March 29, 2009
By Ken McMillan

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Dan Lawson thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.

Vermont 3, Air Force 2 (2OT)
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
No Scoring
Second Period
1-AF Paul Weisgarber (6) EV
3:46 S. Bersch, S. Mathis
Third Period
1-UVM Josh Burrows (5) EV
3:56 P. Cullity, J. Milo
2-UVM Dan Lawson (7) EV
9:29 C. Carlson
2-AF Sean Bertsch EV
11:18 M. Phillipich
First Overtime
No Scoring
Second Overtime
3-UVM Dan Lawson (8) EV
14:10 W. Stacey, V. Stalberg
Goaltending
AF: Andrew Volkening, 94:10, 32 saves, 3 GA
UVM: Rob Madore, 94:10, 46 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: AF 4/8; UVM 5/10
Power Plays: AF 0-4; UVM 0-3

The defenseman had just jumped off the Vermont bench and entered the offensive zone when Wahsontii Stacey hit him with a pass at the left point.

With no time to think it through, he recalled afterwards, “I let it go.”

The blast appeared true, and Lawson thought he had put an end to the double-overtime thriller with Air Force.

“I thought it went in,” he said. But then everyone kept skating, and he continued playing as well.

The puck stayed in play for the next two minutes, and the play remained lively through the 33rd and 34th minutes of extra time. Action was finally whistled to a halt after Vermont forward Dean Strong had taken a whack at Peter Lenes’ crossing pass and then crashed into the net, taking along an Air Force defender.

The game officials gathered for a moment, and referees Marco Hunt and Todd Anderson skated over to the penalty box for overtime’s second video review. At the end of the first overtime period Hunt and Anderson had confirmed the ruling on the ice that Vermont’s Viktor Stalberg had not scored with 26 seconds left in the period.

Now, some four hours into a back-and-forth NCAA East Region final, exhausted Vermont and Air Force players gathered in their respective bench areas, some sitting on the dasher boards, others taking a knee on the ice. Fans wondered if the puck had gone in on Lenes’ shot, but the officials were actually reviewing Lawson’s shot.

Five minutes passed. Then 10. Vermont’s fans began chanting, “Goal, goal, goal,” and the tick-tock theme music to the game show “Jeopardy” was offered over the sound system.

On the Air Force bench, coach Frank Serratore had his thoughts turn from sickening to hopeful as time passed. On the Vermont bench, coach Kevin Sneddon’s thoughts ran in the opposite direction.

Finally, after more than 12 minutes of review, Hunt skated out of the box and forcefully pointed to the center-ice dot to signify a goal. Vermont had pulled out a 3-2 victory and earned a trip to the Frozen Four. The official time was later determined to be 14:10 of period five.

Vermont and Air Force staged the tournaments first multiple-overtime game since Notre Dame beat Alabama-Huntsville two years ago

Vermont and Air Force staged the tournament's first multiple-overtime game since Notre Dame beat Alabama-Huntsville two years ago

Vermont players, some of whom had been cramping up during the long wait, threw their sticks skyward and raced to the far corner of the rink nearest to hero netminder Rob Madore, who had made 40 saves. They piled in euphoria in front of a partisan section of Vermont fans who made the trip to the Arena at Harbor Yard. Soon enough, Sneddon was thrusting both fists in the air as he crossed the ice to join the celebration.

The scene on the other end of the ice was clearly more somber. Goaltender Andrew Volkening had stood silently in his cage throughout the review and dropped his head with the announcement. Slowly, a line of dejected cadets made their way to offer their condolences to the netminder who was finally proven human.

Paul Weisgarber’s goal at 3:46 of the second period gave Air Force a lead going into the third, but defensemen Josh Burrows and Lawson both scored in the opening 10 minutes of the period to put Vermont on top. Unfazed, Air Force quickly responded with the tying goal from Sean Bertsch at the 11:18 mark. It would be the last tally for the next 42-plus minutes of ice time.

The good news is the most anti-climatic championship moment in Vermont hockey history didn’t diminish the joy of winning the regional.

“What’s what you want every year, to compete for a national championship,” Madore said. “There’s so many great teams in college hockey, and to be among the last four is a great feeling.”

The review process was not easy for the participants.

“I was pretty nervous the whole time,” said Lawson, who was voted the most outstanding player of the regional. “Twelve minutes seemed an eternity.”

Even though the referees had not conferred with the teams, it turns out both benches knew exactly what was being reviewed.

“John Micheletto, our associate head coach, and I were screaming at the referees,” Sneddon said, referring to the two ensuing minutes. “I saw Danny take the shot … and I saw the back of the net move on the backside, and the puck took a weird bounce after that. It was a bullet of a shot, and it didn’t make sense how it came out of the net.”

Hunt issued a statement following the game, indicating he thought the puck had gone in the net, too.

