Hockey Cats need a voice, and more

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In a mid-December blog, I discussed the need for leadership from within the UVM men’s hockey team.

A month later, the topic was again the subject of interest at coach Kevin Sneddon’s weekly meeting with the media, in part because Sneddon referred to the need for a voice to emerge from the locker room in a television interview during Sunday’s win over Massachusetts.

Leadership among players emerges several ways. There are the captains, sometimes selected by players and sometimes chosen by coaches. There are the upper classmen, who have been through it all before. And there are a few individuals whose personalities and traits earn them the kind of respect among their peers necessary to lead.

Every student-athlete brings something to the team as a competitor. Some have great skills; they’re the stars. Others are role players, the ones who grind it out. Only the rarest, as one coach put it, have fourth-liner mentalities and first-liner skills, combining the best assets without the downside of either.

So it is with captains. Some lead by example, working hard in practice but playing hard in games, but are otherwise reserved and quiet. Some can deliver fiery speeches or rah-rah pep talks. Rare is the captain who has the perfect combination of athletic and people skills.

In recent UVM history, think Martin St. Louis and Jaime Sifers, each among the best at his position, tough, talented, emotional, a driving force not only for himself but for his teammates and his team, but even they needed support and leadership assistance.

Quietly, Sneddon has looked to junior defenseman Kevan Miller to emerge as the voice of the Catamounts, the one player who can rally the troops or deliver stern messages. If Miller can, he will give UVM a three-headed captaincy that could drive Vermont toward a strong finish to the season, joining lead-by-example captain Brian Roloff and lead-through-emotion assistant captain Patrick Cullity.

Roloff readily admits he’s not an in-your-face type of captain, and he said, “That kind of ‘grab a guy by the collar and set him straight’ would certainly work good for some guys; other guys I think might not respond well with that, but there’s certainly a place for it.”

Nominally a captain, as is Roloff (Cullity’s an assistant), Miller has deferred to the seniors, but said he will take a more active role.

“When it comes down to it, it’s one guy who the Coach wants to find that can really lead the team, get the fire going and kind of look to to be the voice of the team, which is like the guys sitting down in the locker room between periods and they look to the guy as the person they want to hear from,” Miller said.

“We’re trying to find that here and it’s taken a little longer than we’ve expected. Hopefully, we’ll get it going here,” Miller said.

* * *

Pressure? Sure, there’s pressure, and maybe that’s what the Catamount need.

“Maybe they need to feel a little more of it. More sense of urgency could be the difference and (tonight) that’s what I’m hoping we see, that sense of urgency from the moment the puck drops till the end of the buzzer,” said Sneddon.

“I think it would be good,” Roloff said. “The majority of this team has seen some pretty big games and maybe (we’re) kind of pushing it off and, well, we can always take care of business when we need to, but I do think there is a sense of urgency right now coming out now that we have 12 games left in Hockey East.

“It’s starting to hit home, unfortunately a little later than we would have liked, but we’ve certainly got a good opportunity against Maine.”

* * *

Speaking of Maine, the Black Bears have scored 45 percent of their goals on the power play with Gustav Nyquist (13-19-32), Brian Flynn, Tanner House, Robby Dee and Adam Shemansky combining for 24 man-up goals. Three of those goals, plus a short-handed goal, came in the Bears’ 4-1 win over Vermont at Maine early in the season.

UVM has collected 22 percent of its goals on the power play. Its penalty killers have excelled, allowing three power play goals in 12 games (3 for 53, or a 94.3 kill rate).

* * *

Maine goalie Scott Darlington (2.62, .910) missed a couple of games with a knee injury but should be ready this weekend … UVM forward Jack Downing will sit out tonight’s game as the third game of a three-game suspension for a violation of the student-athlete code of conduct. He is eligible but not guaranteed to play Saturday … Backup goalie Mike Spillane is day-to-day with an injury …

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