Men’s Hockey: Puskarich Nets 50th Goal, Catamounts Top UNH 5-3

Courtesy Vermont Sports Information

BURLINGTON – Mario Puskarich became the first Catamount in more than 20 years to score 50 career goals on Saturday night, lifting 14th-ranked Vermont to a 5-3 win over rival UNH with a pair of goals for a weekend split at sold out Gutterson Fieldhouse.

Puskarich is the first UVM player to reach the 50-goal plateau since J.C. Ruid ’97, the linemate of Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin, who hit 50 during the 1995-96 season. Anthony Petruzzelli skated in his 100th career game on Saturday and posted a goal and an assist in the Hockey East victory.

Each team picked up two points on the weekend as the Catamounts improved to 17-10-3 and 9-7-2 in Hockey East play. Vermont remains sixth in the league standings with four regular season games remaining, three points clear of New Hampshire which dropped to 12-14-4 (7-8-3 HEA).

“On the first goal, Petruzzelli and Drew Best made plays in the corner, kind of giving me space to take it to the net, and on the second just a good heads-up play by Ori Abramson,” Puskarich said. “It was huge to have that three-goal lead at 5-2. It gave us a little breathing room. They had a late push but we played well defensively and kept it to the outside.”

Vermont took a 1-0 lead just 1:37 into the game. The Cats battled along the left wall and Jarrid Privitera fed a puck out to Rob Hamilton in the left circle. Hamilton unloaded a one-time slapshot that snuck inside the far post for his career-high fifth goal of the year.

The Wildcats evened the game 1-1 with a little over 13 minutes remaining in the opening period when Matias Cleland intercepted the puck at the center point. Cleland dished a pass to Justin Fregona in the low right slot and the winger deked the puck around Stefanos Lekkas‘ right pad.

The Catamounts regained the lead at the 11:23 mark. UVM cleared along the left wall and Liam Coughlin dove to tip the puck and prevent an icing. Best gained control on the forecheck and Petruzzelli fed Puskarich in the low left circle, roofing a weak angle backhand over the right shoulder of Danny Tirone (23 saves).

Jamie Hill answered less than 40 seconds later for UNH, wristing a shot from the right wing that deflected off a UVM defenseman through Lekkas’ pads.

Travis Blanleil struck again for Vermont 3:48 into the middle frame to give the Catamounts their third one-goal lead of the night. Derek Lodermeier tipped the puck ahead to Blanleil, who skated into the high slot and wristed a heavy shot that beat Tirone low glove side.

Vermont doubled its lead two minutes later off an odd-man rush. Jake Massie controlled the puck and took the initial shot from the left side. Tirone made the save, but Petruzzelli pounced on the rebound at the right doorstep for his second goal of the series. Coughlin was also credited with an assist on Petruzzelli’s tally.

Puskarich’s milestone goal came 3:55 into the third on a setup from Abramson, who rejoined the Vermont blue line after missing 16 games due to injury. The senior co-captain fired a quick shot from the left circle to the far post that beat Tirone low, giving him 50 career tallies.

Jason Salvaggio brought the game back to 5-3 with 4:09 remaining as he finished a backhand deke at the right post. UNH pulled Tirone for an extra skater with three and a half minutes left, but UVM held on to halt its four-game winless streak.

“That looked like the team we’ve seen many times before,” said head coach Kevin Sneddon. “We played fast. We played a lot tougher. We were strong over pucks. We blocked a lot more shots. We won a ton of faceoffs. We played with great pace, great speed. We took time and space away from a lot of their key players and we were rewarded for it.”

Vermont won the faceoff battle 41-19 on the night and 85-41 for the weekend as Lodermeier led the way by going 32-for-44. Lekkas stopped 22 shots for his 15th win of the season and the penalty kill was a perfect 3-for-3.

UVM travels to face the first place Boston College Eagles next weekend in a two-game Hockey East series at Conte Forum on Friday (Feb. 17) and Saturday (Feb. 18) at 7 p.m.