Men’s Hockey: Catamounts Stay Alive, Top UMass in Overtime, 4-3

Courtesy Vermont Sports Information

AMHERST, MA. – Cory Thomas buried his first career goal on a rebound just 12 seconds into overtime to help the Catamounts extend their season and defeat UMass 4-3 in a must-win Game 2 of the Hockey East First Round on Friday night at Mullins Center.

Stefanos Lekkas stopped 39 shots for Vermont (10-19-7, 6-12-6 HEA), while Ross Colton, Rob Darrar, and Matt Alvaro each produced a goal and an assist in the overtime victory which evened the series 1-1. Matt Murray tallied 19 saves for UMass (16-18-2, 9-13-2 HEA) in a losing effort.

“I’m so proud of our team,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “It was a game of momentum swings again and certainly they carried large portions of the play. We bent but we didn’t break. It certainly wasn’t our best performance by any means but we kind of answered the call at times.”

The Minutemen set the pace early, owning the majority of the chances in the opening minutes and earning the first power play of the game. Mitchell Chaffee rang a shot off the post, and Cale Makar delivered a shot that produced a rebound swallowed up by Lekkas, testing the UVM goaltender early.

Vermont gained momentum from killing off the penalty and earned an opportunity on the man-advantage minutes later. As the power play expired, Darrar sent a cross-ice pass to the weak side for Colton, who one-timed the puck glove side for the opening goal. Christian Evers earned the secondary assist on Colton’s team-high 16th of the season.

UMass tested Lekkas one last time before the opening frame expired when Niko Hildenbrand snapped a shot that hit the right shoulder of Lekkas and trickled wide of the post.

UVM doubled its lead five and a half minutes into the second period when Loderemeier deflected a pass from the defensive zone in on Murray. The netminder spilled the puck back out to Lodermeier, who delayed and dished a pass off to Alvaro for an easy finish into a wide open net for his second goal in as many nights.

Austin Plevy cut the lead in half two minutes later, sniping a shot from the left circle high short side to beat Lekkas over the shoulder.

The Minutemen eventually tied the game with 1:33 left in the second on Mitchell Chaffee’s team-leading 13th goal of the season. The UMass forward received a pass from Jake Gaudet behind the net and turned up the half-wall before sneaking a shot inside the left post past Lekkas’ blocker.

Austin Albrecht quickly gave UMass its first lead of the night just 29 seconds into the third period. Niko Hildenbrand rushed the Catamounts’ zone on a 2-on-1 and found Albrecht, who patiently toe-dragged around a sprawled out Vermont defender before flipping a backhand over the glove of Lekkas.

UVM had two consecutive power plays following the goal, but was unable to capitalize. Liam Coughlin had the best opportunity with the man-advantage as he tried to jam the puck through the pads of Murray until the puck was cleared away.

Once again, the Catamounts cashed in shortly after the power play had expired when Darrar scored his second goal of the season. The captain recovered a UMass turnover and drove to the net before firing a low-angle shot high glove side on Murray with 11:55 left in regulation.

The teams began overtime skating 4-on-4 as Colton won the faceoff back to Thomas, who entered the UMass zone and dropped the puck to Alvaro. The sophomore forward found Colton in the high slot where he fired a low shot on goal. Murray made the initial right pad save, but Thomas drove the net and beat a UMass defenseman to the loose puck to bury the game-winner.

“That was a huge first goal for Mr. Thomas,” Sneddon said. “We kept our composure. We went up two, then they tied it and took the lead and Darrar had a huge goal for us. That was great because he’s been kind of snake-bitten.”

Vermont returns to action on Sunday (March 4) for the deciding Game 3 of the Hockey East First Round series at UMass. Puck drop for the elimination game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Mullins Center.