Last year, the Vermont Catamounts took a major step forward in reaching the goal of becoming a perennial powerhouse. A late-season charge saw Vermont catapult to third place in the Hockey East standings, win a hard-fought quarterfinal series over Northeastern and then upset Boston University at the TD Banknorth Garden to earn the school’s first appearance in the Hockey East title game — in just its third year in the league.
You might think that head coach Kevin Sneddon would be attempting to use last’s year’s success as a springboard this season. Think again.
“I think it’s dangerous to reflect back on last year and say, ‘Hey we were one step away,’ or, ‘This year we have to win that championship game,’” said Sneddon. “This ignoring the process and the process right now tells us that it’s a new journey and that [our record] is 0-0-0. We have to go through the whole thing again this year.”
Don’t think that Sneddon is about to discount what his team accomplished last season. He realizes that, despite the fact that the Catamounts came one step short of the ultimate goal, a Hockey East title, his team still learned some valuable lessons.
“We got some valuable experience of playing in a big game,” said Sneddon. “Hopefully we get [back to the Garden] again. If we do, it won’t be new. You can’t coach that experience. So for our players to have gone through that, it’s great.”
If Vermont is to reach the title game once again, it needs to address the single glaring hole in the lineup, the one left by the graduation of goaltender Joe Fallon.
“We all know how important Joe [Fallon] was to our program over the last four years,” said Sneddon. “But I’m excited to see our new goaltenders emerge.”
Leading the way will be Mike Spillane, a junior who played in the shadow of Fallon for the past two seasons.
“[Spillane] has got the chance to be the guy,” said Sneddon. “Every time he’s played for us, he’s played well, yet, he’s never been counted on.”
Though Spillane will be the leader for the position entering camp, it’s hardly a slam-dunk that he’ll be the number one for the season (Sneddon’s exact words: “I’ve never been a believer in just handing the keys over to someone.” Point taken, coach).
“A great young goaltender like Rob Madore can push [Spillane] every day,” said Sneddon. “There’s no question Madore’s going to see some time this year.”
Up front, the Catamounts will be heavy on experience having returned their top ten scorers from a year ago. The blueline may look young but four of the defensemen, all sophomores, were thrust into the fire a year ago and have proven that they can play at the top level night in and night out.
Besides the goaltending position, the biggest addition to this Vermont team may be Justin Milo, a transfer from Cornell who sat out last season. Sneddon expects him to be able to play right away.
“To add Justin Milo to the mix is nice,” said Sneddon. “He’s not a freshman. He’s been through it before at Cornell and that’s big.”