Northeastern 3, Vermont 2 - Clay Witt stymies Catamounts

Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt stayed hot Friday night at Matthews Arena against the University of Vermont. - Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

Northeastern moved into sole possession of second place with the victory on Friday night.

Boston -- Once again Clay Witt stole the show, making 46 saves to lead Northeastern to a 3-2 victory over Vermont in front of 2,453 at Matthews Arena. The junior has made 131 saves the past three games over a span of just 10 days, all Huskies wins.

"Clay Witt was tremendous for us in holding the fort down, particularly on [Vermont's] power plays," said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.

"He was the difference in the game tonight. We talk about how important goaltending is. I thought in that category [Northeastern] was superior tonight. It's frustrating. He was pretty special tonight. He's definitely one of the best goaltenders we've seen this year," said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon.

Another player who has been on fire lately got the Huskies on the scoreboard first with just 35.2 seconds to play in the second period. Northeastern worked the puck around the ice while on a five-on-three. Kevin Roy passed the puck down towards the goal line to Mike Szmatula who fired a cross-crease pass that Braden Pimm was able to deflect past Vermont goaltender Brody Hoffman.

The goal really gave the Huskies momentum heading into the third period and gave a shot of energy to a team that had been thoroughly dominated for much of the first two periods.

"It was huge for us. Anytime you can go into the third period with a lead it is huge. It gives you a confidence boost and momentum to play hard in the third period," said Pimm.

"[Braden Pimm] continues to have a hot hand in and around the net. He gave us a big goal. We wanted to take the lead. We knew it was going to be a close scoring game. We just thought if we could get the first one we could drive it a little," said Madigan.

Matt Benning extended the Northeastern lead to two goals just 3:07 into the third period when the Boston Bruins prospect side stepped a Vermont defender and unleashed a beauty of a wrist shot that hit the corner of the net.

Zach Aston-Reese scored his first goal in nearly two months with just under five minutes to play in the game on a terrific feed from fellow rookie Mike Szmatula.

The goal appeared to be an insurance marker at the time giving NU a 3-0 lead, but ended up being the game-winning tally.

"He hasn't scored in a little while, but he does so many things to help our team win. He got skated on at Notre Dame, slashed on three fingers, but came back to play in the championship game. He's a real gritty kid, but that limited him offensively," explained Madigan.

Northeastern's Torin Snydeman took a five-minute major for spearing with 2:57 to play in the game which opened the door for Vermont to muster up a comeback.

UVM senior captain Chris McCarthy scored a weird goal when his shot deflected off the back glass and came all the way to hit Witt in the back before dropping into the net. His goal, assisted by Mario Puskarich and Michael Paliotta, came with 1:31 to play.

Puskarich drew the Catamounts within one goal when his wrist shot beat Witt above his blocker with 50 seconds to go, but that was as close as they would get.

Despite the win Madigan said he has plenty to harp on his team as it prepares for tomorrow's rematch, including a lack of discipline.

"I don't like the way we got [to the win]. To advance in this league you need to play with discipline all the time. Our lack of discipline on the ice didn't allow us to create much momentum in the second or third period. We got it going a little in the third period, but then our lack of discipline showed taking a five minute major," said Madigan.

"As a team we need to bear down in front of our net and play better defensively. We know we can score, but we just have to clean out our defensive zone and help Clay out a little," explained Pimm.

Northeastern (14-6-3), picked to finish last in Hockey East by both the coaches and media, now has sole possession of second place.

"Obviously in this league anytime you come up with two points you're happy with two league points. It gets us to 7-4-1 in 12 games and you only have 20 games. I like the fact that we showed some resolve, resiliency and found a way to win," said Madigan.

Although he was clearly disappointed with his team's inability to break Witt, Sneddon was pleased with the way his team played, overall.

"I give our men a lot of credit. I thought we played excellent tonight. Until we got into the penalty trouble there in the second period we were controlling the game pretty well. I don't want to say it was one-sided, but when you can hold that kind of high octane offense, they've got some great exciting forwards and they didn't have many scoring chances," said Sneddon.

The two teams will meet again Saturday night in a game that will not count towards the Hockey East standings. With the addition of Notre Dame to the league, Hockey East teams lost seven conference games and had to scramble to fill the void.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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