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March 29, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Vermont Wins Epic Over Air Force

Cinderella Falcons Finally Fall, After 12-minute Video Review

by Matthew Conyers/CHN Staff Writer

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — When it was over, the usually calm, cool and collective Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon could be seen bouncing around the bench like a pinball.

But this wasn't your typical game. Nor were these your typical plays.

This game was an original.

By the end, Vermont was the victor with an undeniably exciting 3-2 double overtime victory over Cinderella Air Force in the NCAA East Regional Final at Harbor Yard.

All it took was a third-period comeback from Vermont, a tumbling puck pulled off the goal line at the end of the first overtime, and a goal that wasn’t a goal until two minutes after the fact.

Yes, this was the NCAA tournament, and just another chapter in what's been a truly historic weekend.

“This game was one of those games, truly, where you hate to see somebody lose because both teams played so hard,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “It was just a terrific game.”

The talk will be of the review and the late goal call (see other story). But this was a game that had too many details to be narrowed down to one glaring highlight.

“That was a great college hockey game,” Sneddon said. “I give all our scholar athletes a lot of credit.”

Vermont was able to put on the champions caps after getting three point shot goals from its defensemen. Dan Lawson had two, including the winner, and Josh Burrows had the other.

“We actually talked to our defensemen about shooting off target because Air Force is so good at blocking shots and ironically three goals go in by our defensemen straight on the net,” Sneddon said.

“We’ve worked on that as of late: wrist shots. It doesn’t have to be anything great. Just get it on net.”

But to get to that point of a 2-2 tie, Vermont needed a bit of magic in the third period. It arrived off the stick off Burrows , who tied the game at 1-1 3:56 into the final frame.

“We have been in that situation a few times this year before,” Senior Dean Strong said. “Being in a game like this and what’s at stakes, nerves go a little bit more. I don’t know what to think right now. We work so hard all year and to get there with this team is unbelievable.”

The victory gave Vermont its first Frozen Four appearance in 13 years. The program has been through a lot since that magical era, that included Martin St. Louis, Eric Perrin and Tim Thomas. A hazing scandal brought the program to its knees, coach Mike Gilligan survived a few more years then stepped aside, Sneddon came in, got things back on the right track, and a new athletic director took the program from the ECAC to Hockey East.

And after two years of close calls, Sneddon, who won a national title as a freshman player at Harvard in 1989, finally had a time ready to get there, only to get a hiccup when it lost its league quarterfinal series to Lowell.

Through all that — in this wild and wacky NCAA tournament — Vermont made it.

“I don’t think I’ve thought of it this much all year as I did this morning” Strong said. “The Frozen Four the last three years has seemed pretty far away. It was something foreign that you just kind of hope for.

"This morning you got one game to win and it doesn’t seem that difficult but when you got one game to win to get to the Frozen Four its a big mountain.”

The final climb looked even bigger when Air Force’s Brett Nylander made a remarkable stick save as the puck nearly tumbled over the goal line with four seconds left in the first overtime.

Nylander’s save — which was reviewed for 10 minutes by the refs, after Air Force had already gone back to the locker room — capped off a first overtime that looked to give the Falcons the momentum.

“It was back-and-forth and I actually think they might’ve had more opportunities,” Strong said. “It really shown in the shots. We were holding on and giving everything we had there. But they were taking it to use and they were coming up with big plays. We got that through that first one with a penalty kill at the end there which was huge for us. We got to the locker room and there was a surprising amount of joking around going on.”

Air Force out shot Vermont 8-6 in the first overtime.

But this Catamount group was saving its last laugh.

After all, they had a feeling the comeback would happen.

“Its sort of a feeling you get in the locker room and the bench,” Rob Madore, who made 46 saves said. “But we’ve been good all year at comebacks.”
 

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