After waiting 13 years to get back to the Frozen Four, 12 minutes doesn’t seem that long, but for players, fans and coaches on Saturday night it seemed like an eternity.
Referees Todd Anderson and Marco Hunt took those 12 minutes to determine that a blistering slap shot by sophomore defenseman Dan Lawson actually went through the net.
The winning play, which happened nearly two minutes before play stopped for review, looked innocent, as Lawson took a pass from junior Wahs Stacey, firing a rocket at the net. While the shot looked on goal, when the puck struck the glass behind the net, everyone played on.
“Stacey set me up with a beautiful pass that I could step right into and I let it go,” Lawson said. “I thought it went in — it looked good — but everybody else kept playing, so so did I.”
Back on the bench, the Catamount players and coaches were adamant that the puck went in the Air Force’s net and wanted to see a review.
“I saw Danny take the shot as a left defenseman and I saw the back of the net move on the other side,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “And the puck kind of took a weird bounce after that. It was a bullet of a shot. It just didn’t make sense how it came out of the net.
“It was a long time waiting, just hoping they would go to review. And thankfully that’s the system in place,” he said. “The referees obviously took their time but made the right call.
We’re very fortunate to have that bounce go our way.”
At the first whistle after Lawson’s shot, the refs stopped play and the marathon review began.
“The puck was shot and I observed the net move,” Hunt said in a statement. “At the first stoppage of play, after confirming with the rest of the on-ice crew, we determined a review was necessary. Video confirmed the puck entered the net inside the post and under the crossbar.”
When Hunt finally skated out of the scorer’s box, the entire arena was on the edge of their seats and the large Vermont contingent erupted when Hunt emphatically pointed at center ice to signify a goal — Lawson’s second of the game.
As the scoreboard changed to 3-2, the players leapt from the bench and mobbed the other hero of the game, freshman goalie Rob Madore, who stopped 46 of the 48 shots he faced.
Entering the game it was Air Force’s netminder who was the center of attention, but at the end of the day it was Madore who was celebrating Vermont’s first trip to the Frozen Four since 1996 — only their second in program history.
The Falcon’s backstop, Andrew Volkening, entered the game riding a three-game shutout streak, including a 2-0 defeat of top seeded Michigan on Friday, a game in which he made 43 saves.
The Cats (22-11-5) looked like they would be in for a similar treatment as they entered the third period down 1-0, but just four minutes into the period that all changed.
Sophomore Josh Burrows took a pass from junior Patrick Cullity and flipped a wrist shot through traffic and into the back of the net.
The goal changed the flow of the game and lead to Vermont taking the lead just before the 10-minute mark of the period on Lawson’s first goal.
Combined with his goal on Friday night in the Cats 4-1 victory over Yale, Lawson tallied three goals in the regional finals and was named Most Outstanding Player in the East Regional.
Lawson was joined on the all-tournament team by junior forward Viktor Stalberg as well as four Air Force players — including Volkening.
“Tonight our backs were against the wall against a team that just didn’t give us anything,” Sneddon said. “We really fought for space out there, couldn’t create much offense at all.
“The way we came out for the third period, scoring the two goals, gave up the lead with under 10 minutes, which wasn’t great, but again it was more credit to an Air Force team that wouldn’t go away,” he said.
The next step for the Cats is the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C., where they will face BU.
The Cats went 2-1 against BU this season, both wins coming on the road.
“I don’t think it has settled in yet,” Stalberg said. “It’s a tremendous group of guys here and we are really excited right now and have a chance to win the national championship.”
After more than a decade, don’t expect Vermont to be content just making the trip to D.C.
“I will enjoy this night and shortly, when we’ve all calmed down from the emotion, that we’re not going to participate, we are going to win it,” Sneddon said. “That’s what you go to a Frozen Four for.”