By Joe Nolan
Northeastern split the weekend series with UVM, winning Friday night 3 – 2, but losing Saturday 4 – 1. However, NU still managed to gain ground in Hockey East because only Friday’s contest counted for in-conference standings.
Northeastern stole the first game despite being outplayed for much of the game, and only managed 19 shots on goal to Vermont’s 48. This has become a perplexing trend for the Huskies, masked largely by Clay Witt’s consistent excellence, whose .943 save percentage ranks second in Hockey East.
Vermont was in control for most of the first two periods, but NU took advantage of a 5 on 3 opportunity to score with only 35 seconds remaining before intermission. Braden Pimm beat sophomore goaltender Brody Hoffman for his team leading 15th goal this season, chipping in a smooth centering pass from Mike Szmatula. Then, early in the third period, Matt Benning made it a two goal lead. He collected a pass from Ryan Belonger in the high slot, patiently skated around a diving defender, and found an open corner from close range.
When Zach Aston-Reese put the Huskies up 3 – 0 with five minutes remaining, the game seemed like was finished. However, with Torin Syndeman called for a major penalty and Hoffman on the bench, Chris McCarthy and Mario Puskarich made things interesting with goals at 18:29 and 19:10, respectively.
Saturday night’s contest followed a similar script through the first two frames. At 17:31 of the second, Mike Gunn blasted a shot from the blue line that was tipped in by Dalen Hedges for his 7th of the season. Unfortunately it was Vermont who then scored to start the third, when McCarthy picked off a Josh Manson pass and dished to Puskarich on the doorstep. Less than two minutes later, Tom Forgione carried the puck up ice for an odd man rush and ended up finishing with a shot that beat Witt glove-side high. It was the eventual game winner, though McCarthy earned a power play tally and later an empty net goal to finish the scoring.
The Huskies have won 4 of their last 5, but none of those wins have come easily and at times the team has appeared to struggle with bad habits. The squad faces another challenge this weekend, when they travel to South Bend, Indiana, for two games at Notre Dame.