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Mid-game surge lifts Vermont to big opening win at Northeastern

Jonathan Turk and Mike Paliotta each had four-point nights as Vermont downed No. 16 Northeastern for a 6-2 win at Boston's Matthews Arena in its season opener.

Vermont sophomore Mario Puskarich
Vermont sophomore Mario Puskarich
Matt Dewkett

BOSTON -- The University of Vermont men's lacrosse team filled a corner section of Matthews Arena and their presence silenced Northeastern's home crowd on many occasions Saturday night.

It was that kind of night for the home team as the Catamounts put together a complete road game in their season opener, downing the 16th-ranked Huskies.

Junior Jonathan Turk posted a hat trick and added an assist to lead the UVM charge, while senior captain Mike Paliotta scored and dished off three helpers.

"I'm very pleased with the effort in our first road game of the year against an excellent hockey club," UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said. "I thought, from the net out, we were very solid and had to be against an excellent Northeastern team, so this was a good win for us on the road."

In addition to a pair with four points, reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Mario Puskarich scored and posted two assists while junior Alexx Privitera and senior Kyle Reynolds each dished off a pair.

NU struggled in its own zone for much of the first period, allowing the visitors to take a 1-0 lead on a goal in the 17th minute of play. The Huskies managed a 10-7 shots on goal advantage despite falling down by a goal.

Paliotta scored the opening Catamount goal, firing a slap shot through a sea of bodies and over Northeastern senior Clay Witt from just inside the blue line at 16:33.

"I thought we played a really good first period, got our legs underneath us," Sneddon said. "But in that second period, I think we kind of just elevated our game. Sometimes, you get a little puck luck and I think that's what happened tonight."

UVM dominated the shot count and the scoreboard in the second, taking a commanding 5-0 lead while outshooting the Huskies 19-9. The Husky defense was unable to match the intensity of the visitors' top line of sophomores Brendan Bradley and Mario Puskarich and Turk.

For NU assistant coach Jerry Keefe, the team's collective lack of effort was frankly unexpected. "I'm extremely disappointed," he said. "(It was) a very soft team, I thought. I didn't see that coming to be honest; I thought we would come out with a lot of energy."

Keefe led the bench in place of head coach Jim Madigan who finished a suspension given for his public comments about officiating during NU's quarterfinal series at New Hampshire in March.

Puskarich started off the four-goal barrage in the middle frame, depositing a juicy rebound left to the side of the net at 9:16.

Turk followed his right winger up with a pair of goals himself, including the next on the power play at 11:33. Witt attempted to move post-to-post for a save but he redirected a nice pass from Reynolds, who was playing his first game in over a year after missing all of last season with an injury, into the back of the net.

Crashing the net, Turk finished a bouncing pass from Puskarich at 18:08 before passing off to senior Jake Fallon for an easy one-time in the slot on UVM's fifth goal with exactly a minute remaining in the second.

"He's playing with two very intelligent hockey players," the Cats' 12th-year head coach said of Turk. "Sometimes, things just happen and you go with a gut (when creating lines). But tonight, I thought he was great at both ends of the ice."

As much as the defense in front of him struggled, it was not the best of nights for Witt. The Brandon, Fla. native saw 26 shots, allowing a handful of goals for the second consecutive game. He surrendered five just once last season, but in the Hockey East quarterfinal finale on March 15 at New Hampshire.

After redshirt sophomore Derick Roy took over in goal for the third, the Huskies showed some life with a pair of early goals.

Northeastern's sophomore class picked up right where it left off as rookies as Mike Szmatula poked home a feed from junior Kevin Roy to get the Huskies on the board at 3:33. Senior captain Dax Lauwers made it a 5-2 game on a weak-angle shot from just outside the right circle.

UVM responded to close the scoring on Turk's third goal at 16:52 as he beat Derick Roy high on an assist from Boston University transfer Privitera. Turk became the first Catamount to record a hat trick since Puskarich scored on Merrimack three times Feb. 21.

Sneddon had to switch up the lines in the absence of sophomore Tom Forgione due to injury, so Turk was placed on the top line. His hat trick made Sneddon look pretty good.

Both teams step out of conference play for two-game series against ECAC foes next weekend. Northeastern heads to Colgate for a pair, while UVM will trade home dates with Clarkson beginning Friday night in Burlington.