ORONO, Maine — University of Vermont sophomore center Ross Colton was among the nation’s leaders in power-play goals entering Friday night’s Hockey East game against a University of Maine team that has the nation’s worst penalty-killing percentage at 70.7 percent.
It proved to be a magical combination for the Catamounts as Colton scored two power-play goals in the third period to rally Vermont to a 2-2 tie at Alfond Arena.
Peter Housakos and Canon Pieper had scored 3:45 apart earlier in the third period to stake the Black Bears (5-7-1, 3-4-1 HE) to a 2-0 lead, but Vermont goalie Stefanos Lekkas made a great pad save off Patrick Shea on a 3-on-1 to keep the Catamounts (4-9-2, 1-5-2 HE) within two, and Colton scored his sixth and seventh power-play goals of the season at the 13:26 and 18:17 marks to tie it.
It was the seventh straight game UMaine had allowed at least one power-play goal.
The teams play again at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Both of Colton’s goals came off faceoffs with UMaine freshman defenseman Alexis Binner in the penalty box for hooking and holding, respectively.
The game-tying goal with 1:43 left was on a 6-on-4 as Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon pulled Lekkas in favor of the extra attacker.
Derek Lodermeier won the faceoff and Colton fired a low blast from the top of the right circle that beat screened UMaine goalie Jeremy Swayman to the blocker side. Colton’s goal was his team-leading 10th of the season.
It came just five seconds after Binner had gone to the box.
Colton had scored a similar goal to pull Vermont within one as he was set up by Matt O’Donnell and Craig Puffer at the top of the circle. His one-timer sailed high over Swayman’s blocker.
“No one is happy with the result,” said UMaine coach Red Gendron. “We have to execute better on (defensive zone) faceoffs.”
He said they were fully aware of Colton’s prowess on the power play and had done a nice job fronting him until the third period.
“But they made some plays and made it tough on (Swayman),” said Gendron.
Lekkas finished with 41 saves, while Swayman had 22.
Swayman has allowed two goals in each of his last six games.
“(Lekkas) played very, very well,” said Gendron. “He made a lot of great saves.”
Gendron also praised Swayman, saying he turned in another quality performance.
Both goalies came up with a couple of gems in a free-wheeling overtime period.
Gendron defender Binner and his penalties.
On the first penalty, Binner hooked speedy Max Kaufman, who had stickhandled past two Black Bears and was about to break in alone on Swayman.
“That was a good penalty. What happened is two of our forwards went onto the ice and did the same job instead of each doing what they were supposed to do and that left our defenseman (out to dry),” said Gendron.
The holding penalty, said Gendron, was a matter of Binner finishing a check and staying with it too long.
“The mistake was made when we had control of the puck but didn’t get it out of the zone,” explained Gendron.
Lekkas, who was 3-0-1 with a 1.22 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage in four starts against the Black Bears last season, continued to be a thorn in their side with 28 saves through the first two periods.
Swayman had 14 stops in that span.
But the Black Bears finally broke through when Housakos dashed to the net and was able to direct a long, thigh-high pass from Cedric Lacroix behind Lekkas.
Pieper extended the lead on a 4-on-4 situation with a nifty move to spin away from a Catamount along the right-wing boards before skating across the slot and snapping a 20-foot wrister into the far corner past Lekkas’ blocker.
UMaine had the better of the play, but the Catamounts did an effective job clearing rebounds and limiting UMaine’s second-chance opportunities.
Swayman made the best save of the first period when he anticipated a cross-ice pass from Christian Evers to Max Kaufman and was able to slide across quickly and thwart Kaufman’s one-timer.
UMaine had the two best opportunities in the second period.
Nolan Vesey fired a one-timer from the inner half of the left circle off a Tim Doherty feed, but Lekkas was well-positioned and was able to get his left shoulder on the shot.
Later in the period, Eduards Tralmaks and Mitch Fossier generated a quickly formed 2-on-1, but Tralmaks’ pass to Fossier was a few feet off the ice and Fossier couldn’t swat it into the exposed net.
Gendron was pleased with his team’s performance.
“We played pretty well,” said Gendron. “We’re still growing.”
The Black Bears went 0-for-3 on the power play and they have now gone four games without a power-play goal (0-for-11) as special teams play continues to be problematic.