Century Cat

Brady Leisenring had a pretty good idea just how fulfilling his senior season at Vermont was going to be — until it went horribly awry, that is.

The Catamounts forward and Stowe, Vt., native grew up in the shadow of the Burlington campus and as a youngster watched the likes of Martin St. Louis and John LeClair skate in Gutterson Fieldhouse — watching them perform on the ice and then getting to meet his heroes in hockey camps sponsored by the school.

In fact, Leisenring’s fondest UVM memory was a trip to Pennsylvania with his family where his parents, Dr. Dennis and Pam Leisenring, surprised their hockey-crazed son with a trip to an AHL game featuring his favorite former Catamounts star.

“I remember my family telling me that we were going to the dog races, and I was like ‘Yeah … okay. Real exciting,” recalled Leisenring of parents that have proudly owned UVM hockey season tickets for the last 25 years. “But it turned out that my parents took me to see the Hershey Bears play the Rochester Americans.

“I’ll never forget that.”

“[Former UVM standout] Ian Boyce was a player/coach for the Americans, and he ended up getting a game winning goal in overtime and passed the stick over the glass to me in the stands,” said Leisenring of the vivid snapshot from his childhood. “I got to go into the locker room after the game, and it was such a great memory.”

While the early hockey memory made an impression on the athletic aspirations of then-10-year-old Leisenring and led to the crafty UVM skater donning Boyce’s number 11 for Cats, he didn’t have a lot of sports choices growing up in the Green Mountain State.

“We didn’t have a football team in my town, so it was either hockey or downhill skiing,” said the 23-year-old. “That was a pretty easy choice.”

Fast-forward 12 years to last season, with Leisenring riding high after a junior campaign that saw him snare First-Team All-ECACHL honors, First Team All-New England, co-MVP honors on his Catamounts team, as well as a tie for the ECACHL scoring title.

The former U.S. Under-17 National Team member had amassed 35 goals and 47 assists in his three seasons at UVM, and looked to be a cinch to become the 39th Catamounts skater to eclipse 100 points in his career — a milestone he actually met in Friday night’s 6-2 win over Providence.

That is, until the second year co-captain felt a sharp pain in his groin during a November 13, 2004, game against Clarkson — an injury he immediately knew to be serious and possibly season-threatening.

Leisenring’s instincts were spot-on, and the Vermont native was relegated to fulfilling a role as an ersatz cheerleader and assistant coach during his all-important senior season. Despite the obvious adversity, Leisenring amazed the coaching staff and his teammates with his disdain for the self-pity and temporary depression that can overcome many athletes coping with a major injury.

“Getting Brady back has really helped soften the blow of losing Scott Mifsud, who had a real career year for us last season as a senior. He’s going to put up some of the points that might otherwise have been missing. He had to make a tough decision to rest for four months.

“He probably could have tried to come back [last season], but it might have been one of those situations where he plays one or two games and blows it out again,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. “It was tough for him to sit out, but he showed up at the rink every day with a smile on his face.

“Facing a difficult situation, he responded to a ‘T’ and we were really excited to have him back this season,” added Sneddon.

“He was always helping guys out and doing whatever he could to lift the team’s spirits — something that very encouraging for the rest of us,” said UVM senior defenseman Jaime Sifers. “It might have been difficult for him watching the team playing so well and not being able to be part of it, but he was such a great leader in spite of that.”

Leisenring admits that it was a difficult year for him, as evidenced by the fact that when the strong-skating, quick-shooting star saw his parents and sister Gretchen — who likewise played hockey for the Catamounts — the oft-discussed subjects of frozen sheets of ice and pucks never came up.

“It’s just something I didn’t want to talk about or think too much about last season,” said Leisenring.

Luckily for Leisenring and the Catamounts, the senior only made it through six games before injury struck and he qualified for a fifth year of eligibility with the NCAA, given that had hadn’t played in 20 percent of the team’s games. One more game played would have eliminated Leisenring from a medical waiver request, but instead the 5-11, 195-pounder was cleared to return to Burlington for UVM’s first foray into Hockey East.

“When we first found out, I immediately became jealous of the junior class,” said Leisenring of the move to the new conference. “But things happened this year and I’m thankful I just have a chance to play hockey in a competitive league. They don’t have the back-to-back matchups in the ECAC that they do in Hockey East.

“I’m the kind of person who thinks that things happen for a reason, and I’m very fortunate to be playing with a very talented team this season,” added the soft-spoken Leisenring.

The results have been nothing short of spectacular for the formerly-felled scorer and the UVM squad he leads onto the ice.

The eighth-ranked Catamounts jumped out to an impressive 7-0 start, snatched their first Hockey East win in a solid victory over Northeastern at Matthews Arena, and the top line of Leisenring, Torrey Mitchell (three goals, 13 assists) and Jeff Corey (six goals, seven assists) has been lethal.

The right winger is tied for third in the nation in scoring with seven goals and 11 assists through 10 games, and has acted as a sniping threat on a well-oiled power play that fires up the lamp at an impressive .254 clip.

For the fifth-year senior, the scoring excursions and leadership he’s been able to impart to talented freshmen like Peter Lenes and Dean Strong have been great, but just being one of the guys in the Catamounts locker room has taken on new meaning — as has the 100-percent-healed groin muscle that has allowed Leisenring to leap right back into his storybook Vermont career.

“For me, the biggest part was the first day of practice and getting back into the locker room, suiting up and joining the other guys on the ice,” said Leisenring, who is the first redshirt hockey player in UVM history. “I was still on the road with the team last year and in the locker room, but I wasn’t lacing up the skates and that was the hardest part. As much as I wanted to be a cheerleader for the guys, there’s only so much you can do.

“There’s a huge level of both respect and trust on both the coaching and players’ end, and there’s something special going on up here under Coach Sneddon,” added Leisenring. “I was proud of the way they competed last year [without me] and I just keep thinking about how much better the team is going to be this year.”

One year after Leisenring suffered a season-ending injury that nearly tossed away his senior season, the newest member of the UVM 100-point club is no longer on the outside looking in.