Even in the years when the Merrimack Warriors had trouble winning any game anywhere, they always caused the Vermont Catamounts plenty of trouble.
Those Merrimack teams seldom had anything more than grit, determination and a chip on their shoulders. The team that will be in Gutterson Fieldhouse this weekend has something else: game-changing players.
“They’ve always had a team that was very disciplined, very hard working, but what they’ve been able to do is find some players that are key guys in the league,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said this week.
“Stephane Da Costa, who is leading the country in scoring for rookies, is a special player. Chris Barton has 17 goals for them … and their defensive corps is not only big and strong, but they do a great job on the power play getting shots through from the point,” Sneddon added. “Their goaltenders have been in a rotation and provided them the chance to win hockey game.
“Much like we went into Provident knowing it was going to be tough, it’ll be tough this weekend.”
While the Catamounts (13-9-4; 7-8-4 Hockey East) are trying to revive their bid for quarterfinal home ice, the ninth-place Warriors (10-5-1; 7-11-0) are fighting for their playoff lives. A pointless weekend in Burlington might push them closer to life support.
As league play resumes this weekend, every team—with the possible exception of Providence—is in the midst of a battle within a battle. New Hampshire’s two losses to Maine last weekend has narrowed the Wildcats’ lead over the Black Bears and Boston College to two points. Massachusetts, sitting fourth, is two points behind Maine and BC and must be concerned about a move by one of the three teams tied for fifth, UVM, Lowell and Boston University. And those three have a single-point advantage over No. 8 Northeastern, which in turn leads Merrimack by only three points with eight games remaining.
“Everybody’s jockeying for something. You’re either trying to make the playoffs or you’re trying to improve your standing in the middle of the pack, and then there’s certainly a lot of urgency at the top of the standings,” Sneddon said.
So the four points on sale at Gutterson are very valuable. Now it depends upon which team is willing to pay the most in terms of effort and execution to earn them.
Ice chips: Da Costa (11-21-32) and Barton (17-11-28) lead Merrimack in scoring … Andrew Braithwaite (3.40; .895) and Joe Cannata (3.38; .879) have been rotating in goal … The Warriors’ power play clicks at 25.9 percent to UVM’s 16.1 and their penalty kill is 82.1 to UVM’s 79.4 … Merrimack slapped the Catamounts 5-2 Oct. 23, using two power play goals to break open a 2-2 game … Brayden Irwin (11-13-24) and Justin Milo (9-12-21) lead UVM in scoring … Goalie Mike Spillane (lower body injury) has been moved from day-to-day to definite on the injury list … Wahs Stacey (lower body injury) is still day-to-day, but Tobias Nilsson-Roos (illness) is set to rejoin the lineup …