Archive for December, 2009

Mourning after Delaware defeat

December 21, 2009

In a brief ceremony prior to the  University of Vermont men’s basketball team’s game against Delaware at Patrick Gym, 2009 graduate Mike Trimboli received the ball that he scored his 2,000th point with.

The Catamounts could have used some of Trimboli’s shooting Sunday.

Vermont had its worst offensive outing of the season in a 56-50 defeat to Delaware. The Cats’ 50 points, 30.4-percent shooting, 3-for-20 3-point shooting and 59-percent foul shooting are season lows. Here’s the box score and game story.

UVM senior forward Marqus Blakely’s 11 points was his second lowest output of the season. Senior guard Maurice Joseph (3-for-11 shooting, 2-for-6 foul shooting) also struggled offensively, thanks in large part to a wrist injury he suffered last week in practice.

“Teams are going to key on Marqus, and we have to make shots,” UVM coach Mike Lonergan said. “As much as I love defense, we to be able to make a wide-open 3 and a free throws — especially our own gym.”

Lonergan was also critical of Vermont being outrebounded 46-35. UVM’s six guards who played in the game combined for nine boards.

“We play a little soft sometimes when we get in there; we have to keep getting tougher,” Lonergan said. “We are not a real tough team. That’s where our guards have to get in there and mix it up a little more. You can’t expect Marqus and Evan to get all the rebounds. Our guards are standing on the foul line watching. You got be willing to mix it up in there. We have a lot of wing players who have to do a better job on the boards.”

The last time UVM scored fewer than 50 points in a game was in a 66-44 loss at Michigan State on Nov.21, 2006.

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Vermont’s players will get a four-day break, returning to practice Friday evening to prepare for a Dec. 28 game at Marist, which is 0-8 after Sunday’s 70-5 loss to Binghamton.

Catamounts eager to face Delaware

December 18, 2009

Photo courtesy of Brian Jenkins/UVM

In addition to garnering its sixth consecutive victory and generating more momentum before the America East schedule begins in a couple weeks, the University of Vermont men’s basketball team has extra incentive to beat Delaware on Sunday afternoon at Patrick Gym. Consider:

The 1 p.m. contest will be just the second time this season the Catamounts have played at home.

Also, Delaware is an old America East rival and holds a 19-8 edge in the all-time series with UVM. The Blue Hens now play in the Colonial Athletic Association.

But perhaps the biggest reason UVM gets psyched up for these kinds of games is, well, junior forward Evan Fjeld says it best: “We measure ourselves against those CAA and A-10 teams. We want to be considered in their class, not as a low Division I but as a mid major. I think we do well against those teams, and we have another chance to prove it on Sunday.”

In the past few seasons, Vermont has had quality wins against CAA competition, beating UNC-Wilmington, Delaware and Towson. The Catamounts have also had close losses to George Mason, including an overtime defeat last year at Patrick Gym.

UVM coach Mike Lonergan said beating CAA and Atlantic 10 competition bolsters the stature of Vermont’s program and aids recruiting.

“Lot of times when we are recruiting these kids, they have CAA and even A-10 offers,” Lonergan said. “We try to convince them we are as good as those teams. We draw well, you can have a better experience here and you are going to be in the top 2 or 3 of our conference every year. Not all those teams can say that to their recruits. But we’ve got to prove it, so it’s nice when we are able to beat CAA teams.  We want to get CAA-level recruits to come to the  University of Vermont and that’s why we try to schedule these teams. This is a great opportunity to play at home.”

Vermont has beaten Delaware two the past three years, both wins coming on the road. The Catamounts clubbed the Blue Hens last season, 78-63.

Delaware is 2-7 this season, its wins coming against Penn and Hampton. The Blue Hens lost to Virginia Tech in overtime.

“They have a lot of talent,” Lonergan said. “They are struggling record-wise, but they are playing a tough schedule, a lot of road games. They definitely have CAA talent.”

UVM women on track for strong NCAA seed

December 18, 2009

The University of Vermont women’s basketball teams’ goal this season is two-pronged: Return to the NCAA tournament, and if it gets there, achieve a higher seed than the 16 the Catamounts received in March.

