Bob Herpen: Catamounts find a new perch atop Hockey East

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Sure, with one glance at the standings page you can shoot holes in the theory that the University of Vermont isn’t really one of the top programs in Hockey East. It’s fairly obvious, having been set up with a schedule front-loaded with in-conference games so early in the season. You can even pick apart what happened this weekend as an aberration, an opponent fallen on hard times.

Nonetheless, the only thing the Catamounts are guilty of as the year’s second month came to a close, is not beating all of their scheduled opponents and creating some real distance between first place and everybody else.

As we begin a truncated month due to the end of the fall semester, Vermont finds itself literally and geographically ahead of Jack Eichel and the Boston University Terriers. The Green Machine swaggered into Alfond Arena –- one of the toughest places to play in all of Division I no matter what kind of season the Black Bears are having –- and walked out with two straight victories, giving them a 7-3-1 record in Hockey East.

That effort, the latest in a string of four consecutive victories, leaves the Catamounts with a two-point gap over the Terriers, although BU has a whopping three games in hand. It also elevated UVM two spots in the latest USCHO weekly poll, from 13th to 11th thanks to an 11-3-1 overall record. Perhaps John LeClair, Tim Thomas, Eric Perrin and Martin St. Louis are nodding in the direction of the upper reaches and eastern shores of Lake Champlain.

On Friday night in Bangor, Vermont used three strikes late in the second period to erase a deficit and claim a 6-3 victory. Mario Puskarich got the burst going on his even strength marker at 6:26 –- his second of the period –- then Mike Paliota and Jarrid (brother of teammate and former Boston University forward Alexx) Privitera lit the lamp in a span of 94 seconds to provide the visitors a 5-3 advantage after 40 minutes. Jake Fallon’s dagger 30 seconds into the final period accounted for the final margin and Brody Hoffman made 20 saves.

The next day, Brady Shaw snapped a 1-1 tie with his man-advantage marker coming at 12:34 of the second period, then Privitera and Anthony Petruzzelli scored in the third to wrap up a 4-1 decision. Mike Santaguida manned the cage in the second of back-to-backs and picked up his third win of the season with a 27-save performance. It gave Vermont a rare four-game sweep over Maine, after the former swept a pair at Gutterson Field House from the latter on Nov. 7-8.

During this streak, which ties a season-high accomplished in the club’s first four games of the season, the Catamounts have outscored their opponents by a 24-6 margin. Of course, that was aided in large part by a mind-boggling 11-1 rout at Mullins Center against UMass on the Saturday before Thanksgiving in a result reminiscent of the struggles the Minutemen encountered in their early days in the conference.

The highest single-game output for any team in Hockey East in the early going featured nine different goal scorers (two each from Shaw and Malcolm McKinney), 12 different players who recorded at least one point and nine who notched multi-point games. It helped push Kevin Sneddon’s kids to the top of the list in conference goals (37) and overall goals (52) in only 15 games thus far.

It’s a start beyond the dreams and predictions of many for a program which thus far boasts only a pair of NHL draftees: co-leading scorer senior forward Mike Paliotta (2011, Chicago, third round) and senior defenseman Nick Luukko (2010, Philadelphia, sixth round).

Vermont is off this week, returning to action on Dec. 12-13 in a home-and-home set with St. Lawrence from the ECAC before another two week break precedes its residency in the Catamount Cup from Dec. 28-29 against Air Force and Providence.

Sneddon has guided this program for the last 12 years, making three NCAA tournament appearances: 2009-10 and last year, along with a Frozen Four berth five years back. He’s picked it up off the ground, dusted it off and put a nasty chapter in school history in the rearview mirror. The Scandal

Fifteen years ago, as I was wandering through the last bits of my second-to-last semester at Boston College and hoping the Eagles would get another crack at the national championship so I could flex a bit of muscle as a budding student broadcaster, the big headlines were not what Jerry York and some of my classmates were doing on ice, but what several members of the UVM hockey team had done off the ice.

The news broke around this time, that Vermont was under investigation for multiple allegations of hazing within the program. At the time, the Cats were a struggling team in the second division of the ECAC under long-serving head coach Mike Gilligan. The source of the revelations and the person who brought the situation to light was a goaltender and walk-on who had already left the team, 19-year-old Cory LaTulippe.

