There’s a first time for everything. And for UVM hockey, it’s a first time on Friday.
On the evening where the pagan club will be celebrating sanhaim (THANKS A LOT HALLOWEEN, WE HAD TO MOVE SANHAIM BECAUSE OF YOU), the Catamounts will be welcoming the Michigan Wolverines and legendary head coach Red Berenson to Gutterson Fieldhouse for their first ever meeting. (Should be second, really. Screw you, Handpass College.)
The Wolverines went 25-8-5 last year, making it to the NCAA quarterfinals where they were kicked 5-2 by North Dakota. However, though they’ve started 3-1-1 (taking an L to Union on opening night, then winning three straight before a tie at home to Michigan Tech), this Wolverines team is nothing like last year’s. Starting goaltender Steve Racine has graduated, and several key players in front of that net turned pro early. This includes their entire top line of Tyler Motte, Kyle Connor, and JT Compher, and top defender Zach Werenski. With that much turnover, the Maize and Blue have had some early woes.
In goal, it’s not really clear if there is a #1. Freshmen Jack LaFontaine (a Carolina Hurricanes draft pick) and Hayden Lavigne have started two games each, while Zach Nagelvoort, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick who fell off immensely after his first season of college puck, has started one. This uncertainty could be both a blessing and a curse (blessing due to the ability to rotate but a curse due to, well, uncertainty). But if I’m pressured, I think it’ll be Lavigne after LaFontaine stopped 42 of 45 in their last game, a 3-3 draw with Michigan Tech.
Defensively, the Wolverines lost their two top-scoring defenders in Werenski and Michael Downing. However, junior Sam Piazza has almost equalled his sophomore output (six points) offensively already and has picked up some of the slack. Senior Nolan de Jong is hungry to prove to the NHL team that drafted him, the Minnesota Wild, that he deserves a contract. Two other NHL draftees dot the blueline in Joseph Cecconi and Nick Boka. However, the defense has struggled to produce points, as only Piazza has more than one point (he currently sits on five points). That said, the Wolverines have done a good job keeping opponents off the scoreboard, as their 2.20 goals against average ranks tenth in the country (tied with Ohio State).
Up front, the Wolverines’ offense has had to overcome the loss of the top scoring line in the country (Connor, Compher, and Motte combined for 190 points). Jake Slaker and Vancouver prospect Will Lockwood have looked good early in their collegiate careers as the freshmen have both posted 6 points so far. Two other draft picks, Brendan Warren and Nick Pastujov, have not looked so great early on, as Warren (a sophomore) is pointless in five and Pastujov (a freshman) has one point. That said, Michigan is averaging 3.20 goals per game…while solid, that’s only 20th in the country, but growing pains are to be expected with such a huge loss.
It’s Halloween at the Gutt.
The student tickets have sold out.
The Cats have momentum after surprising the crap out of a lot of people by taking three points of four from Omaha away, and they have the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week (shoutout to Stefanos Lekkas!)
Now, let’s keep it going.