Last year, Vermont finished in third place for the second straight season, this time tied with New Hampshire. Although Massachusetts-Lowell swept the Catamounts in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs, they still qualified for the NCAA tournament and bounced back to make the most of that opportunity. Vermont advanced to its first Frozen Four since 1996, falling to eventual champion Boston University 5-4 in the semifinals.
From that Frozen Four squad, the Catamounts return their entire starting defense and goaltending corps (a claim only Lowell can also make within the league), giving lots of reason for optimism despite the loss of four forwards.
In goal, Rob Madore seized the top spot as a freshman last season and earned Hockey East rookie of the month honors in February. Senior Mike Spillane returns healthy and could press Madore for more playing time.
“Rob certainly earned the status of number one to start this season, but I think Mike Spillane is going to push Rob very hard now,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon says. “Rob is going to have to really be on his game every day in practice and in games because Mike is certainly capable. He went 7-2-1 for us last year. It’s nice to have two goalies.”
The blue line should be even stronger this year as all six starters return, joined by 6-3 newcomer Anders Franzon from Sweden, courtesy of the British Columbia league. The group is led by co-captain Kevan Miller and assistant Patrick Cullity, the lone senior in junior-dominated group. Dan Lawson and Josh Burrows provide the most offensive punch.
“We’ve got great depth back there,” Sneddon says. “Most importantly, we’ve got experience and you can’t buy that. [Two] years ago, we went out to Miami with four freshman defensemen and it was pretty difficult. Now those guys are juniors and it’s nice to have that experience back there.
“We’ve got size, we’ve got toughness, we’ve got skill. You look at our second half last year and we got a lot of production from our defensemen. So not only is it going to be our forwards having to replace some of the offense that we lost, our defensemen need to improve in that end and help us out as well.”
The only real question marks are who will replace the lost offense up front, most notably top two scorers — Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes. Senior co-captain Brian Roloff (10-19–29) leads the returning forwards along with Justin Milo (12-14–26) and Wahs Stacey (8-11–19) but the contributions from the other forwards may well dictate how far this team can go.
“Viktor Stalberg, Peter Lenes, and Dean Strong did carry the bulk of our offense last year,” Sneddon concedes. “But we really feel good about the depth we have in our locker room at the forward position.
“We may not have that one guy that steps out and scores 24 goals like Victor did last year, but I think we have a lot of guys that are poised to have better seasons and rise to the occasion.
“So we don’t have real concerns about [replacing that scoring]. I’m really excited about the guys we have returning. I think we can do some good things again this season.”
Overall, the question isn’t how many good things the Catamounts can do this year. It’s how many great things.
“They can be as good as they really want to be,” Sneddon says. “In years past we were maybe a one-line team, or we were young on the blue line, or young in the net. [But this year] I don’t think there is anything holding us back. Most of it’s mental.
“Our biggest thing is that we’re going to be asked by everybody about the Frozen Four the entire season. How can we leave that behind but take the knowledge and the experience and apply it to today, take the experiences without living in the past?
“It’s going to be easier said than done when they’re asked about it all the time. When you come off a good season, you have to put that behind you and really focus on what’s important now.”