Why keeping Sneddon is the wrong move

You may realize I haven’t written much this season…but we got something that needs a response.

UVM announced through a Ted Ryan piece on the BFP website (subscribers only) that Kevin Sneddon is returning for the final year of his contract. It has a lot of quotes from AD Jeff Schulman, and while I do respect Schulman’s opinions, some of his takes are, in my opinion, excuses. Let’s go through the article.

 “I continue to have confidence in his ability and the ability of our staff to move the program forward and achieve the goals that we’ve set out.

“For us, that is to have a hockey program that this community can be proud of; that is defined by integrity and class and academic excellence and a high level of competitive success as well.”

That’d be great if the community had reason to be proud of Sneddon’s last few seasons. Instead, we got two seasons of abysmally boring hockey and even in the 20-win 2016-17 season there was the cultural issue of the hazing scandal, which seems to have been forgotten because of that year’s on-ice succcess.

Let’s also add in the sub-.500 2015/16 season, and since 2015, UVM has had three losing seasons and in that above-average season there was a culture problem.

“Nobody at the university and certainly our fans would tell you that they’ve been happy with the level of competitive success these past two years; certainly not Kevin and the coaching staff, or our players,” Schulman said. “The last thing I want to do is to put more pressure on them in that regard but we all have really high expectations.”

You know what happens with a lack of pressure? Complacency. High expectations bring with them pressure, so either you have both, or neither.

Schulman said in his role as athletic director, in addition to win-loss ratio, he must also evaluate any coach on other factors such as the student-athletes’ academic success, community involvement and personal character. With regard to such factors, Schulman said Sneddon’s teams have performed extremely well.

While I can’t say anything with regard to academics and community involvement…are we just conveniently ignoring HazeGate 2016? Those who erase history are doomed to repeat it.

One factor in considering whether to fire a coach over a team’s record is economic: Vermont would have to reach a relatively costly settlement whereas not renewing after a contract runs out would not include such a cost.

With UVM’s ongoing budget problems and student clap-back at academic layoffs, paying someone not to coach your hockey team would be horrible for optics. So I can understand why they wouldn’t fire him…but at the same time, this school is paying Chris Day not to coach the women’s basketball game, and he resigned amidst investigations into his verbal conduct.

“It’s very realistic for us to aspire to a national level of competitive success,” Schulman said.

“We proven that we can do that. Kevin has taken our program to the NCAA tournament on three different occasions. We’ve gone to a Frozen Four under his leadership,” Schulman said.

2009 was cool. It was also a decade ago.

The following numbers are courtesy of USCHO user Charlie Catamount…

Vermont 2005-2010
Overall Record: 92-82-30 (.524)
Hockey East Record: 59-49-27 (.537)
Average Wins Per Season: 18.4
Average League Standing: 5th

Vermont 2011-present 
Overall Record: 124-170-38 (.430)
Hockey East Record: 64-118-25 (.369)
Average Wins Per Season: 13.7 (-4.7)
Average League Standing: 8th (-3.0)

Look, anyone can succeed against a weak OOC like UVM played this year (Sacred Heart! RPI! Alabama Huntsville!). But in conference that facade of a “decent but unlucky team” is replaced with “just plain awful.”

Let’s see how these numbers compare to other programs in our league.

HEA 2005-2010 Overall Winning Percentage
BC .661
BU .643
UNH .623
Maine .530
Vermont .524 
UMass Amherst .472
UMass Lowell .465
Northeastern .461
Providence .386
Merrimack .321

HEA 2005-2010 League Winning Percentage
UNH .677
BU .632
BC .607
Vermont .537
Maine .485
UMass Amherst .470
Northeastern .469
UMass Lowell .459
Providence .392
Merrimack .270

HEA 2005-2010 Average Wins Per Season

BC 25.4
BU 23.6
UNH 21.8
Vermont 18.4
Northeastern 17.4
Maine 16.2
UMass Amherst 16.2
UMass Lowell 15.4
Providence 11.6
Merrimack 9.2