So far, so good.

ESPN’s Charlie Creme’s women’s basketball Bracketology — an early forecast for the 2010 tournament field — not only has the Catamounts dancing again, but has them as a No. 11 seed.

The recognition is well deserved. Vermont is off to an impressive 7-2 start — its only losses coming to No. 1 UConn and Oklahoma State of the Big 12 — and has received votes in the ESPN/USA Today top-25 poll for more than a month.

Creme’s Bracketology predicts Hartford as a No. 9 seed, which means for the first time in quite a few years, the America East Conference is poised to have two teams qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Vermont has key non-league games left against Providence, Nebraska, Dayton and Rhode Island. The Catamounts will need to clip a few of these opponents and fare extremely well in the America East regular season to — should they not win the AE tourney — qualify for an NCAA at-large bid.

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In order to get to that point, the Cats need Courtnay Pilypaitis to get untracked. In the last two games, the senior point guard has gone 1-for-25 from the floor and mustered only eight points, arguably the worst slump of the superstar’s career.

UVM coach Sharon Dawley, whose team plays at Providence on Monday afternoon, thinks Pilypaitis will bounce back.

“If she has two of those games, she’s going to come out like gang busters against Providence,” Dawley said about Pilypaitis after she went 0-for-13  Sunday in a loss to Oklahoma State at Patrick Gym. “No, I’m not worried about it. It’s obviously an inopportune time; had it been an another opponent and she shot like that, we would  have won. But I don’t think this kid will have a bad day like that again.”

Sneddon’s list for success

December 17, 2009

UVM hockey coach Kevin Sneddon evaluates his team’s performance in any game by a standard other than the final score.

He has a list of 10 categories on which he and his staff grade the game. According to Sneddon, if UVM wins seven or more of the 10 areas, the Catamounts usually win. If they grade out higher in five or six areas, it’s likely the final score was a tie. Winning fewer than five almost certainly means defeat.

In the Catamounts’ last outing, 3-0 victory over St. Lawrence, UVM scored a perfect 10, according to Sneddon.

“It’s the first time in two years that we won every category and I thought Joe’s team played great,” said Sneddon this week, referring to SLU coach Joe Marsh.

“The categories that we try to win, a 3-0 game is kind of the ideal game for us,” he said, adding, “It still can work at 3-1 and still be a perfect game.”

According to Sneddon, his belief in the grading system is confirmed by the results over his tenure at Vermont. “It always works,” he said.

Okay, not quite always, as he acknowledged: Twice in the last two years, UVM’s performance level didn’t reflect the final score. Once, Vermont won four or fewer categories and came out on top — “Maybe we got great goaltending,” said Sneddon — and once the Catamounts played extremely well and lost.

Still, he said, “It’s something we really believe in.

“It’s happened where we’ve won four categories and won (the game) and we haven’t been hollering and hooting about our performance,” he said. “We’ve won seven categories and lost and your team feels like crap and your team played great.”

UVM has earned a couple of nines this year and “a bunch of nines last year,” according to Sneddon, but the SLU game was the Catamounts’ first 10 in awhile.

So what are the 10 categories? Sneddon won’t divulge the entire list, but he said, “It’s pretty basic categories.”

That doesn’t include turnovers, but it does include power play, penalty kill, blocking shots and, well, you can guess the rest.

Any takers?

So who’s in goal?

December 15, 2009

Early this University of Vermont hockey season, presumed No. 1 goalie Rob Madore wasn’t the same goaltender he was as a freshman who helped lead the Catamounts to the NCAA Frozen Four last year.

Rob Madore

Madore’s struggles opened the way for senior Mike Spillane, a two-year backup to Joe Fallon who lost out to Madore in the duel for No. 1 in 2008-09, and he responded with several good outings.

That left head coach Kevin Sneddon without a clearcut No. 1 and a developing rotation system. That’s not necessarily the worst scenario possible, but Sneddon, like many other coaches, would prefer one goalie to play well enough to start nearly every game.

