January 26, 2007
Vermont Breaks the Ice in Hockey East

By Jeff Howe

Torrey Mitchell skated off the ice Saturday night with one thing in mind.

Hockey East Notebook

Vermont goalie Joe Fallon enters the weekend with the lowest goals-against average in the country, a sparkling 1.62 rate.

National TV Schedule

His Catamounts just completed a two-game sweep of Boston College at Gutterson Fieldhouse, and the Vermont junior had a fine weekend, himself, with two goals and two assists.

Never mind that, however. Mitchell went up to UVM coach Kevin Sneddon with a simple question.

"Hey, Coach," Mitchell said. "Back to work on Monday, right?"

Forget the fact that Vermont hadn't beaten Boston College since 1994, or that the Catamounts dropped six in a row to the Eagles since entering Hockey East last year. Forget that three of those losses were shutouts. Forget BC swept UVM out of the conference tourney last season. Forget it all, Mitchell thought, because it was time to move on.

"I loved it," Sneddon said. "He's got the team thinking in the right way. We learned some valuable lessons the second half of last year when our team lost a little bit of focus and it really came back to bite us. This year, I think the team has done a great job of just focusing on the task at hand. We've already left the BC weekend behind us."

"I wanted to make sure we used the weekend as a springboard," Mitchell said. "Get excited about the weekend, but come Monday, be concentrated for Merrimack."

The sweep did a couple things for Vermont. First, it vaulted the Catamounts into third place in the league standings and kept them within an arm's length of New Hampshire and Boston University.

More importantly, it served as UVM's loudest proclamation to the rest of the league since its inception last year. The Catamounts do indeed belong.

They certainly proved their worth last year by finishing in a respectable sixth place – no small task considering all that goes into adjusting to a new league.

But they didn't vault off the diving board and make a huge splash into the deep end of the pool. Vermont was 1-8-5 last year against Hockey East's Big Four – UNH, BU, BC and Maine. It went 9-5-1 against the other five teams.

The Catamounts were 2-4-0 against the Big Four this season before sweeping Boston College. They beat a struggling Terrier squad on Nov. 14. Eleven days later, they knocked off Maine, but that marked the Black Bears' third loss in a row. While both wins were still worth two points in the league standings – and bonus points are not given for degree of difficulty – Vermont still didn't have that one huge weekend to fall back on.

Until now.

"We've known all along what we're capable of doing," Mitchell said. "We've competed with Maine, BC, UNH and BU a lot in the past couple years, but we never really made a statement in the league. It's nice to get a couple wins at home against a good team."

Getting those demons wearing maroon and gold sweaters out of their heads was huge for a confidence standpoint. The thoughts of, "We're good, but …" have vanished. Knowing they can break through Cory Schneider should eliminate a few of those sleepless Burlington nights.

"We've had some mental blocks with that team," Sneddon said. "We've had some difficult times with Cory Schneider, who is an exceptionally good goaltender. All week, we were trying to prepare our guys for thinking in the right way – in the right frame of mind – that we are good enough to beat this team and that we are good enough to score on Cory Schneider."

"We tried to remind the team that they really had our number in the past six games, but at the same time, we knew a couple of those games could have gone our way," Mitchell said. "We weren't too far off. When we got ahead on Friday night, we knew we could beat these guys."

Mitchell, who was named Hockey East Player of the Week for his four-point series, helped Vermont get over the hump on the ice. His message to the coach – and to the team – was to propel UVM off the ice. He admitted they got distracted in the second half of last year, and that's something he's working to prevent this season.

"When you have your most talented player also be your hardest working player, you have instant leadership," Sneddon said of Mitchell. "He has always been that guy. He is a great extension of the coaching staff, and he has really emerged over the last three or four weeks as a mature player."

Vermont's schedule down the stretch isn't tremendously challenging, but the Cats do have a pair of road trips to Boston University and Maine, a couple series that will weigh heavily on the league standings. UVM now fully believes without reservation that it can shake things up against the top-tier of competition.

"We gained some confidence [last weekend], and we believe that we belong just like everybody else in the league," Sneddon said. "We're no longer the new team in the league. We're just another team trying to win a championship."


First for fourth-liner on first line: New Hampshire freshman Peter LeBlanc wasn't asked to fill the shoes of Jacob Micflikier. He just needed to manage them for a bit.

