Cats hit the ice for 2008-2009 season

After a whirlwind 2007-08 campaign in which they reached the Hockey East championship game despite a 4-9-5 start, the University of Vermont men’s hockey team opens the 2008-09 season with one all-encompassing goal in mind: consistency. “Last year we didn’t deserve to go to the NCAA tournament because we had a very disappointing first half,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “Part of the process for our young team was to learn from that tough start and that helped us become the team we were at the end. “However, if you want to play in April, you have to be consistent throughout the season.” Luckily for Sneddon, the 2007-08 Hockey East Coach of the Year, the Cats return 21 letterwinners, including their top 10 leading scorers from a year ago. Headlining this list is the senior trio of Dean Strong, Corey Carlson and Peter Lenes. Strong, last year’s leading scorer and the Cats’ active career points leader (30-53-83), will captain the team, with Carlson and Lenes serving as his assistants. Other key returning forwards include juniors Colin Vock, Brayden Irwin and Viktor Stalberg, a 2007-08 Hockey East All-Star honorable mention. Freshman Matt Marshall, selected 150 in the draft overall by the Tampa Bay Light?ning in the 2007 NHL Draft, is the lone recruit up front. On the blue line, junior Patrick Cullity and sophomores Josh Burrows, Kevan Miller and Kyle Medvec return to anchor the defense. Highly-touted freshmen Lance Harrington and Drew MacKenzie, selected 209 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2007 NHL Draft, are expected to contribute as well. The biggest challenge Sneddon faces is in goal. For the first time in more than four seasons, the Cats will be without Joe Fallon, who recently signed with the Chicago Blackhawks after compiling a 63-51-17 career re?cord at Vermont. Fallon left with a 2.05 career goals against average (11th best all-time in NCAA Division I history) and 20 career shutouts (sec?ond all-time). “Joe Fallon was one of the best goaltenders to ever wear a Vermont jersey,” Sneddon said. “I don’t know that we can replace Joe, but we will have three outstanding goaltenders in our program this year.”Junior Mike Spillane appears to be the early choice to succeed Fallon in net. Riding shotgun to Fallon the past two seasons, Spillane appeared in 15 games, posting a career record of 3-4-4 with a 2.87 goals against average. Incoming freshmen Rob Madore and John Vazzano round out the goaltending corps. Despite going 13-6-2 in the final 21 regular season games last season, finishing a program-best 13-9-5 in the conference and reaching the Hockey East championship game against Boston College at the TD Banknorth Garden, Sneddon hopes his players put aside the lofty memories from last year and focus on creat?ing new ones. “We have to respect that each year is a new year, a new challenge and journey. We are 0-0 just like the other 58 teams trying to win a NCAA title,” Sneddon said.Picked to finish fifth in the 2008-09 Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll, the Cats won their first preseason game against McGill, 3-2.UVM will travel to RPI on Saturday, Oct. 11, and will make their home debut against Miami (OH) on Oct. 17.