Catamount Cup: From Burlington

     The four-team Catamount Cup opens Saturday in Burlington, Vt., with Minnesota Duluth facing Mercyhurst of Erie, Pa., in the first game at 3 p.m. and host Vermont playing Alabama-Huntsville in the second at 6 p.m. Below is a story on Vermont, courtesy of the Burlington Free Press, followed by capsules on each team:

By Ted Ryan, Burlington Free Press Correspondent

The University of Vermont has played 70 American and Canadian college men’s hockey teams since the 1963-64 season. Alabama-Huntsville is not among them.

That changes Saturday when the Chargers and Catamounts face off in the second game of the Sheraton-TD Bank Catamount Cup at Gutterson Fieldhouse. Game time is 7 p.m.

Another team Vermont has never played, Mercyhurst, opens the Cat Cup at 4 p.m. against Minnesota Duluth, on the list of all-time UVM opponents. Saturday’s winners and losers will meet in the second round of the tournament Sunday.

First, the Catamounts (8-6-2) are concerned about the Chargers (4-9-1), who play in college hockey’s outlands. In addition to its unique location, Huntsville faces an uncertain future since its conference, College Hockey America, is due to disband after this season.

“They’re trying to prove something,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon after the Catamounts returned to practice Monday.

“They’re fighting for their lives as a program. Every time they go against a team from one of the major four conferences, they’ve got kind of a chip on their shoulder,” he said. “We know they’ll come at us extremely hard. They’re aggressive and they play good team defense.”

The Chargers scored a season-opening win over Notre Dame but lost eight straight games — several by a goal — until a 1-0-1 weekend against Robert Morris before the Christmas break.

Huntsville’s defense has goaltender Cameron Talbot as its bedrock. “He’s put up some very impressive numbers and a lot of pro scouts are looking at him,” said Sneddon of the junior goalie, who averages 31 saves with a 2.66 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

The Catamounts returned from an extended break healthy.

“We were a little rusty (Monday night) but we were 10 times better (Tuesday),” Sneddon said.

Vermont, the defending tourney champion, will try to improve its 4-1 non-conference record and get as many players ready for the Hockey East schedule as possible.

“We want to utilize our depth as we move forward. I know we’ve got a break after the tournament but then we play the real meat of the season and we want to rely on our depth,” said Sneddon, adding that that depth should be beneficial in playing two straight days after being idle since Dec. 19.

Sneddon said it was “90 percent” likely both his regular goalies, sophomore Rob Madore and junior Mike Spillane, would play this weekend. Sneddon broke from a rotation by using Madore in wins over St. Lawrence and Dartmouth.

“It was a tough decision to break out of the rotation, but Rob was playing so well we didn’t want to put him on the shelf for a month,” Sneddon said. “At the same time, we know Mike’s done a good job for us … and we want to keep him part of the mix.”

Catamount Cup Teams at a Glacnce

Coach: Kevin Sneddon (163-198-51)
League: Hockey East
Records: 8-6-2 overall; 4-5-2 HEA (sixth)
Key players: Sr. F Brayden Irwin 6-8-14; Sr. F Jack Downing 5-7-12; Sr. F Brian Roloff 5-6-11; Sr. G Mike Spillane 3.13, .894; So. G Rob Madore 3.02, .900
Ice chips: Vermont has never played Alabama-Huntsville. … The Catamounts are 4-1-1 in their last six, winning their last two. … Vermont is 4-1-0 in non-conference play. … Vermont has six power-play goals in its last three games after scoring five in its first 13. … The Cats have killed 28 of their last 29 penalties, including the last 11. … Overall, the percentages Vermont’s power play and penalty kill are 15.9 and 80.7 respectively.

Coach: Danton Cole (15-50-10)
League: College Hockey America
Records: 4-9-1 overall; 1-6-1 CHA (tied third)
Key players: So. F Cody Campbell 4-8-12; Jr. F Andrew Coburn 4-7-11; Sr. D David Nicoletti 1-4-5; Jr. G Cameron Talbot 2.66, .923
Ice chips: In common opponents, Huntsville is 0-2-0 vs. Lowell to Vermont’s 0-0-1. … The Chargers came to Burlington via bus. … Huntsville will be the host school for the 2012 Frozen Four at the St. Pete Times Forum in Florida. … As a player, head coach Danton Cole won an NCAA title with Michigan State and a Stanley Cup with New Jersey. … Huntsville’s power play connects 9.1 percent of the time; its penalty killers operate with 84.9 percent efficiency.

Minnesota Duluth
Coach:Scott Sandelin (156-179-46)
League: WCHA
Records: 11-6-1 overall; 8-5-1 WCHA (fourth)
Key players: So. F Jack Connolly 12-14-26; Jr. F Justin Fontaine 12-12-24; Jr. F Rob Bordson 4-18-22; So. G Brady Hjelle 2.82, .907; So. G Kenny Reiter 2.52, .907
Ice chips: UMD’s leading scorer, Jack Connolly, is the brother of Boston University sophomore Chris Connolly. … Jack Connolly is tied for third nationally in points. He and Justin Fontaine are tied for seventh nationally in goals scored. … UMD is 2-2-0 in its last four. … The Bulldogs’ power play scores 24.3 percent of the time, seventh nationally; the PK units are successful 78.1 percent of the time.

Coach: Rick Gotkin (393-261-51)
League: Atlantic Hockey
Records: 9-9-2 overall; 9-5-2 AH (tied first)
Key players: Jr. F Brandon Coccimiglio 10-11-21; Jr. F Scott Pitt 6-11-17; Jr. F Steve Cameron 9-7-16; Jr. G Ryan Zapolski 2.47, .925
Ice chips: The Lakers are 7-0-1 in their last eight, all in league games. … Mercyhurst and UMD have played no common opponents. … The Lakers convert 12.8 percent of their power-play opportunities and kill 81.1 percent of their penalties. … Mercyhurst lost the AH championship game last year to Air Force, which lost a double-overtime NCAA East Regional final to Vermont. … Gotkin has coached Mercyhurst for all but its first year as a varsity program in 1987-88.