Vermont off to lackluster start, Sneddon wonders ‘if guys are tentative and not confident’

Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon

While there have been plenty of anomalies in the first half of this season, one that has left many fans scratching their collective heads is the struggled that the Vermont Catamounts have suffered through to date.

Vermont had high expectations coming into the season, returning a goaltender in Stefanos Lekkas along with a pretty experienced and disciplined defensive corps in front.

Offensively, there was a right to question where scoring might come from, but the lineup still included the likes of Ross Colton, Craig Puffer, Jarrid Privitera, Matt Alvaro and Rob Darrar, all of whom potted at least seven goals last season and were led by Colton’s 12 and Puffer’s 11.

To date, though, the results are absent.

The offense has struggled to score goals, averaging just 2.23 goals per game, ranked 54th of 60 teams nationally.

At the same time, while Lekkas has looked strong in almost every outing, he’s faced far too many grade ‘A’ opportunities. Giving his team a chance to win, though, isn’t enough when an anemic offense forces the goaltender to keep goals against to a goal or less to have a chance to win.

Tuesday night, the struggles seemingly came to a head. Playing at home against a Connecticut team it beat on the road 2 1/2 weeks earlier, Vermont hoped to snap a three-game skid and earn just its second Hockey East win of the season.

Instead, though, Vermont came out flat, and fell behind 3-0 in the first despite Lekkas stopping 14 shots in the frame. The offense finally got its chances later in the game, putting 32 shots on goal in the final 40 minutes, but that wasn’t anywhere near enough as UConn skated to a 4-1 victory.

It’s left Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon scratching his head.

“We just played so lackluster in the first period; I’m confused by it,” said Sneddon. “I don’t know if guys are tentative and not confident.

“But clearly when they decided to turn the switch on, they’re a different team. It was about halfway through the game and it was like, ‘OK.’

“But we’ve got to convince our guys that’s the way we have to play all the time.”

The good news for the Catamounts, all is not lost.

Unlike some teams that have played 10 of their 24 league games already, Vermont has played just seven. But a 1-5-1 mark in Hockey East leaves the Catamounts in the Hockey East cellar as they eat their Thanksgiving turkey, a mark that needs improvement should this team come anywhere close to meeting its expectations.

Crazy night in North Andover “a first” for Dennehy

If you looked at the scoreboard last Saturday night or Sunday morning and saw the 6-6 score of the overtime tie between Providence and Merrimack, you might not totally understand much about the evening.

No defense? Sure probably not a ton. Goaltending struggles? Maybe. Lots of power-play goals? Yep, the game had that.

But what you wouldn’t know unless you looked at the box score is the unreal comeback that the game was for the visiting Friars.

Providence fell behind, 5-1, in the opening period, a struggling effort that chased all-everything goalie Hayden Hawkey from the game. The Friars turned to rookie Gabe Mollot-Hill who previously had left than 16 minutes of game experience.

The Friars attempted a second-period rally and scored three times in the period, twice on the power play. But when Merrimack’s Ludwig Larsen netter a power-play goal of his own in the first minute of the third, the Warriors regained a 6-4 lead and it seemed had stemmed the tide.

Providence didn’t agree, though and buried two more goals before the end of regulation, the final coming with 2:59 left. Somehow neither team scored in overtime and the teams walked away with a tie.

The crazy game was “a first” for Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy.

“I’ve been here for 12 1/2 years and I don’t know that we’ve ever won a game where we’ve scored six goals, so that’s a first,” said Dennehy. “It’s a funny game.”

Dennehy said that he knew that once his team grabbed the 5-1 lead and seemingly had control of the game, the only thing that would hurt his club would be penalties.

“We took five penalties in the first 10 minutes of the second period,” said Dennehy. “That gave them life. They started coming.”

When asked if the great start combined with an inability to finish meant that there was nothing to take away from the game, Dennehy disagreed.

“It’s one point in Hockey East,” said Dennehy. “There’s no other way to look at it. We probably deserved some [points] in other games and didn’t get them and probably didn’t deserve any [on Saturday], but hockey is a strange game.

Still, the veteran coach is well aware that his team had a nationally-ranked opponent, one of the best in the league, on the ropes and couldn’t close things.

“Momentum is an interesting thing,” said Dennehy. “When you’ve got it, don’t take it for granted. We took it for granted and it bit us in the rear end.”

Hernberg continues to shine

Quick trivia question. Which Hockey East goaltender has the top national statistics?

BC’s Joseph Woll? Providence’s Hayden Hawkey? Either Ryan Ruck or Cayden Primeau from Northeastern? Maybe New Hampshire’s Danny Tirone?

The answer is none of them.

Entering the season, all five might have been good guesses. Instead, though, it’s little known junior Christoffer Hernberg from UMass Lowell.

Hernberg’s .946 save percentage is top among Hockey East goaltenders and second nationally behind Colgate’s Colton Point. His 1.51 GAA, again top among Hockey East ‘tenders, is third nationally behind Point and Clarkson’s Jake Kielly.

And his 8-1-0 record is second only to Notre Dame’s Cale Morris, who made the most of one extra appearance and sits with a 9-1-0 mark.

Last Saturday, Hernberg might have put forward one of his best performances of the season. Facing a Connecticut team that historically has been a tough opponent for the River Hawks, particularly in Hartford, Hernberg tied a season-high 33 saves in a 1-0 shutout.

Combined with a 5-2 victory on Friday over UConn, Hernberg earned Hockey East Player of the Week honors.

After the game, coach Norm Bazin was more-than-pleased with his goaltender’s effort.

“Chris was strong tonight, you can see by the box score, especially in the second period,” said Bazin after Saturday’s game. “He stood tall. The guys needed that. They’re on the road and they seemed to have less fuel than they did last night.”

Saturday’s win marked four straight in Hockey East for the River Hawks, who have moved from the bottom of the standings to a tie for second in the matter of three weekends.

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