Over the past six UVM games, the goalie sitaution has taken more twists and turns as Madore shows signs he’s ready to be The Man Behind the Mask. By his own evaluation, Madore said he was trying too hard to be perfect early in the season and too concerned about stopping second and third shots before making the first save. He’s since refocused and he’s relaxed and confident, as he showed with a spectacular early save against St. Lawrence that help set the tone.

In his last three starts, Madore has allowed five goals with a goals-against average of 1.62, a save percentage of .945 and his second career shutout.

Even if his relief numbers against New Hampshire — 1 goal allowed, 9 saves, 29 minutes — are thrown in, he still has impressive numbers: 1.68 GAA and .940 save percentage.

Spillane meanwhile has been on a rollercoaster. He had a 26-save shutout of Yale but yielded 10 goals in his

Now comes the question: Whom does Sneddon start against Dartmouth?

If Sneddon stays with the rotation, it’s Spillane turn. However, if Sneddon feels Madore is ready to assert himself as No. 1, should he start this Saturday rather than face the extended layoff from Dec. 12 to Jan. 2, the opening round of Vermont’s holiday tournament?

As of Tuesday, Sneddon isn’t saying; nothing unusual about that since he often uses the input of goalie coach Terry Lovelette as well as performances in practice in naming his starter.

As a guess (educated or otherwise), though, look for Madore to go against Dartmouth, Spillane to open against Alabama-Huntsville in the tourney’s first game and Madore to play either Minnesota-Duluth or Mercyhurst in UVM’s second tourney game.

Leftovers from Quinnipiac game

December 14, 2009

Marqus Blakely has had more dominant performances in his career — his 30-point, 20-rebound, six-block, five-steal eye-popper two seasons ago against Hartford comes to mind — but never has UVM’s high-flier scored more points (32) than in the Catamounts’ 80-77 win over Quinnipiac.


UVM coach Mike Lonergan utilized a mismatch.

“We didn’t start Ben (Crenca) today because he was a little under the weather. I was worried about that because we were on a roll, but he hadn’t practiced. I really wanted to go to Marqus inside. His assists have been up when he’s on the wing but he’s really ineffective scoring. We thought, since (Quinnipiac) didn’t have a shot blocker, we can really pound the ball inside.”

Mission accomplished. Just listen to what Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore had to say about UVM’s superstar.

“Blakely is such a unique guy to play at this level,” Moore said. “What we were conflicted with all game is when to double team him when he has it and when not to? The risk you run when you do it is you are playing 4 on 3 off the ball, and he’s a real good passer, too, which makes him probably the dominant player at this level in New England.”

When Quinnipiac converged on Blakely late, Catamount sharpshooters Maurice Joseph and Garvey Young connected, helping the Cats overcome a deficit in the closing minutes.

“What I like about our team, Garvey is guarding the best player on the other team, so he’s got to exert a lot of energy, hasn’t really scored, and all of a sudden he scored five straight points for us when we really needed them. That 3 was huge,” Lonergan said. “It’s nice to see different guys step up. That was a good team win for us, and I’m really happy for our guys. Our guards made some plays because of Marqus drawing so much attention, that really opened things up finally for MoJo and Garvey to get wide-open 3s.”

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With UVM clinging to a 2-point lead with less than 30 seconds remaining, point guard Nick Vier slipped and fell, turning the ball over and giving Quinnipiac a chance to tie, or win.

On the Bobcats’ ensuing possession, James Feldeine slipped and fell on the same exact spot of the floor, just in front of Quinnipiac’s bench.

Lonergan pinpointed the reason for the slick floor: During timeouts, Quinnipiac’s entire team huddles on the floor while Moore draws up a play, the players sweating.

“I think the floor is wet because the NCAA  allows teams to go out there with their little mini chairs, and those players are sweating,” Lonergan said. “So they either have to have managers, or we have to provide somebody to wipe the floor up. The benches on the court — I’m not a big fan of  — definitely affected the game with the moisture on the court.”

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The attendance for Sunday’s home opener: 2,558.

Pretty lame.

