BURLINGTON, Vt. - Ninth-ranked Merrimack scored two goals in the span of 44 seconds midway through the second period and hung on to beat Vermont 4-2 in Hockey East action at Gutterson Fieldhouse on Saturday night. The Warriors swept the weekend series and moved their unbeaten record to 6-0-0 (4-0-0 HEA), while the Catamounts fell to 1-3-0 (0-2-0 HEA).
"We were better tonight from our standpoint as a coaching staff, we did a lot of things in our zone better than we did last night but we've got to strive for consistency," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "We were excellent at certain things for periods of time and then we would lose it, and we got into that situation again in the second period where we give them two quick goals. A team like that plays very well when they're up."
Vermont struck first within the opening four minutes of the first period after Connor Toomey was called for tripping at the 2:20 mark. Connor Brickley took a feed from defenseman Michael Paliotta at center ice and skated hard down the right wing boards. The sophomore cut in toward the bottom of the right circle and ripped a shot into the upper left corner to make it 1-0 Catamounts. Anders Franzon picked up his second point of the weekend with the second assist.
Merrimack answered roughly eight minutes later as UVM found itself on the wrong end of an unfortunate bounce. Ryan Flanigan skated into the Vermont zone near right point and took a low wrist shot on Alex Vazzano. The sophomore netminder made the initial save, but Karl Stollery jumped into the play and the puck deflected off the Warrior defenseman into the net. Carter Madsen picked up the other assist on the play.
The game remained 1-1 into the second period, and Joe Cannata kept it tied with point-blank saves on a pair of Chris McCarthy wrist shots early in the frame. Merrimack then used a quick spurt to grab the lead for good near the halfway mark after Vermont was called for too many men on the ice. Jesse Todd picked up the puck behind the Catamount goal on the ensuing power play and fed a pass to the left post. Vazzano was sliding across his crease to cover the opposite pipe, and it was tapped in by Mike Collins to make it 2-1.
Less than a minute later, Merrimack added to its lead with the teams at even strength. Beginning at the right point, Kyle Bigos deeked to his backhand around a UVM defenseman, faked a slap shot, and curled around the right faceoff circle. Bigos then centered a pass which deflected off charging teammate Elliott Sheen, and it was knocked into the open net by Madsen at the left post at 10:42. Sheen and Bigos were credited with the assists.
Rhett Bly was called for a five-minute charging major with 25 seconds left in the second period, and the Catamounts took an extended man advantage into the final frame. Stollery took another penalty early in the third for interference, which gave the Catamounts a 5-on-3 for 1:12. After winning the faceoff, Kyle Reynolds sent a pass from the left point to Sebastian Stalberg in the low left circle. Stalberg quickly picked out Brett Bruneteau on the right side of the crease, and he beat Cannata with a one-timer to cut the lead in half.
Vermont had a chance to tie the game on its eighth power play of the night with 11 minutes remaining in the contest but couldn't convert. The Catamounts pulled Vazzano with under a minute remaining in regulation and it nearly led to the equalizer. Lance Herrington sent a pass from the left point through traffic, but it hopped over Reynolds' stick in the slot and the freshman fanned on the open chance. Collins took the loose puck, skated down the left wing boards, and finished off an empty-net goal to put the Warriors up 4-2.
"I know the players are frustrated, but the only way I know how to fix it is to work hard in practice," said Sneddon. "Merrimack is a complete team in every sense and we have to give credit where credit is due. I thought we did a good job of trying to muster back the momentum and had some good energy going but it was a little too late. We can't get caught up in the results right now, but we have to understand that league points are at stake and we can't give away points like we did this weekend."
Vermont went 2-8 on the power play as Merrimack finished the night with 25 penalty minutes. The Warriors were 1-4 with the man advantage but only had one opportunity in the third period. Vazzano made 20 saves in a losing effort for the Catamounts, while Cannata stopped 16 shots to improve his record to 5-0-0 to start his senior season. Merrimack out-shot Vermont 24-18 in the contest.
The Catamounts return to action next weekend as they hit the road for a two-game Hockey East series against Providence (2-3-1, 2-2-0 HEA). The games are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday (Nov. 4) and Saturday (Nov. 5) at Schneider Arena. Both contests can be heard live on WVMT 620-AM beginning at 6:30 p.m., with Alastair Ingram calling the action against the Friars. The Saturday night game will also be televised by COX Sports.
NOTES: Brett Bruneteau's third period goal was his first tally in a Vermont jersey after transferring from North Dakota ... Sebastian Stalberg and Kyle Reynolds are both on three-game point streaks ... Alex Vazzano made his second career start and first since last season on December 18, 2010 against St. Lawrence ... Saturday marked Vazzano's first career start at Gutterson Fieldhouse and in Hockey East play ... The Catamounts finished the weekend 3-13 on the power play, after Merrimack had only allowed one power play goal through its first four games ... UVM is 11-3-5 against Providence under head coach Kevin Sneddon.