“The puck was shot and I observed the net move,” he said. “At the first stoppage of play after conferring with the rest of the on-ice crew, we determined a review was necessary. Video confirmed the puck entered the net inside the post and under the crossbar.”

The initial problem with the review was actually finding the right point in time for the video review, especially considering another two minutes of action had passed before stoppage.

“Because of the length of time between the net moving and the first stoppage of play, it took the technicians time to find the point in the game that we needed to review,” Hunt said. “Once that point was determined, we used every possible angle to render our decision.”

Serratore took no issue with the officials’ determination, and was even appreciative that they took care to review the play as much as possible.

“They had the best look, in all sincerity,” Serratore said. “I thought Hunt and Anderson were outstanding. They called a great game. They took a tremendous amount of time looking at that play, and they took the time that they did because they wanted to get it right. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that they made the right call, because if it wasn’t conclusive I can’t imagine that they would have let the goal stand.”

Bertsch said his team focused on resuming the game before the bad news was passed down.

“We were just planning to keep playing,” he said. “It was not really going through our minds that game was going to be over.”

The game was nearly decided in the final minute of the first overtime. Brian Roloff’s blocked shot set up a break into the Air Force zone where Roloff almost connected with Justin Milo on a bang-bang centering pass from the right wing. The furious play continued with Stalberg getting off a quick shot on the left doorstep with Volkening several feet off his line and sprawled on the ice. Air Force center Brett Nylander reached back toward the cage with his stick and swept the puck off the line as Stalberg raised his hands in celebration, but there was no whistle nor a red goal light. The remaining 26 seconds ticked off with no stoppage, and the Vermont faithful roared in disapproval.

“Things got a little hectic down low,” Nylander said. “When that happens you have to collapse. The puck jumped loose and got to someone’s stick. All of a sudden Volks is out of the net. I collapsed and somehow I see it going to the open net, and I got a stick on it and pulled it out.”

Following the horn, Air Force skated right off to the locker room while Vermont milled on the ice and sat on the boards as Anderson and Hunt resorted to the officials’ box across from the team benches to watch the video replay. Several minutes passed before the no-goal signal was waved, and again the Cats’ fans booed heartily.

“I thought, at that point, we were given a little bit of a gift there,” Nylander admitted. “I thought no way we were going to lose that game at that point.”

The Catamounts celebrate the schools second trip to the Frozen Four and first since 1997

The Catamounts celebrate the school's second trip to the Frozen Four and first since 1997

SEEN AND HEARD AT THE ARENA AT HARBOR YARD

Channeling coach Cleary - Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon is no stranger to the Frozen Four. He was a freshman defenseman at Harvard when the Crimson won the 1989 national title with a 4-3 overtime victory over Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn. This will be Sneddon’s first Frozen Four as a head coach, and he likes to call upon the wisdom of his mentor Jack Cleary.

“We are not going to participate, we are going to win it,” Sneddon said. “That’s why you go to a Frozen Four.”

Madore unbeatable in OT - Vermont goaltender Rob Madore had quite a weekend. He came within two minutes of posting a shutout win over Yale in the East Region semifinals on Friday. He followed that with a 46-save effort over 94-plus minutes to beat Air Force in the finals.

It certainly wasn’t easy as Air Force had the better of play during most of the extra time. Madore made six stops in the first OT, denying Brent Olson’s wrist shot with 14:05 left, another by Tim Kirby with 7:52 left and a requiring a kick save to stop Matt Fairchild with 2:50 to go.

Madore kept up his solid play in the second OT. Mike Phillipich had his slapper stopped with 18:10 left, Fairchild’s wrister found Madore’s mid-section with 16:34 left and Blake Page’s furious rush ended with Madore stopping his backhander with 11:43 left.

“He played a great game,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said of Madore. “He is not big but he’s athletic and square to the puck. We like to think we can beat that kid with one shot because he’s not a big kid but he gaps up well. He seems to take everything into the body and bobbles up. When you do get him lateral, he is athletic enough and agile enough to make the saves that you are not supposed to make. I thought he was outstanding.”

Welcome to Vermont South - The highways from Burlington to Bridgeport were busy on Saturday afternoon with a lot of Vermont fans making the trip to support the Catamounts. It’s not exactly Mardi Gras but there were plenty of women wearing green and gold beads, though I don’t suppose they were showing anything else since it was a family setting.

No fairy tale in D.C. - For all his positive messages, Air Force coach Frank Serratore was obviously dejected with the loss.

“Cinderella won’t be taking her show to Washington, D.C., and that’s life,” he said.

Serratore said it was not tougher to lose the game by video review versus the obvious goal.

“There’s nothing that anybody is going to do or say that will make you feel better, regardless of how you lose that game,” he said. “I don’t want to equate it to a death in the family but, to an athlete, when you lose a big game like that, or when you lose a loved one, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better.