There’s no good reason why — with the Catamounts on a five-game winning streak and with only two home games on the non-league schedule — there isn’t close to a sellout (3,266) during Sunday’s game against Delaware at Patrick Gym.

Goal scorers are rare treats

December 12, 2009

Elite goal scorers are rare commodities for the University of Vermont hockey team.

Over the last three decades, those who score 20 or more times during a season pass through Gutterson Fieldhouse infrequently. Since Eric Perrin and Martin St. Louis terrorized opposing goalies in 1993-97, only two Catamounts have surpassed the 20-goal level: Scott Mifsud with 21 in 2004-05 and Viktor Stalberg with 24 a year ago.

That’s not surprising. In 2008-09, among the 58 Division I teams nationally, only 20 players scored at least 20 goals. In Hockey East, of the 180 players who scored one or more goals overall, just five hit the 20-goal level.

Recruiting elite scorers might be the biggest challenge most programs face, second only to finding the offensively gifted defenseman, and the traditional national powers with gaudier histories and fancier facilities have the advantage of enticing such players; that’s life in all sports.

Over the history of the UVM program, the Catamounts have had a number of elite scorers, but many wound up at Vermont for reasons beyond the program itself. Tom Cullity, the Cats’ last 30-goal scorer, transferred in after Penn dropped hockey. UVM offered Kirk McCaskill the opportunity to play baseball as well as hockey. Perrin and St. Louis liked the proximity of Burlington to their hometowns as well as the opportunity to move a program ahead. No one pictured Stalberg as a 24-goal scorer as a freshman.

This year, it again appears that Vermont must rely upon balance to generate enough goals for a winning season. With Stalberg and Peter Lenes (15 goals a year ago) departed, no one stands out as a pure goal scorer, although it will be fun to see how freshmen David Pacan and Chris McCarthy develop.

Last season, including Vermont’s second Frozen Four appearance, Stalberg and Lenes helped the Catamounts average 3.10 goals scored per game. That’s the most productive rate of UVM’s five-year Hockey East history. This year, UVM is scoring 2.71 goals per game — higher than its first three HEA seasons — despite a woeful power play.

“We’ve been relying on our 5-on-5 for our offense. We’ve been winning some games against good teams based on 5-on-5 play, which at this level isn’t good enough,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said this week. “We’ve got to skill to score goals; there’s no doubt about it. I’d be worried if we weren’t creating chances, but I’ve seen us finish; I’ve seen us finish well.”

Even with the lack of a pure shooter, the UVM offense should be good enough to win games, especially if the power play starts to contribute. No question it would be nice to have a go-to scorer, a Bobby Butler of UNH, Casey Wellman of UMass or Gustav Nyquist of Maine.

Still, for Vermont this year, defense, not offense, has been the No. 1 problem, and an improved defense will help offset the lack of a Stalberg, a Perrin or a St. Louis.

Cats’ leadership needs to grow

December 11, 2009

At the collegiate hockey level, it’s difficult to find a team captain who excels in all aspects of being a leader.

Some lead by example; first to practice, last off the ice, hardest worker, most willing to sacrifice the body.

Some lead by skill: great speed, quick hands, hard shot, baffling moves.

Some lead through emotion: unloading a big hit, vocally challenging teammates on the ice and in the locker room.

That’s why the better teams not only have the captain but a group of players who can provide leadership in one or more ways, who can demand much of themselves while demanding as much from teammates. There are players who can lead quietly and those who can provide constructive confrontation, those who lead the way and those who have your back.

Even with those qualities, until the leaders accept those roles and the remainder understand their roles, a team can struggle no matter what the level of talent. While coaches provide one kind of leadership, few teams excel until the players take responsibility for their own actions and demand accountability from their teammates.

There’s nothing new in this. Middlebury College coach Bill Beaney has been asserting for over two decades that his teams never reach their potential until, in his words, “they make it their team.” Not the coach’s team; not the fans’ team; not the school’s team; their team.

So it is at the University of Vermont this winter.

