No doubt about it: Head coach Kevin Sneddon was as pleased with the University of Vermont’s 6-4 men’s hockey win over No. 1 Denver University on Saturday night as he was disappointed in the Catamounts’ 5-4 loss to the Pioneers on Friday.
“I’m very proud of this team for the lessons learned (Friday) and lessons applied (Saturday),” said Sneddon from chilly, snowy Denver minutes after the 14th-ranked Catamounts posted their first win.
“It was a total team effort from the net out. Our guys played really well and really smart for 60 minutes,” Sneddon said.
And one of the players most in line for praise was the very player who might have cost UVM the victory Friday: senior center Brayden Irwin.
Sneddon said the coaches met with Irwin on Saturday to deflect any negative effects of a five-minute major that led to a Denver goal and a total shift in momentum Friday. UVM led 4-2 late in the second period when Irwin was ejected from the game.
“He played so well against New Brunswick and for two periods Friday. We didn’t want him playing passively (Saturday) … and he was a huge factor,” said Sneddon of Irwin, whose second goal Saturday gave UVM the lead for keeps.
Friday, after leading 4-2 through two periods, the Catamounts wore down in the third against a Denver team loaded with offensive weapons. Combined with a long trip, the 5,000-foot altitude, a shortened bench and extensive penalty killing that wears down key players, said Sneddon, “The guys were just gasping in any free second.”
Saturday, he said, “Tonight was much better. We played shortened shifts, rolled four lines and all the defensemen played.
Another key player was Colin Vock, whom the coaches challenged Saturday to play to the level he’s capable of playing. He did, drawing a penalty and converting a penalty shot.
The Catamounts also displayed the resilience they had throughout last season. Denver twice took one-goal leads in the first period, forewarning of a possible rout, but Vermont responded each time.
“The one word we always talk about is to be relentless. When the other team scores, we don’t shrug our shoulders and let down,” Sneddon said. “Twice we had a great response when their team scored and they had the momentum. That’s tough to do against the No. 1 team in their building.”
Finally, the Catamounts came out of the weekend with 10 goals scored (and a worrisome nine allowed), giving hope that an offense that lost a batch of goals to graduation and a pro signing might be more prolific than anticipated.
Now the Catamounts get a week to prepare for their Hockey East opener against Boston College on Sunday at Gutterson Fieldhouse. After Saturday’s win, the Cats feel much better about that game than they did late Friday night.