Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Sneddon’

The Milo cause-and-effect: Is it real?

February 27, 2010

The play of the University of Vermont men’s hockey team in its last three games certainly begs the question of whether there is a cause-and-effect relationship regarding the recent dismissal of forward Justin Milo from the team.

There is no way to be certain that Milo’s absence has resulted in three of UVM’s more consistent and better games, including Friday’s 7-3 victory over Boston University, and no one connected with the Catamounts is going to say that on the record even if he agreed.

Rumors, opinions and theories still abound as to why Milo was cut so late in the season and seemingly trustworthy sources have given credence to some of the speculation, but it’s all off-the-record. Still, 11 days after the announcement by head coach Kevin Sneddon, there’s growing evidence that the Catamounts have finally grown together as a team after laboring for team leadership off the ice and results on it.

UVM played valiantly in a 5-4 overtime loss at UNH, a game the Catamounts deserved to win. The next night, they stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in Durham, N.H., for a 3-2 lead, settling for a 3-3 tie. Friday, they simply outplayed a very talented BU team.

The results aside, Vermont had not had a three-game stretch of such energy, effort and consistency all season; hence, the question of cause-and-effect. Clearly, had the players been upset by Milo’s dismissal, it hardly seems likely that it would be manifested by some of their best play of the season.

Quite frankly, at UNH and Friday vs. BU, the Catamounts looked like a team no longer playing with a burden on their backs. The fun appeared to be back in the game for them and don’t underestimate the value of fun in determining how a team plays.

Earlier this week, coach Kevin Sneddon would not comment on the effect of Milo’s dismissal on team morale, but after Friday’s win, he said, “Right now, the strength of our character is really shining. The guys through adversity — and we haven’t had a lot of bounces go our way this year — and I think they’re getting stronger as a unit, pulling together and trying to get it done. It’s a good a sign that we’re doing it at this point of the season and hope to be playing out best hockey moving forward.”

That is not a direct comment on Milo or his effect on the team, but his situation was certainly part of the adversity this team has endured and is now trying to use as a positive.

Josh Burrows, the defenseman-turned-wing who scored twice Friday, was not directly addressing the Milo affair but rather the team’s belated melding as a unit when he said, “We just know this is a stretch where we know we needed to do what we can do and we’ve kind of struggled with that at times during the year.

“I think everyone’s on the same page now and we’ve got the effort that we need and with that kind of effort, we’re going to get the results that we want.”

If the Catamounts continue to play today as they have for the past three games, the cause-and-effect question will grow in validity.

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Will Hockey Cats gain from adversity?

February 25, 2010

The last couple of weeks have been tumultuous for the University of Vermont hockey team.

Included in the emotional rollercoaster were:

 The benching and eventual dismissal of No. 2 scorer Justin Milo;

 A weekend series with Merrimack in which UVM lost third-period leads in the final five minutes (tie) and final two minutes (loss) of regulation;

 The one-game suspension of freshman forward Chris McCarthy for a match penalty vs. Merrimack;

 The addition of Jay Anctil to an injury list that included one of UVM’s top scorers, Wahsontiio Stacey, and No. 2 goaltender, Mike Spillane;

 The shifting of defenseman Josh Burrows to forward to bolster the depleted front ranks;

 A valiant but one-point weekend at New Hampshire;

 Finally, a plunge into ninth place in the Hockey East standings, one position out of a playoff berth.

Despite all this, plus five overtime games in seven games and a 1-3-4 record over the last eight games, the Catamounts say they are optimistic and feeling good going into this weekend’s series against Boston University at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

Asked last week how the Milo affair, as well as the injury toll, might be affecting team morale, head coach Kevin Sneddon said he wouldn’t respond directly.

However, he said, “I can just say right now that right now the energy on the team is very positive. Our guys understand that injuries are part of the game. Everybody’s gone through it in the league … That’s part of the cards that you’re dealt,” Sneddon said. “Our guys did a great job of playing through it last weekend; we had a suspension in Chris McCarthy the first night, a bunch of injuries, the dismissal of a player, a defenseman playing forward.

