Men’s hockey tie, stun Catamounts

Men’s hockey tie, stun Catamounts

By Matt Nielsen

Points were hard to come by last season for the Northeastern men’s hockey team, but they picked up their first in the Hockey East standings this season Saturday evening in a hard-fought contest at Vermont. The Huskies overcame two deficits to force overtime, and nearly took home a victory against a Hockey East contender.

The Catamounts took the early lead at 7:10 in the first period in front of a boisterous crowd on a power play goal by sophomore forward Dean Strong, who was assisted by junior forward Torrey Mitchell. Continuing a trend started in the first game of the season at Boston College, NU put two men in the penalty box right away, and UVM capitalized on their two-man advantage, scoring the first goal of the game. The Huskies kept Vermont scoreless for the rest of the period.

Despite the power play goal, Northeastern’s penalty killing unit was impressive, shutting down the Catamounts on four other power-play attempts. Northeastern’s six penalties were two more than Vermont tallied, but less than half the number NU collected during their opener against BC. The Huskies will have to continue to reduce that number in order to avoid giving their opponents easy chances.

The game remained tied until Husky freshman forward Kyle Kraemer slipped a pass to senior forward Joe Santilli.

“Joe was wide open with the puck, and I was going full speed toward the net,” said sophomore forward Joe Vitale. “He took a shot and I just happened to be right where it was headed.”

The puck bounced off Vitale’s skate and past the Catamount goalkeeper to tie the contest at 1-1. It was Vitale’s first goal of the young season.

Vermont fed off of the energy of their home crowd, and regained the lead a few minutes later when the 6-foot-7-inch senior defenseman Art Fremenella blasted one in from the point.

“Vermont is always one of the toughest places to play,” said senior defenseman Steve Birnstill. “There’s always a lot of noise.”

Northeastern showed no signs of being intimidated. Two minutes after taking the lead, the Catamounts cleared the puck the length of the ice, and freshman keeper Brad Thiessen handed it off to freshman defenseman and Hockey East Rookie of the Week David Strathman. Strathman took the puck to the other end of the ice himself and scored from the right circle, tying the contest once again and silencing Gutterson Fieldhouse.

“In that environment against a top team, and after a shaky first period, it was fun to watch us take it to them in the second,” Vitale said.

Birnstill agreed. “We played well, especially considering it was a road game. We took the crowd out of it.”

After a scoreless third period, Husky junior forward Jimmy Russo scored what appeared to be the game-winning goal at 2:22 in overtime. After the Huskies’ celebration concluded, it was ruled that the net had become dislodged before the puck went in and the goal was discounted. There weren’t many other opportunities for either team in overtime, and the game ended 2-2.

After a poor end to his first career start, Thiessen was solid against Vermont, allowing only two goals (one of those a 5-on-3) on 26 shots, including nine saves during a long, scoreless stretch in the third and overtime periods.

It was an important tie for the Huskies, who lost all three contests against Vermont last season by a combined score of 11-3. Northeastern is in the midst of a particularly difficult stretch against conference rivals and dangerous non-conference foes. The Huskies need to grind out points against these difficult early opponents to avoid digging themselves a hole.

“Obviously, we want to win as many of these games as possible,” Birnstill said. “We’re looking at Boston University and thinking about two points. We think we can get two.”

The Huskies will look to collect two points from BU Friday evening at Agganis Arena. Saturday, NU will play their first home game of the season against Union at 7 p.m.

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