Vermont Coach Coming Home
Funny how little things change.
Except this time Sneddon won’t be the feisty freshman spearheading the Crimson defense with his hard-nosed play at the blue line.
He’ll be behind the Vermont bench.
And though the position is not entirely unfamiliar—Sneddon’s Catamounts handed Harvard a humbling 6-4 defeat last Friday evening and his Union squads traveled to Cambridge during his five-year tenure in Schenectady—this weekend’s best-of-three series marks the first time the trip will fall during the postseason.
“I know he obviously views his Harvard experience with fondness,” said Vermont assistant John Micheletto. “But he’s been in the game now a good number of years where he’s had to face his alma mater.”
And though he’s only just arrived in Burlington after leaving behind his post at the Dutchmen helm, his loyalty already runs deep. Something of a surprise hire given the high-profile national search for the next Catamounts coach and the experience of some of the names batted around as potential suitors for the position, Sneddon has wasted little time showing that the decision was no mistake.
“I wouldn’t say it was expected,” said Allain Roy ’92, Sneddon’s former teammate and roommate. “But for people who knew him it was expected. People said he was young, but he was ready for that job.”
Accepting Vermont’s head coaching position wasn’t quite the same as taking on the Union job.
The youngest coach in the ECAC when he first took over the Dutchmen in 1998, Sneddon replaced Stan Moore, who had held the role for just two years.
Instead, he would take the place of legendary UVM coach Mike Gilligan, who’d been at the helm for the Catamounts since Sneddon was a freshman in high school.
“He was filling some pretty big shoes,” Roy said. “Coach Gilligan was there for I don’t know how many years. He was basically the mayor of Burlington.”
And for most coaches that might have posed a problem. But Sneddon, still the charismatic hard worker who served as Crimson captain his senior season despite injuries his final two years that limited his play, earned the trust of his current players even before being selected for the job.
“A lot of programs will get the players involved during the hiring process,” Roy said. “The players are the ones who really pushed for him to get the job and that says a lot of him.”
Not that the squad hasn’t hit bumps in the road along the way. The Catamounts opened their season with a 13-game winless streak that threatened to carry over into the team’s Christmas holiday. But while the faith of most players in their young coach might have wavered, Vermont’s skaters remained steadfast.
“It’s hard to replace a legend like Mike Gilligan,” said Vermont Captain Jaime Sifers said, “but Coach Sneddon is the best replacement they could’ve gotten.”
Nine wins later—seven in conference and five in the team’s final six games—it’s not hard to see why, as the Catamounts skate into the ECAC playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league.
“I think we attend to little details of life much more consistently and that’s been a priority of Kevin’s—the way we approach the game of hockey and conduct their lives and as people,” Micheletto said. “It’s an overall approach to not only hockey, but life as well.
“A lot of things that we do are just things that we do as a family. The way that they attack their school—it’s a situation where you can’t just come to the rink and just do things a certain way in one aspect of your life. If you’re going to be excellent, you’re going to be excellent in more than area.”
And that’s something Sneddon has proven himself capable of since his days at Harvard, particularly under the most challenging of circumstances.
Playing on the nation’s largest stage—the Frozen Four—as just a freshman, Sneddon shone.
“I know that when we played in the Final Four, he really stepped up his game,” Roy said. “He was one of the top two defensemen in the tournament. He played a very physical game against Michigan State in the semifinals and then against Minnesota in the finals. He just took off from there.”
Though that didn’t always show up on the scoreboard.
Focusing primarily on keeping the puck out of his own net, Sneddon developed a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the team. And a guy who just didn’t score.
“He was more of a stay-at-home defensemen,” Roy said. “He punished guys in front of the net. Defense always came first with him. We used to give him a hard time because he didn’t score a goal until his senior year.”
But that overall philosophy—working to advance the team, regardless of the personal toll—has allowed him to extract disproportionate measures of success, given the talent given to him.
“He had to do it at Union for years and I think he just brought the same formula to Vermont,” Roy said. “He brings 120 percent and he expects the same from his guys.”
Even after beating his alma mater. Even on his former home ice.
“Knowing Kevin as well as I do, they won the last game, he probably skated his guys even harder,” Roy said. “He doesn’t rest on his laurels. He just keeps coming even harder.”
And that’s one thing that’ll never change.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.