Across the sheet: Sizing up the Catamounts

Vermont set to make first trip to Amherst

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

To say the Vermont hockey team had a peculiar 2017-18 regular season would be a bit of an understatement.

The Catamounts (9-18-7, 6-12-6 Hockey East Association) went 0-3-2 to wrap up the regular season, halting an impressive stretch when UVM went unbeaten in its previous six games just before.

That half-dozen game stretch essentially saved the Catamounts’ season as those 12 points boosted them to their ninth-place finish and just three points away from hosting the first round of the playoffs.

UVM’s nine wins this year was the lowest among all 11 Hockey East schools, but their seven ties—most in Hockey East—kept its season afloat.

Two losses against Brown and St. Lawrence, two bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, don’t seem so odd until you notice that the Catamounts proceeded to beat Providence and took powerhouse Northeastern to overtime not too long after.

Lighting the lamp has been the biggest red flag for UVM as its 2.12 average goals-per-game slotted them in last in the conference. Northeastern is in first-place with 3.59 goals per game.

Ross Colton and Alex Esposito are two of the most dynamic Catamounts on the offensive end as Colton leads the team in goals with 15 as well as shots on goal with a staggering 132, while Esposito’s 20 points put him just one shy of Colton for the team lead.

“I know they’re not a high-scoring team, we aren’t a high scoring team necessarily either, so it’s going to be tight games,” Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel said.  “I don’t expect either team to score more than three goals in either game.”

Matt O’Donnell is the highest scoring defenseman with 15 points.

UVM goalie Steffanos Lekkas will be the key to any and all success the Catamounts have during the postseason as the sophomore netminder tied for second-place in games started in Hockey East alongside Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger with 32.

Providence goalie Hayden Hawkey started all 34 games for the Friars.

His 2.79 goals-against average and .915 save percentage were good for 11th and fifth-place, respectfully, in the conference.

Both special team categories offer middle of the pack numbers with a fifth-ranked power play and seventh-ranked penalty kill.

UVM scores most of its goals in the third period with 26 of its 72 scored in the final frame. Oppositely, the Catamounts surrender its highest amount of goals in the third as well with 36. Because of that, just three players have a positive plus/minus rating, compared to seven for UMass.

The series could turn into a sprint to the second period as neither team has won a game all year when trailing after 40 minutes. Coupled with the added stakes of playoff hockey and this first round could morph into a war of attrition for both parties.

“We know that they’re going to play very hard,” Minutemen freshman Cale Makar said. “They’re a very similar team to us.”

UVM has owned UMass over the last handful of seasons as the Catamounts hadn’t lost to the Minutemen in 12 consecutive contests until UMass won 6-3 on Jan. 12.

As far as postseason history, UVM has a 17-23-0 record in the Hockey East Playoffs and is 7-1 in the opening round.

The Catamounts have met the Minutemen in the playoffs before, beating UMass in 2014 in the only postseason matchup between the two schools.

As the No. 9 seed in 2016—the only other time its earned that position—UVM posted a 3-2 record when it qualified for the quarterfinals. The Minutemen on the other hand have never won a game as the eight-seed, posting a measly 0-14 record.

It what will surely be an entertaining set of games, the Catamounts will be making its first trip to Amherst this season for the playoff battle, marking the only Hockey East team that hasn’t already played at the Mullins Center this year.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.