2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Vermont Catamounts

2015-16 Roster | 2015-16 Schedule

Head Coach: Jim Plumer (4th Season)
2015-16 Captains: Sarah Kelly (C), Gina Repaci (C)

2014-15 Season Recap

Record: 15-19-2 (6-14-1 Hockey East/7th place)
Hockey East Postseason: Conference quarterfinals; swept by Boston University in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs

The Catamounts started off the year with a hefty non-conference slate, and they upset North Dakota in their very first game before losing to Bemidji State. Over the rest of those non-conference games, which included series against Rensselaer, RIT, and Union, Vermont posted a 3-1-1 record, before starting off Hockey East competition with a 6-0 win against Connecticut. The Catamounts then lost two straight before sweeping Syracuse in a pair of high-scoring games.

After that, the team hit a little bit of a slide, losing six straight contests, including series to Northeastern and Maine and a game against Boston University. They started off 2015 with a sweep in non-conference action over Colgate, but had a tough time again after, going 1-6-0 in their next seven games. Vermont was better to end the regular season, beating Providence three times and going 4-1-1 in their last six regular season games. The Catamounts weren’t so bad overall, with 15 wins on the year, but their record against Hockey East teams really hurt them in the league standings. They drew Boston University in their quarterfinal series and were swept handily by the Terriers, losing by scores of 8-1 and 7-2.

After the season, forward Dayna Colang was named a Hockey East Honorable Mention All-Star. 12 UVM players were named Hockey East All-Academic Team honorees, including Colang, and freshman forward Kourtney Menches was named a Hockey East Top Scholar-Athlete.

Meet the Newcomers

D Rachel Khalouf, Shady Side Academy, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite

Khalouf tallied the game-winning overtime goal for Shady Side as the team captured its first-ever Women’s Ice Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) title, and earned a spot on the All-WIHLMA Second Team. With the Pens Elite, she helped the team make it to the 2015 U19 National Championship tournament and recorded two assists in three games there.

D Sammy Kolowrat, Czech Republic National Team, Choate Rosemary Hall

Kolowrat has represented the Czechs at two Women’s World Championships, competing with the team in the top division in 2013 and in Division I this past spring, where they went undefeated to move up to the top division once again in 2016. She’s also a two-time alum of the Czech Republic Under-18 Team, skating for the Czechs at the 2012 and 2013 IIHF Under-18 World Championships.

D Daria O’Neill, Edge School

She helped the Edge School to a bronze-medal finish in the 2015 JWHL Challenge Cup while leading the club in scoring last season with seven goals, 13 assists, and 20 points. She competed for Team Alberta at both the 2015 Canada Winter Games and the 2013 Canadian National Women’s Under-18 Championships, winning bronze at both events.

F Alyssa Gorecki, U.S. Under-18 Team, Chicago Mission

With the U.S. U18s, Gorecki won a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championships, tallying two goals and three assists throughout the tournament, including a marker against Canada in the gold medal game. She then helped the Mission go undefeated at the 2015 U19 National Championships to win the title, scoring two goals and four assists in six games at the tournament. In the HPHL last season, she scored eight goals, seven assists, and 15 points in just six games to finish second in the league in scoring.

F Saana Valkama, Finnish National Team, Ilves Tampere

Valkama represented Finland at two IIHF Under-18 World Championships, winning bronze in 2011 and helping to captain the team to a fifth-place finish in 2012. Her experience with Finland’s senior team in 2012 took her to the IIHF Women’s World Championships that year, where she got her first taste of competing at Gutterson Fieldhouse. She was also named to Team Finland for the 2014 Four Nations Cup in Kamloops, British Columbia.

2015-16 Season Preview

Key Departures: F Amanda Pelkey, F Brittany Zuback, D Sarah Campbell
Key Returners: F Dayna Colang, F Victoria Andreakos, F Bridget Baker, D Amanda Drobot, D Gina Repaci, D Taylor Willard
Key Additions: F Alyssa Gorecki, F Saana Valkama, D Sammy Kolowrat, D Daria O’Neill

Coming off of a trip to the Hockey East semifinals and with a senior class headlined by top scorers Amanda Pelkey and Brittany Zuback, the Catamounts headed into last season with the bar set fairly high. With a disappointing seventh-place finish, they unfortunately failed to reach those heights, and I don’t think that the team could have been happy settling for their place at the bottom of the league standings. They’ll of course turn the page on all that and focus on what’s ahead, and work towards becoming the best club they can possibly be in 2015-16, but as it did last season, their fate will rise and fall with their goaltending.

