Ice Cats Put Brakes on Skid

BURLINGTON, Vt. Liam Coughlin's first career hat trick and a third-period insurance goal from Ross Colton powered the Catamounts over the UMass Lowell River Hawks 6-3 on Saturday night at Gutterson Fieldhouse to split a two-game series.

Stefanos Lekkas stopped 35 shots as Vermont improved to 5-15-4 (2-9-3 HEA) to close out a four-game homestand. Lowell dropped to 14-11-3 (9-7-0 HEA) with the loss as UVM snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series.

Coughlin's hat trick was Vermont's second of the season, adding to Colton's against Colorado College on Oct. 7. Alex Esposito posted a career-high three points on a goal and two assists, while Owen Grant, Jake Massie and Matt Alvaro each chipped in a pair of assists.

Vermont opened the scoring at 13:57 on Esposito's sixth goal of the season. The tally came on a 5-on-3 man advantage as Grant snapped a shot on goal and Esposito cleaned up the rebound off the end glass near the left post. Massie was awarded the secondary assist on the marker.

Coughlin converted on the following 5-on-4 power play 53 seconds later when he one-timed a pass from Grant blocker side on Christoffer Hernberg (22 saves). Grant's second assist of the night came off a feed from Esposito that doubled the lead.

The Catamounts added a third before the first period expired on Anthony Petruzzelli's third of the season. The senior assistant captain batted a rebound from Bryce Misley's shot past Hernberg from the left doorstep for UVM's third goal in just 2:17.

The power play stayed hot in the middle frame as Coughlin netted his second of the night on the man-advantage, powering his way to the net before wrapping the puck around Hernberg's right pad. Massie recorded his second assist of the night as he dished a pass to Alvaro, who found Coughlin for the score.

UMass Lowell answered with 10:50 left in the second period when Tommy Panico recovered a clearing attempt and rifled a shot that ricocheted off a defender over the shoulder of Lekkas.

UVM ran into penalty trouble later in the period and the River Hawks capitalized twice to cut the lead back to one. Consecutive penalties allowed Lowell to set up on a 5-on-3 man-advantage with 8:31 left in the frame as Ryan Lohin deflected a Chris Forney shot under the pads of Lekkas. John Edwardh then buried a rebound from the right doorstep with 1:37 left in the frame and UVM led 4-3 after two.

UMass Lowell nearly tied the game at four when Lohin tried to scoop a shot over Lekkas, but the sophomore goaltender squeezed his pads to preserve the lead with 13 minutes remaining.

"Obviously we went through a tough time in the second period with all the penalties and things weren't going in our direction," said head coach Kevin Sneddon. "I liked the way we composed ourselves at the end of that period and I loved the way we played in the third. They tried to put a push on and I thought our guys were great at both ends of the rink."

Colton put Vermont back up by two with 9:16 left in regulation on his team-leading 12th goal of the season. The sophomore forward simultaneously received a pass from Esposito and sprinted past a Lowell defender before snapping a shot under the blocker of Hernberg for a breakaway goal. Alvaro earned his second assist of the night when he found Esposito in the neutral zone.

The River Hawks aggressively pulled Hernberg for an extra skater with five minutes remaining, but Coughlin sealed the victory for the Catamounts when he buried an empty-net goal at 18:27 to cap off his hat trick. Coughlin finished the weekend with four goals.

"Even with the goalie pulled, our guys did an excellent job blocking shots, keeping pucks to the outside and obviously Stef when he needed to be was very good for us," Sneddon added. "I was really pleased with our compete level all weekend."

UVM returns to action next weekend on Friday (Jan. 26) and Saturday (Jan. 27) when they travel to Merrimack to face the Warriors at Lawler Rink. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. both nights, and the Saturday game will be televised live on NESN.

Courtesy: UVM Athletics