It won’t be long now before hockey makes its return to Gutterson Fieldhouse. The men’s hockey team will play their first game of the season on Friday, Oct. 14.
Though last year’s team was able to beat UMass-Lowell to end the regular season, they were knocked out of the Hockey East playoffs in the quarterfinals when the New Hampshire Wildcats defeated them in two games.
“We’re not aiming to be better, that’s not something that our team sets out to do; improve on last season,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “I think our goals and aspirations are always to be excellent in everything we do, whether it’s in the classroom, out in the community, in the weight room, in practice or in games. We have a much higher and loftier goal than just being better than last year.”
If the Catamounts hope to accomplish this goal, they will need to overcome the loss of five seniors who graduated last year. Dan Lawson, Josh Burrows, Jack Downing, Kyle Medvec and former captain, Kevan Miller, have all moved on to new endeavors.
First-year defensemen Michael Paliotta, Blake Doerring and Nick Luukko were recruited for this season. Coach Sneddon is optimistic that they will be able to fill the hole left by the graduating class.
“We did lose some experience on the blue line, with graduating three excellent defensemen. That being said, we really feel good about our three freshman defensemen,” Sneddon said. “We’ve had limited time to work with them on the ice but really like the way they came to camp in terms of strength and conditioning… We’ve got some size back there, but we [also] have mobility and skill … Once they get their feet wet it’s going to be a very exciting defensive corps.”
The team also welcomes back goaltender Rob Madore to the defense, who is now entering his senior season. With a 2.98 goals against average last season, Madore is a formidable force in college hockey.
“We have one of the best goaltenders, if not the best goaltender in Hockey East in Rob Madore… I know Rob is very prepared for this season,” Sneddon said.
Though Jack Downing, the team’s top scorer from last season, graduated with 13 goals, Sebastian Stalberg, the second-leading scorer with nine goals, and Chris McCarthy, the third with eight, return to the team as juniors.
“Up front I think we have great depth this year… This year it’s going to be tough to make the lineup every week. We’re excited by the fact that we can be very competitive in practice — make guys earn their spot,” Sneddon said.
Senior Brett Leonard was named the captain for the upcoming season. Leonard is a Vermont native who played in just seven games his freshman season and saw no game action his sophomore season. Things turned around for Leonard in his junior year, and he scored two goals. Leonard was the Frank “Mac” McIntosh Most Improved Player that year.
“I feel very, very at ease and very excited about his leadership abilities,” Sneddon said. “It’s not always the guy who scores all the goals that is your leader. I think Brett embodies the values that we uphold as a program… I think we all see it every weekend when he steps out onto the ice he never takes a shift off.”
The season will begin Oct. 14 with an exhibition game at home against the U.S National Development team.
The Catamounts will then travel to Minnesota for a two-game series against the Gophers.