With top four forwards returning, Vermont hopes roller coaster is still on way up

Defenseman Alexx Privitera was third in scoring on the Vermont roster last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Since Vermont appeared in the 2009 Frozen Four, life in Burlington has been a roller coaster. That 22-win season was followed by campaigns featuring win totals of 17, eight, six, 11, 20 and, a season ago, 22.

If you can see where we’re going here, one might believe that Vermont might be right around the top of the roller coaster.

The one exception is that looking at the Catamounts lineup shows that this team is headed in one direction: up.

This year’s Vermont team features a lineup of talented forwards. Led by Mario Puskarich, who missed 12 games last year with injury, the Cats return their top four scoring forwards from last season along with redshirt senior defenseman Alexx Privitera, who finished third in scoring a season ago.

That’s the good news. Not so good is that Vermont has to replace two significant players — defenseman/leading scorer/captain Mike Paliotta and goaltender Brody Hoffman, who signed a pro contract this offseason.

Trying to replace Paliotta’s nine goals and 36 points may not be impossible, but his tangible leadership qualities and his ironman-like minutes played will be tough to replace.

“I don’t think you can replace players like Paliotta [and fellow senior Nick] Luukko,” said coach Kevin Sneddon. “I don’t think you can do that in just plugging players in there. What we’ve done is create some depth back there of players who won’t log as many minutes but are willing to share the responsibilities.”

In net, the experience of returning junior Mike Santaguida means it’s not as much of a problem to replace a player like Hoffman.

“I feel with Michael, he’ll really thrive with having the ball,” said Sneddon. “It’s his turn to lead and, actually not being in a rotation will keep him very focused and he’ll excel in that environment.”

Last season

22-15-4, 10-9-3 (seventh) in Hockey East. Lost to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East semifinals.

Names to know

Brady Shaw and Puskarich have both proven that they can be potent forwards to lead Vermont’s offense. At the same time, Privitera was solid on the blue line while contributing offensively. But the name you want to make sure you know is goaltender Santaguida, who is likely to see the bulk of the work all season for Vermont.

Three questions

1. Is Santaguida ready to play every night? Having shared time for two seasons with Hoffman, Santaguida likely is going to have the chance to start every night. There always is a concern when a goaltender has to carry that load.

2. Who will provide the leadership on and off the ice? Defensemen Paliotta did everything you could ask as a leader last season for the Cats. Who is ready to assume that role?

3. Will Vermont’s murderer’s-row schedule to open hurt this team’s confidence? The first five games could be a crucial test for this team’s psyche as it faces five teams in the preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll’s top 10. The good news is that four of those games are at the Gut. Of course, should Vermont win four, or even all five, of these games, that would provide the ultimate confidence boost out of the gates.

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (fifth place): The Catamounts seemingly get better every year but it still is difficult to place them ahead of my top four. Plenty of experience returns and goalie Santaguida now will take the reins by himself.

David H. Hendrickson (eighth place): The Catamounts look like they’re on an eighth-place island, a long way from both seventh and ninth place.

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