In the first game of a pivotal Hockey East weekend series at Gutterson Fieldhouse, No. 10 Vermont came from behind in epic fashion Friday night to gut out an improbable 3-3 tie against No. 9 Boston College.

Playing catch-up for most of the game, Vermont forced overtime when junior Brian Roloff scored on a power play with just one second remaining in regulation. Forward Kyle Kucharski scored two goals for BC while Vermont senior captain Dean Strong picked up two assists, leaving him just two points shy of 100 for his career. Vermont moves to 11-4-3 (6-3-2 HEA) while BC stands at 9-5-3 (5-4-3 HEA).

“I give our guys a lot of credit,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “They’re a resilient bunch and even when you think the game is over there’s no quit on that bench. I’m very proud of the way we came back there and salvaged a hard-earned point in Hockey East play.”

Racing out of the gate, Vermont nearly took a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest. Carrying the puck into the BC zone, Vermont senior Brayden Irwin unleashed a crisp wrister from the top of the right dot that trickled between the pads of Eagles’ netminder John Muse and into the back of the net. However, much to the chagrin of the sell-out crowd of 4,003, the referee had blown the whistle prematurely and the goal was waved off.

Despite being out-shot 9-4, BC scored the lone goal of the period at 16:56 to take a 1-0 lead. Executing a two-on-one break to perfection, Eagles’ centerman Matt Price waited for Vermont defenseman Kevan Miller to commit to the shot and then slid the puck cross-ice to Kucharski near the left dot. Catching Vermont freshman goaltender Rob Madore off guard, Kucharski blasted a one-timer into the top left corner of the net for his fifth tally of the season.

Down 1-0 to open the second period, Vermont failed to cash in on a golden opportunity to tie score just over three minutes in. With BC blueliner Carl Sneep already in the box for boarding, teammate Brock Bradford hauled down fellow captain Dean Strong along the sideboards to produce a five-on-three man advantage for the Catamounts. In a game of inches, Vermont came up just a few short when junior Viktor Stalberg clanked a wrister from the hashmarks off the crossbar. Luckily for BC, the loose puck trickled back under Muse just as a wild scrum engulfed the crease.

Not to be denied, Stalberg fought back to tie the game for Vermont at 12:24 of the second period. Intercepting a clearing attempt by the BC goaltender, Stalberg curled wide along the sideboards to shield off defenders and then snapped off a quick wrister between the pads of Muse for his ninth goal of the year.

Less than half a minute later, a scary moment occurred when Irwin blasted Kucharski into the endboards in the Vermont zone. Luckily, after lying face-down on the ice for several seconds, Kucharski picked himself up and skated back to the bench gingerly. Irwin was slapped with a game misconduct and promptly ejected.

“I think it was the right call,” said Sneddon. “I know Brayden feels bad about it. He put his team in a tough situation.”

Taking advantage of the five-minute major penalty, BC took a 2-1 lead on the power play at 15:00. Quarterbacking the play, Eagles’ defenseman Tommy Cross connected with Cam Atkinson at the top of the left circle. After settling the puck, Atkinson fired a quick slapper through a maze of skaters in front past Madore. The goal was just the second shot of the period for BC and Atkinson’s third of the season.

Vermont clawed back to tie the game once more midway through the third period. Winning a draw to the right of Muse, Strong dished the puck to Lenes, set up near the top of the circle, and the assistant captain uncorked a wicked one-timer that beat the BC goalie top-shelf at 10:27 to make it 2-2.

Answering Lenes’ eighth goal of the season, BC regained the lead just under three minutes later. Sticking with a broken play, Kucharski secured the puck near the left circle after it trickled off the stick of Price and then snuck a wrist shot between Madore’s blocker and the right post for his second goal of the game.

“I think the third goal took a little bit of wind out of our sails,” said Sneddon. “We’re playing pretty good hockey at that point. It’s kind of a nothing play and all the sudden it’s in the back of our net with under 7 [minutes] to go.”

Trailing 3-2 with time running out, Vermont pulled Madore in favor of an extra attacker after BC iced the puck with 58 seconds remaining in regulation. After losing the draw and failing to register a quality shot on goal, Vermont was infused with life at 19:37 when BC sophomore Brian Gibbons was called for slashing to give the Catamounts a six-on-four man advantage.

It appeared that BC would run out the clock and ice the win, but an errant clearing attempt sailed over the boards into the protective netting to give Vermont a faceoff to Muse’s right with just four seconds remaining in regulation. With the weak side overloaded, Strong won the monumental draw back to Lenes, who slid to puck to Roloff at the top of the left circle. Remaining poised under pressure, Roloff unleashed a sizzling wrister by Muse high blocker side as time expired to send the Gutterson faithful into a deafening uproar. The referees reviewed the play but the goal stood, sending the game into overtime.

“Phenomenal, absolutely indescribable,” said Roloff of his heart-stopping buzzer beater. “The plan was to win it back to [Lenes] and we did. He was supposed to shoot it but I kind of just dropped off to the side thinking that [if] they see [him] up top I’m sure they’re going to try to run out and block his shot. He must have saw the same thing and just slid it over to me. I caught the pass figuring that the goalie would slide across so I just tried to throw it to the far post
and lucky enough, it just slid in.”

Despite a frenzied extra frame, neither team was able to break the heavyweight deadlock. Vermont held BC to just 17 shots on goal.

“There’s good ties and bad ties,” added Sneddon. “Usually when you’re the team that scores the last goal to make it a tie it’s a good tie. I was pleased with the process tonight. I was pleased with how we played. In games past, we’ve really struggled with BC. We’ve been the team that kind of sits back and watches or is reactive to BC, we let their team speed take over. I thought tonight right from the opening face off we did a nice job of using our speed. I thought for the most part it worked out very well.”

“Like I told our kids, things happen in the game,” said BC coach Jerry York. “You’ve got to be a man to play this game. You can’t be hey, ‘Woe is me’ type situation, you know one second left and we’re almost out of it with a win.”

“That’s not coaching, that’s key players executing at crunch time,” concluded Sneddon. “Tends to make coaches look good but that’s all on them.”