Women's Hockey: 'Cats fall in scrap against Vermont

By Max Sullivan
On February 15, 2014

The UNH women's hockey team lost 3-2 at home to Vermont Saturday afternoon, securing the Catamounts home ice in the first round of the Hockey East tournament while giving the Wildcats their seventh straight loss. UNH's record dropped to 9-19-2, 4-12-2 in WHEA.

UNH senior forward and captain Nicole Gifford and sophomore forward Heather Kashman both scored Saturday, while UNH sophomore goaltender Vilma Vaattovaara stopped 28 shots on the day.

The players entered the second intermission with a 2-2 tie and chips on their shoulders after a scrap over cheap shots by the Catamounts, setting the stage for a thrilling third period. Playoff alignments were on the line, and the Wildcats were out to prove they could skate with the conference's upper echelon in spite being second-to-last in the standings.

After a hard-fought third period by the Wildcats, Vermont forward Casey Leveillee scored the game-winning goal with 3:36 remaining in the game. Vaattovaara made a pad stop on one shot from the left side, but Leveillee skated in from the left and knocked the puck into the back of the net. The play was reviewed to determine whether or not the puck was kicked in by the Catamount, but the call stood, making the score 3-2 in favor of Vermont.

Neither team scored in an evenly matched first period, but the Wildcats scored two consecutive goals in the second to make it 2-0.

The first goal came on UNH senior forward Jenna Lascelle's pass to Kashman from behind the Vermont net. Kashman was only a few feet from Vermont goaltender Roxanne Douville when she one-timed pass from Lascelle, making it 1-0.

The Wildcats scored in almost identical fashion 5:42 later. UNH junior forward Hannah Armstrong passed from behind the Vermont net to Gifford, who tapped the puck past Douville make the score 2-0.

 "I got caught looking at the puck too much behind [me] and missed the poke check," Douville said of the first goal. "After [the second goal], I changed my strategy and decided to go down and went more aggressive with the sides of the net, and that worked well."

Momentum shifted 58 seconds later when Vermont scored the first of its own pair of consecutive goals. After Catamount forward Amanda Pelkey failed to score on a breakaway, forward Victoria Andreakos gained possession of the rebound on the right side of the zone and passed it back to her teammate, forward Megan Dalbec, who shot the puck past Vaattovaara's glove side to make it 2-1.

With 6:19 to play in the second period, Pelkey got her second point of the game by receiving a pass from Vermont defenseman Sarah Campbell and carrying the puck into the UNH zone. She shot from the right faceoff circle and put the puck past Vaattovaara's glove side, making the score 2-2.

Gifford said these situations can be hard to remain focused in.

"I think it's natural to have that going in the back of your head," Gifford said, "But at the end of the day, you know, it's still a 2-2 game, so you can't hang your head and sit back. You've got to try and get the next goal."

Factors began favoring the Wildcats even before the second period ended, though, when emotions boiled over during a Vermont power play in front of Vaattovaara's net. After Vermont forward Brittany Zuback was called for slashing at 17:58, a small scrap between Zuback and UNH junior defenseman Caroline Broderick broke out over whether or not the Catamounts were cheap-shotting the UNH goalie, resulting in penalties to both for hits after the whistle. Zuback's additional slashing call ended the Catamount power play, and the scrap helped invigorate the Wildcats, who desperately needed a boost after giving up the lead.

"After we did get riled up a bit, our hearts were even more in it," Broderick said. "We just really like to protect our goalies. They are the back bone to our game out there, so if we see a cheap shot or something, there's no question about, just step in and fight them off, just out of respect."

Each of the three Wildcat lines played well for much of the third period. They all took several shots and were able to penetrate the Vermont zone effectively. Playing some of the best hockey of their season, it appeared the Wildcats might score again. They took 19 shots on goal in the third period.

Douville, who entered Saturday with the second best goals against average in WHEA (2.19 before Saturday, now 2.18), said that many of their shots were from the point, making it easy for her to track them. She stopped 42 shots Saturday afternoon.

"They had some good chances, but most of the time they were shooting from the point, and I could see it," Douville said. "As long as you can see it, you can stop it."

The loss stung for the Wildcats. Vaattovaara struggled to find a bright spot in the afternoon's highly competitive match.

"It sucks," She said. "I hate losing."

The Wildcats play Vermont again Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Whittemore Center. 

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