Riding the momentum of a dominating weekend against Niagara a week prior, Notre Dame opened up Hockey East play solidly, beating Vermont 3-2 Friday night and skating to a 2-2 tie with the Catamounts Saturday. The strong play moved the Irish from 20th to 15th in the rankings.
Friday's game was the only one of the two televised, so we'll go more in-depth on that one.
Friday: ND 3, Vermont 2
The weekend began with the then-13th ranked Catamounts allowing just one goal per game, and UVM looked the part of that statistic early on, holding ND without a scoring chance most of the first period. However, the Irish matched the Catamounts in that regard and the two teams played a stalemate for over 17 minutes until junior Thomas DiPauli pocketed the Irish's first goal, snagging a rebound of his own shot and scoring. Andy Ryan got the assist. Barely a minute later, the Irish found the net again, this time on a great pass by Peter Schneider to Mario Lucia, who continues to display a nose for the goal. (Schneider, by the way, was fresh off the plane from his hometown of Vienna, Austria, where he'd just arrived from his grandmother's funeral earlier that same day. Talk about a combination of emotional and physical toll - big ups to him for flying back and recording an assist in the game.) It was Lucia's seventh goal of the season in just the team's seventh game. The Irish had shell-shocked Vermont and left the first period with a 2-0 lead, the first time all season UVM had trailed.
To the Catamounts' credit, they came out in the second period and controlled much of the action, as ND's offense ground to a near-halt. Freshman goaltender Cal Petersen, who looks to this untrained observer like the Irish's best netminder in the early going of the season, held things down, however, and like in the first period, there wasn't much in the way of offense for the first half of the second.
UVM quickly put a stop to that, with a late surge of its own to tie things up. First came a goal by Jarrid Privitera when a shot glanced off Petersen and got between him and the net. allowing the heady Privitera to jam it into the goal. Kyle Reynolds followed with 2:30 to play in the second period, redeeming himself for narrowly missing a two-line pass a few moments prior by scoring on a 3-on-2 break. The Catamounts appeared to have the momentum heading to the final period.
The Irish had their best offensive period of the three in the final stanza, though, relentlessly attacking the Vermont net. Robbie Russo barely missed a goal just a couple of minutes in when his nifty deke while charging the net resulted in the puck skittering away from him, but DiPauli didn't miss with 12:29 to go. While slightly off balance and moving to his left, near the blue line, the junior from Italy fired a spectacular shot that caromed off the right post and into the net.
ND didn't stop attacking, although the Irish didn't score again. Lucia nearly added a second goal but was denied by Mike Santaguida, the Vermont goalie, who played a pretty great game in his own right. The Catamounts tried emptying the net in the final minute-plus, but that idea was squelched when Alexx Privitera was whistled for an obvious tripping penalty with under a minute to play.
Saturday: ND 2, Vermont 2 (OT)
Although Notre Dame came away with a tie Saturday, it likely had the air of a missed opportunity after ND surrendered a 2-0 third-period lead to the Catamounts.
ND scored twice in the second period to grab the lead, the second coming off a beautiful pass from Schneider to Lucia, which the latter pocketed with 12:51 to go in the period. Freshman Jake Evans had scored an unassisted goal early in the second. The Irish looked to be on their way to a second straight win.
The Catamounts, as they did Friday, continued to pepper Petersen with shots. The freshman goalie had a spectacular 42 saves, but needed one more. Helped by the extra attacker brought in with an empty net, UVM's Colin Markison scored with 40 seconds on the clock. Neither team was able to break the tie, so the Irish had to settle for the deadlock.
All things considered, there's a lot to be pleased with, as a young Irish team looks to be hitting their stride sooner than expected. ND will face its toughest challenge to date this weekend with a two-game set at top-ranked Minnesota. Both games will air on national TV, with Friday night's tilt on BTN and Sunday afternoon's on ESPNU. The Irish will return to Hockey East play the following weekend with a trip to Merrimack.