Micflikier suffered a shoulder injury in the Wildcats' win over Dartmouth on Jan. 13, and missed his first game last Friday against UMass. Micflikier, who has five goals and a team-high 21 assists, is listed as day-to-day, but he probably won't see any action this weekend, either.

So, LeBlanc practiced with the first line throughout the course of last week and has suited up with Josh Ciocco and Brett Hemingway each of the last two games. His first game up top couldn't have gone any better.

With UNH on an odd-man rush, Hemingway fired a shot at UMass goalie Jon Quick from the right point. Quick made the initial save, but the puck bounced wide off his pad, hit LeBlanc's skate as he was falling down in the slot, and caromed into the net.

Not a bad way to score your first career goal. Even better, LeBlanc's tally served as the game-winner in UNH's 5-1 victory over the Minutemen.

"That makes it that much more special, but the first one is always nice," LeBlanc said. "With Micflikier out, you can't go out there and try to fill his shoes. He's a really good offensive player. I just tried to do whatever I could to help the team win, make the line successful and create some offensive chances."

LeBlanc also earned rave reviews from his coach.

"He's a skilled player," UNH bench boss Dick Umile said. "We used him on the third line before when [Greg] Collins was hurt. He is someone who can play in the top lines. He played very well, extremely well. I'm not talking about the goal he got either. I'm talking about how he played the puck, got it off the wall and made some great plays. Peter played well."

Great Weekend Getaway
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BC at BU (Fri.)
Even if the hockey doesn't turn out to be that good – which we doubt will happen – Nathan Gerbe and Eric Gryba will probably continue their grudge match. The pair were often battling on the ice Wednesday night, and three instances in particular were especially entertaining.

While You’re There: BC hosts Lowell on Saturday if you're sticking around, although BU fans probably aren't too interested in that. If you're looking for something to do around Agganis on Friday night, though, check out Jillian's behind Fenway.

Stick Salute

Cheers to the UNH fan who was spotted wearing his gratis Milwaukee Frozen Four paper hockey helmet last Friday in Durham. We took it up a notch at INCH World Headquarters this week as far as planning for St. Louis goes, but we don't forget our past – the cold Wednesday night when those helmets made their debut.

Bench Minor

After hearing someone in the media refer to UNH coach Dick Umile as "You-mile," it appears we need a quick lesson in pronunciation. Apologies to those of you have to sit through an algebra course even though you've signed up for calculus. Say it with me. "You-mill-ee." Next week, we'll learn how to whistle in order to signify a line change.


• UNH goalie Kevin Regan picked up an assist on Bobby Butler's goal Friday night. The helper may have gone a bit unnoticed because Butler's play on the other end of the ice was so spectacular. He toe-dragged UMass defenseman Topher Bevis at the right point before beating Jon Quick in a 5-1 Wildcat victory.

• Quick got back on his game the next night, though. The sophomore netminder stopped 27 shots to earn his first collegiate shutout, and the Minutemen beat UNH to take the season series, 2-1. UMass is the only Hockey East team that has beaten the Wildcats this season.

• BU has the nation's longest unbeaten streak, at eight games (7-0-1), dating back to Dec. 30. The Terriers have won 12 straight January games and are 13-0-1 in their last 14.

• Josh Soares found the back of the net Saturday night to end Maine's scoreless drought at 160:13. The Black Bears responded with a 3-0 win over Providence after getting shut out twice in a row.

• Blaise MacDonald has played all 15 of his freshman this season at UMass Lowell.

• Lowell has not allowed a power-play goal since Jan. 6 against Maine. Perhaps more impressive is the young River Hawks have only had to kill 10 penalties during that four-game stretch.

• UNH tied its best start in program history by beating UMass Friday night. The 18-3-1 mark (before the loss to the Minutemen Saturday) matched the efforts of the 1999-2000 team. The Wildcats started 10-0-0 on the road before that loss at the Mullins Center, which set a school record.

• If anyone knows anything about bouncing back from an injury, or in this case an emergency surgery, it's Northeastern's Mike Morris. The senior had four assists in his first game back from an appendectomy, he tied a career-high with four assists in a 6-2 win over Lowell Friday night.

• Providence's Jon Rheault is tied for the league lead with three short-handed goals, and he is tied for second nationally. More importantly, all three of those shorties have been game-winners.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at jeff@insidecollegehockey.com.