HEA 2011-Present Overall Winning Percentage

BC .653
UMass Lowell .599
Providence .598
BU .578
Northeastern .535
UNH .492
Maine .462
Merrimack .456
Vermont .430
Connecticut .398*
UMass Amherst .345

HEA 2011-Present League Winning Percentage 

BC .697
BU .604
Providence .565
UMass Lowell .553
Northeastern .502
UNH .483
Maine .462
Merrimack .422
Connecticut .402*
Vermont .369
UMass Amherst .345

HEA 2011-present Average Wins Per Season

BC 23.7
UMass Lowell 21.2
BU 20.1
Providence 20.0
Northeastern 17.2
UNH 16.0
Maine 14.6
Merrimack 14.3
Vermont 13.7
Connecticut 11.8*
UMass Amherst 11.6

* – UConn joined Hockey East in 2014 so those numbers are 2014-pres.
We live in 2019. Not 2009. Don’t make decisions based on a bygone era. By the way….UMass Lowell, Providence, and Northeastern all made coaching changes in 2011, and both have the trophies to prove that it was the right move.

He pointed out that the college hockey landscape is changing and that many historically strong programs — including Boston College, Boston University, North Dakota and Michigan — are likely to miss this year’s NCAA tournament unless they win their respective league tournaments.

…and their reasons why are well documented. BC had a total down year instead of just being bad in out-of-conference (and as a program has generally been declining the last few years), North Dakota got their Pairwise tanked by a single weekend of Canisius’s goalie playing the games of his life, BU has an unsustainable setup that relies on one-or-two-and-dones, and Michigan was solid in every facet of the game except their goaltending, which was amongst the worst in the nation.

You know who made it ahead of these teams? The aforementioned Providence and Northeastern, a UMass team that’s seen a huge spike in skill and interest under Greg Carvel and has a Hockey East trophy to boot (though I do have my questions on their ability to keep going once Cale Makar bails for the NHL), and two Ohio based programs that also hit home runs with coaching hires – Steve Rohlik at Ohio State and Chris Bergeron at Bowling Green. By the way, while UVM tries to rekindle a bygone glory years of the current coaching staff, Bowling Green – a program that looked dead in the water in 2009 – is out there quietly building into a competitive program for the first time since Jerry York was head coach and qualified for their first Ice Dance in 29 years.

“I know these past two years we’ve not been at that level but if you look at the seasons before, three out of the last four years before that, we won 20 games and we were in the top 20 of the PairWise and in one case we went to the national tournament,” he said.

Let’s not forget that making the tournament was largely due to the weird structure of the Hockey East tournament. UVM had an opportunity to improve their Pairwise standing by playing in the Octofinals that year while Northeastern had a bye, and Northeastern wound up losing the quarters in controversial fashion.

Also: almost making the tournament doesn’t qualify as making the tournament. Why settle for being a bubble team? Push for more. This is my complaint – UVM hockey claims to have high expectations but doesn’t seem intend on pushing for it because it would require breaking the status quo.

Quite frankly, achieving a more prolific scoring is more a matter of recruiting players with high offensive skills than a change in on-ice systems; the latter supposedly change as the skill level improves.

Sneddon recently said, “In terms of moving forward, you talk about skill, we have to continue to do a better job in recruiting; not that we don’t not love our current players but we need to start to try to nail down some elite level talent that’s potentially going to be a difference-maker offensively.

“We need to continue to develop our returning players to try to get better at the offensive side of the game but we need to dig after and get some more offensive players through the recruiting pipeline for sure,” he said.

To do that, the coaching staff has reassessed its recruiting in terms of age, potential and geography. UVM in the past few months has secured commitments from several younger players — 18 or younger as opposed to 20-21-year-olds — than in the past. The players appear to have more impressive scoring credentials.

