The Cats’ Meow

Forgive Scott Mifsud, if you see him sporting a grin from ear-to-ear while walking around Vermont’s campus these days. You see, Mifsud is playing a large part in the Catamounts’ recent resurgence near the top of the ECAC Hockey league, and back into the national spotlight.

For his career at UVM, and the years following the graduation of the three best players the program has ever seen — Martin St. Louis, Eric Perrin and Tim Thomas — winning hasn’t come easy for the Cats.

So now that Mifsud and his teammates are riding an unbeaten streak the likes of which has not been seen since the “Big Three” graced the Gutterson Fieldhouse ice leading the Cats to a Frozen Four berth in 1995-96, you can understand Mifsud, when he says he is having the most fun of his four years at Vermont.

“I don’t think winning ever gets old here,” said the senior assistant captain. “We’ve had a couple of tough years here. The first three years we didn’t win as consistently as I would have liked, but this year things are going well. We’re just playing as a team, and that’s the big difference. We’ve got 28 guys pulling the same direction. Everyone’s just having a ball. It’s just fun to come to the rink.”

It hasn’t always been this much fun for Mifsud. In January 2003, his sophomore season, he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. Somehow, he was able to continue playing.

“I don’t know how that happened,” he said. “The trainer said that the muscles surrounding the knee were strong enough to let me continue to … still skate.” But his luck did not last long. “Eventually, in the end of February, at Union, my knee just gave out, and that was it.”

That March, Mifsud underwent surgery on the knee, where doctors took a piece of his patella tendon and formed a new ACL. He was back on the ice in early October for the season-opener at the Gut, a 5-3 loss to Boston College, six months to the day of the surgery.

But was he at full strength?

“Absolutely not,” he said, shaking his head, almost answering the question before it was asked. “I mean, it felt good, but in terms of the strength and power and quickness in the knee, my overall skating, it was not even close to where I am this year, even to where I was my freshman and sophomore years [before the injury]. It really set me back.”

This season, with all injury troubles seemingly behind him, “Miffer” is leading the Vermont charge on and off the ice. He is helping his team to an unbeaten conference record and, as of the 5-4 win, in literally the last second, over New Hampshire Saturday, to a ten-game unbeaten streak — the nation’s longest.

The Burlington, Ont. native tallied four points that game, scoring a 5-on-3 power-play goal and assisting on both the tying marker and the game winner, as the Cats rallied from a two-goal deficit to keep the streak alive.

Already playing organized travel hockey at the age of five, the son of two physical education teachers has always loved the ice. Mifsud loved baseball, too. A tremendous all-around athlete, he played second base and shortstop, hitting .500 with five home runs at Nelson High School in his senior season. With those numbers, he was named MVP of the team. In the Ontario Provincial league, he scored 43 goals and 57 assists in 48 games for the Thornhill Rattlers, garnering runner-up honors for the league MVP.

Why did Mifsud come to play in Burlington, Vt., from Burlington, Ont.?

Catamounts fans owe a thank you, in part, to Mifsud’s sister, Lyndsey. She played soccer in Vermont at the Burlington International Games, an event in which athletes from both cities compete against each other in summer sports for Burlington athletic bragging rights. It was the first he heard of the city and the school.

Then his former teammate with Thornhill, Jeff Miles, a Catamount star who graduated last spring, skated for Vermont as a freshman. When he visited, Mifsud loved Burlington, and the rest is history. An honor student in high school, Scott has been named to the ECACHL All-Academic Team for two years running. He is majoring in physical education, like his parents.

Mifsud is tied for the national lead in points (22), tied for third nationally in both power-play goals with seven, and game-winning goals with three, and he is fourth in goals (11) — all in only 15 games. Pretty remarkable, considering his career highs in goals and points in a season are 12 and 25, respectively, both marks set last year. He is on track to become the 38th player in UVM history to amass 100 career points. If he does so, he will join the likes of Vermont all-time leading scorer St. Louis.

“I used to watch Theo Fleury growing up, just because he was a little guy,” said the 5-8, 172-pounder “He was a pest, and he was always constantly forechecking, always buzzing around the ice. But, obviously, I love the way Martin St. Louis plays now. He’s a really skilled guy, but at the same time, his work ethic and his love for the game really shows through.”

Work ethic is a quality Vermont second-year head coach Kevin Sneddon sees in Mifsud. “With all the injuries he had for the first couple years, he wasn’t able to train in the summer the way he wanted to train,” said Sneddon. “I think this past summer, he stayed here, and he put his heart and soul into training, and it’s really paid off for him on the ice.”

Mifsud is the epitome of a two-way player. He is also a threat on both the power play and penalty kill, and that, too, is not overlooked by his coach. Sneddon pointed to a key blocked shot Mifsud made on a crucial 5-on-3 kill in a win over Colgate. The puck actually split his shin pad. That’s the type of effort Mifsud is giving on a nightly basis.

“He’s getting the job done offensively without sacrificing good, sound, defensive hockey,” said Sneddon. “Which, out of a senior, is what you want. You don’t want guys to be out there producing, but at the same time be a defensive liability, and he’s not. He’s going to block a shot; he’s going to go down and score a goal. He’s a prime-time player.”

In talking about his goals for the season, it is clear that Mifsud knows he must be a team leader for the Cats not only on the ice, but in the locker room as well. “Personally, I think I have to pick up the leadership. I’m really just looking to try to lead the guys to stay positive and composed.”

Sneddon says he is doing that in a variety of ways. “It’s leading by example. It’s in the weight room. It’s out on the ice. He doesn’t speak a ton, but when he does speak, the words mean a lot to the guys.

“He also has an uncanny ability to keep things light, he’s got a great sense of humor,” continued Sneddon. “And I think that’s a big part of it too. Guys get tense sometimes, and they need a funny comment here or there to relax. … So, he’s been a great leader for us.”

“He is very quick-witted, probably one of the funniest players I’ve ever coached,” said the coach. “At the same time, he’s got a fierce competitive side to him. He’s got that breaking point sometimes, where you can just see it in his eyes, where he really wants to snap on somebody. But I think that’s good.

“What fuels his fire is that he does have a lot of intensity inside of him.”

Mifsud may be sporting that ear-to-ear grin on campus, but on the ice, he’s all business.