Men’s Ice Hockey

The UVM hockey team is now beginning year three of the Kevin Sneddon era. After struggling through his first year as coach, the team was able to put together the biggest turnaround in college hockey last year (12 wins). Last season also marked the Cats’ final in the ECAC, its 31st year in the league. Despite being picked to finish near the bottom (10th) of the conference, the team ended up in 4th place and one win away from the NCAA tourney. So what are these Cats going to do for an encore? Claw their way back up from the bottom, this time in Hockey East, a conference thought by most prognosticators to be the most powerful in the country. In the last thirteen seasons, Hockey East has sent at least one team to the Frozen Four twelve times, last year being the exception. The Cats certainly have their work cut out for them, as evidenced when Sneddon said, “Competing is certainly one thing, beating the upper echelon teams is another. We certainly respect all the programs in Hockey East and in particular, the programs that have sustained excellence for quite some time. This will be an incredible challenge for our program, but it is a fantastic opportunity as well. We hope to be considered an upper echelon team in Hockey East in the future.” Coach Sneddon seems to have a great deal of confidence in his squad and when asked if he thought the team could take it to the next level (NCAAs) he responded, “Each year we want to take another step forward as a program. Last year was very important for our team as they learned what it takes to win hockey games. We were able to create a very close-knit team that really sacrificed for each other. We aspire to reach the NCAA every year, and I really believe that with the talent we have combined with our leadership, we can make it to the next level.” One key to this goal is senior forward Brady Leisenring who was forced to sit out all of last season with an injury. Sneddon is definitely looking forward to his return to the ice, “Brady is so excited to be able to contribute on the ice once again. He was great last year as a leader even though he couldn’t play for us.” Leisenring will also be looked to for help filling the void left by Scott Mifsud. According to Sneddon, “Scott had a tremendous year for us last year and we will miss him. What we need to have happen is other players step up and help fill the void on offense, not just relying on Brady. We have those players that are certainly ready for the challenge.” Two of “those players” that Sneddon was certainly speaking of are Jeff Corey (17 goals, 16 assists, 33 points) and Chris Myers (12, 8, 20), forwards that might not necessarily get the recognition they deserve, but certainly get the job done. Sneddon spoke glowingly of the duo, “Players like Jeff Corey and Chris Myers are expected to take another step forward this season. Jeff did a great job filling in on the top line last year when Brady was injured. I think he can really take off this year and enjoy his best season yet. Chris has proven that he can score at this level, and we will need to be able to rely on him for consistency this year.” But, they will certainly not be alone. Oft-injured Art Femenella will be another key cog offensively for this year’s team. He has earned himself the nickname “The Destroyer” and with good reason. Femenella is a very physical player that uses his size, 6’7″ 255 lbs. to his advantage. Sneddon is looking for Art to bounce back and have his best season thus far as a Catamount. Also up front will be sophomore sensation Torrey Mitchell who was third on the team in points last year (30) with eleven goals and nineteen assists. Sneddon pointed out what a hard worker Mitchell is and that like fellow freshman, Joe Fallon, what makes them so special is that “they never show signs of complacency.” Speaking of Fallon, he is the backbone of the team’s defense. He is coming off perhaps the best season from a freshman goaltender in Catamount history, a history that includes Tim Thomas, arguably the best goalie ever in Catamount hockey. Last season Fallon set the record for most shutouts (five) and is the overall leader in both save percentage (.921) and goals against average (1.96). Also on the blue line are captain Jaime Sifers, assistant captain Kenny Macaulay, and defensive stalwarts Phil Youngclaus and Ryan Gunderson. Sifers was recently named the captain of the “Dream Team,” featuring the best players throughout the nation. Obviously it’ll be tough for this year’s freshman class to match the exploits of Mitchell, Fallon and defenseman Slavomir Tomko as well. But, Sneddon seemed to feel that the group has a great deal of promise. Like Patrick Gym last year, “The Gut”, has also undergone a great deal of changes this year, and when asked about them Sneddon replied that “Gutterson looks better than ever, a new lighting system (allows us to be able to turn them on and off quickly), a new scoreboard with better graphics, new NHL boards and seamless glass, new netting behind both nets, and new Hockey East banners. The fans will certainly appreciate the new look as well as the improved safety standards (new glass is higher, and the netting is better as well).” There have been many changes around the Catamount hockey program in recent years, new coach, top recruits and a much-improved arena. Here’s to hoping that these changes bring UVM back to the glory days, when hockey was king and the Cats were one of the most feared teams in college hockey. Let’s not forget that UVM was in the Frozen Four only 9 years ago. Could this be the year? According to the preseason polls we’ll finish in the middle of the pack in Hockey East. Only time will tell, but if last year’s improvement was any indication, anything is possible. Be there on Friday October 7th as the team plays an exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier and then the home opener against Minnesota-Duluth, a team that was ranked #1 last year before being stunned at home by these very same Vermont Catamounts.