Catamounts Adjust; Bonino Returns; and More
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. Swedish sniper Viktor Stalberg received most of the attention during Vermont’s run to the Frozen Four last season. The praise was deserved, as the then-junior led the Catamounts with 24 goals and 22 assists.
After Stalberg opted for the professional ranks, it was unclear where UVM coach Kevin Sneddon would find his offense this season.
Before the season began, Sneddon expected it to be a more well-rounded effort on the offensive end. He just didn’t expect it to be this widespread.
“A lot of people were looking at Lenes and Stalberg and Strong to do the scoring,” Sneddon said following his team’s 3-2 win over Boston College on Sunday afternoon.
“When you lose those players, we knew it was going to be a little bit of offense by committee. I think the guys have done a nice job, and we work everybody into our offensive systems. We don’t have a dump-and-chase line; we want energy from all four lines.”
Vermont hasn’t scored at quite the rate it did a season ago, but the offense the Cats are generating is coming from all four scoring lines and the boys on the blue line. Following Sunday’s 2-1 win over Boston College, UVM averages exactly three goals per contest.
Senior center Brayden Irwin sets the pace on the UVM offense with four goals and six assists; after that, eight players enter this week with at least a pair of tallies to their credit.
The Catamounts enter the week with a 4-4-1 overall record and a 3-3-1 mark in conference play – good enough for a four-way tie in second place behind conference leader Massachusetts.
UVM is off until its annual pre-Thanksgiving tilt with UMass on Nov. 24. This season the game moves to Gutterson Fieldhouse after UVM defeated UMass, 3-2, in Amherst last season.
“We still need to get better. It’s going to be nice to have an extended period of time to practice and prepare for a great UMass team,” Sneddon said. “We certainly will use this time wisely. You can over-practice, too, so you have to be careful that your guys aren’t stale. We’re going to take a little bit of time off; make sure we’re all healed up and rested and get back to work.”
Bonino’s back in a flash
After Boston University center Nick Bonino suffered a dislocated shoulder in the Terriers’ 3-2 win over Michigan on Oct. 24, BU believed its top-line pivot would miss at least one month with the injury.
However, Bonino returned to the lineup Saturday night, just 21 days after sustaining the injury, as the Terriers defeated Merrimack, 6-4, to end a four-game losing streak.
Initially, Bonino’s appearance seemed a desperation move by BU coach Jack Parker and his coaching staff to right the Terriers offense. However, Bonino showed no ill effects of his injury.
“Yes,” Parker answered declaratively when asked if Bonino would have played if the Terriers entered the game on a four-game winning streak rather than a four-game losing streak. “He could’ve played [Friday] night.
“We didn’t think he’d be able to play two games in a row conditoning-wise. It has nothing to do with his shoulder as this point.”
The timing of the dynamic forward was noticeably off at times, but he demonstrated the skill that makes him one of the nation’s premier scoring threats frequently.
At 14 minutes, 48 seconds of the first period, Bonino picked up a loose puck off a Merrimack turnover and skated toward goaltender Andrew Brathwaite. Patiently, Bonino waited out the lone Merrimack defender and found John Connolly for an easy goal. He finished the game with two assists and a plus-2 rating.
“I felt great. I’ve been practicing, and I knew I was getting closer to being ready to play,” Bonino said. “They cleared me for this weekend, but they wanted me to just go one [game]. It felt good to be back in the locker room with the guys.”
Also returning from injury was sophomore goaltender Grant Rollheiser, who suffered an ankle sprain in the preseason; it was his first action of the season.
Reigning Hockey East Freshman of the Year Kieran Millan has struggled in the early part of the season with an .857 save percentage and 3.15 goals-against average.
“I know he’s been trying to come back from that injury,” BU captain Kevin Shattenkirk said of Rollheiser. “It’s a tough injury to come back from as a goalie. Whenever a goalie plays like that, it just gives the defensemen confidence.
“I think it’s going to be good for Kieran because it will allow coach to go back and forth with them and get back to that competition they had at the beginning of last season to really fight for the job.”
The Terriers fell to Merrimack, 6-3, the night before in North Andover, Mass.
BU was without sophomore defenseman David Warsofsky and freshman forward Alex Chiasson in both games this weekend. Chiasson was hurt in practice last week, while Warsofsky reaggravated a hip injury in last Sunday’s loss at Maine after missing the previous game, a 1-0 loss to Northeastern.
Parker expects Warsofsky back in the lineup this weekend when BU plays a home-and-home pair with New Hampshire, beginning in Durham Friday night. Chiasson, BU’s top goal scorer with four, is questionable for the weekend.
Rob Madore earned the No. 1 spot atop the Vermont depth chart before the season began after leading the Catamounts to the Frozen Four last year. Madore started the first six games of the season and Saturday night’s 7-1 loss to BC to less-than-favorable results; he posted a 2-4-1 record with a .879 save percentage and a 3.73 goals against average.
Spillane entered the game for Madore to start the third period on Saturday night. Although he allowed three goals on seven shots, Sneddon was impressed enough to give him the start on Sunday. Spillane made 30 saves in UVM’s win over BC on Sunday.
“Coming off this weekend, obviously Mike was the better goaltender,” Sneddon said. “There’s no question about that. We’ve got a great amount of time until our next game; we don’t play again until the Tuesday following this upcoming weekend, so we’ve got to make sure we’re always evaluating and seeing where guys are. We use practice to make decisions. But I thought [Spillane] did a great job the last two games. Not looking at [Saturday] night, but in the Providence game and tonight he was solid.”
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy has utilized a rotation to this point in the season. Entering Saturday’s loss to BU, sophomore Joe Cannata and Andrew Braithwaite had rotated starts through the season’s first nine games. The trend continued as Braithwaite made the start. However, after allowing four goals in the first period, Braithwaite watched the rest of the game from the bench.
“This is a good league – probably the best league in the country,” Dennehy said following the game. “You can’t spot any team four goals.
“I’m not Mike Keenan. I very rarely take a goalie out. Usually it’s for his own good in the sense that I didn’t think we played very well in the first period in front of him. Sometimes your team needs a shake. Andrew Braithwaite is a good goalie, and he’s been a good goalie since he came to Merrimack. I believe we’ve got the best two goalies in the league.”
Cannata stopped 16-of-17 shots in his two periods of action as the Warriors fought back from the 4-0 deficit. They managed to cut BU’s lead to one, at 5-4, with 11:40 remaining, but Connolly’s empty-net goal sealed the win for BU.
The rotation system will likely continue for Merrimack with Cannata receiving the start at Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday night.
The River Hawks have also used the two-goalie system this season. Senior Carter Hutton has started six games, winning four and posting a .916 save percentage to go along with a 2.16 goals-against average. Meanwhile, Nevin Hamilton is 3-0-1 with a .920 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average.
The pair split the goaltending duties again this weekend. Both won their starts as the River Hawks swept Alabama-Huntsville.