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Vermont Comes From Behind, Downs Northeastern in Hockey East Opener

Kevin Sneddon Matt Dewkett

BOSTON -- It’s been quite a couple weeks for Vermont.

After leaving Omaha with a tie and a win last weekend, the Catamounts dominated No. 11 Michigan on Friday night. They jumped out to a 3-1-1 start, all without captains Brendan Bradley, Mario Puskarich and Anthony Petruzzelli.

The aforementioned trio played for the first time this season ― after serving five-game suspensions dealt as a result of a hazing scandal ― and helped the Cats to a 3-2 win over No. 16 Northeastern on Sunday afternoon at Matthews Arena.

“We’ve had some tough non-conference opponents, but that’s the best team we’ve played all year,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “For us to come in here and get a valuable two points on the road is a good sign for us.”

It was not close to perfect, and the visitors had to play catch-up right from the start as the Huskies were quickly the first team on the scoreboard for the fourth time this season.

Sophomore Adam Gaudette scored his fifth goal of the season and fourth in as many games just 45 seconds into the contest, taking a feed from junior Dylan Sikura into the bottom of the left circle where placed a wrister past Vermont rookie Stefanos Lekkas.

UVM was resilient, scoring the tying goal just after the game turned five minutes old. Craig Puffer scored the lone marker on special teams at the 5:05 mark, redirecting home a shot from freshman defenseman Max Daigle for the third goal of his sophomore season.

Sikura tipped the score back Northeastern’s way exactly one minute later as Sikura added one for the highlight reels. Junior defenseman Garret Cockerill won the puck free from the wall and sent it forward to Sikura who weaved through the UVM defense before beating Lekkas high.

Despite his team finishing the first period on the wrong side of a 13-6 shots count, Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan was happy with the start.

“We’re getting good starts, which is what we want, and we talked about it and put a lot of emphasis on it,” said Madigan, whose team broke Vermont’s 116-minute shutout streak as Gaudette opened the scoring.

“I’d be more concerned if we weren’t getting chances in the second and third periods. We scored two goals on six shots in the first period, and I thought we made that goalie look good.”

The Huskies did get chances, and won the shot battle by an 11-6 margin in the second period. However, 20 of their 51 total attempts over the final two periods went off target. The back half of the game was a case of not enough quality for a larger quantity, and it came back to hurt NU in what was the first Hockey East game of the season for both sides.

UVM scored once in the second period and once more in the third to take the lead, and eventually win the game while taking a 29-26 shot edge. First, freshman Matt Alvaro knotted the score at 2-2 at the 9:03 mark of the middle period, cleaning the rebound from Puskrarich’s initial shot that Ruck left open.

Puffer notched his second of the night to knot the score with just 5:05 to play in the game. Junior Jarrid Privitera provided the lone assist, sending the New Canaan, Conn., native down the left side for a shot that trickled through Ruck’s five-hole.

“It wasn’t always pretty out there, and I don’t think we were as sharp as we were maybe on Friday (against Michigan), but we found a way in the third period to get that go-ahead goal and hung on for dear life,” Sneddon said.

The hosts did have one golden chance to change the score just before UVM took its first and only lead of the game. With just over eight minutes to play, Lekkas made a huge stop at the top of his crease to deny defenseman Eric Williams charging into the play.

Lekkas finished the night with just 24 saves, but 20 of them came over the final two periods. The rookie from Elburn, Ill., now has a 3-0-1 record on the season.

“They had some great opportunities, and I thought he got better and better as the game went on,” Sneddon said. “He’s obviously been a bright spot for us the last few games.”

While the return of UVM’s top players was a positive, Northeastern disclosed disappointing news about the foreseeable future of one of its top scorers as junior Nolan Stevens was out of the lineup. Madigan expects him to miss “a period of time” with an upper-body injury.