team played really well and made my job very easy.”
Sneddon credited the resilient Downing for sparking the offense with his electric three-point performance after being snake-bitten for much of the year.
“I thought he was a great player all weekend and certainly tonight,” said the Vermont coach. “It was nice that he was rewarded for his hard work. He’s battled through it he just hasn’t been able to find the back of the net. He was obviously a big factor in our goals tonight. He deserves a lot of credit. We’re all happy for him.”
In addition to out-shooting the Saints 33-29, Vermont won the special teams battle as well. The Catamounts went 1-8 on the power play and held St. Lawrence to 0-7.
Stacey and Stalberg both finished with a goal and an assist each.
“We were able to use this tournament to get better,” concluded Sneddon. “It was a big win for us.”