NORTHEASTERN HOLDS OFF VERMONT, 3-2
Freshman forward Zach Aston-Reese scores game-winner for Huskies
BOSTON, Mass. - Clay Witt made 46 saves, and the No. 11 Northeastern men's ice hockey team (14-6-3, 7-4-1) held a 3-0 lead deep into the third period before surviving a late flurry from No. 18 Vermont (11-8-3, 4-6-0) to hold on for a 3-2 victory on Friday night at Matthews Arena.
With the win, the Huskies take over sole possession of second place in the Hockey East standings and secure their fourth straight league win.
Braden Pimm, Matt Benning and Zach Aston-Reese all scored for the Huskies, who were outshot 48-19 in the game. Witt backstopped Northeastern to its fourth consecutive conference victory, making at least 45 saves for the second straight game. Vermont received goals from Chris McCarthy and Mario Puskarich with less than two minutes to play in regulation, while Brody Hoffman made 16 stops for the Catamounts.
Each team had ample opportunities on the man advantage throughout the contest, with NU converting on one of its five chance while the Huskies held Vermont to an 0-of-8 showing on the power play. Northeastern also won the battle in the faceoff dot, claiming 43-of-77 draws, led by Dalen Hedges' 10-of-15 performance.
Both teams tried to set the tone physically early on in the first period with big hits in open ice and along the boards. The Huskies had the first notable scoring chance less than seven minutes into the period when John Stevens stole the puck from below the goal line and dished to Kevin Roy atop the crease, but a Catamount defender was able to lift Roy's stick before he could tuck a shot under the pad of Hoffman.
With Pete Massar in the box for hooking less than a minute later, UVM nearly drew first blood when Nick Luukko picked off a clearing pass and fired the puck across the zone to Chris McCarthy for a tip that Witt got a piece of for his biggest of 17 first period saves. At the other end, Pimm made a bid for his seventh power play goal of the season when he tried to jam home a loose puck to the right of Hoffman, but the UVM goaltender slid across to make the stop.
NU almost potted a shorthanded goal in the finals seconds of the frame when Josh Manson spotted Zach Aston-Reese, and sent him in on a breakaway, but the horn sounded to end the period before Aston-Reese could get a shot off.
Witt kept the game scoreless in the opening minutes of the second period when he came up with consecutive stops on the doorstep on Colin Markison, including a post-to-post save on the rebound chance. The parade to the penalty box would continue for the Huskies throughout the first half of the stanza as NU was assessed three minor penalties in the first five minutes of the frame. The Northeastern penalty killing unit, however, weathered the storm to stave off the Catamounts.
Mike Szmatula used his speed to create a scoring chance with the Huskies back at full strength and 11 minutes to play in the period when he stickhandled through the defense, took the puck around the cage and tossed it in front to Torin Snydeman, who nearly knocked it in.
Witt bailed the Huskies out yet again with less than five minutes remaining in the second period when he made a sprawling save across the bottom of the net to deny Mario Puskarich on a one-timer bid off a pass from the left side.
Northeastern broke through with 36 seconds left in the period when Pimm gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead during a five-on-three power play. With Luukko and Michael Paliotta in the box, Roy controlled the puck at the point before sending it down to Szmatula along the goal line. Szmatula then took a stride towards goal before finding Pimm at the top of the crease for a tap in past Hoffman for his 15th goal of the season.
After the Catamounts killed off another five-on-three for the Huskies in the first two minutes of the third period, Benning put Northeastern up by two with 16:53 left in regulation. Tanner Pond began the play for the Huskies by cycling the puck down low to Ryan Belonger along the goal line, who then fired the puck up to Benning at the blue line. Benning showed patience at the puck, getting the defender to drop to the ice to block a shot before sidestepping him and ripping a wrist shot top shelf for Benning's second goal in as many games.
Vermont continued to generate chances as the period wore on, and was awarded back-to-back power plays as Roy and Manson were both whistled for crosschecking infractions two minutes apart, but Witt stood tall in the cage as the NU penalty killers attempted to limit significant scoring chances on the Husky netminder.
Stevens almost have Northeastern a commanding three-goal edge with 7:31 left in the third when Adam Reid fed the puck along to Mike McMurtry behind the net before McMurtry found Stevens out in front for a one-timer that Hoffman handled.
Aston-Reese would come through for Northeastern with 4:52 remaining in regulation when he powered home a one-timer off a pass from Szmatula below the goal line, beating Hoffman over the shoulder.
Vermont kept coming at the Huskies trying to cut into the deficit, and did just that with two goals in 41 seconds with the extra attacker and less than two minutes left. The first came on a tough bounce off the glass on a shot from McCarthy in the slot that caromed off the glass, off the back of Witt and into the back of the net for McCarthy's 14th of the season to spoil the shutout and make it 3-1 Huskies.
With Hoffman pulled again, the Catamounts made it a one-goal game when Mario Puskarich buried a pass from Masser past Witt for his ninth of the year to cut the NU lead to one. Hoffman would remain on the bench for the final 50 seconds of the game, and the NU defense held off the Catamounts to preserve the victory.
The Huskies and Catamounts will meet against tomorrow in the series finale at Matthews Arena, beginning at 7 p.m.