Saturday night’s feature was “To Catch a Thief” starring Mike Vecchione.
With the dexterity and resourcefulness of a cat burglar, Vecchione snuck toward the net from the weak side, spun 360 degrees while controlling a slightly off-target pass and tucked it inside the right post all in one motion to give Union a 3-1 lead in the second period against Brown at Messa Rink.
The Bears came back to take a 4-3 lead with 6:29 left in the game, but a furious late charge by the Dutchmen allowed Vecchione’s masterpiece to be part of a victory, 6-4, instead of what would’ve been a disheartening loss.
No. 20 Union improved to 8-2-1 overall and 4-0-0 in the ECAC, Vecchione scored his 14th goal of the season and he has clearly and firmly put himself in the (albeit very early) discussion for the Hobey Baker Award.
“It was a heck of a play by Spencer Foo, too,” head coach Rick Bennett said. “Again, it was just a great hands play, the awareness to know you’re going to run out of real estate. But before he did, he put it in, and that’s a big-time play by two big-time players.”
Despite the relative success and lack thereof by the two teams — Brown won all of five games last year — Union had not beaten the Bears in almost two years.
It looked like the Dutchmen were well on their way to stopping that streak after Vecchione scored, but Union needed a tying goal by senior Eli Lichtenwald with 4:50 left and two goals by Cole Maier, one an empty-netter with 21 seconds left, to pull it out.
Maier’s game-winner came on a play in which he centered it to Brett Supinski in front, but Supinski couldn’t do much with it, as he was collared by a Brown defenseman.
Maier proceeded toward the crease and got the puck back to sneak it past goalie Gavin Nieto with 4:00 left.
“We knew they weren’t going to give up,” Maier said. “At the end of the game, guys just really wanted it. ‘Let’s get it right back, let’s get it right back.’ It was pretty positive [on the bench].”
Besides Vecchione’s goal, Bennett considered the overall outcome a bit of thievery by Union.
They were outshot 37-32 by the Bears (0-2-0, 0-4-0) and at times had difficulty clearing their defensive zone cleanly.
“I just want to be perfectly clear, that we swiped the game tonight,” Bennett said. “We got lucky. Credit to their staff and their players. It was important to them. It wasn’t really important to us until we were down.
“As a coaching staff, we’re hoping they don’t think this is going to be an easy one. And I think we kind of did. Last I checked, we hadn’t beaten Brown in a couple years.”
Vecchione’s goal was so spectacular that video was quickly forwarded to the powers that be at ESPN by the Union sports information staff.
Defenseman Greg Campbell started the play with an outlet pass to Foo, who brought it toward the top of the right circle and found Vecchione streaking in on net from the left wing.
To get the puck on his stick blade, Vecchione rotated his body clockwise and caught it with his back to the net, then continued to spin in that
direction until he was facing Nieto, while deftly shifting the puck to a shooting spot for his forehand. He slid it inside the right post before a defenseman could lay a finger on him.
“Great play by Greg to get it out to Foozie, and Foozie just did what he does,” Vecchione said. “He drew some attention and it was kind of the same thing as the other night, when I came backdoor off the weak side.
“Nobody picked me up, and it was a little behind me, so I just tried to corral it and bring it to my forehand. Just a spur-of-the-moment thing.”
Brown pulled within 2-1 at 2:39 of the second period on a deflection by Zack Pryzbek for his first goal of the season.
That goal survived a long video review to determine if he tipped it in with a high stick.
After Vecchione’s goal, Charlie Corcoran scored two for Brown, including the go-ahead at 13:31 of the third.
Lichtenwald tied it less than two minutes later by camping in front and punching home a rebound of Ryan Burton’s shot.
“Anthony [Rinaldi] was working hard in the corner, sucked some guys toward him and made a nice play to Burton in front,” Lichtenwald said. “I was just there to dump the trash and put it in.”
Brown 0 1 3 — 4
Union 2 1 3 — 6
First period — 1, Union, Vidmar 6 (Foo, Supinski), 12:53 (pp). 2, Union, Foo 5 (Vecchione, Taylor), 18:45 (pp). Penalties — Wynne, Brown (holding), 12:45; Taylor, Union (slashing), 13:32; Tegtmeyer, Brown (tripping), 18:12.
Second period — 3, Brown, Pryzbek 1 (McArdle, Gessert), 2:39. 4, Union, Vecchione 14 (Foo, Campbell), 12:02. Penalties — Rinaldi, Union (holding), 13:44; Giuttari, Brown (interference), 16:57.
Third period — 5, Brown, Corcoran 1 (Gottlieb, Lafferty), 4:42 (pp). 6, Brown, Willman 1 (Lafferty, Gottlieb), 11:03. 7, Corcoran 2 (Lafferty, Schoo), 13:31. 8, Union, Lichtenwald 3 (Burton, Rinaldi), 15:10. 9, Union, Maier 3 (Supinski), 16:00. 10, Union, Maier 4 (Vecchione), 19:39 (en). Penalties — Campbell, Union (holding), 3:58; Pryzbek, Brown (hooking), 10:53; Foo, Union (hooking), 11:03.
Shots on goal — Brown, 12-14-11—37; Union, 10-8-14-32.
Power-play opportunities — Brown, 1 of 4; Union, 2 of 4.
Goaltenders — Brown, Nieto 0-4-0 (31 shots-26 saves); Union, Sakellaropoulos 7-0-0 (37-33).
Time — 2:20. Attendance — 1,912.
Referees — Marty Hughes, Tory Mazzola. Linesmen — Matt Brady, Kevin Graber.