The last nine months will not easily be forgotten in the State of Vermont, or around college hockey, or around the nation. In a nearly unprecedented move, the Catamounts suspended their men’s hockey season after an internal investigation into hazing allegations brought by walk-on goaltender Corey LaTulippe.
Nine months later, the Catamounts are back on the ice.
“I’m just happy to be alive, to tell you the truth,” joked head coach Mike Gilligan. “Last year was a pretty tough thing to go through. But what it did do was show our great fans in Burlington how important hockey is to the community and the University.
“And the kids are dying. They’re hungry to play and I’m hungry to coach. The fans are hungry to get back in the building so we’re very excited about what’s going to happen. We sure are itching to get going. Myself, the players, the staff, the community. It was an awful thing to go through, and I think we should be a pretty motivated group.”
With the events of the 1999-2000 season now in the rear-view mirror, the focus turns to the product on the ice. First off, the Cats’ placing in the preseason polls — eighth and ninth — certainly brought a reaction from Gilligan.
“I didn’t agree with the coaches poll and I didn’t agree with the media poll,” he stated emphatically. “I think UVM will be better off than that, I think we’ve got a real solid group that is motivated because of some of last year’s stuff.
“Ninth is low, and I personally think we should be in the top four or five. But I understand, we’re an unknown. I’ve got a feeling that with three freshmen coming in that I am happy with, and the competitive nature of our goaltending situation, that we’ll be a pretty good club.”
Adding to the picture, the Cats return a talented defensive squad from which they do not lose a single player.
“(Mark) Gouett is tough, (Martin) Wilde has had some foot problems, but I think he’s over them and he’s a solid stay-at-home defenseman,” said Gilligan. “But (Andreas) Moborg, he is one of the best offensive defenseman in the league and he’s a pretty well-kept secret right now. He can dance on the blue line, he can move the puck and we have to get him to shoot the puck a little bit more. We have seven character kids back there.”
The defense will be playing in front of senior Andrew Allen.
“He’s a good one and his best days are ahead,” said Gilligan. “He hasn’t played with the confidence that we have expected but this is his year. The Senators wanted him to go to training camp but he couldn’t go because school was in session — and I think he’s going to have a fabulous year.
— Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan
“Hot on his heels are Tim Peters and Shawn Conschafter, so we feel great about what’s behind Andrew.”
The Cats have also been known for great forwards and Gilligan thinks he has a good bunch this year too.
“(J.F.) Caudron is our most skilled forward and I am looking for a huge year out of him,” he said. “And on the other side I think (Graham) Mink can get 15 goals if he has a good year and there is good balance up front. We only have 25 bodies right now, but we should have four good lines.”
Despite the desire to put aside the past, one can’t help but be reminded that something did happen in Burlington last year — and that something may provide a distraction as the Cats return to the ice in 2000-01.
“They have to pay attention to hockey and pay attention to their schoolwork and whatever happens on the outside because of last year is going to happen,” said Gilligan. “I think there is a certain amount of maturity with the boys right now, and we certainly spent an awful lot of time together since the events of last year preparing for what would happen when we traveled. What might occur, and what fan behavior might be like, but I think we can handle it.”
There is the potential for anything but hockey to be the focus of this upcoming Catamount season, but there are two sides to that coin.
“They better be motivated,” said Gilligan. “Nobody can sit through what we sat through last year and experience what we experienced and not come out and make the best opportunity every night they play, so I am expecting a highly motivated group.”
The Catamounts are indeed a wild card in this year’s ECAC race. No one really knows what to expect from this team, but if the on-ice effort tells the story, Gilligan could be right when he says that ninth is low.
“As last year ended for us I thought we were going in the right direction,” he said. “This year will be exciting and I think we’ll end up in the top half and challenge everyone in Lake Placid.”