Hockey Cats’ fate still uncertain

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To win three of four Hockey East points on a road weekend is a reasonable accomplishment for any Hockey East team, even if the opponent is last-place Providence.

That said, the University of Vermont could have and probably should have swept the Friars, barring only the play of PC goalie Alex Beaudry’s in Saturday’s 1-1 tie.

Of course, the Friars had a say in the outcome; all opponents do and Providence was desperate for points and played like it only 24 hours after a lackluster 5-1 loss to the Catamounts.

Still, even without forwards Wahsontiio Stacey (lower body injury; out indefinitely) and Tobias Nilsson-Roos (illness; expected to return vs. Merrimack), Vermont should have taken all four points.

Several factors played in Vermont’s failure to do so, including the aforementioned Friars, Beaudry and the UVM absentees. Yet the Catamounts also let the point slip away for other reasons, including:

** A power play that continues to struggle; Saturday night, in a 1-1 game early in the third period, the Catamounts went on a five-minute power after a major penalty against the Friars. According to head coach Kevin Sneddon, Providence presented a different kill strategy, packing the defense in tight, and UVM never scored. That’s when a power play must succeed.

The tendency is to be too tentative, to just move the puck around the perimeter and not use off-the-puck movement wisely, especially when players need to get the puck on goal or near goal in the quest for redirections or rebounds. Instead, UVM struggles to adjust to penalty kills and to read the potential plays; the confidence simply isn’t there.

** Another factor is the lack of consistent production recently from the veteran line of Colin Vock, Brayden Irwin and Justin Milo. In their first four games together, they produced 10 goals and 22 points, including the 5-goal, 10-point night against Northeastern.

That’s an incredible pace few lines could sustain. Still, in the six games since, they are have a collective four goals and nine points; not terrible, but not what UVM needs to move up in the standings.

In Hockey East this season, nothing is certain. Runaway leader New Hampshire found out that last week when Maine swept the Wildcats.

Going into this weekend’s game, UNH, Boston College and Maine are well positioned to capture home ice for the quarterfinals, although the order of finish has yet to be decided.

Massachusetts has a four-point cushion over Boston University, UMass-Lowell and Vermont, all tied for fifth, but the Minutemen have lost three of four.

The Terriers, the River Hawks and the Catamounts are still within striking distance of fourth — UMass owns the tie-breaker vs. UVM — and Merrimack, which comes to Gutterson Fieldhouse on Friday and Saturday, will be playing with urgency in order to make the playoffs.

What all this means for UVM is that one big weekend can propel the Catamounts up the standings; one horrendous, or even mediocre, weekend can be a disaster.

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