From Top to Bottom
Vermont, Madore Trying to Regroup After Rough First Half
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
Rob Madore waited in his net. Just watching as his Vermont teammates, led by talented freshman winger Colin Markison, rushed toward the Ferris State net.
Leading the Bulldogs, 2-1, midway through the second period, Markison sparked a sequence that lifted the 3,424 packed into brisk Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, Vt., to their feet.
Markison breezed past the blue line, drew a defender and dropped the puck to Sebastian Stalberg who instantly fired the puck from the right circle to an open patch of ice. In an instant freshman Kyle Reynolds filled the space and redirected Stalberg's feed past FSU goaltender C.J. Motte before he even realized Stalberg had passed the puck.
Still, Madore watched. Calmly, quietly praising him teammates for their nifty passing play and finish that extended the Catamounts' lead to 3-1. The play looked familiar to Madore. This season, though, the easy scoring chances on the power play have headed the other way — right at Madore. Often, it seems as though his reaction was just the same — watching, as opponents pile goal after goal into the UVM net.
The Catamounts closed their first half with a 2-1 loss to St. Lawrence in Burlington. The defeat pushed their losing streak to four games at the time, including their final three conference games of the first half. UVM sat in 10th place in Hockey East at 1-9-1 at that point — four points behind ninth-place Massachusetts and six short of eighth-place New Hampshire.
In two of these four losses, the Catamounts held leads only to watch their opponents leave with the points. Pegging blame for each failure on Madore is hardly fair. UVM's inexperienced defense and equally young group of forwards haven't made Madore's final year in Burlington easy by any stretch. While the more than four goals per game Vermont allows is last in the league, the 2.39 the Catamounts average ranks just as bad in Hockey East.
Still, UVM coach Kevin Sneddon entered this season looking at Madore to provide a calming presence and steady anchor in the crease. Instead, he's seen an often inconsistent netminder lacking confidence — at times, it seems as though Madore is but a shadow of the goaltender that guided the Catamounts to the Frozen Four as a freshman in 2008-09.
Last Friday, Madore solved one of his biggest problems of the season — stopping the easy shots. The UVM defense kept FSU from building much in front of the net. It's been those harmless ones, though, that plagued Madore in first half — a stretch that ended with a 4.22 goals-against average and .857 save percentage for the senior.
"It's great to see that sign," Sneddon said following UVM's 4-2 win over FSU. "The best part about it is that he wasn't satisfied about it. That's the Rob that we've come to know over the years. He just always wants to get better and better. We want to try to bottle that for him and keep that going. He was a huge part of the win tonight. He certainly did a great job last night of giving us an opportunity to win a hockey game. It's a great sign for him."
Twenty-four hours earlier, Sneddon said basically the same thing about Madore. Thursday night's game against Lake Superior State didn't end as he would've like — the Catamounts blew a two-goal lead in falling, 5-3 — but Madore may have been their best player. Against the Lakers, he stopped 28 shots and kept the Catamounts within a goal after a second period that reminded Sneddon all too much of the first half.
Losses won't do much for the Catamounts at this point. Division I hockey comes with very few moral victories, especially once the second half begins and conference tournaments, Pairwise and at-large bids all become primary talking points. Falling to Lake State as his club did, though, showed Sneddon, at the least, that his goaltender can keep his young team in games when it loses its focus or temper, which is exactly what undid the Catamounts against LSSU.
"You guys have heard me say there have been games where (Madore) did not play well and might have let the team down," Sneddon said of Madore last Thursday. "Tonight, I thought he gave us every opportunity to win that hockey game. That was the Rob Madore that we know and love."
Having experienced one of college hockey's highest highs as a freshman — a trip to the Frozen Four — Madore knows a couple nice performances in late-December games don't matter much. When the year turns, they matter even less. Wednesday night in Orono, Madore made 40 saves in 3-1 loss to Maine that damaged the Catamounts' playoff chances even further.
Saturday afternoon, UVM continues its push for a playoff spot against Massachusetts — the team directly north of them in the Hockey East standings. Trailing the Minutemen by four points, Madore and his teammates can make up ground and clinch the potential tiebreaker over UMass with a win — the Catamounts defeated UMass, 2-1, on Nov. 22.
Keeping their focus may be the biggest issue on Saturday. Aside from the playoff implications only exacerbated by the loss to Maine, the distractions that accompany this particular match with UMass could be difficult for the emotional Catamounts to handle. The clubs will play their second of three this season at Fenway Park in Boston as part of Frozen Fenway. Yet another task thrown the way of Madore, working to keep his young teammates thinking more about a critical pair of points than the chance to play in such an event.
"That's the job for all of our leadership," Madore said. "I think everyone is starting to realize that you can't look too far ahead, and you can't look too far behind."
In his last three games, Madore has saved 94 of the 99 shots he faced, giving his club a chance to win each game. Still the Catamounts are just 1-2-0, and it's becoming more evident that even the best efforts from their senior goaltender may not be enough at times. Other nights, strong play from the UVM skaters may coincide with one of the stinkers that saw Madore's save percentage hover around .850 for most of the first half.
"There's a lot that goes into a game. I was just glad to get in their and give them a chance to win," Madore said last Friday. "That's my job. I just have to give them a chance to win. Every once in a while, I'll be able to pull one out for them."
The first three games of the second half were those "once in a while" type games Madore was talking about. Just one win came, and the final 15 games of the season aren't going to get any easier. The Catamounts will simply have to be better.
All of them. Not just Madore.