Posts Tagged ‘University of Vermont’

Rediscovering basketball

February 11, 2010

For many years in my various roles with the Burlington Free Press sports department, I seldom had the opportunity to watch either of the University of Vermont’s basketball programs.

The reason was simple: If our beat writer, whether it was Andy Gardiner, Patrick Garrity, Hillary Read, Jeff Pinkham or the current beat writer, John Fantino, was at the game, I had to be in the office overseeing production and/or dealing with the myriad of calls, emails and faxes from the many high school and college teams in our circulation area.

The reverse was true whenever I was at Gutterson; the other beat writer usually had to tend to office chores.

Since I retired from full-time Free Press duty 1½ years ago, I’ve had more opportunities to see UVM’s men and women excel on the court and it’s been fun. Many of those games I’ve covered for the Free Press or other news outlets and that’s also given me the chance to see the players up close in postgame situations.

Many, many years ago, when the UVM hockey program was in its infancy and I was a student intern for the sports information department — I kept stats for several of those years — men’s basketball was really the only big thing on campus in winter; well, except for the long-departed Kake Walk.

Hockey has since generally reigned as the biggest of Vermont’s winter teams in terms of success and community interest, but the accomplishments of both basketball teams in recent years have given the university a nice trifecta for relieving the January/February blues.

For years, I’ve been fortunate to witness the on-ice exploits of so many UVM hockey players, from Dave Reece and George Minarsky to Viktor Stalberg and Peter Lenes, and way too many in between to mention.

It’s been since the days of Dave Lapointe and Frank Martiniuk since I’ve watched UVM basketball players as often as I’ve seen Marqus Blakely, Evan Fjeld, Courtnay Pilypaitis and May Kotsopoulos, and it’s been fun to rediscover the intensity, the drive, the élan with which they play their sport. From Marqus’ highlight jams to Pilypaitis’ game-altering 3-pointers, it’s fun, a fun heightened no doubt by success.

Still, I also realize that I’m watching the games with an unpracticed eye. I must be, because I’m not always seeing the same game as those folk in the striped shirts.


Hockey Cats’ fate still uncertain

February 9, 2010

To win three of four Hockey East points on a road weekend is a reasonable accomplishment for any Hockey East team, even if the opponent is last-place Providence.

That said, the University of Vermont could have and probably should have swept the Friars, barring only the play of PC goalie Alex Beaudry’s in Saturday’s 1-1 tie.

Of course, the Friars had a say in the outcome; all opponents do and Providence was desperate for points and played like it only 24 hours after a lackluster 5-1 loss to the Catamounts.

Still, even without forwards Wahsontiio Stacey (lower body injury; out indefinitely) and Tobias Nilsson-Roos (illness; expected to return vs. Merrimack), Vermont should have taken all four points.

Several factors played in Vermont’s failure to do so, including the aforementioned Friars, Beaudry and the UVM absentees. Yet the Catamounts also let the point slip away for other reasons, including:

** A power play that continues to struggle; Saturday night, in a 1-1 game early in the third period, the Catamounts went on a five-minute power after a major penalty against the Friars. According to head coach Kevin Sneddon, Providence presented a different kill strategy, packing the defense in tight, and UVM never scored. That’s when a power play must succeed.

The tendency is to be too tentative, to just move the puck around the perimeter and not use off-the-puck movement wisely, especially when players need to get the puck on goal or near goal in the quest for redirections or rebounds. Instead, UVM struggles to adjust to penalty kills and to read the potential plays; the confidence simply isn’t there.

** Another factor is the lack of consistent production recently from the veteran line of Colin Vock, Brayden Irwin and Justin Milo. In their first four games together, they produced 10 goals and 22 points, including the 5-goal, 10-point night against Northeastern.

That’s an incredible pace few lines could sustain. Still, in the six games since, they are have a collective four goals and nine points; not terrible, but not what UVM needs to move up in the standings.

In Hockey East this season, nothing is certain. Runaway leader New Hampshire found out that last week when Maine swept the Wildcats.

Going into this weekend’s game, UNH, Boston College and Maine are well positioned to capture home ice for the quarterfinals, although the order of finish has yet to be decided.

Massachusetts has a four-point cushion over Boston University, UMass-Lowell and Vermont, all tied for fifth, but the Minutemen have lost three of four.

