BURLINGTON, Vt. - Senior Jesse Todd posted two goals and an assist to lead ninth-ranked Merrimack past Vermont 4-1 on Friday night in the Catamounts' Hockey East and home opener at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Todd's tally with just 26 seconds remaining in the first period proved to be the game-winner for Merrimack (5-0-0, 3-0-0 HEA).
"It was a tough game for us tonight, we learned our lesson the hard way," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "We gave up easy goals tonight and that was probably the big thing that I'm disappointed in. We lost too many battles and too many races tonight for us to have a chance to win."
Vermont (1-2-0, 0-1-0 HEA) had the first quality chance of the game at 8:38 of the opening period when Sebastian Stalberg found linemate Kyle Reynolds with a feed in the bottom of the left circle. Reynolds fired a quick wrist shot which beat Warrior goaltender Joe Cannata but struck the near side post.
Roughly four and a half minutes later, Merrimack connected on the game's first goal. Ryan Flanigan took a cross-ice pass from Brandon Brodhag at the left corner of the crease and fired a quick shot through the five-hole of Rob Madore. Todd earned his first point of the night with the second assist on the game's opening goal.
Late in the first frame, Todd would add the Warriors' second tally as he collected a loose puck just outside the Vermont blue line with a head of stream. Todd sped between a pair of Catamount defensemen and deeked to the backhand to slide the puck past Madore and make it 2-0 Merrimack after one. John Heffernan was credited with the lone assist on the play.
UVM came out flying in the second period and was able to cut the lead in half after Connor Brickley drew a holding penalty against Jordan Haywood. The Catamounts set up a one-timer for Stalberg but the junior broke his stick and was forced to skate off for a new one. Cannata then made a right pad save on Anders Franzon's follow-up shot, but Reynolds gained the rebound and spun a pass to Stalberg to finish a second one-time shot stick side. Reynolds and Franzon picked up the assists on Stalberg's third goal of the season.
UVM was out-shooting Merrimack 9-1 in middle stages of the second frame, but the Warriors took back the momentum late in the period after a pair of costly Catamount penalties. Michael Paliotta went off for roughing at 14:59, and he was followed into the box by fellow freshman Kyle Mountain at 16:25 with a slashing infraction.
The minors gave the Warriors a 5-on-3 for 34 seconds, and they capitalized after Vermont called its timeout. Mike Collins set up defenseman Kyle Bigos for a one-timer at the top of the right circle and his drive was saved initially by Madore. Flanigan tipped the rebound under Madore's leg off the left post and Todd was there to tap home the loose puck to make it 3-1.
Merrimack scored its second straight power play goal only 27 seconds later, this time with a one-man advantage as Mountain served his remaining time. Brendan Ellis fired a pass down the middle of the rink, sending open teammate Shawn Bates in on a breakaway. Bates calmly deeked to the backhand and slid the puck through Madore's five-hole for a three-goal Merrimack lead.
"They're going to execute, their power play is fantastic," said Sneddon. "They executed their 5-on-3 really well but again we gave up a breakaway, that's just guys focused on the puck and not covering lanes. We were disappointed in that, we didn't really make them earn their goals tonight."
Merrimack executed its cycle and forecheck effectively in a penalty-free third period and was able to blank the Catamounts down the stretch. Vermont's best chance in the final frame came midway through the period as Matt Marshall fired a slap shot on Cannata. The senior made a right pad save, but Marshall couldn't find the open net with the rebound and missed wide to the right.
Cannata finished with 22 saves on the night to improve his record to 4-0-0, while Madore stopped 23 shots at the other end. Vermont went 1-5 on the power play and scored just the second man-up goal that Merrimack has allowed this season. The Warriors were 2-4 on the power play with all four of their man advantages coming in the second period.
"We're young and we're going to make a lot of mistakes. I'm certainly not pressing the panic button, but we have to learn to play a style that's different," said Sneddon. "Tonight was about grit and we absolutely got manhandled along the walls. I don't know if we won a wall battle tonight whether it was down low or in our zone, and that was disappointing because I know we can do it."
The two teams square off again on Saturday (Oct. 29) with a 7:05 faceoff at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Live video of the game is available for free on CatamounTV at UVMathletics.com, and it will be televised on WCAXtra. The game can also be heard on WVMT 620-AM beginning at 6:30 p.m. with Alastair Ingram and Aaron Miller '93 calling the action.
NOTES: Sebastian Stalberg notched the 50th point of his UVM career with his power play goal in the second period ... Stalberg is this week's Hockey East Co-Player of the Week along with Bill Arnold of Boston College ... Vermont is now an even 2-2-3 in its Hockey East openers since joining the league prior to the 2005-06 season ... Freshman Kyle Reynolds tallied his third assist in as many games ... Franzon picked up his first point of the year with the second assist on Stalberg's goal ... Vermont is now 0-3-1 in its last four meetings with Merrimack.