If you are looking for a turning point in the University of Vermont women's hockey season look no further than the blowout loss to Connecticut earlier this month.
The Catamounts succumbed to the then-ranked No. 10 Huskies 5-1 at home but turned the two-game series on its heels with a 6-2 win the following night.
The Cats have not lost since that early January tilt and extended their winning streak to four games after outlasting Providence College 3-1 on Friday night in Hockey East action at Gutterson Fieldhouse
Over the course of the streak, the Catamounts (14-9-2 overall, 11-6-1 in league play) are outscoring their opponents 21-4, including a record-breaking nine-goal outburst against Holy Cross.
The Catamounts sit at No. 2 in the Hockey East standings, one slot ahead of Connecticut.
In the first game back since breaking the program's Division I single-game record for goals scored, it seemed the Catamounts — who kept the Friars at bay early — had used up all of their goals after seeing 12 shots in the first period denied.
That was until forward Kristina Shanahan broke the stalemate with nearly 15 minutes left in the second period.
Sliding on her stomach while splitting the Friars defense, Shanahan reached above her head and finished the attack before the net was dislodged. The goal was waved off on the ice, but officials went to review and reversed the decision to the delight of the 1,240 Catamount fans in attendance.
— Frank DeLuca (@FrankDeLucaTV) January 22, 2022
"Honestly I was coming down and I got tripped and it was kind of a last-ditch effort to just get a puck on net," said Shanahan, who called the goal a pleasant surprise.
In the strenuous minutes following the goal, the Friars went on an all-out attack pushing through the neutral zone and getting pucks on net against Jessie McPherson, the Catamounts' sophomore goalie.
A turnover in the neutral zone led the Friars' Hunter Barnett one-on-one with McPherson (25 saves). Barnett swooped in from the right when McPherson came off her line to challenge the forward and ultimately led to a fumbled backhand attempt. The save was just one of two in an 11-second sequence that kept the Cats ahead.
"That's classic Jessie right there," Shanahan said of the saves. "She's an elite goalie for a reason and there is a stretch in the second period there where she just held down the fort and without her, we wouldn't have won this game."
— UVM Women's Hockey (@UVMwhockey) January 22, 2022
The Cats added an insurance goal via a wrister from Corinne McCool that went top left past Friars' goalie Sandra Abstreiter (20 saves) with 11:03 left in the third period.
Providence broke though with 53 seconds left in regulation when Lauren DeBlois beat McPherson. But Theresa Schafzahl scored on an empty Providence net to seal the win for Vermont.
The goal extended Schafzahl's point streak to six games and has her tied for second in the conference in scoring.
Coming into the game the Catamounts had been efficient in the penalty kill, ranked fifth in the nation with a 91.2% success rate; their ability to deny goals down a skater showed in the second frame. The Cats stopped multiple scoring opportunities — in part due to McPherson's play — over a two-minute stretch in the period.
By their own standards the win wasn't the cleanest after losing the shots on goal margin 26-23 and allowing more power plays.
"I think just finding ways to win," Shanahan said of how the team got to this point in the season. "It's not always going to be pretty like this game especially, but we have to grind out every shift and sometimes it takes just chipping a puck in deep instead of going and making a fancy play."
Catamounts down bench boss
Coming into the game the Cats were without their coach Jim Plumer, in his 10th year with the program, and associate head coach Jess Koizumi due to COVID-19 protocols. The absences left the coaching duties to assistant Alex Gettens.
Despite the shorthanded bench the Catamounts handled the Friars, who won the team's first matchup 3-1 in December.
"Our coaches have instilled this style of play since the start of the season," Shanahan said. "So we know how we have to play regardless of who's behind the bench, regardless of how many skaters we have or who's in net. I think this late in the season knowing what we have to do it actually rallies us together."
Vermont will face Providence again Saturday afternoon at Gutterson. Game time is 3 p.m.
Contact Jacob Rousseau at JRousseau@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter: @ByJacobRousseau
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Without head coach, UVM women's hockey surges to fourth straight win