“I’ve always said accountability and responsibility are the number one things I can teach young men. When it’s all said and done, if they can look at themselves in the mirror, know they did everything possible, hold themselves accountable but also hold each other accountable, that equals ownership. It becomes their team,” said UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon this week.

“Right now, we don’t have that yet. I think we’ll get there; I know we’ll get there. A lot of that has to do with the leadership, guys feeling comfortable with positive confrontation, feeling comfortable with holding guys accountable. That maybe hasn’t been our strong point to date, but I’m hopeful they’re learning what it takes. I think the character is there for them to be great leaders. It’s a matter of much like everything, putting it all together.”

As a leader by example, captain Brian Roloff is superb, but he might not be comfortable with confrontation. Assistant captain Patrick Cullity is an emotional leader, though his emotions sometimes get the better of him on the ice. Assistant captain Kevan Miller might have the best blend, but he’s a junior still adjusting to his responsibilities.

Those from the Martin St. Louis/Jaime Sifers mold are rare, but they will tell you, for all their leadership qualities, they didn’t do it alone. Neither can Roloff, Cullity and Miller, though they are where leadership begins with these Catamounts. How quickly everyone adjusts to the team’s new leadership may determine how quickly the Catamounts start reaching their potential.

Power shortage

December 3, 2009

No one denies the University of Vermont men’s hockey team has an acute shortage of power on the power play.

The Catamounts are only 5 for 52: 9.6 percent.

Until recently, Vermont’s ineptitude on the power play was particularly disastrous since the UVM penalty kill was nearly as unsuccessful. That’s a loss-inducing combination.

The PK has improved — 10-for-10 over the past two games, both wins — but UVM’s special teams net is still a minus-10.

That’s been a problem in recent years, despite the Catamounts’ overall success.

In their Frozen Four season a year ago, the Cats had a decent power play percentage at 17.4, though it was very erratic. They still wound up minus-8 (power play goals scored plus short-handed goals scored minus power play goals and short-handed goals allowed) and they were a minus-9 when they reached the Hockey East championship game the year before that.

In 2006-07, UVM was a plus 13, due primarily to a great penalty kill and a decent power play (17.1) and in their first HEA season, they were a plus 19 with a 20.1 percent power play.

Of this year’s power play, head coach Kevin Sneddon said, “The puck’s been moved around pretty well over the last several games; we’ve created chances on almost all our power plays; it just hasn’t gone in.

“The frustration we have is just those times when guys watch one of their teammates have two guys all over them and we’re hoping the puck gets to us instead of battling for it, or outnumbering, or worrying about the structure (before) we get that possession.”

Sneddon has said he wants his special teams to work at a combined percentage of 110: add power play success plus penalty kill success. Thus, if the power play scores at 20 percent, penalty kill must be at least at 80 percent. If the power play’s at 15 percent; PK must be at 85. The higher the combined percentage, the better.

Here, for Sneddon’s seven years at the Catamount helm, are the power play, penalty kill and combined percentages plus special teams net goals:

2009-10: .096, .776, .872, minus 10

2008-9: .174, . 811, .985, minus 8

2007-08: .129, .862, .991, minus 9

2006-07: .171, .888, 1.059, plus 13

2005-06: .201, .864, 1.065, plus 19

2004-05: .180, .869, 1.049, plus 12

2003-04: .189, .849, .939, minus 11

Total: .173, .839, 1.012, plus 6

Catamount women streak into Storrs

December 2, 2009

University of Vermont women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley talked today about her team’s upcoming game with UConn, a juggernaut riding a 45-game winning streak. Here’s audio from the interview.

Dawley said this year’s UConn powerhouse is every bit as good — if not better — than last year’s that defeated Vermont 104-65 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament en route to a national title. The Huskies (5-0) have whipped their competition this season by an average margin of 43.8 points.

However, Dawley said her veteran-stacked squad, led by Courtnay Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos, will be fearless in its approach to the contest, set for Thursday night at 7:30.

Vermont (4-0) has 22 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Top-25 coaches poll, which makes the Catamounts the 28th ranked team in the nation.

Could a respectable showing against UConn be enough to move the Cats into the top 25?