Less than a minute into last weekend’s home-and-home series with Massachusetts, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon might have wanted to go home, get into bed and not leave for a few days.
The Catamounts surrendered two goals to the Minutemen in the first 59 seconds of Friday’s series opener. It was the fifth straight game that Vermont had allowed the opening goal, having gone 1-3 in the previous four.
But instead of burrowing and allowing the Minutemen to carry out an onslaught for the remainder of the game, the Catamounts responded. And for the remainder of the weekend, Vermont didn’t allow another goal, scored five itself (including three on the power play) and walked away with a weekend sweep of UMass.
“The weekend certainly didn’t start very well,” said Sneddon. “But I give our team, certainly the seniors, credit for keeping the guys calm and persevering. I thought we got better and better as the weekend progressed.”
Two of the areas that keyed the victories, according to Sneddon, were goaltending and leadership. Continuing a goaltender rotation that began three weeks ago at Maine when sophomore Brody Hoffman returned from injury to alternate in net with rookie Mike Santaguida, both played solid after UMass posted its quick start.
“They’re both playing excellent hockey for us right now,” Sneddon said of his goaltending. “Both guys played exceptionally well against UMass this weekend.”
As for continuing in a rotation for the Catamounts, Sneddon quipped: “I look at it and say, ‘Why would we change anything right now?’ Both guys are playing so well for us. They’re giving our team confidence to play aggressive and make mistakes and realize it won’t end up in the back of our net.”
Sneddon is also happy with the leadership he has received from fifth-year senior Chris McCarthy. McCarthy leads the team in scoring with three goals and five assists and, according to Sneddon, seems poised to break out offensively.
“He’s been extremely consistent for us,” Sneddon said of McCarthy. “He’s provided us with some great leadership on and off the ice. His best offensive days are ahead of him this year. He’s seen a lot of his time and he’s certainly a huge player for us.”
When a blowout isn’t as bad as it seems
After losing 5-1 to Boston College, there were plenty who questioned just how good this year’s Boston University team is.
So a week later when BU fell 7-0 at Maine, it was understandable if Terriers fans began to jump ship.
Since then, BU notched a win over UConn and a win and tie versus North Dakota. Thus, it’s not crazy to ask first-year bench boss David Quinn what led to the turnaround.
His answer: Things were never that bad.
Quinn admitted that his team was outmatched against BC. But he also said that while watching the 7-0 loss to Maine on tape, he felt that his team wasn’t that bad.
“I said to [my team], ‘If I ever said this in public, people will think I’m insane, but we actually did a lot of good things in our 7-0 loss to Maine,’” said Quinn. “It was just one of those nights.”
Despite the positive outlook from the 7-0 loss, Quinn is quick to point out his team did need to improve. That improvement came in many ways last weekend against North Dakota, particularly between the pipes where Quinn started goaltender Matt O’Connor on back-to-back nights for the first time this season.
That move paid off as O’Connor followed up a 37-save victory on Friday with a career-high 55 saves in a 3-3 tie on Saturday.
“I go game by game [in choosing goaltenders] and after what happened Friday night, I knew [O'Connor] had a little bit of the hot hand,” said Quinn. “I talked to [goaltender] Sean [Maguire] about it and I said it’s no reflection on our faith in Sean Maguire. He’s a heck of a goalie.
“The conversation I had with Sean I’m probably going to have with Matt O’Connor at some point this season.”
It seems like, then, that O’Connor will lead the Terriers into one of the marquee matchups of the season, a biannual game against longtime rival Cornell at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s really become like a bowl game in the middle of a college hockey season,” Quinn said of Red Hot Hockey, which will take place this Saturday night. “It’s a perfect weekend of Thanksgiving on Thursday, Friday shopping. And it’s really evolved into a premier event in college hockey.”
Coming off of last weekend, this isn’t simply a chance for the Terriers to play a game at MSG. It’s also an opportunity to build on the momentum this team is carrying.
“I know our guys are looking forward to going down there but I also know they’re looking forward to playing again,” said Quinn. “They’re starting to feel pretty good about themselves. We’ve been a fragile group for a while but I think we’re getting a little more confident, which is always nice.”
• It will be interesting to watch Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin’s decisions in the coming games regarding goaltending. Bazin has used a rotation much of the year between Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr. Last weekend, Hellebuyck played both games, allowing just one goal on 75 shots to Notre Dame. This is similar to the situation from a season ago where Hellebuyck took over the reins and led the team to the Frozen Four. Last year, though, Carr wasn’t playing as well as he has this season, which could make the decision to go to a single goaltender a difficult one.
• A quick look at the standings finds Massachusetts and Merrimack down at the bottom of Hockey East. The Minutemen have a win and two ties while the Warriors are winless with one tie in six games. Trying to find the reason for each? Look no further than a lack of offensive production. UMass is averaging just 1.11 goals per game right now in league play. Worse than that is Merrimack, which has scored just six goals in six league games for a 1.00 goals per game average.
• Interestingly, the team at the other end of the scoring spectrum is New Hampshire, averaging 3.75 goals per game in league play. That’s a stark comparison to the slow offensive start this UNH team had, scoring just 16 goals in its first seven games. After that stretch, UNH was 1-5-1. Since that time, the Wildcats have scored 32 goals in eight games, posting a 6-2 record for that stretch.
• While college hockey tournament season usually occurs between Christmas and New Year’s Day, this weekend two Hockey East teams will take part in the same tournament as Notre Dame hosts the Shillelagh Tournament featuring Northeastern, Alabama-Huntsville and Western Michigan. This tournament uses the traditional semifinal/final structure (as opposed to set matchups) so there is a chance the Huskies and Irish could meet for an all-Hockey East championship game.
From our family to yours …
On behalf of my colleague Dave Hendrickson and the entire staff at USCHO, wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving! Dave will be back with next week’s column provided he gets out of the turkey-induced food coma we have all come to expect from him.
USCHO covers Hockey East all week long on the Hockey East Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.