From Jayson Moy’s USCHO piece on December 11, 1999:

“In his lawsuit he alleges that freshmen on the team were forced to perform degrading acts, and he has sued for violation of civil rights, assault and battery, invasion of privacy and consumer fraud, and is seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

“The suit alleges that freshmen were forced to drink warm beer while lying on the floor in thong underwear while players poured and spat beer at them, and that they were also made to drink shots of liquor by passing them to each other mouth-to-mouth. Both would be violations of UVM’s alcohol policy.

“Other alleged hazing actions included the ‘elephant walk,’ in which men walk naked in physical contact while holding on to one another’s genitals, as well as being blindfolded while female strippers rolled on top of them.

“LaTulippe also alleges that he was told he would have to perform intercourse with a sheep, and said he was taunted at practice by players making bleating sounds. LaTulippe also says he was forced to surrender his credit card, with which team captain (Kevin) Karlander charged a $900 rafting trip to Maine. LaTulippe was credited with an $850 return, but $50 was held back when he cancelled the trip.

“The lawsuit alleges that the University had prior knowledge that hazing would take place, and that LaTulippe was cut from the team after exposing the incidents. The lawsuit claims that LaTulippe first notified officials in September, but that the actions continued.”

In short order the hazing allegations gained national attention and sparked vigorous debate over the manliness of the accuser and the secrecy hidden behind college athletic rituals. In the course of a brief but intense investigation, the university administration found that several players were not truthful in their recollection of events as described to both Gilligan and school officials.

On top of that, administrators themselves were found to have engaged in similar tactics when pressed by the school’s police chief who requested information regarding rumors of misconduct, citing privacy concerns.

The university eventually handed down a near-death sentence for the team, shutting it down immediately and canceling the remainder of its 1999-2000 schedule with the club sitting at just 5-9-3.

“We have received credible information which indicates that a number of players were not completely truthful during our investigation of hazing allegations,” UVM President Judith Ramaley said at a news conference in Burlington on January 14, 2000. “As we said during our investigation, any indication that players did not provide accurate, truthful, complete information would result in serious consequences. This new information has triggered those consequences.”

Gilligan, cleared of any wrongdoing, was retained and charged with putting the pieces back together from the start of the following season, winning 14 games that season but only three in 2001-02. Gilligan was out in 2003 and, with Sneddon on board, Vermont switched to Hockey East at the start of the 2005-06 campaign.

LaTulippe settled out of court with the University of Vermont for $80,000 in mid-September of 2000 and the five players including Karlander also received undisclosed settlements. Swing Along with the Crimson

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as Boston University found out during the middle of last week. Freshly anointed the No. 1 school in the country just seven days ago, the Terriers found themselves in a non-conference brawl with Boston rival Harvard University on Tuesday.

In front of 4,456 at the Bright Center, the Crimson absorbed 42 shots from BU but ended up claiming a 3-2 overtime victory which helped knock their Beanpot rivals off their lofty perch. At the forefront was goaltender Steve Michalek who turned away 40 shots and improved to 6-1-2 on the year, and Kyle Criscuolo, who netted the winning goal with 1:50 to play in the extra session.

Criscuolo, only standing 5-foot-8 and weighing 170 pounds as a junior, nonetheless has pumped in five goals and eight assists in 10 games. He’s a South Jersey native who began his secondary-school hockey career at my alma mater, St. Joseph’s Prep. As has been the case for many local hopefuls, he had to depart for New England prep hockey in order to be noticed by the college hockey community at large, and finished his education at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, CT until his 2011 graduation.

In 63 games over two-plus seasons in Cambridge skating for Ted Donato, Criscuolo has racked up 22 goals and 46 points along with a plus-15 rating.

With the Terriers (#3), Crimson (#9) and Eagles (#17) all in the top 20, it appears that the Beanpot is heading for its most balanced matchups in years, if not decades. In a down year, BC’s streak of five wins in a row is in jeopardy, Harvard hasn’t won since 1993, and BU’s Eichel needs a stage like the first two Mondays in February to stake his claim to American prospect dominance.

If Criscuolo keeps up his pace and his timely scoring for however long Harvard ascends through the ECAC and on the national scene, he should draw much-needed and long-awaited attention to the scene in Philadelphia.

AMDG, brother. Remember to save your heroics for every team besides Boston College. Follow along @pelle31lives

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