College Hockey: Cats, Wildcats Battle to 4-4 Tie

Courtesy Vermont Sports Information

BURLINGTON – Matt O’Donnell‘s two third period goals led the Catamounts’ comeback to force a 4-4 tie against the 12th-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday night at Gutterson Fieldhouse in UVM’s Hockey East opener.

Vermont moved to 2-4-1 (0-0-1 HEA) on the season with the tie, while the Wildcats pushed their record to 5-1-1 (2-0-1 HEA).

“We played on our toes all night. We carried momentum for large stretches of the game,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “That was the first time I’ve really seen that this season. Our passing, our support, all the things we’ve been working on kind of clicked tonight.”

The conference rivals skated to a scoreless first period with the Catamounts’ dominating play and holding a 16-5 shot advantage. Vermont had several opportunities on their three power plays, most notably when Brian Bowen wristed a shot off the post with less than five minutes left in the opening frame.

New Hampshire opened the scoring on a power play goal by Michael McNicholas at 7:09 of the second period. Max Gildon picked up the assist as he maneuvered his way through the Catamounts defense and found McNicholas back door where he one-timed a shot past Stefanos Lekkas (29 saves).

Vermont tied it up 4:07 later on a goal by Matt Alvaro. Rob Darrar cleanly won the faceoff to the left of Danny Tirone (41 saves) back to Jake Massie, who quickly fired a shot that was deflected by Alvaro in front.

Ara Nazarian restored the lead for the Wildcats with 5:43 left in the middle frame. After getting stopped on the breakaway by Lekkas, Nazarian collected the rebound and wheeled around the net before depositing the wraparound goal for a 2-1 lead.

The Catamounts attempted to tie the game up before the second intermission, but were unsuccessful after Alvaro’s equalizing attempt was turned away by a sprawled out Tirone on a 2-on-1.

Craig Puffer tied the game once again just 45 seconds into the third period. O’Donnell collected the puck in the defensive zone on the penalty kill and dished a pass to Puffer streaking into the zone. The junior delayed and wristed a shot from the top of the circle into the upper right corner for his third of the season.

Before the Wildcats’ power play expired, Nazarian collected the puck on the halfwall and squeezed his way into the slot before slipping a shot past Lekkas for his second goal of the night. UNH then expanded its lead as Brendan van Reimsdyk buried a rebound on a shot by Benton Maass. Nazarian collected the secondary assist with 13:50 left in the third period.

Vermont drew one back on the Wildcats on an even-strength goal by O’Donnell after the Catamounts halted a UNH breakout attempt. Bryce Misley held the puck in the corner and wheeled up the half boards before firing a shot on net, and O’Donnell skated in to hammer the rebound past Tirone with 11:08 left in regulation.

UVM earned a power play with just over two minutes left, and called its timeout with 1:08 remaining to set up a 6-on-4 power play with Lekkas pulled. Cycling the puck around the zone, Ross Colton feathered a pass to the center point for Christian Evers, who slapped a shot on goal. Lodermeier deflected the puck in the crease and fed O’Donnell to fire home his second of the night past Tirone to tie the game with 34 seconds left in regulation.

The Catamounts had the majority of the pressure and chances in overtime. With 4:08 left in the extra frame, O’Donnell sprinted around the net before passing to Colton who one-timed a shot off the near post. Minutes later, Bowen fired a pass to Derek Lodermeier who’s deflection was kicked away by Tirone.

O’Donnell finished the night with a career-high three points, while Puffer posted his sixth point in the last five games.

Vermont continues its Hockey East conference slate on the road at UConn next weekend as it faces the Huskies at the XL Center on Friday (Nov. 3) at 7 p.m. and Saturday (Nov. 4) at 3:30 p.m.