McCarthy Putting Himself, and Vermont, Back on Map
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
Chris McCarthy didn’t set out to make a name for himself this season.
“Team recognition is better than getting personal recognition,” he said. “I’m not one to like the spotlight or put myself out there. I just kind of go about my way.”
But McCarthy’s play has put him in the spotlight and, more importantly in his opinion, helped to put the University of Vermont back on the collegiate hockey map.
“Right now, he’s playing his best hockey; there’s no question about it,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “He’s always been a good player for us, but right now he’s a great player for us. He’s a big part of the modest success we’ve had so far and certainly helped put us in a situation where we’re being talked about on a national level.”
To this point, McCarthy had quietly put together a solid collegiate career. He became the 42nd Catamount to surpass the century mark in points on Feb. 7. In 2010-11, he finished second on the team in points, and, after missing a season with a torn labrum, he returned in 2012-13 to lead the team in goals (13), assists (18) and points (31).
This year, McCarthy has attracted more attention. In Hockey East, which boasts some of the top offensive firepower in the nation, he’s currently tied for eighth in scoring. And, with six games to go in the regular season, he’s bested his career high in goals (14) and equaled his career high in points (31). He also needs just one helper to tie his career high in assists.
While McCarthy has flourished as an offensive player, he hasn’t sacrificed his defensive play and remains a steady presence in his own end and on the top penalty kill unit. That’s part of the reason why Sneddon felt comfortable shifting his position.
On Jan. 4, Sneddon moved him from right wing to center, between freshmen Mario Puskarich and Brendan Bradley, because he felt that the team was lacking up the middle and that McCarthy, who had played center in the past, was capable of taking on the added responsibility.
“Bottom line, we just wanted him to touch pucks more,” Sneddon said. “The move has certainly provided him that opportunity.”
And McCarthy responded. In the nine games since then, eight of which were on the road, he totaled 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) and had five multi-point efforts to help Vermont compile a 5-3-1 record.
In his first game at center, against then-No. 10 Yale, McCarthy helped the Catamounts salvage a tie with two third-period goals. First, at 11:02, he collected a rebound behind the net and threw it out front. In the resulting goalmouth scramble, he flipped the puck over Alex Lyon’s glove. After Yale pulled ahead again, he netted the equalizer with less than a minute left on the clock, firing a wrist shot from the center of the circle past Lyon.
“He scores timely goals for us,” Puskarich said. “We might be down by one, and he’ll go out and get one. The whole team rallies behind him.”
On Feb. 7, Vermont held a two-goal lead over New Hampshire going into the third period. But they allowed a power play goal just 1:25 in to let the Wildcats draw within a single score. That’s when McCarthy took over.
“They make it 3-2 on the power play, and the place is going absolutely crazy at the Whittemore Center,” Sneddon said. “They come back with a couple really good shifts. We had McCarthy’s line out and he scores a goal, and then he sets up Mario with a beautiful backdoor pass seconds later to make it 5-2. The game’s over. That’s coming up big.”
As a team, the Catamounts came up big against UNH last weekend. With the road sweep, they moved into sole possession of seventh place in the Hockey East, where they sit just three points behind third-place Northeastern.
In recent years, they haven’t been in this position this late in the season. After reaching the 2009 Frozen Four, where they fell, 5-4, to eventual champion Boston University in a heartbreaker, Vermont faded from national relevance. Since then, the Catamounts have not placed higher than seventh in the Hockey East and finished above .500 only once, in 2009-10. That was also the last time they advanced beyond the first round of the Hockey East Tournament and appeared in the NCAA Tournament.
McCarthy arrived in Burlington in the fall of 2009. And, because he’s experienced the lows that losing brings, he has an even greater desire to win in his final season.
“The past three years, we’ve had some downs,” McCarthy said. “This year, our seniors felt that we wanted to leave our mark here at UVM and, with a big freshman class, they brought a lot of excitement. We’ve had some nice success. We’re just trying to finish it out with these last six games.”
It’s not going to be easy. Four of those six games are against the Hockey East elite. Vermont hosts No. 1 Boston College for a two-game set this weekend and closes out the regular season against No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell. But the Catamounts are far from intimidated.
“If we play like we did last week, I think we can play with anybody,” McCarthy said.
As for McCarthy, he may not have been drafted, and he may have escaped notice for most of his collegiate career, but, after watching his star player refine and elevate his game, Sneddon believes that he can play with anyone.
“He’s really made a name for himself and put himself into a pretty good situation that when the season is all said and done, hopefully it’s after the Frozen Four, he’s going to play professional hockey,” Sneddon said. “He’ll be a name that not only Vermonters will know, but certainly those in the great hockey world.”