Men’s Hockey: Catamounts Claw Back to Beat Providence 4-3

Courtesy Vermont Sports Information

BURLINGTON  The UVM Catamounts fought back from three separate deficits on Saturday night and Alex Esposito‘s power play goal with 6:33 left in the third period gave UVM its only lead in a 4-3 Hockey East victory over eighth-ranked Providence at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

Craig Puffer scored a pair of power play goals as Vermont closed the night 3-for-5 with the man advantage. Ross Colton and Christian Evers each recorded two assists in UVM’s first win against a top-10 opponent since Dec. 9, 2016.

Stefanos Lekkas registered 30 saves in a win that saw Vermont improve to 8-15-5 (5-9-4 HEA) after a three-point weekend. The Friars dropped to 17-9-4 (10-6-4 HEA) following only their second loss since the semester break.

The Catamounts blocked a season-high 30 shots, turning aside 14 in the first period and 13 more in the final frame to help seal the points.

“That had a flavor of playoff hockey, a grind-it-out game” said Sneddon, whose Catamounts remain tied for eighth in Hockey East with next weekend’s opponent UNH. “I was real happy with our response. Every time they got up, we responded. We’ve got a lot of guys with cuts and bruises but that’s what it takes to win in this league.”

The Friars struck early at 3:28 in the first period with an even strength goal from Jacob Bryson. The sophomore defenseman intercepted a clearing attempt before snapping a shot blocker side on Lekkas.

Derek Lodermeier struck minutes later with a shorthanded goal to open the scoring for Vermont.Anthony Petruzzelli saucered a pass to Lodermeier, who broke away from the Providence back-checkers and lifted a backhand shot over the glove of Hawkey for his second goal of the weekend.

PC responded before the penalty expired when Conway beat Lekkas short-side high from a low angle. Vimal Sukumaran dished a pass to Conway behind the net, and the forward then stepped above the goal line and roofed a shot into the upper corner.

The Catamounts were awarded a man-advantage shortly after and tied the game on Puffer’s fifth of the season. Colton earned the primary assist as he wheeled up the half-wall and cycled the puck back to Puffer in the corner. The junior forward collected the puck and made his way through the right circle before wristing the puck far side to beat Hawkey. The goal was the third tally in 1:20 between the two teams.

Lekkas closed the first period by denying the Friars on a 3-on-1, coming out aggressively to deny Ben Mirageas. Providence came close to regaining the lead with 7:54 left in the second period on another odd-man rush. Kasper Bjorkqvist fired a shot on goal and Sukumaran slapped at the rebound, but Lekkas slid across to halt the scoring attempt.

Bryson restored the lead for the Friars minutes later when he rifled a wrist shot under Lekkas’ blocker from the slot for his second goal of the night.

UVM once again had the response as Puffer netted his second power play tally of the game with 4:54 left in the middle frame. Colton was awarded the assist as he wired a shot off the left post through a screen, and Puffer buried the loose puck in the crease to tie the game for the third time.

Vermont finally took its first and only lead with 6:33 left in regulation on Esposito’s eighth of the season. Matt Alvaro and Liam Coughlin exchanged a quick sequence of passes before Coughlin one-touched a pass from the right goal line to Esposito inside the right dot. The rookie slapped a one-timer over Hawkey’s shoulder into the upper left corner for the Catamounts’ third power play marker of the night.

“That group has really found a groove with that low play and it really goes through Coughlin,” Sneddon said. “He’s had some amazing reads, just an unbelievable game-winning goal.”

UVM held off a late push from the Friars with Hawkey pulled in the final minutes to seal the victory and extend its unbeaten streak to five games (4-0-1).

With the victory, the Cats Win, Community Wins campaign and Vermont Mutual Insurance Group will donate another $100 to the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, bringing this year’s total to 90 wins and $9,000.

Vermont travels to face its longest standing rival New Hampshire next weekend on Friday (Feb. 9) at 7 p.m. and Saturday (Feb. 10) at 7:15 p.m. at the Whittemore Center. Both games will air live on ESPN3 in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.