Season Preview- Vermont Catamounts

Photo by Brian Jenkins/Burlington Free Press

In the coming weeks, NU Hockey Blog will be counting down to the start of the 2017-18 Hockey East season with a look at the upcoming year for each of the eleven returning clubs (Note: Get lost Notre Dame). Today, we look at our projected sixth place finisher, the University of Vermont Catamounts.

Vermont Catamounts 2016-2017 Results:

Overall: 20-13-5

Hockey East: 10-8-4 (6th)

Hockey East Tournament: Swept Maine by a score of 10-1 in the Hockey East Octofinals; Swept by a score of 14-4 by Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals

NCAA Tournament: No.

Departures: Mario Puskarich (F), Brendan Bradley (F), Brady Shaw (F), Kevin Irwin (F), Cameron Klein (F), Tom Forgione (F), Malcolm McKinney (F), Rob Hamilton (D), Chris Muscoby (D), Mike Lee (D),  Mike Santaguida (G), Pat Feeley (G)

Additions: Vladislav Dzhioshvili (F), Bryce Misley (F), Max Kaufman (F), Ace Cowans (F), Martin Frechette (F), Alex Esposito (F), Christian Evers (D), Owen Grant (D), Cory Thomas (D), Brian Kelly (D), Tyler Harmon (G), Matt Beck (G)

The Vermont Catamounts started off strong last season in spite of an exhibition loss to Concordia, with a 4-1-1 record in their first six games against Clarkson x2, Omaha x2 (in Omaha), Michigan, and Northeastern. They kept up the strong play for the rest of 2016, with their only three losses in conference play coming to Lowell and BU, two teams who tied for the Hockey East regular season title. The turn to 2017 was just as strong for UVM, as they won 3 of 4 in conference play through 1/20. But the wheels fell off a bit down the stretch, with just 2 wins in their last 9 games including losses to UConn, Merrimack, and UNH leading the Catamounts to sputter to a sixth place finish. They murdered Maine in the Hockey East Octofinals, as is tradition, with wins of 5-0 and 5-1. But the next weekend saw the script flipped, as Boston College defeated Vermont 7-0 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday to end the Catamounts’ season.

Last year during this preview, we looked at Vermont’s advanced stats for 2015-16 and saw a team that could have been pretty good but had an awful season that was driven by awful luck. The 2016-17 Catamounts were just about exactly where they should have been, with a PDO of 100.86 and a close PDO of 99.61 showing their luck to be just about perfectly average, while they held a 51.4% Corsi and a 53.2% Corsi close that ranks them just about where you would expect, behind the BC/Providence/UML tier but solidly above the weaker Hockey East teams.

Looking ahead to 2017, the Catamounts face some high-end losses, including leading scorer Mario Puskarich, leading scoring defenseman Rob Hamilton, and forwards Brendan Bradley, and Brady Shaw. But from a quality standpoint, the rest of their losses were mostly depth and very replacable. The most notable loss aside from those four is Mike Santaguida, who lost the starting job to freshman Stefanos Lekkas last season and posted just a .882 save percentage in the games he did play. They’ll be led by solid returnees including a first line likely to include Brian Bowen and Ross Colton, both of whom scored 27 points last season. Six more returning forwards scored 10+ points last season, at least one of whom is likely to be on the fourth line simply due to the sheer number of solid returnees, and six defensemen return having played 10 or more games last year. They may not be the flashiest team in Hockey East, or even the top half, but they have the experience and depth to make a run with anyone in the conference. In addition to their returnees, the Catamounts have a couple of notable freshman forwards.

Vladislav Dzhioshvili (F) – Dzhioshvili comes to UVM as an undrafted 19 year old in spite of an impressive junior career that included U16 season where he scored 63 points in 23 games in the AYHL, 32 points in 29 career USPHL games, over two years of USHL experience, and a 2016-17 season where he scored 42 points in 58 games with the Bloomington Thunder and was named the team’s top forward. UVM flipped his commitment from Cornell in the middle of last season and by doing so, they gained a defense-first power forward who also a lot of offensive firepower in his arsenal. He enters college already standing at an impressive 6’0″ 205 lbs and will likely only become a bigger weapon and bigger in stature as he continues his career.

