It was nearly the perfect weekend for the University of Vermont men’s hockey team, a scenario that seemed improbable at best, impossible at worst a mere two weeks ago.
Back then, UVM had its most disastrous weekend of the Hockey East season at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Twice in two nights, the Catamounts nursed along 2-1 leads against Merrimack heading into the last five minutes of the third period.
They won neither game, settling for a 2-2 tie the first night, then losing 3-2 on two goals in the final two minutes the next evening.
At that point, for anyone other than a UVM coach or a player to describe the Catamounts’ future as anything other than bleak would have been a unwarranted optimism. Look at what remained: road trips to New Hampshire and Lowell sandwiched around a two-game set vs. defending national champion Boston University at The Gut. How could that team, playing as it was, expect much good to happen any of those weekends?
Even when Vermont played very well at UNH, the only tangible reward was a single point that left the Catamounts sitting ninth, taking into account the head-to-head tiebreaker in Massachusetts’ favor, and out of the playoffs had the Hockey East tournament begun this weekend.
Now, optimism has overshadowed pessimism. The Catamounts defeated BU twice inside of 48 hours. They’re tied for fifth place. They have their destiny back in their own hands, not only for securing a playoff berth but for arising from the near-dead to potentially clinching home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals.
That says volumes about two things: The resilience and character of an emotionally battered band of Catamounts and the parity of the league. Hey, this morning, three points separate the six teams residing in the Nos. 4 through 9 rungs of the standings — three.
Of course, with the standings that packed and six teams going for five playoff positions, someone will lose out, and that could still be Vermont with a no-point trip to Lowell on Friday and Saturday.
While UVM needed plenty of help this past weekend — and got it — the Catamounts can eliminate the need for outside assistance by sweeping the River Hawks; they might even get by with a win and a tie.
So now it’s set up for a fun final weekend of the regular season. UNH and BC will play for the regular-season title and the tournament’s top seed. Maine can eliminate slumping UMass. BU and Northeastern can hurt each other. UVM can overtake Lowell. Of the six 3-through-9 teams, Merrimack appears to have the easiest road with Providence on tap for a home-and-home.
For UVM, here’s the situation with ties in the final standings: the Catamounts will have the head-to-head tie-breaker against Lowell (0-0-1 now, but UVM would have to have at least a win and a tie this weekend just to finish tied with UML), BU (2-0-1) and Northeastern (2-1-0), but loses it to Massachusetts (1-2-0) and Merrimack (0-2-1).
So it’s simple: Win twice at Lowell and come on back to The Gut for the quarterfinals.
Well, it’s that simple on paper. On the ice, however …