Cats eliminated in semifinals

It was a tough season this year for the UVM men’s hockey team. The Cats began their season with a record of 14-3-1, which included separate four- and seven-game winning streaks.

They also won their first seven games at Gutterson Fieldhouse. The team climbed as high as No. 9 in the NCAA Division I rankings.

The second half of the team’s schedule proved to be much more of a struggle  than the first. The Cats followed their seven game winning streak by going 1-6-1 in the next eight games.

UVM had to face four of the teams that would eventually finish higher than them in the Hockey East standings in the second half of the season. These schools included No. 24 Northeastern University, No. 19 UMass-Lowell, as well as No. 4 Boston University and No. 10 Boston College. Of the eight games against these schools in the second half of the year, UVM captured only one win.

The team finished the year 3-3-2 in their final eight games. The overall regular season record was 18-12-4, and 10-9-3 in Hockey East play.

“The environment was really great at the start of the season and I feel the team kept strong, but the fans definitely started to diminish after Christmas break,” said Tyler Gelineau, a continuing education student and a self-described “diehard” fan.

Sophomore Sean Breen said he thinks security’s strictness at the rink might have an impact in the crowd’s energy.

“There is still a good amount of support for the team but it seems like it’s in a very stifled and controlled way,” Breen said.

Head coach Kevin Sneddon struggled throughout the year  deciding the team’s starting goalie. Senior Brody Hoffman and sophomore Mike Santaguida split game time this year.

Santaguida had a higher save percentage at .930 compared to Hoffman’s .909, but the team was playing much stronger in front of Hoffman at the start of the season. Hoffman’s regular season record was 11-5-2, and Santaguida’s was 7-7-2.

Adding another difficult layer to Sneddon’s decision was the off-the-ice issues surrounding Hoffman and a temporary suspension he received midway through the year for “violating team values and expectations,” Sneddon said after the incident.

The team entered the Hockey East playoffs as the seventh seed and had a three-game series with the University of Maine. The team won all four regular season matchups against Maine.

The series would prove more challenging, but the team would move on with an overtime game 3 winner from junior Jonathan Turk.

The Hockey East second round opponent was the Boston College Eagles. The Cats would go down four goals in game 1 and responded by pulling Santaguida and putting in Hoffman, who would play “great” for the Cats, as sophomore Mario Puskarich would later say in a classroom.

Hoffman had 36 saves and posted a shutout in game 3 to give UVM the 1-0 win over the Eagles. The way the NCAA tournament race shaped up toward the end left the Cats with a small chance to earn a ticket without winning the Hockey East tournament.

Their semifinal opponent was the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, who beat and tied the Cats during their two regular season games.

The stage was set at the home of the Boston Bruins:  TD Garden. Nerves seemed to affect both teams and the Cats, despite getting the first goal, never really got into a groove and eventually lost 4-1.

The season would end with the team ranked No. 16 in the nation, but because every conference winner receives an automatic bid, along with other tournament metrics, schools like Rochester Institute of Technology and Yale leapfrogged the higher ranked Catamounts.

There are  five seniors graduating this year, but they include some of the most important pieces to this season’s team, especially senior captain and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks draft pick, Mike Paliotta.

Overall, Sneddon remained positive about this year as a whole.

“As a coach I really couldn’t ask for much more about this group in terms of attitude, effort and just an enjoyable group to coach,” Sneddon said.

“We want to make sure we are proud of the name on the front of our jersey every time we put it on and, again, I think the culture is moving in a very positive direction for us,” Sneddon said.