Bryce Misley (F) – Misley is an 18 year old Canadian center who was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 4th round of June’s NHL Draft. He played his junior career in the OJHL, which has produced notable Huskies including Dalen Hedges and Dylan Sikura, where he scored 101 points in 99 games, including 62 in 46 last season. He’s another big body at 6’2″ 192 lbs and will be one of the youngest players in the NCAA this year having just turned 18 years old after the start of the semester. Misley is a strong, aggressive, center with the offensive skill to match and will be dangerous for the Catamounts, though maybe not from Day 1 considering his age.

To learn more about the 2017-18 Catamounts we had the opportunity to interview the UVM Hockey Blog (@TheVTHockeyBlog) about the upcoming season.

NU Hockey Blog (NHB): Vermont last season seemed to be a well-rounded team, lacking a true superstar but getting solid contributions from many players. Is that something to expect again, or do you foresee someone breaking out into a “team superstar” role?

UVM Hockey Blog (VTHB): I think we’ll see much of the same. Yes, we lose Puskarich and Bradley, but the newcomers are predominantly skill players, and most of the roster from last year returns. Plus, Rob Darrar and Conor O’Neil are healthy again and have shown flashes throughout their college career.

NHB: Stefanos Lekkas was the backbone of the team, but we saw his save percentage drop drastically from Christmas until the end of the season. Do you think this is a product of Lekkas tiring over a season, or coming back down to his normal level after playing above his head?

VTHB: I lean towards the former but a bit of it was the latter. Is he a .940 SV% caliber goalie? Probably not, but he also started a slew of games in a row during a time where UVM was struggling with injuries on defense (namely Ori Abramson, one of only two defenders UVM had over 6’0″). I think he’ll be an average to above average keeper this year.

NHB: With the loss of sniper Mario Puskarich, Ross Colton looks to be next in line to assume the mantle of the most feared forward in the UVM arsenal. Do you agree with that assessment, or is there another player you have your eye on?

VTHB: I somewhat agree, simply because Ross is the kind of guy that makes his linemates better. The biggest example is probably Brian Bowen who went from 7 points as a freshman to 27 points as a sophomore after being paired with Colton.

NHB: What was the biggest weakness UVM showed last season that needs to be corrected if they want to be even more successful this season?

VTHB: Defense, defense, defense. Part of this was just sheer bad luck (the injury to Abramson and Daigle leaving midseason), and this year the team is now without Rob Hamilton who was the best defender on the team last year. They’ll need some contributions from the newcomers this season and for guys like Matt O’Donnell to take a step up. This group has a bit more flexibility than last year’s, with plenty of size coming in (6’4″ Cory Thomas, 6’2″ Christian Evers), now it’s time to see if they can play at the D-I level.

NHB: Bryce Misley seems to be the most hyped UVM freshman with Dzhioshvili following him. What other new faces should the rest of Hockey East be looking out for?

VTHB: Outside of Misley and Dzhioshvili, I’d keep an eye out for defenders Owen Grant and Christian Evers. Evers has size and a solid all-round game, much like our last USNTDP alumnus (Michael Paliotta). Grant, in my opinion, will be a UVM captain someday; he’s excellent on the ice, in the classroom, and in the community. He was CCHL Defender of the Year, and if you’re skeptical about the lesser talent in that league, he was also on the World Junior A Challenge All-Star Team.

Thanks again to the UVM Hockey Blog for taking the time to speak with us.

As you can see, we projected UVM as the sixth place team in our preseason poll, but sixth should probably be considered their floor. They’re much closer to climbing into the top four than they are to falling to seventh, and their outlook is drastically more positive than the outlook of any team we’ve previewed thus far. As we’ve seen in recent years, there seems to be a big gap between the top half of Hockey East and the bottom half, and UVM is likely going to be pressuring for a bye and to establish themselves as a dangerous team in the top half this season. As Husky fans learned last year though, a bad run of goaltending can down even the highest scoring team, and UVM’s success will likely rise or fall with the performance of Lekkas in the crease this coming season.