First of all….UVM literally lost two recruits known for scoring when Wallack left (Zach Okabe, who was an AJHL Rookie of the Year, and Nick Abruzzesse, who led the USHL in scoring). Okabe’s even on record as saying Wallack’s departure was the reason he flipped his commitment (he’s headed to St. Cloud State instead).

Second…uhhh continue to develop? One former player (Brady Shaw) already called out this staff for lack of player development, and the stats largely show that. The only players whose offensive numbers took a noticeable increase this season were Max Kaufman and Vlad Dzhioshvili, and the latter was more of a result of him not breaking his foot on the eve of the season.

Third…yes, talent may be important…but system and how they FIT is also important. Why a team whose forwards are primarily smaller skill players and smaller grinders is playing dump-and-chase is beyond me.

Fourth, with regard to age, the 2018/19 UVM Catamounts had the same average age as the 2018/19 St. Cloud State Huskies. The #1 overall seed in the tournament. I don’t think that age is an issue, especially for a program that under this regime set a record for the youngest commit ever (Anthony Cipollone in 2015; Cipollone was 13 at the time).

I’m actually going to go out and say what I think UVM’s Achilles heel in terms of personnel is (beyond coaching): the lack of a dynamic offensive defenseman that can shift play just by being on the ice.

Take a look at the Hobey finalists. Six of them fit that criteria – Cale Makar (UMass), Adam Fox (Harvard), Chase Priskie (Quinnipiac), Joseph Duszak (Mercyhurst), Patrick Newell (St. Cloud State), and Quinn Hughes (Michigan). While, for example, Matt O’Donnell and Jake Massie are fine players, they’re not the type of dynamic gamebreaking defender that is a necessity in modern hockey. If even Mercyhurst can get a defender (Duszak) who tilts the ice in his team’s favor, with their tiny rink, unsexy conference opponents, and being in Erie, why can’t UVM?

“I don’t want our fans to settle for competitive mediocrity. We’re not settling for that,” he said.  “Our aspirations are to compete at the highest possible level nationally, do it the right way, and to have a program that this community and our fans can be proud of.”

Okay, prove it. Yes, upgraded facilities mean something, but they’re not the be-all-end-all. Look at Colgate. They should serve as a cautionary tale for UVM. In their last few years at Starr Rink, they had a pair of 20-win seasons and an NCAA spot in 2014. But they’ve been even worse since opening their new digs (with a pair of 20-loss seasons sandwiched around a PDO-bomb of a 2017-18 in which Colton Point carried them… to .500.) At the moment, besides renovations, UVM is doing the same stuff that they’ve done during the lean years – shuffle the deck chairs around the main guy. (By the way, I really don’t like how much Sneddon’s been throwing Kyle Wallack under the bus. While Wallack was far from perfect, he has an eye for talent. Look at some of the Yale teams he built.)

Schulman pointed to an overall softening in attendance at live professional and collegiate sports events nationwide but said success — or lack of it — can affect people’s desire to attend games.

See see here’s the thing. Sports are entertainment. The 2018-19 Catamounts were not entertaining. If you’re going to be boring, at least get the W’s to justify it (see: the trap Devils). UVM did not have those.

I also believe that the modern sports security theater also drops attendance at these kind of events. I’ve made my feelings on the clear bag policy known before, so I won’t waste a paragraph on it, but I should note that at least one professional sports team elected to ditch it this year in favor of a more common-sense policy.

As Schulman pointed out, Sneddon is under contract for one more year. At that point, Schulman will face a decision as to whether a change is necessary or, should UVM show improvement, whether the long-time coach should have the opportunity to try to benefit from vastly improved facilities.

Barring an absolute disaster of a season in 2019-20 and assuming the recruiting clearly appears to be on the upswing, an educated guess is that Sneddon likely will still hold the reins in 2020-21.

We thought recruiting was on the upswing looking at some of the numbers put up by the 2017 freshman class, led by Misley and Dzhioshvili. However, only Kaufman has really shown any signs of progress (I’m calling Vlad’s first season a wash due to the injury; same with Esposito last year).  That class was ranked 7th by Neutral Zone. This year’s class is not in the top 10, and is behind even MERRIMACK.