The Terriers, the River Hawks and the Catamounts are still within striking distance of fourth — UMass owns the tie-breaker vs. UVM — and Merrimack, which comes to Gutterson Fieldhouse on Friday and Saturday, will be playing with urgency in order to make the playoffs.

What all this means for UVM is that one big weekend can propel the Catamounts up the standings; one horrendous, or even mediocre, weekend can be a disaster.

Bits and pieces, part 2 …

January 25, 2010

A few games ago, Vermont women’s basketball coach Sharon Dawley made a point of how senior Courtnay Pilypaitis was effectively distributing the ball among her teammates. As the Catamounts’ all-time assist leader, Pilypaitis has the numbers to back up Dawley’s statement.

Dawley called Pilypaitis’ play selfless, saying Pilypaitis could also score just about any time she wanted.

Fortunately for UVM, Pilypaitis recognized it was time to shoot, not pass, in Sunday’s game against Stony Brook. When the Catamounts were struggling to find their offensive rhythm, Pilypaitis went on the offensive with a drive to the hoop, two 3-pointers — one seemingly launched from Winooski — and a free throw to ignite another easy America East victory.

When Pilypaitis puts on that kind of show, it reminds opposing defenses that she’s far from a one-dimensional player and that opens up other opportunities. Pilypaitis, ready to pass or shoot and knowing when to do each, is a fearsome player, one UVM will need Tuesday against Hartford in the dispute over first place.

The outcome will no doubt be a prime factor in determining the top seed for the AE tournament and thus home court for the championship game.

* * *

The UVM men’s hockey team stayed true to form this weekend: lose the opener, rebound with a stellar game in the rematch. That’s fine; it shows character, but it won’t propel the Catamounts up the Hockey East standings. Only a couple weekend sweeps will do that; like against Maine, which pulls into town Friday.

* * *

How times have changed for UVM’s penalty killers. From allowing three goals in six chances in a home game against UMass and 13 goals in 37 chances over seven games, the Catamounts have a 12-game run in which they are 50-for-53 — 94.3 percent success rate — including Sunday’s 9-for-9 kill against UMass. Sunday’s effort was incredible given that UMass’ James Marcou and Casey Wellman are so dangerous when their team’s a man up; the Cats can attest to that, having yielded five goal to the two in two previous games this year.

Much credit is due the penalty killers, but it’s also due to the resurgence of goaltender Rob Madore, who was spectacular in Sunday’s 3-0 win. Madore missed a couple of days of practice due to a death in the family. Madore’s goals-against average is down to 2.60 and his save percentage is up to 91.0 after yielding two goals this weekend.

* * *

No details of the violation were released, but UVM hockey coach Kevin Sneddon again held a player accountable for actions off the ice. Junior Jack Downing was suspended for three games — he’s now served two — for violation of the university’s student-athlete code of conduct. His seven goals and 15 points could have been helpful against UMass and this Friday against Maine, but violations call for punishment.

* * *

A shocking weekend for the Middlebury College men’s hockey team: First, the Panthers lead New England College 4-2 after the second period Friday and give up five straight goals in the third to lose 7-4. Then St. Anselm pins a 4-0 loss on Middlebury on Saturday. The losses were the Panthers’ first of the league season.

* * *

With two straight league losses after opening the America East season 5-0, the UVM men’s basketball team needs to regain control of its destiny. The Catamounts are fourth in the standings, behind Maine (5-1), Stony Brook (6-2) and Boston University (6-2) going into Wednesday’s game at New Hampshire.

* * *

It’s the fuddy-duddy part of my nature, and colleges, high schools and pro teams feature some remarkable talent when it comes to performing the Star Spangled Banner, but I’m never thrilled with those who add their personal twists to the national anthem, whether it’s by holding high notes forever, taking twice the normal time to perform it or inserting cute little riffs.

For me, the national anthem has a steady, crisp pace and the same melody with no personal variations, no matter who is performing it; to me, anything else is “look at me” exhibitionism. And it’s not about “me” but “us.” Save that personal display for your other performances.

Even more annoying are those who can’t wait until the conclusion to applaud and cheer, or have to yell during it. Yes, that’s freedom of speech, but nothing says it’s mandatory it be exercised at that time. Show a little class and respect.