Hockey preview

The UVM men’s and women’s hockey teams are starting off the 2009 season with very different expectations and focuses.

Though their struggles will be different, both teams are confident in the adjustments they have made from last year and the players they have to make those adjustments on the ice.

The men’s hockey team has high expectations this season, coming off a Frozen Four appearance last year. Though they are hungry to get back to the top, they will have toovercome the loss of several key players to get there.

“Probably our biggest challenge this year is to focus on what’s important now”, head coach Kevin Sneddon said. ” I was proud of the fact that we were able to contribute to our rich tradition here known as Vermont hockey but at the same time this is a new journey.”

A huge difficulty in moving on to a new season is the loss of standout forward Viktor Stalberg, who signed an NHL contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and recently earned a roster spot for the 2009 season.

Stalberg was the team’s leading scorer last year and was the fourth player in UVM history to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given each year to the best player in college hockey.

Stalberg left UVM after his junior year to sign with Toronto. Sneddon said that he is happy for Stalberg’s early success in the NHL and feels Stalberg and Torrey Mitchell— a former Catamount hockey captain now playing for the San Jose Sharks —have made the right decision.

“I don’t have a problem with it at all when you see the success they are having with it immediately,” Sneddon said.” They made the right decision, as tough as it was, I’ll just keep hounding them about getting their degree.”

Besides the loss of Stalberg, the team will also have to carry on without last year’s captain Dean Strong and assistant captains Peter Lenes and Corey Carlson.

Leadership for this season will fall to the new captains senior Brian Roloff, and junior Kevan Miller, as well as new assistant captain senior Patrick Cullity.

Roloff and Sneddon both said that the team will be able to continue getting better using what they experienced and learned from their former leaders.

“We watched them play for three years, we learned from them and saw how they got the job done,” Roloff said.

“The leaders have done not only a great job leading the team at the current time but passing on the knowledge to the next generation,”  Sneddon said.

It’s not all about player losses for the team in  as six new freshmen have been added to the roster— including forward Sebastian Stalberg, the younger brother of Viktor Stalberg.

“It’s probably the best class that I’ve seen since I’ve been here,”Roloff said. “It bodes well for the future.”

“I like the fact that they come in in great shape and they’re hungry,” Sneddon said.

What lies in the near future is a challenging schedule filled with tough Hockey East opponents and a series at Denver in October. Sneddon said that some aspects of their game will need to be improved on if they want to be strong in these upcoming games and make it back to the Frozen Four.

One part in particular is special teams, which was a big struggling point for the Cats last season.

“I look back and it’s somewhat amazing that we made it all the way to the Frozen Four with one of the worst penalty kills in the country,” Sneddon said. “That’s something we look forward to improving upon this year as well as having that consistent power play.

Though managing the expectations for this season will be difficult, the team is confident that this can be done by focusing on what they have the power to change.

“We always talk with our guys about controlling what we can control,” Sneddon said. “That was the strength of our team last year being able to push any outside distractions away.”

The women’s hockey team finished up last season with an 8-25-1 overall record and a 5-15-1 record in Hockey East and were picked to finish seventh in Hockey East this season in the Hockey East’s Preseason Coaches Poll.

Though the team did not make the playoffs last year, they have high hopes for theupcoming season.

To help them along the way, the team is welcoming in new associate head coach Grant Kimball. Kimball comes to UVM from the University of North Dakota where he was an assistant coach for two years.

The team will also be welcoming back 18 players from last year, including the majority of their leading scorers.

“We’re very excited about the senior group this year and the juniors behind them,” head coach Tim Bothwell said. “As a group we have more experience with the systems we’re trying to abide by game in and game out.”

The team has typically brought in large recruiting classes each year, but has shifted this year to a small class of only four freshmen.

“It’s a smaller, tighter, more of a family type of feel,” Bothwell said.  “It was a conscious choice by us.”

The team’s main goal this year is to make their first-ever postseason appearance. Bothwell said they plan to do this mostly by focusing on defensive improvements.

“It’s a real focus this year to block more shots, limit more scoring opportunities,” Bothwell said.

The team will have a chance to start making these improvements on their home ice, as they will start the season off with nine consecutive home games,  including a series against Hockey East foe Northeastern University.

Bothwell said the long home stretch was a conscious decision that will benefit the team by keeping them in their own environment and also allowing the new freshmen to get used to playing at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

Junior defensemen Peggy Wakeham  said that playing at home will help the team build necessary confidence.

“We play better at Gutterson,” Wakeham said. “We’re more used to being here and warming up, it’s a better schedule for us.”

As the women try to take their team to the next level this season, Wakeham said they have made a commitment to stay focused on the goals ahead and to stay motivated.

“We all know how it feels not to make it,” Wakeham said. “We knocked on the door last year— we have to kick it down this year.”