Displaying the same never-say-die resiliency that has been their trademark during this weekend’s Hockey East heavyweight series at Gutterson Fieldhouse, No. 10 Vermont overcame an early two-goal deficit Saturday night and scored four unanswered goals to defeat No. 9 Boston College 4-2.
Freshman goaltender Rob Madore (26 saves) stole the show, weathering a relentless first period storm by BC that allowed Vermont to regroup and claw their way back into the game. Senior captain Dean Strong picked up two assists and set up the game-winner by Corey Carlson at 12:58 of the third period to give him an even 100 points for his career.
The pivotal victory improves Vermont to 12-4-3 (7-3-2 HEA) while BC falls to 9-6-3 (5-5-3 HEA).
“I was impressed,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “To go against one of the best teams in the country and not play your best and find a way to win shows me that we have a very solid team.”
After registering just 17 total shots during Friday night’s last second meltdown tie, BC took it to Vermont from the opening drop of the puck and peppered Madore with 16 first period shots on goal.
Brian Gibbons gave the Eagles an early 1-0 lead just 1:30 in when he redirected a slap shot from the right point off the stick of Nick Petrecki between the pads of Madore for his seventh tally of the year.
BC extended their lead to 2-0 on a power play at 10:50. Once again, Madore was beaten by a deflection. This time, Joe Whitney unleashed a quick wrister from the right point that Ben Smith was able to tip past Madore for his third goal of the season.
Dominating play, the Eagles kept Vermont hemmed in their defensive zone for much of the opening stanza, but Madore stood on his head and made 14 saves, several of which were of the spectacular variety.
“We were very sluggish in the first period,” said Sneddon. “I don’t know what it was; we just didn’t have our energy and our passion. Rob allowed us single-handedly to get back into this hockey game. We made a ton of mistakes even after it was 2-0. That game could have been 5-0 after the first period.”
The Catamounts’ comeback was ignited less than three minutes into the second period when sophomore Jack Downing scored his third goal of the season. Sparking the play, Wahs Stacey carried the puck into the BC zone and then found fellow sophomore Justin Milo streaking in from the blue line. Milo ripped off a quick slap shot that Eagles’ netminder John Muse was able to stop, but the rebound squirted loose and Downing hammered it home as he was falling to the ice to make it 2-1.
Vermont secured the equalizer with just 49 seconds remaining in the middle frame. With several defenders closing in, Strong lost control of the puck near the top of the left circle but it trickled right to senior assistant captain Peter Lenes, who quickly fired a wrister between the pads of Muse for his ninth goal of the season.
“It was kind of a harmless play,” said BC coach Jerry York. “And all of the sudden, it’s in our net.”
Surging with momentum, Vermont took a 3-2 lead on a power play at 12:58 of the third period. Exhibiting uncanny rink vision, Strong sent a cross-ice feed to Downing near the left hashmarks, who promptly uncorked a wrister on net. The shot slid between Muse’s pads and hung in the crease before Carlson jammed it home for his fourth goal of the season. The assist was a milestone for Strong, as it represented his 100th career point as a Catamount.
“I look at it as a great accolade for him but I also look at it and say there’s been a lot of sacrifices on his part offensively,” said Sneddon. “[Dean is] a very gifted player offensively but he’s meant so much to us defensively that it’s a great story. He’s got 100 points [but] he probably, if he was a selfish player, could have had 130 by now.
“The 100 points is great, but he does so many other things for us that are almost more important than that; his faceoffs last night, his penalty kill, his shot blocks, those are the little things that sometimes don’t show up when accolades are handed out. He just does so much for us and that’s why he wears the ‘C;’ he leads by example.”
He’s been that way for four years,” added York. “I don’t think there’s a player in our league that controls the faceoff dot as well as Dean does.”
Viktor Stalberg added an insurance tally with less than a minute and a half remaining when he took a break-out feed from Stacey and unleashed a sizzling wrister into the top, left corner of Muse’s net to make it 4-2. The sell-out crowd of 4,003 began to chant “overrated” as the seconds ran out on BC.
“Interesting game from our perspective,” said Jerry York. “I thought the first period we really played like I envisioned our club playing. We had momentum, we had a chance to really score, I think, four-to-five, goals easily. We created some outstanding chances. Among the saves Madore had that first period I noticed three or four were sparkling ones.”
Strong and Stacey both finished with two assists while Downing pitched in with a goal and an assist. Muse made 30 saves for BC, but the spotlight fell on Madore, rightfully so.
“It was nice to be able to make a couple saves for the guys when we didn’t really have our best first period,” said Madore, recently named Hockey East Rookie of the Week. “It felt nice to be able to, you know, maybe make a couple saves that I shouldn’t have, just help my team out
when we made a few mistakes. That’s my job so it felt great.”
A microcosm of the game’s shift in momentum, Vermont committed the first three penalties of the game and then BC committed the last five.
Overall, BC went 1-3 on the man advantage while Vermont finished 1-5.
“We’ve got to learn how to play the game with referees,” said York. “I told our guys, we’ve got to play good solid defense but with the understanding that there’s referees there so they’re going to make calls.”
After the game, Sneddon presented the game puck to Frank ‘Mac’ McIntosh for his 31 years of devoted service to the program.
“I know he likes to win more than anybody,” said Sneddon.