Searching for Fallon's Game
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Joe Fallon had written such the great success story at Vermont over his first three years. Now he's hoping for another one.
Fallon came to Vermont from Bemidji, Minnesota, an unheralded goaltender who soon found himself playing some games in the middle of his freshman season. Before you knew it, he was 17-10-4 for a surprising Vermont team, with a 1.96 goals against average and .921 save percentage.
The next two years were similar, 2.02 and 1.86 GAA, respectively — a total of 16 shutouts in his first three seasons, helping ease Vermont's transition to Hockey East. He was an All-American, he was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
That's what made this year so startling in its reversal. From the beginning of the season, Fallon wasn't the same, even if everyone was slow to believe it. He has no shutouts, he's allowed four or more goals six times; his overall numbers: 3-8-4 with a 3.23 goals against average and .891 save percentage.
It was time for a break.
With only two games between a loss to Providence on Dec. 1 and the holiday tournament on Dec. 29, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon sat Fallon down. Backup Mike Spillane played the two games — a tie with Harvard and a win over St. Lawrence.
"We really felt like that was time for Joe to work on the mental side of the game," Sneddon said. "He was putting too much pressure on himself. He felt like he had to be perfect every time he stepped in the net because of our youth on the blue line. That's a lot of mental bricks to pile up on the shoulders.
"We really felt like we needed to take some time to let him chip those bricks off the shoulders and get back to just having some fun with the game."
So Fallon spent a lot of time with the Catamounts' "Peak Performance Coach," Brian Cain. In other words, a sports psychologist.
"They spent a lot of time doing what he calls 'breaking it down' to try and get back to what he needs to do to be successful," Sneddon said. "For some goalies that break might seem like an awful long time between starts, but I think it's exactly what Joe needed."
Fallon didn't think he was that far off his past performance, but only needed some tweaking, pointing to his young defense. But he said he did find Cain's tutelage useful.
"(He teaches) don't worry about anything else, and just focus on the moment," Fallon said. "More or less just trying to get back into a rhythm.
"Every day I try to focus on one aspect and improve on that, and keep my glove steady and not be bouncing around too much."
Results are coming slowly, but Sneddon is hopeful.
"When we got back to tournament time, I thought he played great against Holy Cross. He didn't see a lot of shots but he made some big saves and you could start to see him challenging more," Sneddon said. "I guess against Quinnipiac (a 4-1 loss) we just played so poorly in front of him I can't really fault him on really any of the goals. Maybe the shorthanded goal, but the game was already over by then anyway."
There are indeed challenges in playing with a young defense.
"Guys are crashing the net all the time, it makes it tough for a goalie to control a rebound," Fallon said. "It makes you think a little bit about that guy on the back door."
The next weekend was a 2-2 tie with Boston University.
"By the second half of that game, he looked like vintage Joe. He played outstanding," said Sneddon. "In BU's arena, where they play so well, they came at us pretty aggressively in the third period and I thought he was the difference there. He gave us a chance to win that hockey game and gave the guys a lot confidence even in overtime to take some chances and go for the win. We're really excited with what were seeing out of Joe right now."
Nevertheless, this was followed up by 4-1 and 5-2 losses to Boston College. Now, this weekend, Vermont will play Northeastern twice at home.
"We've got a lot of hockey East games left," Fallon said. "We need to bear down in the next couple weeks. We've got a young 'D' corps. We have to be disciplined in our systems."