“My lord, the Air Force Academy was one overtime goal away from going to the Frozen Four. Who would have thought that possible.”

Serratore said Air Force athletes are generally considered the underdog in most pursuits, and that athletics plays a large role in their development as future officers.

“That’s why sports at Air Force are so important,” he said. “There is nothing that simulates battle better than athletic competition. This is where they learn to deal with adversity, and they will deal with it fine. The team these guys will be playing on a year from now (the U.S. Air Force) is never the underdog. Our country is in good hands with people like this.”

THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT

3. Referees Marco Hunt and Todd Anderson. One had to wonder what was taking so long with the two video reviews in overtime, but in the end these two officials got it right.

2. Rob Madore, Vermont. Volkening has earned all the attention of late with his stellar play but Madore has quietly reasserted himself as the top Cat in nets.

1. Dan Lawson, Vermont. The defenseman is never going to be able to watch an NFL video review again and not think about his goal that won the NCAA East Regional.

FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG

• Before he was through before the media, Lawson was asked if he had ever fired a puck through a net before.

“No, no, not that I remember,” he smiled. “A couple got stuck in old nets with some loose twine. I never dreamed about putting a puck through the net. I didn’t do it until now.”

• The tremendous shutout streak of Volkening came to an end at 3:56 of the third period when Burrows lofted a shot from a foot inside the blue line on the right point. Screened, Volkening never moved. It was Burrows’ fifth goal of the season. Volkening’s streak lasted 262 minutes, four seconds, and covered 12 consecutive scoreless periods.

• It was just last year when Air Force played its last double-overtime game. Josh Frider netted the game-winner at 56 seconds of the second extra session as Air Force prevailed 5-4 over Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey final.

• The 94 minutes, 10 seconds of action is the longest Atlantic Hockey game in history.

• Air Force killed off its last 23 man-down situations. The Falcons put a halt to three power plays against Vermont, seven by Michigan in the East Region semifinal, six vs. Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey final, four vs. Bentley in the Atlantic semifinals and the last three vs. Sacred Heart in the quarterfinal series. The Falcons entered Saturday’s play ranked 12th in the nation in penalty kill (87.3 percent).

• Coach Frank Serratore remains two shy of 200 victories in 12 seasons at Air Force. He has 247 overall in his career.

• Air Force nearly earned its first win over a Hockey East member in 11 years. The Falcons beat Massachusetts, 6-2, in Colorado Springs on Jan. 9, 1998. Air Force is 8-73-4 all-time against teams currently in Hockey East. The Falcons have also beaten Merrimack four times and have single wins over New Hampshire, UMass-Lowell, Massachusetts and Providence.

• Since the expansion to 16 teams in 2003, the number four seed in the NCAA tournament was 3-17 in first-round action. On Friday night, No. 4 Air Force topped No. 1 Michigan, 2-0, and No. 4 Miami beat No. 1 Denver, 4-2. The other three victories for number four seeds were Holy Cross over Minnesota, 4-3 in overtime in 2006; Massachusetts topped Clarkson, 1-0 in overtime, in 2007; and, Notre Dame knocked off New Hampshire in 2008.

• Air Force’s senior class has amassed a career record of 78-59-15.

• Air Force coach Frank Serratore lamented his team’s inability to win faceoffs in the opening period of the semifinal game, giving Michigan much more time in the offensive zone. The message apparently hit home because Air Force won 12 of 20 draws in the first period against Vermont.

• It’s been 17 years since Air Force and Vermont last met. On Jan. 18, 1992, Vermont improved to 5-0 in the series with a 4-2 victory at Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington. Most of the players from Saturday’s playoff contest were just entering elementary school or still in kindergarten when that game took place.

PLUS/MINUS

Kudos to the public address team at Harbor Yard for busting out “Brass Bonanza,” the theme song to the old Hartford Whalers, prior to the start of the third period.

It’s a shame there weren’t sufficient television monitors to allow the press, and many fans to view the crucial video replays in overtime. There were video replay boards high in the arena, but they are hard to see for replay purposes. Plus, either the NCAA or the arena management decided it best not to show video replays during the reviews.

ALL-EAST REGIONAL TEAM
F - Viktor Stalberg, Vermont
F - Jacques Lamoureux, Air Force
F - Sean Bertsch, Air Force
D - Dan Lawson, Vermont
D - Greg Flynn, Air Force
G - Andrew Volkening, Air Force
Most outstanding player - Dan Lawson, Vermont

WHAT’S NEXT

It’s on to the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C., for the Vermont Catamounts. It is the second semifinal appearance for Vermont, which last appeared in the Frozen Four in 1996. The Cats will face a familiar foe in the national semifinals, Hockey East members Boston University or New Hampshire. Vermont swept a November series at B.U., and split a March home set with UNH.