Courtesy Vermont Sports Information
DURHAM, N.H. – Two-point nights from linemates Alex Esposito and Matt Alvaro lifted the Catamounts over rival New Hampshire 2-1 on Friday night at the Whittemore Center, extending Vermont’s unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1).
Stefanos Lekkas registered 27 saves in a win that saw UVM improve to 9-15-4 (6-9-4 HEA) and slide past the Wildcats (10-14-5, 5-10-4 HEA) into sole possession of eighth place, the final home-ice playoff spot in Hockey East.
UVM went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill and blocked 16 UNH shots in the victory, pushing its unbeaten run in Durham to five straight games (4-0-1). Over the last seven games, Vermont has posted a nation-best 128 shot blocks.
“We did a lot of good things defensively tonight and our penalty killing did a great job,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “The guys have a lot of ice bags on from blocking shots. The third period was the best part of our game, especially for a young group of defensemen, a young team playing in this building for the first time. We did a good job of managing them defensively.”
Vermont capitalized against the league’s best penalty kill when Esposito tallied his ninth goal of the season at 5:21 in the opening period. Jake Massie handled the puck at the top of the zone and found Alvaro on the half wall. Alvaro dished the puck to Liam Coughlin to the left of Danny Tirone (18 saves) and quickly fed Esposito in the slot for a one-timer over the glove of the senior netminder.
Matt O’Donnell doubled the Catamounts’ lead with 6:33 left in the second period when he jumped up on the rush and batted a first-time effort past Tirone. Esposito entered the Wildcat zone down the left wing and found the sophomore defender cutting through the slot for his sixth of the season. Alvaro was credited with the secondary assist on O’Donnell’s third tally against UNH this season.
The teams exchanged chances later in the middle frame, but it was Ara Nazarian who scored next to cut the lead in half for New Hampshire. Nazarian snuck past the UVM defense and deked a backhand five-hole to beat Lekkas on a partial breakaway with just 1:55 left in the second.
UNH had the best opportunity in the third period when Kohei Sato received a pass in the slot and snapped a shot on goal that Lekkas quickly turned away. The Wildcats pulled Tirone in the final minutes of regulation to bring on the extra attacker, but Vermont held off several scoring chances to secure the victory.
With the victory and women’s hockey’s shutout of UConn, 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 95 wins and $9,500.
The Catamounts return to action on Saturday (Feb. 10) to conclude the weekend series at 7:15 p.m. Fans can watch the action on ESPN3 in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada. Pre-game radio coverage begins at 6:40 p.m. on WVMT 620-AM and CatamounTV.com.