When Jim Plumer took the women’s hockey head coaching gig at the University of Vermont in May, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
|Jim Plumer speaks at his introductory press conference in May. (Photo: UVM Athletics)|
The Catamounts finished 4-22-6 overall in 2011-12, and a dismal 3-16-2 in the conference. In the program’s seven seasons, they had finished no higher than seventh in the eight-team Hockey East.
But the pieces were there for a team that could challenge the teams like Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern. They had a well regarded goalie in junior Roxanne Douville, who has participated in Hockey Canada camps. They had a great recruiting trail with nearby Stowe’s North American Hockey Academy (NAHA), whose alumna were seeing outstanding success throughout the rest of the league.
So Plumer jumped into the fray and started to mold a competitive Catamounts squad.
“We’re looking for contributions from everyone immediately,” said Plumer, a few days before he was to get his team on the ice for the first time. “They are all going to play, and we will be looking for commitment from them.”
Plumer’s first challenge was a short bench. His incoming class is down to two (“one that I recruited, one that I inherited,” he said during the Hockey East season opening teleconference) and a few injuries to returners will force everyone to step up. Vermont does return a few players from missed time due to injury last year, including a few redshirt freshmen.
Another player who should give the Catamounts a boost after returning from injury is sophomore left wing Meghan Huertas. “Meghan wasn’t able to play up to her ability last year due to injury, but I expect her to return to form this year,” said Plumer.
Huertas has made an immediate impact on the season so far, netting a goal and an assist on the top line during Sunday’s 3-1 win against Penn State.
The Catamounts’ short bench is not limited to their skaters, but to their goalies as well. Douville and senior Kelci Lanthier will be the only two goalies on the roster this season.
“We will have two goalies who we know who can play in this league,” said Plumer. “Roxanne’s success in Hockey East and Hockey Canada is a strength for us, as well as Kelci’s experience. We know that goaltending will be one of our strengths as a team.”
Lanthier, who is in her third year in Burlington after transferring from Mercyhurst College, has already made noise this young season, making 18 saves and securing the 3-1 win Sunday against the Nittany Lions.
Helping Lanthier and Douville out along the way will be a bettered defense.
“My focus immediately was to work on improving our defense,” said Plumer. “We need to be more disciplined in our own zone.”
Also evident immediately for Vermont is an offense that is taking many more chances. In their last four games of last season, the Catamounts averaged 20 shots a game. In Saturday’s game against Penn State, they threw 33 shots on goal, and in Sunday’s, they shot 43.
The Catamounts will test their new look squad against Clarkson this weekend in a series against a strong Golden Knights team. Plumer acknowledges that his short bench may hurt their preparation for early games, but that it is all in the way you approach the challenge.
"(Some) of those games early in the season almost become more on the job training because we are not able to do some of the things in practice that we can do with more people,” he said.
While some of Vermont's improvements are evident right off the bat, Plumer acknowledges that many of the changes to the program may take some time, and he may not realize everything he needs to do just yet.
"I think that we really realistically look at this as being a process that’s going to take a couple years to get us into a place where we can feel like we have the confidence to compete all the time, with any team that we play," admitted Plumer in his season opening press conference. "Maybe that’s not the right way to say it; the kids definitely believe they can compete at that level. Realistically we still have a couple years of building, and it’s going to take a couple years to figure out how I want this team to play."
Player of the Week
Sarah Lefort, Boston University (Ormstown, Que.)
How do you make a name for yourself in Hockey East in your very first game? By scoring two goals against your school’s most heated rival. Lefort scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in the Terriers’ 4-2 win over Boston College last Friday evening. The freshman left wing spent time on the top line with center Marie-Philip Poulin and right winger Jill Cardella. Lefort’s performance earned her the league’s Rookie of the Week honor.
Game of the Week
Northeastern at Boston University, Tuesday
This early season matchup between last year’s regular-season champion (Northeastern) and tournament champion (Boston University) should give Hockey East watchers insight into who will fight for tops in the league this season. Both teams’ high scoring offenses should greatly test Northeastern sophomore goaltender Chloe Desjardins and Boston University junior goaltender Kerrin Sperry (North Reading, Mass.).
The Huskies and Terriers last met in last season’s Beanpot final - a 4-3 overtime win for Northeastern, which was their first ever tournament title.
1. Boston University (1-0-0 overall, 1-0-0 Hockey East) - The Terriers’ 4-2 win over Boston College last Friday was a statement win for a team that had some question marks heading into the season. A stellar group of freshmen, including Sarah Lefort and Jordan Juron, are stepping in to fill in the gaps left by graduations on offense and defense.
2. Northeastern (2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East) - Head coach Dave Flint mentioned that he recruited Dejardins to replace the brilliant Florence Schelling in goal, and her first weekend as the starter showed that the sophomore is up to the challenge. She made 63 saves on 65 shots last weekend against Colgate and Syracuse.
3. Boston College (0-1-0 overall, 0-1-0 Hockey East) - The Eagles’ top line of Emily Field (Littleton, Mass.), Alex Carpenter (Reading, Mass.) and Ashley Motherwell accounted for all of their team’s scoring in their season-opening matchup against Boston University. BC will focus on getting offense going among their other forward lines this week as they face an exhibition test against the Boston Blades.
4. New Hampshire (2-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East) - New Hampshire notched two wins against Syracuse (4-3) and Colgate (4-1) last weekend thanks to the play of two freshmen. Goaltender Vilma Vaattovaara made her case for the starting gig, making 46 saves in five periods of work. Sara Carlson scored a goal a piece against Syracuse and Colgate, adding a helper against the former.
5. Quinnipiac (0-1-1 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC Hockey) - The Bobcats hung tight with perennial powerhouse Mercyhurst college last weekend. After tying the Lakers 4-4 on Friday, Quinnipiac came from behind, scoring two goals in the third period to come just short of a second tie, losing 4-3. Junior Kelly Babstock became the first player in Quinnipiac history to notch 100 career points in the series.