Hockey East play begins this weekend as the Huskies take on the Vermont Catamounts on Sunday, 10/30. A 3pm start conflicts with the Patriots game, so the crowd is expected to be subpar for a Hockey East tilt, but that may be beneficial to the Huskies, who may feel less pressure in their first game for points of the year. As noted in the ASU recap post, it still feels as though the Huskies have not played a full 60 minute game this year. Now that Hockey East play is beginning, 60 minutes of high energy, high compete level, and high effort should be the norm, not the exception.
Vermont comes into conference play with victories over Nebraska-Omaha and Clarkson, and will be playing Michigan the Friday before seeing NU. They will be battle tested and ready for all the Huskies’ firepower. UVM also will be returning some key players from a team-issued suspension pertaining to a hazing incident in the preseason, among them their top scorers from last year in sniper Mario Puskarich and Brendan Bradley. It will be critical for Northeastern’s defense and Ryan Ruck to step up and keep the Vermont offense in check, however it bears watching how the chemistry along the UVM forwards is affected by the additions of more players. Their top scorers are Craig Puffer, who has a 3-2-5 line, and Jarrid Privitera, with a 2-2-4 line. Vermont has 9 players who have scored a goal, 4 of whom have more than one. Their team shooting percentage is 14.3%, with many players shooting well over 20%, so we’ll see if those numbers come back to Earth this weekend.
In net, Mike Santaguida returned to Burlington looking to solidify his place between the pipes, but has struggled, allowing freshman Stefanos Lekkas to come in and play well in Santaguida’s stead.
We were lucky enough to have @LocksTheFox from the Vermont Hockey Blog contribute to a Q & A with us in preview of this weekend. You can follow the blog, and we encourage you to do so, at @TheVTHockeyBlog
NHB: How has UVM looked in their out-of-conference games? The results from the UNO series were quite impressive to see.
VTHB: The Clarkson games were a bit hit-or-miss. The first game, we capitalized on a bunch of their mistakes, and the second game we shot ourselves in the foot. Santaguida let in a softie and our defenders were way too passive in the third period of a tie game. The Omaha games, both were a similar story. Slow start, then catch fire. We went down 2-0 in the first both games but responded well, grabbing a 4-4 draw on Friday and pouring on five unanswered on Saturday in a 5-2 win. Craig Puffer was a monster, and Jarrid Privitera was quite good too. Stefanos Lekkas had a shaky start in the Friday game (which I’ll chalk up to nerves), but was pretty solid the rest of the way and pitched a shutout in 56 minutes of relief on Saturday.
NHB: How will the returning players affect the UVM lineup and performance, good or bad?
VTHB: I think it’s going to be interesting, especially up top. The forwards have been excellent despite the loss of Puskarich and Bradley, so it’ll be interesting to see how Sneddon integrates them. Colton and Bradley had some good chemistry in preseason so I think they may stick together, with Puskarich on the other wing (during the Omaha series, Colton played with Kevin Irwin on the RW both nights; Drew Best was his LW Friday and Matt Alvaro was his LW Saturday). It’s a good problem to have, if you ask me. As for Petruzzelli, he’s always been more of a bottom-six center, so I’d say he fills in for Lodermeier (if Sneddon chooses to do so, I’ve liked Lodermeier so far this season). And then the last suspended guy left is Chris Muscoby. I’d imagine he rotates fills into Trey Phillips’s on the left side of defense with Massie/Phillips/Moriarty rotating on the bottom pair. It’s the kind of stuff that gives a coach a headache, but it’s a good problem to have with so much depth.
NHB: What is the story with UVM goalies? Who can NU expect to see on Sunday?
VTHB: Santaguida has looked…very iffy so far. He was solid in the first game at Clarkson, then in the home game against them he made a costly mistake that led to a gimme goal in a one-goal loss. Then he got a start in Omaha on Saturday and was pulled after four minutes. Stef Lekkas had a bit of a tentative start in his first game against Omaha on Friday (again, nerves), but picked it up and then had a terrific relief performance on Saturday. And then there’s Pat Feeley, who plays so rarely I’m not sure he actually exists. It really depends on who plays Friday (which Sneddon hasn’t decided, though Lekkas was at media Wednesday, make of that what you will) and how they play.
NHB: What player(s) should NU fans keep an eye on as an X-Factor?
VTHB: I think the return of his preseason linemates could spell huge success for Ross Colton. He’s only got one point this year so far, but he’s very talented. Best, Alvaro, and Irwin don’t compliment Colton’s skill set the way Bradley and Puskarich do. Also keep an eye on Rob Darrar, he was UVM’s best player in the playoffs not named Packy Munson last year, came back in the best shape of his career, and has been very solid so far. And the aformentioned Puffer is coming off a very good weekend at Omaha.
NHB: How do you think the timing of the game will affect UVM? Sunday, afternoon, they’re traveling, just played Michigan. Any weary legs to be expected?
VTHB: I think the return from suspension may actually play a factor here. We’ve got a huge squad – I think we’re at 29 players – so we’re able to rotate in guys in the first place, and you add the depth with four players returning and that gives you options for rotation. I think that if Sneddon plays his cards right, we won’t really have to worry about tired legs.
NHB: How about a prediction?
VTHB: I think it’ll be interesting. The return of so many players who haven’t played a game in a month could either bolster the roster or break apart team chemistry. In addition, our offense is clicking, sure, but our shooting percentage is 14%, which is hardly sustainable (but refreshing after the 6% last season). I’m thinking a tie here would be an optimal outcome, but maybe i’m being pessimistic.
Davis (3-0-1): NU victory, 3-2. NU X-Factor is Garret Cockerill, who has played very inconsistently all season. Cockerill will need to be defensively sound and more responsible with the puck now that he is getting into games with better competition. Hockey East teams capitalize on mistakes, and Cockerill has been mistake-prone this year. Now is the time for him to correct it.
Fallon (3-0-1): NU 4-2 (EN)
Downie (3-0-1): Tie, 3-3
Many thanks to The Vermont Hockey Blog for coming in and contributing for this preview. Make sure to follow them on Twitter and read their content, especially this weekend. As always, Go Huskies!