“Our guys did a great job of doing whatever they possibly could to help the team,” Sneddon said. “To me, that’s a good sign of character; that’s a good sign of moving forward. Now as we try to get some of these guys back, hopefully in the near future, we can set ourselves up for some good hockey down the stretch.”

Throughout the year, the Catamounts have had difficulty all getting on the same page at the same time. Perhaps the adversity of recent weeks has finally coalesced UVM into a team.

“You see it a lot with teams with injuries, with other things that are going on, guys kind of pull together,” captain Brian Roloff said. “I think you really could see that (Friday vs. UNH) with the fact that we gave up a goal 20 seconds, you think it could have crushed us, and we turned around and played a pretty solid week.”

Perhaps in a couple of weeks, if UVM does take five or six of the remaining eight points and gets to postseason, this will be remembered as the time when adversity forged a Catamount team.

Hockey Cats go down fighting

February 19, 2010

If nothing else, the University of Vermont men’s hockey team displayed its pride and character Friday night at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore Center.

On the record books, it was a 5-4 defeat in overtime and for now it moved UVM out of a playoff position in Hockey East.

With five games remaining in the regular season, UVM is 7-10-5 in HEA. That’s 19 points, the same as Merrimack. The Warriors, however, are 9-11-1, which means they have six games left.

In addition, should Merrimack and Vermont wind up tied for any playoff position, the Warriors own the head-to-head tiebreak, 2-0-1 this year.

That’s why even a tie Friday night at New Hampshire would have been a “win” for UVM. The Catamounts would have 20 points and be tied with UMass-Lowell—whom UVM plays on the final weekend—for seventh.

Friday, the Catamounts faced a daunting task. Vermont has seldom have any good fortune in Durham, N.H., going all the way back to the inception of the UVM program.

Nor was this Vermont team in the best of shape for such a critical encounter. Junior forward Wahsontiio Stacey, second only to Brayden Irwin in goals scored, is still sidelined; maybe for the season. Chris McCarthy, one-third of a dynamic freshman line, had to sit out a one-game suspension for a game disqualification against Merrimack on Saturday; he’s due to return tonight.

And, of course, there’s still the fallout from the dismissal of junior forward Justin Milo, who, like Stacey, was second only to Irwin in goals scored.

Yet Vermont played with an intensity and desperation that seemed to keep the Wildcats on their heels for much of Friday’s game. But this New Hampshire team just has too much offensive skill to give even the smallest of openings, and eventually that cost UVM dearly.

Still, the anguish and the pride were evident in the voice of head coach Kevin Sneddon late Friday evening. He hurt for his players and he praised their grit and effort. He said his team had practice hard all week, refusing to let the Milo situation affect their morale.

The road ahead is no easier for UVM: UNH tonight, two games against Boston University at The Gut next weekend; a final trip to UMass-Lowell.

All they can do is give it their best shot, just as they did Friday, and hope a couple bounces of the puck go their way.

After all, they’re just four points out of fourth.

The Milo situation: No winners

February 18, 2010

When the coach of the area’s highest profile sports team dismisses one of the higher profiles athletes from that team, it’s news. Representatives of news organizations then have the responsibility to report the news as fully, accurately and fairly as possible.

However, should one side or the other, for reasons legal or altruistic, refrain from providing more detailed information, the interests and curiosity of readers, viewers, chat boarders, et al, are unlikely to be satisfied.

Such is the case of junior forward Justin Milo and his dismissal from the University of Vermont men’s hockey team by head coach Kevin Sneddon on Tuesday.

On one side, Sneddon said the decision was made in the best interests of the team. At Tuesday’s weekly news conference, Sneddon would not provide any more insight into his action beyond stating that the coaching staff, support staff and leadership had spent a lot of time considering the matter before acting.

On the other side, Milo expressed shock and said he was baffled by his removal. Essentially, he said he was told, he had been dismissed because of inconsistent effort, a lack of commitment to the program and a poor attitude.

One thing is undeniable: This was a severe action on Sneddon’s part. For him to make such a decision at this stage of a frustrating season, he had to believe it was necessary.

