Vermont's Looking Toward The Future
by Joshua Seguin/CHN Reporter
DURHAM, N.H. Vermont entered last weekend with only two conference wins, but generated praise after Friday night's overtime victory at New Hampshire, after tying the game with 14 seconds left in regulation. The win was a rare highlight in a tumultuous season, which has been one of the most trying in the history of the Catamount program, with a record of 6-23-1.
“I still love our team,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “I probably don’t say it often enough. The playoffs have slipped away from us. I am very proud of our team. They are resilient. We paid the price to win (Friday).”
The season for Vermont has been marred by injuries. Entering the series against New Hampshire, approximately 144 games have been lost due to injuries this season. The loss of players like Connor Brickley and Chris McCarthy has been detrimental not just on the ice, but in the locker room too.
The Catamounts are getting healthier with the return of Brickley, but it's too late to help make a playoff run.
Youth has also played a significant role factor. With the injuries, younger players have to step into bigger roles, which has taken its toll mentally on the team.
“Coming into the season we were already a pretty young team,” Sneddon said. “I think we had 17 or 18 freshmen and sophomores. I think with the injuries that we have had, a lot of the so called younger players have played roles that they might not have seen if we had a healthy roster. They have embraced those challenges and have filled in nicely.”
“It has been a real tough year for us with injuries to our top guys,” said UVM sophomore co-captain H.T. Lenz. “We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores but everybody has been proud of how we have played. We haven’t turned soft and we have competed every game.”
Young players such as Kyle Reynolds, who was the Hockey East Rookie of the Month in January, Michael Paliotta on defense and Lenz have become stalwarts in the Vermont lineup. These young players comprise the future of the Vermont program, which looks very promising.
Lenz scored two goals on Friday night against New Hampshire, including the tying goal.
Before the season, junior Chris McCarthy was slated to wear the captain 'C' on his jersey but he has been injured for most of the season. Lenz has scored two tying goals against New Hampshire in the last minute this season and as a sophomore has been integral in the locker room for the young team.
“He (H.T) has stepped up for us this season,” Sneddon said. “His goal tonight was a great goal by our captain. He has stepped up in the times that we have needed him to. He is a great leader for us.”
Defense and goaltending have been a huge issue so far this season for the Catamounts. One of the biggest advantages coming into this season was thought to be in goal, with four-year starter Rob Madore. But that has not panned out, with Madore playing largely inconsistent this season, allowing nearly four goals a game.
His performances against New Hampshire over the weekend have to be promising moving into the latter two weeks of the season. On Saturday night he made 38 saves, including 30 in the final two periods alone, and many of the saves were phenomenal in nature. His play sparked the Catamounts on Friday night but despite his performance on Saturday they were overpowered in a loss to UNH.
“I thought Rob was excellent all weekend,” Sneddon said. “This weekend was a gutsy effort for us. There are a lot of positives and some teaching points as well.”
The young defense has been largely to blame but they are quickly learning the game. Despite the difficulties on defense the effort is still there. Friday night they had 15 blocks and on Saturday they had eight. This will bode well going forward into next year as the culture is there to improve.
“We really want to take care of defensive zone first,” said Paliotta. “We are taking games one at a time. We aren’t quitting at all. Practices are upbeat and up tempo. We are going to finish it up strong.”
Going forward in the last two weeks of the season Vermont has a rough schedule but any experienced gained for next year is ultimately what Vermont is looking for. The last two weeks see them hosting Boston University for two and travelling to Boston College, not an easy task for any team.
“We just want to enjoy our four games remaining as a team,” said senior co-captain Brett Leonard. “We want to build as a team and get better every game to build for the future.”
The Catamounts could play a huge role in the outcome of a tight race for first at the top of Hockey East. They could be the spoiler for any team going down the stretch, like they were on Friday night against New Hampshire, who is fighting for a playoff spot.
“We need to try and get better in the coming weeks,” Sneddon said. “We have a very difficult schedule going forward with BC and BU to end the season. The Biggest thing is honoring our seniors and letting our younger guys get better and develop.”
Further developing the young guys, especially on defense, will be crucial to any success that Vermont has next season. This season may have been a lost one for Vermont but the positive culture that still is present in the Vermont circles is something that will mean good things going forward.
Despite a so called lost season in Burlington, one that has seen many more downs than ups, Vermont is a young team. They will lose only three players to graduation.
Underclassmen such as Brickley, Paliotta, Nick Bruneteau and Lenz still have three or more years remaining to win big games, but for now they and the rest of the Catamounts can relish the role of possibly being a spoiler down the stretch.