Cats cruise to first NCAA Tournament win in 13 years

Second chances do not come around every day, but for the men’s hockey team, Friday night marked a second opportunity to prove to the country that they belong with the best.And they did just that, beating East Regional host Yale 4-1 to advance to the regional finals against the Air Force team on Saturday night.The game was the Cats first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1997 and their first win since 1996, when a team lead by NHLers Martin St. Louis, Tim Thomas and Eric Perrin went to the Frozen Four.”It is great being here,” sophomore Peter Lenes said. “Everyone was excited about it and we came out and showed that we were ready to be here and we were well prepared for the tournament.  It just shows that everyone took the past two weeks to prepare for this and it is very exciting for the program and for us as a team.”Lenes — who remembers being given the day off school to watch the Frozen Four game in 1996 — immediately made his mark on UVM’s return to the tournament, when he opened the scoring in the first period.With little more than five minutes left in the first period, Lenes took the puck on the left side after a deflection and staked through the neutral zone and across the blue line.  After a short burst to get free, he fired a shot past Yale Bulldogs’ goalie Alec Richards.”I saw a defenseman in front of me and I just tried to shoot it in between his legs,” Lenes said.  “I know I didn’t get everything on it, but I think I just caught them off guard with their defenseman screening him.”The game got off to a frantic start with four penalties — two on each side — including a five vs. three opportunity for each team within the first six minutes of the contest. Neither team was able to convert and, as the game settled down, Vermont began to assert themselves.The Cats separated themselves in the second period when they notched two more goals to stretch the lead to 3-0.Less than two minutes into the period Vermont’s leading scorer, junior Viktor Stalberg, got on the board with his 24th goal of the season.  After carrying the puck into the zone, Stalberg lost control momentarily before turning and firing a shot through the defender’s legs and past Richards.As regular season and tournament champions in the ECAC, Yale came in with a record of 24-7-2, but seemed overmatched by UVM’s size and strength, especially in the second period.”They had some really big defensemen that were kinda tough to move and I feel like they prevented us getting into the zone cleanly at time,” Yale senior Matt Nelson said.The Cats continued to exert their dominance and it paid off in the form of their third goal with just less than a minute remaining in the third period.Sophomore Dan Lawson shot the puck in from the top of the zone and the rebound found sophomore Wahs Stacey in the right circle.  Stacey laid the puck off for junior Colin Vock, who rocketed a slap shot past Richards.Richards entered the game 19-4-1 but could not do anything to stem the Catamount attack.”I told ours guys in the locker room that was probably our best game of the year,” Cats head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I think we kind of closed the gaps on both sides of the puck.  That was as complete an effort as all year.”Vermont put the game away for good when senior assistant captain Corey Carlson broke in on an odd man rush with about four minutes left in the third period.  Carlson collected a lose puck in the neutral zone and skated into the Yale zone before beating Richards.Yale got one goal back with 1:45 remaining, but otherwise had no luck against freshman goaltender Rob Madore, who stopped 25 of the 26 shots that he faced.”[This win is] another step forward, we have these little benchmarks and getting to the tournament is a huge step,” Sneddon said. “Winning is a huge step and I think we will be a tough team.”The next step comes Saturday night when UVM faces Air Force, who knocked off the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, Michigan, on Friday afternoon.  The Vermont Catamounts and the Air Force Falcons have met five times previously, with UVM holding a 5-0 advantage.The winner of the game on Saturday night will advance to the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C., on April 9 and 11.