'Second Season' Brings New Perspective to Vermont
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
It's a tale of two seasons for Vermont.
The first, 2008-09, gave the Catamounts national recognition as a college hockey power, a Frozen Four finish with a Hobey Baker candidate forward, and a no. 3 ranking in the national polls.
The second, in 2009-10, however, has seen Vermont struggle defensively — one of its hallmarks — barely sneak into Hockey East playoffs after inconsistent play within the league, and the dismissal of one of their key players from the team down the stretch run.
"We've been faced with a lot of adversity," Catamounts coach Kevin Sneddon said. "This team has definitely been tested. It's a much tighter race in Hockey East this year, and we're thanking our lucky stars that we get to be a part of the postseason."
It was the tightest race in Hockey East history, one which saw four points deciding between third place and ninth, just out of league postseason play. In fact, thanks to a tie against Lowell and Boston University's sweep of Northeastern on the final day of regular season play, Vermont slipped into the eighth spot with a 9-11-7 record (15-12-7 overall) and earned a first-round matchup at New Hampshire.
Not quite the expectation after last season's run to Washington D.C.
"It's really a disappointment in terms of our goals for the season," said senior captain Brian Roloff. "The big difference is that [last season] we were able to to win close games. We've given away 10, 15, 20 points points in league play. There were a couple of games we just gave away."
There are a couple of culprits to blame for the dip in production, though offense is not one of them. Scoring is the same rate as it was last season for Vermont, though goals against has risen to over three per game in conference play, up close to half a goal from 2008-09. Despite those numbers, the Catamounts still own a top-20 ranking, with wins over Denver, Yale, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Lawrence.
"Offense has been the least of our problems," Sneddon said. "The problem is, we're giving up too many goals. We're not being stingy defensively, our goaltending has been inconsistent. Rob Madore is starting to peak at the right time, he tends to rise to the challenge."
Challenges are something the Catamounts have faced all season long — as recently as mid-February, when Sneddon decided to dismiss second-leading scorer, Justin Milo, from the program. Since, Vermont has been relatively silent about Milo, a two-sport star drafted by the New York Yankees, only saying that they refuse to discuss what led to the surprising event.
Both Sneddon and Roloff, however, are quick to mention that members of the team have stepped up since the incident, specifically the line of freshman Sebastien Stalberg (younger brother of last season's Hobey Baker finalist, Viktor) and seniors Colin Vock and Brayden Irwin. Since being put together on a line, they've provided offensive spark in helping Vermont salvage their playoff hopes.
"[Milo] was a first line-second line guy," Roloff said. "Sebastien has done a nice job [filling the void]. Over the last 4-5 weekends, he's had points. He's been on a line with Irwin and Vock, and he's done a real nice job. He's a good kid, easy to get along with."
"The seniors have done a real nice job leading by example, and it's not just the guys with letters on their jerseys," Sneddon said. "We've seen tremendous growth with Irwin and Vock — they're taking the team on their backs. Sebastien has been a bright spot this year. He's been playing well beyond his years. Every line we've put him on, he's sparked them. He's been as important of a second-half player that we have. I wouldn't say he's quite earned the respect or fear of opponents yet, but we feel he'll be a top player in this league."
Perhaps that can come sooner rather than later, when the Catamounts travel to Durham to face the Wildcats, whom against whom they went 0-2-1 during the season, including an epic two-game series including an overtime loss in which Vermont matched New Hampshire, goal-for-goal, until the Wildcats struck last in the extra period. The next night saw the Vermont jump out to a 3-2 lead in the second, only to settle for a tie.
"We really outplayed them on the first night," Sneddon said. "Both games went to OT. I think we matchup pretty well. We have to value the puck and be gritty in our own zone. Really, its just playing to the best of our ability. We've been playing well, and we're excited for the second season."