Whether Sneddon was right or wrong is another matter and it is impossible to form an opinion fairly without knowing all the details. Nor is it possible to know whether Milo truly doesn’t understand why he is no longer a Catamount.

One other thing is also undeniable: The situation has prompted extensive speculation.

Simply put, it’s difficult for many outside the team to accept that the reasons Milo said he was given for his dismissal are “the real story.” There has to be more to it, “they” say, and “they” might be right; logically, they probably are right.

Instead, alternative scenarios have been advanced in the Free Press’ online reader reaction and on college hockey Web sites, such as the USCHO.com fan forum. Some theories are speculation, pure and simple; others cite unnamed sources. Some fault the coach; some blame the player. None is a certainty.

Nobody wins in these situations; not the player, who no longer has a team; not the coach, whose reputation is on the line; not the team, which loses a talented player and faces possible internal strife; not the university, which is thrust into a negative spotlight; not even the public when rumors and innuendo might be far worse than the actual reasons.
For Milo, this was devastating, but it’s not the end of the world; it just seems it. He will still have his degree, his baseball and prospect of succeeding with the rest of life. For his sake, hopefully he will.

For the Catamounts, it’s a difficult experience, and only time will tell if they’ve been deeply wounded or if they can heal as a team. They already had enough challenges awaiting them.

Milo’s dismissal another blow to Hockey Cats

February 16, 2010

The most tumultuous season of the Kevin Sneddon coaching era took another stunning twist Tuesday with the dismissal of junior forward Justin Milo from the University of Vermont men’s hockey team.

Sneddon declined to be specific about the reasons, saying only that he, his staff and the leadership had agreed that it would be in the best interest of the team to move forward with No. 7 no longer on the ice.

Tuesday evening, Milo said he had been told he was dismissed for inconsistent effort and play and a lack of commitment to the team. Basically, he said, he was baffled by the reasons given for banishing the team’s No. 2 goal scorer. For more of Milo’s reaction, check Wednesday’s Free Press print or online editions.

From the outside, it’s impossible to say one side was right or one side was wrong; whether the coach failed in his duties to reach the player or if the player didn’t want to be reached.

Seeing the games can provide some perspective, but no one outside of the team knows what goes on daily in practice, in the locker room, off the ice or in meetings. Maybe it’s a shared failure.

Only one thing can be said definitely: It’s sad that such situations ever arise.

Milo is a hockey talent, a scorer who loves to shoot the puck. He has been inconsistent this year, as have most of the Catamounts.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out that Milo was in the coaching doghouse. He had been there for the St. Lawrence game in December when he was listed as a “healthy scratch, coach’s decision.” Since UVM is consistent in announcing game absences for illness, injury or violations of the student-athlete code of conduct, Milo’s benching, one can surmise, had to do with his hockey.

Friday, Milo was scratched again, another indication that things were not running smoothly between coach and player. When Milo didn’t suit up for Saturday’s game, it was obvious the matter was serious.

But serious enough to warrant dismissal? Maybe; maybe not. Sneddon believes it was; Milo doesn’t; the eternal clash of perspectives of coach and player.

About the only positive note in all of this is that Milo will remain in school (though he might join the Yankees’ training camp for a time) and graduate this spring.

For the team, it will be a challenge to put this aside and focus on the weekend at New Hampshire. Vermont is vulnerable, its hold on the eighth and final playoff spot tenuous (it should also be noted that UVM is also only three points out of fourth, though trending the wrong way).

Certainly at season’s end, if not sooner, the coaching staff in particular as well as the players will have to do some soul-searching, trying to figure out why this season has become so difficult, and not just in terms of wins and losses. For one reason or another, three players are no longer with the team. Leadership has been questioned. Play has been inconsistent.

All in all, it’s been a harsh winter at Gutterson Fieldhouse, harsher than the one outside, and the forecast for the immediate future isn’t bright.

Hockey Cats need a voice, and more

January 28, 2010

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 …

Cats need to strike 1st night, not respond the 2nd

January 22, 2010

No one can question the game-to-game resiliency of the UVM men’s hockey team. The record over the past couple of seasons proves that.

