March 28, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Vermont Puts Layoff to Good Use

by Matthew Conyers/CHN Reporter

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Sometimes the best vacations are the ones you don’t plan.

Just ask Vermont.

No matter how much they didn’t want it at the time and probably still don’t like it, the Catamounts were delivered a 13-day furlough after being upset by Mass.-Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals on March 13 and 14.

The defeats — two shocking overtime games — changed Vermont’s season.

Forced to collectively pick up the pieces and watch the Hockey East Finals from Burlington, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon delivered a simple message to his team.

“The theme in our locker room and around our program the last 10 days has been: you don’t often get a second chance in life to go after something you want,” Sneddon said. “They weren’t just happy to let his opportunity slide. They came to win.”

With the added practice time, Vermont sharpened its offensive game for its first round opponent Yale, but more importantly cleared its heads of all distractions. The Catamounts wanted to come to Bridgeport with the slate wiped clean. Vermont wanted to be relaxed.

“We were so disappointed in the outcome of Lowell series that we needed some heeling time and we needed to rebuild,” Sneddon said.

“We had some time off and it was good for our program,” Vermont’s Hobey Baker finalist Viktor Stalberg said. “We had some guys banged up and I think it was big getting them back in game shape again. We had some time to work on our details that we obviously got a way from the last couple weeks of the season.”

Vermont didn’t waste its second life either.

Buoyed by a positive vibe and hunger to stick around, Rob Madore had 25 saves in a 4-1 victory over second-seeded Yale. Stalberg, Lenes, Colin Vock and Corey Carlson had the goals for Vermont.

Second-seeded Vermont (21-11-5) advances to play fourth-seeded Air Force in the regional final Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The Falcons (28-10-2) upset top-seeded Michigan 2-0 in the day’s first game.

“We had a lot of time to get ready mentally and prepared,” Madore said. “I thought our guys did a good job of settling down and not getting carried away with just being in the tournament.

”We just calmed down and played our best hockey.”

The Catamounts withstood a fury of activity in its own zone for the first 10 minutes before quietly turning the tide to its side.

But Peter Lenes beat Yale’s Alec Richards on a wrist shot with 5:32 left in the first period for the game’s first goal. The score shifted the momentum to Vermont in front of a heavy pro-Yale crowd and it never tilted back.

“I thought we weathered that storm pretty well and kind of built off that,” Lenes said.

The goal came thanks to an energy that had manifested itself in Vermont the last two weeks.

Vermont built a 4-0 lead all the way into the third period until Yale scored its first tournament goal since 1952 with 1:45 left in the game.

“Coming into this week and this game we talked a lot about Yale’s offense,” Madore said. “They have an offense that is very similar to New Hampshire. They’re really good on transition. They like to get shots off the rush. They got a great power play. You can’t say enough about our defensive effort shutting down their chances.”

The offense wasn’t the only big change from those quarterfinal games against Lowell. Madore took advantage of the layoff.

“Rob was excellent and he had no questions after watching him in practice the last 10 days,” Sneddon said. “I think he needed a little bit of a mental break coming off the Lowell series. He looked great in practice, so he knew his confidence was back. We’re very proud of him.”

Lenes believes the excitement over getting another stab at glory could be easily seen on the bench.

“Everyone was excited and we came out and shown that we were well prepared for the tournament and it just shows that everyone took the last two weeks to prepare,” Vermont’s Peter Lenes said.

This excitement isn’t going anywhere tomorrow against Air Force.

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