With Vermont boasting the seventh-best defense in the country and allowing the second-fewest goals per game in Hockey East, it was clearly outplaying its 10th-place finish in the conference’s preseason poll entering Thursday night’s game at Boston College men’s hockey. Actually, coming into the weekend, the Catamounts were one of only eight teams in the country to concede less than two goals per game, posting a goals against average of 1.83.
Head coach Kevin Sneddon’s team’s defense turned heads right at the start of the 2018-19 season when the Catamounts held then-No. 4 Michigan to just two goals in a season-opening upset road victory.
Heading into Thursday night, it looked as if, with an airtight UVM defense juxtaposed with a season-long inconsistent and struggling Eagles offense—a group that, as of Thursday morning, ranked 54th in the nation with 1.67 goals per game—it would require some serious effort, or even a little bit of puck luck, for BC to string together its first win streak of the season. But just like last weekend’s victory over Merrimack, the Eagles attack exploded for three goals within the span of eight minutes—this time in the opening frame—effectively setting the stage for a 4-1 win.
The Catamounts (3-4, 1-3 Hockey East) recorded three of the first four shots of the game, dominating possession of the puck in the opening minutes. With the Eagles (2-5, 2-1) failing to score more than 10 goals over the course of the previous six games, it appeared as if UVM was perfectly poised for a rewarding first period.
“I loved how we came out in the first four minutes,” Sneddon said. “You know, I thought we played on our toes, and we created some turnovers and had some great energy.”
Just six minutes and four seconds into the frame, however, the tables turned with an Eagles power play. After Logan Hutsko flung the puck toward a cluttered net, David Cotton gained possession and spotted an open teammate—forward Julius Mattila—to the right of the cage. Once the puck deflected off Cotton’s stick, Mattila had a clean shot on net and cashed in with a power-play goal.
Racking up points is no stranger to the three aforementioned Eagles. After all, the line accounted for three goals, eight points, and a +7 rating the previous weekend in the Merrimack series finale, the very game that prompted Cotton’s selection as Hockey East Player of the Week following his second four-point game performance of the year.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles continued their early momentum, as freshman Jack McBain capitalized on a fortunate bounce by catching and deflecting the puck back into the attacking zone just inches before it sailed over the blue line and out of bounds. McBain prolonged possession to pressure UVM goalie Stefanos Lekkas deep into the goal. Buried in the cage, Lekkas failed to angle himself toward the puck when McBain ultimately passed it to senior Christopher Brown, who was perfectly set up for a wrister to score his first goal of the season and hand the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
Riding BC’s early-game success, highly touted freshman Oliver Wahlstrom logged his second goal of the season by storming to the puck—which had conveniently deflected off the boards in the direction of the net—and beating defensemen Christian Evers and Carter Long to the chase. Lekkas drifted out of the cage and extended his stick to make the stop, but exposed his five-hole in the process, and for the third time in the first frame, the Eagles’ scrappy attack managed to crack UVM’s defense.
“I think we’ve been doing a lot better getting to the net,” Cotton told reporters. “As a goalie, Joe can say that it’s a lot harder when you have traffic in front, and once the goals start flowing and the floodgates are open, you kind of get a little bit of weight off your shoulders.”
Eventually, though, the Catmounts—namely Lekkas, who recorded 38 saves on the night—returned to form. Despite persisting efforts by Hutsko and Cotton, and BC outshooting UVM, 16-7, amid the period, the Eagles failed to add to their three-goal advantage during the second frame.
BC’s best scoring chance of the period came midway through the frame when UVM defenseman Andrew Petrillo was sent to the box for holding. Sophomore Aapeli Räsänan recorded a faceoff victory as the Eagles entered the power play, but despite an offensive onslaught—a two-minute stretch that featured four shots on goal—the one-man advantage ended without a BC goal.
The third period showcased a smattering of shots on goal—both the Eagles and Catamounts upped the ante and, as a result, lit the lamp. Less than six minutes into the frame, the Eagles’ first line put enough pressure on UVM to score the Eagles’ fourth goal of the night. After the puck ricocheted off the skate of Catamounts forward Johnny Deroche, Jesper Mattila tallied his first assist of the season by moving the puck in the direction of the cage, where Cotton was waiting to deflect the puck past Lekkas.
Looking to avoid a shutout, Craig Puffer and Andrew Petrillo forechecked the attacking zone and landed the puck in the back the net—however, the goal was ultimately negated, as Ace Cowan, who crashed into Woll in the crease, pushed the BC netminder into the cage. While the puck slid over the goal line, it was unable to pass behind Woll, and UVM was forced to forfeit its lone goal of the night.
Facing back-to-back Catamount power plays less than three minutes apart, the Eagles stepped up on the kill, rendering both penalties obsolete. But in the waning minutes of regulation, UVM finally found the back of the net. Freshman Joey Cipollone, assisted by Matt Alvaro and Derek Lodermeier, took advantage of an unsecured puck in front of the cage and scarcely slipped it through Woll’s five-hole.
It looked like the Catamounts might tack on another goal at the bitter end of the game when Zach Walker was called for elbowing, and UVM’s Puffer won the faceoff, but with a wide shot by star forward Cowans, the Eagles walked away with a 4-1 win.
For the second-straight game, BC outscored a Hockey East opponent by three goals. The first line is thriving, the defense is pressuring the puck, and the Eagles are starting to resemble the team that many expected earlier this fall.
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff