Lady Cats hope to make a mark in tough conference

As the UVM women’s hockey team opens the 2008-2009 season, they seem poised to have their best year yet. They are returning 21 players from last year’s team, including key players such as senior captain Sarah Smiddy, as well as junior goaltender Kristen Olychuck, who posted a .906 save percentage in 31 games played as a sophomore last season. The team also adds seven newcomers to its already promising roster. This addition includes Erin Barley-Maloney, the New England Prep School Player of the Year last season, as well as Caitlin Whitlock, a goaltender who head coach Tim Bothwell said he hopes can add more depth to the position this season. The Catamounts are ranked sixth in the Hockey East pre?season coaches’ poll, their highest preseason ranking since UVM joined the prestigious conference in 2005-06.This ranking can only help the team’s confidence, especially with the fact that Hockey East will expand its playoff format from four teams to six this year. “It’s a lot of extra motivation for us, but even if there was still only four teams getting into the playoffs we would feel that we were still capable of doing that,” Bothwell said about the new format.Besides the addition of seven new and talented players, the team also made many other improvements in the offseason. With the addition of Justin Goulet as the strength and conditioning coach, Smiddy says the team feels as though they are in much better shape than they were coming into last season. “I think that we all came in much better shape than in previous seasons, I think that having [Goulet] as our new training and conditioning coach has helped us a lot,” Smiddy said.The team is also looking to improve an offense that struggled to find the back of the net last season. Bothwell said he expects his returners to step up this season and add some offense as well as expecting the newcomers to play a large role on both offense and defense, with Olychuck taking care of the majority of the work between the pipes to round out UVM’s solid lineup.The team will open their regular season at Union for a two game set on Oct. 10 and 11 before returning for their home opener against Hockey East rival Connecticut on Oct. 18.