Also, with regard to the “longtime coach gets new facilities”…again, look at Colgate, or even RIT, who’s gone from Atlantic Hockey’s model team to a relative afterthought.

Now, I will say that William Lemay and Brooks teammates Simon Boyko and Andrew Lucas look promising. But so did Bryce Misley two years ago (62 in 46 in his last year of junior and a solid playoff run playing injured), and he’s only managed 9 college points in two seasons playing in a system that doesn’t seem to fit his style.

Look. I get wanting to keep a guy who got you a Frozen Four around. But things change. The Miami RedHawks just cut ties with a longtime coach in Rico Blasi. Blasi was an alumnus of that program, took them to a Frozen Four, and had them dancing regularly in the late aughties and early 2010s. But the 2019 NCHC isn’t the same as the 2009 CCHA and he didn’t have the results to back it up, and the RedHawks bit the bullet.

Until then, as someone who will be an alumna in the fall…I’ll vote with my wallet. As a fan, I want accountability, and right now, the program completely lacks it.


Women’s Preview: UVM @ Dartmouth


Photo: Dartmouth Women’s Ice Hockey (Facebook)

First of all: My sincerest apologies for the lack of pieces in the last two weeks. I had midterms two weeks ago and last week was at a protest on Monday that left me devoid of energy for the week.

And now the schedulemakers continue their work on making UVM women’s schedule as weird as possible as, for the second straight Tuesday, the Catamounts will play, making the quick trip to Hanover to battle the Dartmouth Big Green.

Continue reading

Women’s Preview: Quinnipiac @ UVM (2x)


Photo: Quinnipiac Athletics

So apologies that this one might feel rushed – I’ve got a million things going on, including the men’s game tonight. (Gotta leave early due to this god-awful weather and now being on Trinity and not Athletic…)

But the women play two games this weekend against Quinnipiac, a team that dominated the Catamounts in a sweep last season. But it looks a bit more even this year. Why? Read on…

Continue reading

Men’s Hockey Season Preview


Photo: UVM athletics. Interesting note, the away jerseys are different this year. Striping remains the same, but new name font and white replacing gold as the text color.

Y’know, I started doing the season preview to replace exhibition previews, where I analyzed Canadian teams I knew nothing about. I didn’t expect to have to do it after a game had already been played. So this will be part-predictions and part-takeaways from the Michigan upset.

Goaltenders: Stefanos Lekkas (Jr.), Tyler Harmon (Soph.), Matt Beck (Soph.)

Can we all agree Lekkas just put forth the best goaltending performance UVM will probably have all season? That’s not to say he’ll suck – he’s a great goalie on his day – but that was a type of performance I’ve not seen in a long time. If he can put together some consistency, there’s no reason he can’t be one of the better goalies in Hockey East. When he’s on, he’s ON…it’s just when he’s not on that can be concerning.

As for his backups, Harmon will probably be the backup that actually gets minutes, and he’s a good compliment to Lekkas. Whereas Lekkas is a smaller goalie that primarily makes saves with his great athleticism, Harmon is a more of a big positional goalie that lets shots come to him. As for Beck, well…he seems like a nice dude, but if he winds up playing something has gone horribly wrong. Or horribly right, like when Pat Feeley made a brief appearance during a 7-1 spanking of Bentley a few years back.

Defenders: Matt O’Donnell (Jr.), Jake Massie (Jr.), Corey Moriarty (Jr.), Brian Kelly (Soph.), Owen Grant (Soph.), Christian Evers (Soph.), Cory Thomas (Soph.), Carter Long (Fr.), Andrew Petrillo (Fr.)

