October 19, 2012

Hockey East Journal: UVM's Hoffman makes dynamite debut

By Andrew Merritt

LOWELL, Mass. – Speaking with a group of reporters after his team pulled out a 1-1 tie with UMass-Lowell, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon got a bit of a jolt Friday night, Oct. 12, when the postgame fireworks show inside the Tsongas Center ended with an earthshaking bang. 

Brody Hoffman backstopped the Catamounts to a 1-1 tie against the River Hawks in his collegiate debut . (Photo by Alex Edelman)

The veteran coach’s eyes went wide as he and the reporters all jumped at the sound of the finale.

Fortunately for Sneddon, his freshman goaltender that night was anything but jumpy.

After Rob Madore’s sluggish senior year, Vermont also saw his backup, Alex Vazzano, transfer to Sacred Heart for his final two years of eligibility, meaning things had gone from bad to worse in net for the Catamounts.

Yet after the season opener, it turns out UVM may not have so much to worry about. Freshman Brody Hoffman was outstanding in his collegiate debut, stopping 38 of 39 UMass-Lowell shots as the Catamounts used a late Colin Markison goal to pull into a tie with the River Hawks.

Although Hoffman, 21, is an older freshman who played three years of junior hockey before coming to Burlington, he nevertheless showed poise beyond his years, holding off just about everything UML, a 2012 NCAA Tournament team, could throw at him.

“He’s got a great mentality to be a goaltender, nothing rattles him,” Sneddon said. “If he has a bad practice, it’s ‘oh well, get ‘em tomorrow.’ In that position, that’s everything, the mental toughness, the ability to let go of the goal that gets by you.”

Hoffman’s counterpart at the other end of the ice took notice of his auspicious debut, too.

“As a freshman, it’s never easy to really start off strong,” UMass-Lowell junior Doug Carr (Hanover, Mass.) said. “It’s a tough league, it’s a tough jump from juniors to Hockey East. I thought he played pretty well.”

Carr knows a thing or two about how hard it is to be a freshman goaltender in Hockey East. As a rookie in 2010-11, Carr struggled to a 3.63 goals against average and .896 save percentage as the River Hawks went 5-25-4, missing the league playoffs.

“Everything’s quicker, guys are quicker, the puck moves quicker, shots are quicker, and with that comes controlling the puck,” Carr said about making the leap from juniors to Hockey East. “Rebounds are really magnified, if you leave a bad one, it’ll probably end up in the back of the net.”

Of course, as a sophomore, Carr was one of the brightest lights in all of college hockey, and in Hockey East was surpassed only by Boston College’s Parker Milner. After he mastered the learning curve, Carr established himself as one of the preeminent talents in the league.

If the admittedly tiny sample size of one game is any indication, Hoffman might be skipping that whole learning curve business.

Player of the Week

Kevin Roy, freshman, Northeastern

Roy’s first two collegiate goals are ones to remember.

The Lac-Beauport, Quebec, native scored the winner in both of the Huskies’ season-opening wins, including the second goal in the 3-1 win over then-top-ranked BC on Oct. 13.

Game of the Week

Northeastern at Boston College, Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Eagles are raising their 2012 NCAA championship banner, and hosting a Beanpot rival, but the Huskies are already 2-0, with a win over BC, and look like a completely different squad that started 1-7 last year.

Hockey East power rankings

1. Boston University (1-0-0, 1-0-0 HEA) – The Terriers edge into the top spot with a win over Providence and BC’s loss to Northeastern. A season-opening victory was just what the doctor ordered after a difficult offseason on Commonwealth Ave.

2. Boston College (0-1-0, 0-1-0 HEA) – The Eagles slipped, but they’ve never been the type to stay down long. BC’s youth showed a little in the loss to Northeastern.

3. Northeastern (2-0-0, 2-0-0 HEA) – Sure, it’s just two games, but the Huskies already have more league points than they did through the first six games of 2011-12, and the win over BC was arguably the biggest shock of college hockey’s opening week.

4. New Hampshire (2-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) Dalton Speelman’s two-goal, two-assist weekend led the Wildcats, who stumbled to the finish in 2011-12 but started the new year with a pair of solid wins over St. Cloud State.

5. Maine (1-2-0, 0-0-0 HEA) – The Black Bears were one of the first teams to start the season, but an early loss to Quinnipiac and another to Notre Dame put them in an 0-2 hole. A 4-3 win over Army in the IceBreaker Tournament’s Third Place game likely won’t have much meaning down the line, but it does give Maine a mark on the right side of the ledger.

6. Merrimack (1-1-0, 0-1-0 HEA) – The Warriors’ bizarre season-opening schedule saw them idle for more than a week in between games, followed by a trip to Alaska this weekend for the Goal Rush tournament this weekend. That’s all overshadowed by the sad news that former coach Chris Serino (Saugus, Mass.), who moved on to coach Malden Catholic to a pair of Super 8 state titles after leaving Merrimack in 2005, died on Oct. 15 after a battle with throat cancer. He was 63.

7. UMass-Lowell (0-0-1, 0-0-1 HEA) – The River Hawks’ return to action after last year’s stunning run to the NCAA tournament wasn’t quite what second-year coach Norm Bazin was looking for, as they surrendered a 1-0 lead late to settle for a 1-1 draw with Vermont. Still, as last year’s playoff battle showed, even one point has a lot of worth in Hockey East.

8. Providence (1-1-0, 0-1-0 HEA) – The Friars beat up on Sacred Heart in the opener on Oct. 12, but faltered against BU in their Hockey East debut, giving up three goals (and the lead) over the final 25 minutes in a 4-2 loss.

9. UMass (1-0-0, 0-0-0 HEA) – It doesn’t help in the standings, but in a game that has given UMass headaches over the years, the Minutemen handily dispatched UConn to notch coach John Micheletto’s first win in Amherst.

10. Vermont (0-0-1, 0-0-1 HEA) – The Catamounts looked good in earning the tie with UMass-Lowell on Oct. 12, getting some big contributions from freshmen as the wave of the future washes over Burlington.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.