By: Joe Barbito
Head Coach – Kevin Sneddon, 15th season
Last Season – 20-13-5 (10-8-4 in Hockey East, 6th); lost to Boston College in HE Quarterfinals.
Losses – G Mike Santaguida, D Mike Lee, D Rob Hamilton, F Tom Forgione, F Brendan Bradley, F Mario Puskarich, F Brady Shaw, D Chris Muscoby, D Ori Abramson, F Malcoln Mckinney, G Pat Feeley, F Jack Lyman, F Cameron Klein
Newcomers – G Tyler Harmon, G Matt Beck, D Brian Kelly, D Cory Thomas, D Owen Grant, D Christian Ever, F Alex Esposito, F Bryce Misley, F Vladislav Dzhioshvili, F Martin Frechette, F Ace Cowans, F Max Kaufman,
Trying to define the 2016-17 season for Vermont is about as difficult as defining what a Catamount is – there was no consistency from beginning to end, with several series splits, a few win streaks and a few weeks without a win. Finishing sixth overall in Hockey East, the Catamounts were swept by Boston College in the conference quarterfinals by a collective score of 14-1. This is the second year in a row BC defeated Vermont in the second round of the playoffs.
Vermont managed to record a win against all but three Hockey East opponents this season: UMass Lowell, the eventual conference champions; Boston College, the conference runners up and perennial dream crushers; and Notre Dame, who took their talents to the Big 10 this offseason. The Catamounts recorded sweeps against Northeastern and UMass Amherst, adding to their impressive hodgepodge of a season.
An interesting note, there was neither a 30 point scorer nor a 20 goal scorer on this team. Mario Puskarich lead the team in points (29) and tied with Brian Bowen and Ross Colton for the lead in goals (12). Similarly, the best save percentage on the team was Stefanos Lekkas (.911) who will likely be the incumbent goaltender this coming season after he dethroned Mike Santaguida last year. Despite what appears to be lackluster scoring and goaltending, Coach Kevin Sneddon was able to get “just enough” out of his team to be competitive in HEA.
The forward group will look considerably different this year, of course with Puskarich graduating and other contributors like Brendan Bradley and Brady Shaw departing. The highlight of this incoming class is Calgary, Alberta native Bryce Misley out of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Misley scored 26 goals and assisted on 36 for 62 total points in 46 games last season. The NHL draft pick put up 14 points in 16 playoff games last season and was named a First Team All-Prospect. Martin Frechette from Rockland, Ontario is 5’7” but believes he is a very fast and very skilled player. No, he’s not the next Johnny Graudreau, but he profiles to be a similar type of player, scoring 61 points in 59 games for his junior team last season. Ace Cowans (5-7-12) and Max Kaufman (31-24-55) both profile as similar players – small yet skilled – although Cowans missed the end of last season with an injury, so that will be something to watch. The Catamounts have also brought in Russian forward Vladislav Dzhioshvili. Dzhioshvili (JEE-osh-vee-lee) went 19-32-42 last season, which led the Bloomington Thunder in goals and points. He profiles as another top-6 forward and can play both center and wing.
The defense gains two very important pieces this season in Cory Thomas (2-8-10) and Christian Evers (8-10-18). Last season the biggest defensemen on the Catamounts were Jake Massie at 6’1” and Obri Abramson at 6’3”. Cory Thomas is a massive 6’5”, easily making him the tallest defender on the team and one of the biggest presences in the conference. Thomas is currently about 200 lbs, but once he fills out his frame a bit more he will become a mainstay in the top-four of this defense. Christian Evers is also 6’2”, and has very high hockey IQ. Evers was a #1 overall pick in Phase 2 of the USHL Draft and previously participated in the USNTDP. Evers also profiles as a future top-four defender if he continues to mature at the rate he has been. Owen Grant (5-19-24 in 56 GP) was named the Defender of the Year in his junior conference and as also named to the First All-Star Team. He played for the Canadian All-Star Team in the World Junior A Challenge this past season. Grant will be an immediate contributor for the Catamounts this season. Rounding out the class is Brian Kelly (2-12-14) who appears to be another warm body that could eventually become a good defensive piece, but the jury is out on him for now.
Stefanos Lekkas will likely resume his starting goaltender role after a good freshman campaign. Behind him are two incoming goaltenders: Tyler Harmon of Ramsey, New Jersey and Matt Beck of Westport, Connecticut. Harmon posted a .948 sv% in his senior season at Ramsey High School, then followed it up with a 22-7-1 season with the Jersey Hitmen of the USPHL. Harmon will likely be the backup to Lekkas this season. Beck went 7-13-0 with a .905 sv% and 4.06 GAA for the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers in the USPHL. He will be the third string goaltender, getting time in case of injury.
Bottom Line: The Catamounts bolstered their defense this summer and if the past several years of Riverhawk dominance have shown anything, it’s that defense wins championships. Losing Mario Puskarich seems less terrible when you consider they have four defensive defensemen coming in to protect their zone. If Lekkas takes a step forward this season, there is no reason the Catamounts cannot challenge for a another top six finish.