This is the area where UVM has to be better this year. And while the Cats got killed in the shot count and shot attempt category in Ann Arbor, I can explain that with two things:

-power plays (Michigan had 28 shot attempts on the PP, 20 of which were on goal)

-score effects (UVM led virtually the entire game, and teams trailing will naturally attempt more shots)

That being said, while it is a logical way of thinking, shot suppression still has to be better. Having some cohesion and consistency helps. The top pair features O’Donnell and Massie, who compliment each other very well – Massie’s more of a stay at home guy who allows for O’Donnell to get forward and play with the puck. The rest is a bit unclear, but the Cats played with Carter Long and Christian Evers on the second pair in Ann Arbor and Cory Thomas and Owen Grant on the third pair. This is more size than I’ve seen from UVM’s blueline in ages.

I do want to give a quick shoutout to Carter Long, who I thought looked good against Michigan. There was one play late in the first where he made a simple poke check to break up a one-on-one. That’s a play I expect a veteran to make. For a kid playing his first college game in that kind of atmosphere? I expect a two minute tripping penalty.

Forwards: Liam Coughlin (Sr.), Conor O’Neil (Sr.), Craig Puffer (Sr.), Derek Lodermeier (Jr.), Matt Alvaro (Jr.), Bryce Misley (Soph.), Vladislav Dzhioshvili (Soph.), Ace Cowans (Soph.), Martin Fréchette (Soph.), Alex Esposito (Soph.), Max Kaufman (Soph.), Dallas Comeau (Fr.), Johnny DeRoche (Fr.), Nic Hamre (Fr.), Joey Cipollone (Fr.)

The big takeaway from that Michigan game for me, besides “Stef Lekkas when he’s good is a literal god,” is that this team’s strength is speed and forechecking. They forced Michigan’s D, who beyond that top pair was either inexperienced or “meh”, to make mistakes with the puck and rush decisions.

The loss of Ross Colton obviously hurts skill-wise, but Liam Coughlin filled in the 1C role pretty well in the opener alongside Matt Alvaro and Alex Esposito, who have picked up where they left off last season. The ACE line is alive and well. Coughlin is obviously a different player than Colton, but his size is a great asset and his puck skills are solid too. This line clicked VERY well in Ann Arbor.

The second line was Martin Fréchette, Vladislav Dzhioshvili, and Bryce Misley. While Misley was fairly quiet, Fréchette and Dzhioshvili – who combined only played 9 games as freshmen (Fréchette was largely a healthy scratch while Dzhioshvili missed the first half of the season with a foot injury), gave the Wolverines fits with their speed and constant pressure, and combined for a very pretty counterattack goal for the kill. The bottom seven that night (DeRoche-Puffer-Cipollone and Kaufman-Lodermeier-O’Neil, with Cowans as an extra forward) was largely pretty meh.

As for the freshmen…DeRoche looks like he can be something offensively (I don’t know what his ceiling is, but his instincts are good and he’s pretty quick), and Hamre will be a fan favorite. He kind of reminds me a bit of Tom Forgione, who I miss a lot. He’s a battler that doesn’t take a shift off and has some offensive pop. Dallas Comeau has some offensive potential as well, and Joey Cipollone seems like an all-round guy more than a potent scorer.

With all this said…there is talent in this team. Now it’s up to Coach Sneddon and his assistants to put it together. Expectations, even within the fanbase, are pretty low. I predicted UVM for 9th in Hockey East, which was in line with the media poll. This staff needs to deliver at least something this year, or the clock will slowly tick towards the end of their stint at UVM. They’ve gotten the Cats off to a good start with a shocking upset win, but as any coach will tell you, it’s a process. With Quinnipiac coming up this weekend, and a stretch of four straight winnable games after that (@New Hampshire and @Brown, then a pair at home with UConn), this is a chance to build momentum and make us believe.

I’m not going to be a prisoner of the moment and say that we’re going to be good based on one game. You need to put together a resume. It’s a good start, don’t get me wrong, and I’m enjoying the moment. I’m just not expecting it to last, even if I tried to be as positive as possible in this preview.

Prove me wrong.