Five times, they’ve lost the opening game of a two-game weekend series against a single opponent and rebounded to win the second game. Only once last year did they lose the opener and then the second game as well. (They’ve also won the opener and lost the second game once.)

The trait is great … except it would be better if the Catamounts didn’t put themselves in that position.

This year, against Denver, Boston College and Northeastern, UVM scored second-night wins for weekend splits. They’re looking for their first sweep, and no sweep is possible without winning the first game.

“I sure hope it’s not a trend,” said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon as the Catamounts prepared for two games at Massachusetts this weekend. “We’re too good a team in my opinion, not just in terms of playing but in terms of what we have in that locker room, for us to be playing that way, to have a bum night on Friday and bounce back.

“Yes, it does show character, but why not play Friday the way you do on Saturday?” he said. “We’ve got to as a coaching staff do whatever we can possibly do to shake that. We need to play one shift at a time and play to the best of our ability period to period versus having a tough outcome and having to come back and rely on our character to respond.

“I want to look at (the first game); that’s two points on the line that we want to go after. Hopefully we’re talking about trying for a sweep the next night,” he said, dismissing talk that a split on the road is a good outcome. “I don’t like to think in those terms. It’s dangerous. We aim to win every game we play. That’s what we set out for. If we’re truly focused on one game at a time, that’s how we should approach it.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller concurred, saying, “We’ve always been good at responding the second game, but we’re trying to come out and play our best hockey for 120 minutes for the weekend instead of 20 minutes off, 10 minutes off here.”

Forward Brayden Irwin said, “We’ve come out where we’ve have a couple of stretches where we play well, one thing goes bad and it kind of turns our whole game. It’s important for us when those situations come up — they’re inevitable — to be able to deal and respond better, not let it turn our whole game plan.

“Now it’s a matter of how we respond the next shift.”

Right answer … now let’s see if the response to this creeping situation is the right one tonight at UMass.

Time to step forward

January 14, 2010

In pursuit of a home ice berth for the Hockey East quarterfinals as a step toward an NCAA berth, the University of Vermont Catamounts have played better in recent games, though coach Kevin Sneddon says, “We’re just starting to scratch the surface of where I think this team can get to, which is exciting because we’ve had some real quality wins and we’ve played some great games.”

To continue the upward trend, though, UVM will need the same good play from those who have performed well and better execution and greater contributions from other sources.

One who recently made a major step is junior forward Justin Milo, who was a healthy scratch a few games back.

“Milo was in a little bit of a lull, we had to spark him a little bit,” Sneddon said. “We pulled him out of the lineup and I thought he played great in the tournament.

“He was a man on a mission without the puck and that’s when Justin’s at his best. When he all of a sudden is only worried about what he does with the puck, he kind of loses effectiveness. We got him back to playing where he’s capable of playing when he can sustain that because I think he’s one of the better forwardes in the league when he’s playing like that.”

Individually, Sneddon said, the player who must follow Milo’s resurrection is Wahsontiio Stacey.

“He’s started to come around a little bit. He’s the one guy when you look at our top six forwards right now … who really needs to get going. He does a great job blocking shots, but if he’s going to log that much ice time, he needs to be more consistent.”

And then there’s the touted corps of defensemen. Collectively, said Sneddon, they have improved but still have much more to offer.

“We just have moments when we have a breakdown that we’ve got to get rid of,” Sneddon said

As an example, Sneddon pointed to a situation in the Catamount Cup championship game against Minnesota-Duluth.

“In a 4-on-4, we look for an offensive rush opportunity and give up a breakaway to one of the best players in college hockey. Why? You’re up 5-1; why are we making that kind of decision?”

Or there was this situation in the semifinal win over Alabama-Huntsville: “Against Alabama, we take an ill-advised rush opportunity in the last minute of a period to give them the go-ahead goal going the other way.

“We’ve got to get rid of that going into the second half.”

Are the Catamounts capable of resolving those situation? Of course, but they have to prove it.

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.