A preview of the Vermont team by Rhonda R. McClure from The Pink Puck. Follow Rhonda and The Pink Puck on Twitter for all things hockey. And be sure to check out ThePinkPuck.com for articles and interviews—including coverage of The Friendship Four tournament, as Rhonda once again will be visiting Belfast for the tournament.

The University of Vermont has the distinction of being the oldest of the four colleges, having been founded in 1791 as a private university, though in the mid-1800s it became another of the agricultural public universities like the University of Massachusetts. Vermont became a state of the newly formed United States of America in that same year of 1791and the school became the fifth institution of higher learning in New England. In 1871 they defied tradition by admitting two women to their university and then in 1877 admitted women to the Phi Beta Kappa Society—America’s oldest collegiate academic honor society.

Kevin Sneddon has entered his 14th year as head coach of the Catamounts and is in his 24th year of coaching as a profession. He has had 12 of his former players sign NHL contracts in the last decade. Under Sneddon, the team has reached the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament three times in the last eight seasons and has also taken three trips to TD Garden—home of the Boston Bruins—to play in the Hockey East Championships.

“Whenever I’ve tried to build a schedule for my student athletes, I try to do things that are different and memorable for them. Whether it’s talking to Joe [Bertagna, Hockey East Commissioner] about playing in a Frozen Fenway, or we had this game with Penn State in Wells Fargo Arena for three or four years,” Sneddon shared with enthusiasm. “Those are the games that the guys are really going to remember. And I think a trip to Belfast to compete in what I’ve heard is just an amazing tournament.”

The Catamounts joined the Hockey East Conference in 2005, having previously played in the ECAC Conference from 1974 to 2005 when they became a Division I school. They have produced 18 NHL players including six Stanley Cup winners: John LeClair, Éric Perrin, Martin St. Louis, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stålberg, and Tim Thomas.

The team in green and gold has been learning about Ireland’s history.

“Our guys are taking a class to learn about the history of Ireland, The Troubles and how far it’s come. I think for our guys to be able to have that knowledge going into it, they’ll appreciate it even more,” Sneddon told me. “There’s so many different levels to this trip. There’s the fun travel. There’s the sightseeing. There’s learning about history. Getting to go into classrooms with children there. Playing some exciting hockey.”

His enthusiasm was infectious and it’s clear that he wants his team to have a complete experience.

Coming into the Friendship Four Tournament the team has a 7-3-2 overall record and a 3-2-1 conference record. One of those conference wins was against the University of Massachusetts, who they defeated this past weekend 2-1 in a physical and penalty full game.

Having played each other so recently, it promises to bring that extra dynamic to the semi-final game on Friday at SSE Arena of the “hockey memory.” This means a great game for the Belfast fans. And of the four schools, it seems that the Catamounts will have the most information about the area in general, and it was great to see that Coach Sneddon was embracing this opportunity in this manner.