UMass, Vermont Bring Rivalry to Fenway Park
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
BOSTON The setting shifted Saturday afternoon.
Instead of the classic old barn in Burlington or the cavernous venue in Amherst, Massachusetts and Vermont continued their rivalry in Boston's Fenway Park — a stadium that just began the celebration of its 100th year. While students, fans and alumni from the pair of New England flagship state universities turned out in greater numbers than usual for Frozen Fenway, the clubs stood across from each other with the same goal in mind — two critical points in Hockey East.
For both clubs, though, Saturday ended in a way that neither will forget. After killing a 5-minute major given to forward Patrick Kiley with 2:43 remaining in regulation with the game knotted at a pair aside, UMass senior Michael Marcou beat Vermont goaltender Rob Madore through a scrum to give the Minutemen a win.
"The emotion of it and the intensity of it was big," UMass coach Don Cahoon said after the game. "Just being in the environment, the guys on both teams wanted to make it an incredible showing. The maturity level that we showed out on the ice, it was undoubtedly clear that we understood it was a playoff type environment. That brings out a lot of good in teams, and it will help us, hopefully, down the stretch."
UMass vaulted into a seventh-place tie with Northeastern in the Hockey East standings after the win, while Vermont remains in 10th and falls seven points out of the final playoff spot — both pending the result of the nightcap between Maine and New Hampshire.
Taking a step back for a second, Saturday's match represented another step in the rivalry both UMass coach Don Cahoon and UVM coach Kevin Sneddon have worked to nurture. The programs have achieved varying levels of success in recent years, which has naturally boosted and maintained attendance numbers with student interest rising and program acclaim ascending along with it.
Even as both clubs sit in the basement of Hockey East this season, Saturday represented another moment in the history that these programs have shared — dating back to a tie 5-5 at Orr Rink on the Campus of Amherst College on Jan. 10, 1964. As the lone Hockey East schools in western New England, the rivalry is the natural geographical matchup Cahoon sought when he took the program over in 2000.
Since UMass relaunched its program and joined Hockey East in 1995, the clubs have played every year. When Vermont left the ECAC and joined Hockey East ahead of the 2005-06 season, the opportunity to foster the history received an even bigger boost with the opportunity to play three times each season.
UMass fans look east when they think about the word "rivalry," regularly drawing their biggest crowds for Boston College and Boston University. Still, Vermont vs. Massachusetts is something they consider a little different. The clubs have played on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving every season since 1995 — the Catamounts won this year's edition, 2-1, in Burlington. With the other nine clubs in the league, Cahoon and Sneddon schedule games when they can. Every season, though, Turkey Tuesday means the Minutemen play the Catamounts — alternating home and away.
"When UVM joined the league, it just seemed like a natural inclination to make this an important series," Cahoon said. "We tried to emphasize that by having that Tuesday night pre-Thanksgiving game. It kind of sets it apart from most of the other series."
"We're the caretakers of our programs. Part of that is making sure that we contribute and add to those traditions," Sneddon said. "That's what makes college hockey special. I said that to our guys during the break before the overtime period. I said, 'This is what college hockey is all about. We have a rivalry in overtime at Fenway. Does it get any better than this?' It's hard for our guys right now. If this were a non-conference game, it still would be tough to lose. But they know the magnitude of every point for us now. That's part of the disappointment right now, because they knew (Saturday) was an opportunity to catch up."
This season, the games between UVM and UMass mean a little more to the teams. The poor first halves for both clubs stuck Vermont in 10th in Hockey East and the Minutemen in ninth. The postseason is the goal at this point and the points decided between these two teams may decide both clubs' fate. UMass picked up two Saturday night with their win at Fenway Park.
Every game in Hockey East is critical. Teams who miss the playoffs or fall just short of home ice for the Hockey East Tournament remember a loss or tie to the club just ahead of them and recount every detail of the game. The shot that hit the post or the overtime winner the goaltender should've had. Naturally these series morph into rivalries in one sense, but history drives a separate meaning entirely. UMass and Vermont have met in ECAC Division II playoffs in the 70s and Yankee Conference Tournaments before either played in Division I.
"There are a lot of old-school UMass and UVM people that remember this as the Division II rivalry that it was," Cahoon said. "Back when they were playing for national championships and Jimmy Cross was getting (UVM) to emerge as a national power, and Jack Caniff was coaching UMass and they went toe to toe. I've heard about the stories back at Orr Arena and up at the Gut."
A meeting in the Hockey East Tournament would advance it even further. That probably won't happen this year. The poor first halves cemented that, but they'll meet again on Jan. 20 in Amherst for the final tangle of the 2011-12 season. A game that will feel like a playoff for both clubs.
Thanks to Cahoon and Sneddon and those who oversaw the programs prior, the games usually feel that way when it's Vermont on one side and Massachusetts on the other.