Back to full strength, Vermont is rolling

News of the suspension of four of its captains before the season cast plenty of doubt over the start to Vermont’s season. Now, with that quartet back in the lineup, the Catamounts are proving to be a team to reckon with. That leads the three things I’ve learned this week.

1. Watch out for the Cats

Mario Puskarich, Brendan Bradley, Anthony Petruzzelli and Chris Muscoby all sat out the first five games of the season for Vermont for an off-ice incident. Disaster, right? Not so fast. Vermont came through that stretch with a 3-1-1 mark and posted wins over Clarkson, Omaha and Michigan, the last of which came on Friday night. Traveling to Boston on Sunday, all four players were back in the lineup and the Catamount train continued to roll posting a 3-2 road win over Northeastern. Is Vermont possibly the hottest team in Hockey East? We’ll find out this weekend when they face UMass Lowell in a two-game set.

2. A special night for UNH’s Grasso

It didn’t take long for New Hampshire to jump out to a 4-0 lead against Merrimack on Saturday night. But if you weren’t at the Whittemore Center or weren’t following along on the box score, you might have missed that the final three of those four goals came from the stick of Patrick Grasso. The rookie forward scored the hat trick in 3 minutes, 56 seconds. And as if that wasn’t enough, he added a fourth goal in the third period to help the Wildcats to a 6-2 victory. Through six games, Grasso has eight goals and 10 points total, good enough to lead the nation in points per game for a rookie.

3. Non-conference improvement

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was ranting in this very space because of Hockey East’s struggles in out-of-conference play. Though this weekend wasn’t perfect, Hockey East went 4-2-1 out of conference including wins for Vermont over Michigan, UMass Lowell over Omaha, Merrimack over Cornell and Providence over Brown. Since the league’s early below .500 non-league start, things have improved and Hockey East’s winning percentage is .571 (34-24-12). The league now as a .500 or better record against all other conferences.