If nothing else, the University of Vermont men’s hockey team displayed its pride and character Friday night at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center.
On the record books, it was a 5-4 defeat in overtime and for now it moved UVM out of a playoff position in Hockey East.
With five games remaining in the regular season, UVM is 7-10-5 in HEA. That’s 19 points, the same as Merrimack. The Warriors, however, are 9-11-1, which means they have six games left.
In addition, should Merrimack and Vermont wind up tied for any playoff position, the Warriors own the head-to-head tiebreak, 2-0-1 this year.
That’s why even a tie Friday night at New Hampshire would have been a “win” for UVM. The Catamounts would have 20 points and be tied with UMass-Lowell—whom UVM plays on the final weekend—for seventh.
Friday, the Catamounts faced a daunting task. Vermont has seldom have any good fortune in Durham, N.H., going all the way back to the inception of the UVM program.
Nor was this Vermont team in the best of shape for such a critical encounter. Junior forward Wahsontiio Stacey, second only to Brayden Irwin in goals scored, is still sidelined; maybe for the season. Chris McCarthy, one-third of a dynamic freshman line, had to sit out a one-game suspension for a game disqualification against Merrimack on Saturday; he’s due to return tonight.
And, of course, there’s still the fallout from the dismissal of junior forward Justin Milo, who, like Stacey, was second only to Irwin in goals scored.
Yet Vermont played with an intensity and desperation that seemed to keep the Wildcats on their heels for much of Friday’s game. But this New Hampshire team just has too much offensive skill to give even the smallest of openings, and eventually that cost UVM dearly.
Still, the anguish and the pride were evident in the voice of head coach Kevin Sneddon late Friday evening. He hurt for his players and he praised their grit and effort. He said his team had practice hard all week, refusing to let the Milo situation affect their morale.
The road ahead is no easier for UVM: UNH tonight, two games against Boston University at The Gut next weekend; a final trip to UMass-Lowell.
All they can do is give it their best shot, just as they did Friday, and hope a couple bounces of the puck go their way.
After all, they’re just four points out of fourth.