Team of the Week: Vermont
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Vermont believes it can be an upper echelon Hockey East team. It wouldn't have made the move from the ECAC if it didn't believe that.
But getting there, while not the end of the process by any means, requires weekends like this past one — a two-game sweep of Boston College in front of a raucous home crowd. It has earned Vermont the CHN Team of the Week distinction for the second time this season.
"The weekend provides our club with some confidence that we can play with some of the best teams in the country," said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, in his fourth season with the Catamounts. "The game of hockey, or any team sport, is based upon the number of guys who have confidence. We have that, but we also have a great perspective. The thing I love about our team is that it came in Monday already thinking about Merrimack (this coming weekend). There were no signs of feeling great about ourselves."
A team reflects its coach, but also its leaders, and on that score, Sneddon is very comfortable with Torrey Mitchell, a junior with 10 goals, including four game winners.
"The one comment he made Saturday as we were leaving the rink, 'Coach, back to work Monday, right?'," Sneddon said. "That to me is great. There's a kid who was the best player on the ice for 120 minutes this weekend and he's thinking already that we have to get back to work. So it's good signs that we learned our lessons last year."
The wins moved Vermont into third place in Hockey East, one point ahead of BC, pending the Eagles' home game Wednesday against Boston University. A top-four spot would give the Catamounts a home-ice berth in the Hockey East quarterfinals — a major step.
"It's so important in any league (home ice)," Sneddon said. "We're certainly capable of doing it. My job is to keep the team on track."
Vermont has been doing it with defense, goaltending and timely scoring — a typical recipe for good teams. The funks junior Hobey candidate goalie Joe Fallon has gone into this year, have been shorter than the past — for the most part, no more than one game long.
Sneddon talks a lot about the "process" of what it takes to win games, but there's also a season-long process, the one that wins titles.
"I've learned over time, you can't ride your team the entire season," Sneddon said. "You need to have a good pulse and rely on your leaders to (tell you if) guys are bogged down mentally. To keep fresh, that becomes an art nowadays. The most successful coaches have a pulse on where their teams are at."
One generation always thinks things were better in their day, whether that "day" was 10, 20, 40 or 60 years ago. But things really have changed since Sneddon played for Bill Cleary at Harvard from 1988-92.
"Kids are so much different than when I played," Sneddon said. "There's a lot more information out there, and a lot more focus on mental aspects. There's a lot of different factors that weren't factors then. Kids didn't have agents at 14. They weren't being hit hard in the recruiting world. And in the era of the Internet, there's a lot of info at their fingertips."
There's also a process with the program as a whole. There's talk of a new arena that still has a ways to go to get funding, but will probably happen eventually. Sneddon took over a program that was down in the dumps, got to the ECAC final four, moved to Hockey East, and has done better than many expected already.
"A lot of people doubted us, (and thought) we'd get steamrolled," Sneddon said.
And the big step will be when Vermont gets to the point where it is truly competing with Boston College for the top recruits, regularly. That's already starting to happen.
"There's exposure with the TV coverage we're on," Sneddon said. "There's so many exciting things going on here. We offer a different setup here. There's a great education, in a beautiful surrounding, with avid hockey fans. The school has a great vision of where it wants to go."