Goal scorers are rare treats

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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.

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