Despite the poor conference record and the low finish, Vermont was not a bad team last year. The club ranked in the top half of the conference in goals per game with 2.39, their power play ranked second with a 20.7% efficiency rate, and they had several threats up front with three 30-point scorers. On the flip side, they were seventh in Hockey East in goals against per game, at 3.28, and that’s what did them in. However, that number should not be mistaken for defensive ineptitude, as the Catamounts were the third-best team in Hockey East in shots on goal against per game, with 29.94. They weren’t exceptional defensively, but they still fared better than most of the league when it came to preventing shots from getting through to the net. The problems instead seemed to start in the net itself. Madison Litchfield’s .893 save percentage ranked dead last in the conference among the 10 goaltenders with enough minutes to qualify. Partner Molly Depew didn’t fare much better, with a .894 save percentage in 10 appearances.

UVM isn’t bringing on any other netminders, so it looks like they’ll be rolling with the tandem of Litchfield and Depew again. Litchfield was the team’s go-to at the end of the season, so she may have the inside track on the starting job again this season, but I wouldn’t expect that to be set in stone at all. Competition between the two would certainly help as the Catamounts try and find some consistency in net. The good news on the back end is that several young players showed promise there last season, and this incoming class of players will help bolster that group overall. Senior captain Gina Repaci will provide a solid veteran presence, but skilled sophomores Amanda Drobot and Taylor Willard will carry a good chunk of the workload as well. Both had good rookie campaigns, with Drobot tallying three goals and 17 points and Willard chipping in three goals and 13 points. Incoming freshman Sammy Kolowrat has experience at the international level with the Czech Republic, and Daria O’Neill is another solid addition. Junior Rachel Ade has emerged as a good depth option as well.

Vermont will have more trouble replacing what they’re losing up front. Amanda Pelkey, the best player to come up through the Catamounts’ ranks, has now graduated, and so has Brittany Zuback; the two finished second and third in scoring for the club last season. Replacing those 61 points will be difficult, but Vermont still has some legitimate scoring options to turn to. Dayna Colang led the team last year with 18 goals and 32 points, and Victoria Andreakos had a tough sophomore season but scored 27 points as a rookie two years ago. Junior Bridget Baker developed into a pretty reliable secondary scorer last year, as her 16 points ranked fifth on the team, and freshman Alyssa Gorecki will probably slot into the top-six right away. Finnish national team product Saana Valkama will also be a valuable addition to the club.

There are some definite hardships that the Catamounts have to overcome in goal, and production that they have to make up for among their forwards. They’ll be icing a fairly skilled defensive corps this year with Drobot, Willard, and Kolowrat, which should help them in the latter department. But it remains to be seen how the goaltending situation will play out. It became clear last season that UVM desperately needs better performances in net if it hopes to stay competitive in the conference. With significant losses to deal with already in Pelkey and Zuback, the Catamounts will need to see either Litchfield or Depew improve in a big way this year in order for the club to make its way back up to the top half of the Hockey East standings.

Schedule Highlights

Oct. 2-3 vs. Bemidji State
Oct. 9 vs. Clarkson
Oct. 10 at Clarkson
Oct. 15 vs. St. Lawrence
Oct. 16 at St. Lawrence
Oct. 24 at Providence
Nov. 21 at Northeastern
Nov. 28 vs. Ohio State (Windjammer Classic)
Nov. 29 vs. Cornell (Windjammer Classic)
Dec. 4-5 vs. Northeastern
Jan. 4 vs. Merrimack
Jan. 16-17 vs. Boston University
Jan. 22-23 vs. Boston College
Jan. 29 vs. Connecticut (Pack the Gut Challenge)

2 thoughts on “2015-16 Team-by-Team Previews: Vermont Catamounts

  1. Pelkey’s drop-off at the end of last season was surprising. She wasn’t really the same after Four Nations and ended up not getting the invitation to Worlds that everyone was expecting. Can’t help wondering how Vermont would have ended up doing if she’d carried on playing at the level we were used to.

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    • That’s a fair point; she regressed in terms of production and, as you mentioned, her level of play just did not seem to be of the same caliber. I do still think the goaltending was the major problem but I bet both her and the Catamounts would have liked her senior year to go a little differently.

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