Team of the Week: Vermont
Freshman Stalberg Impressive Despite Going Scoreless in Debut
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
A year ago, Vermont started out red hot, in its new surroundings as a member of Hockey East. But they weren't Hockey East games, and once the Catamounts reached the league schedule, they consistently had trouble defeating the traditional top 4 in the league — BU, BC, New Hampshire and Maine.
In the end, Vermont was a game under .500 in the league, and the season ended in frustration.
So after starting this season strong at 2-0 again, with a nice win at the Icebreaker Invitational at Miami's brand new arena, the feelings are buoyant. But perhaps a little more tempered.
Nevertheless, Vermont is CHN's first Team of the Week for 2006-07.
One reason is a guy who didn't even show up on the score sheet ... at least not yet. Freshman Viktor Stalberg, a 6-2, 196-pound Swede who was a sixth-round draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, stepped into the lineup with big name returners Torrey Mitchell and Peter Lenes, and was impressive.
Playing on the smaller ice sheet, Stalberg seemed to make a smooth adjustment, and it fits into his purpose for coming to the States to play, turning down the Swedish Elite League.
"Both leagues are obviously good. The Swedish Elite League is probably the best in the world after the NHL," Stalberg said. "But if you're playing on one of the better teams there, it's hard to get ice time in the first two lines. That's really what I was looking for — coming here and getting more ice time, and developing the physical aspects of the game too.
"The defensemen have an easier time stepping in to hit you. It's a faster game, there's more opportunities. It's a more intense game. ... It's not as skilled in every situation, but it's more intense."
Stalberg's grasp of this style of play is already as good as his English, even compared to other Swedish students who all must take English starting in fourth grade. But, still, this is his first year in North America.
"It's hard in the beginning obviously," said Stalberg. "It's hard to write papers in English. Speaking is easy, but when it comes to grammar and stuff it's hard. But professors have an understanding."
Once Stalberg made the decision to come over, Vermont was at the top of the list because of the interest the coaches showed. They came to watch him play two games in Sweden.
"After that, a lot of the NHL scouts, they heard I wanted to play college hockey and they started calling me, and wanted me to go to their friend's colleges," Stalberg said. "So then a lot of offers came over the phone without seeing me play. That was weird. But Vermont seemed like a good choice. They showed they really wanted me."
He said that the Maple Leafs encouraged him to play college hockey over Major Junior.
"I've grown late, so I feel like I need to fill out the frame. They thought it was a good opportunity."
Though it's his first year living in the U.S., it's not his first trip. He made it to a pair of games last year at Gutterson Fieldhouse, seeing the Catamounts take on Maine. If he needed any final convincing that UVM was the place for him, that was it.
"It was unreal. The student section. It was nothing like I was used to," said Stalberg, who said that even the big crowds for senior games in Sweden often have a corporate feel.
This weekend, the Cats will host Northeastern in their Hockey East and home opener. Stalberg can't wait.
"It's going to be amazing," he said. "The two games against Maine last year were unbelievable. The first game here is going to be something. Something to remember."
And maybe he will finally get on the scoresheet, like his linemates already have.
"The opportunities were there and the goals will come," Stalberg said. "I felt pretty comfortable right away. I thought I'd have more troubles with it. I got a couple good hits on the other team and didn't get knocked down. It felt good."