Catamount Cup Preview: Canisius and Clarkson vs. UMass-Lowell and Vermont

Canisius senior forward Kyle Gibbons - Tom Wolf Imaging

The Catamount Cup returns to the Gutterson Field House Dec. 28 and 29.

Burlington, Vt. -- The University of Vermont hosts the 18th annual Catamount Cup Saturday and Sunday at the Gutterson Field House. The format is a predetermined showcase rather than a true tournament where the two winners are guaranteed to play each other the following day.

There is no guarantee UMass-Lowell and Clarkson will win their first round games against Canisius and Vermont, but if they do, the two teams could match up in a battle of top ten teams in the first game of the second day.

Clarkson is off to a terrific start, including a weekend sweep of archrival St. Lawrence the last time out. Allan McPherson, Ben Sexton and Joe Zarbo are the leaders offensively for the Golden Knights, but a couple sophomores have really stepped up their game from their rookie season. Jeff DiNallo already has five goals and Pat Meganety has nine assists.

The real story with Casey Jones' team is the improvement in the defensive zone from last season. Clarkson's defense and goaltending struggled last season, and was the primary reason the team was picked to finish last by both the coaches and media in the preseason.

Clarkson and its first round opponent Vermont play a very similar style of play. Speaking of the hosts, the Catamounts are off to a good start after being picked to finish ninth in Hockey East.

Senior forward Chris McCarthy leads the Catamounts with his outstanding play in both ends. He is a physically strong player that also has a knack for finding the back of the net. The former USNTDP product has five goals, as does freshman Mario Puskarich.

Sophomore goaltender Brody Hoffman and freshman Michael Santaguida have each seen time in goal for Kevin Sneddon's team. The two will most likely split the goaltending duties this weekend.

Canisius has played a very tough schedule in the first half, including two road games each at Miami and Ohio State and a solo at Denver. After a terrific second half last season where he led the country in scoring during that time Kyle Gibbons is back and continuing where he left off. The Westlake, Ohio native has eight goals and five assists on the season, but he has been particularly hot lately. Gibbons has five goals and three assists over the past five games.

Senior goaltender Tony Capobianco came into the season as the expected starter after a spectacular junior campaign. Thiummer that saw him attend the Minnesota Wild's NHL Development Camp. He has struggled at times, but will still see action. Sophomore Keegan Asmundson has been a pleasant surprise between the pipes posting a .937 save percentage.

UMass-Lowell saw some ups and downs during the first half, but the River Hawks are in good shape to make another run at the Hockey East title and a second straight Frozen Four. Sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has been terrific in backstopping Norm Bazin's defensive-minded, puck possession system.

Scott Wilson, a Pittsburgh Penguins prospect, and Joe Pendenza are the two key players to watch offensively, but what makes Lowell such a threat is the depth of the team. Derek Arnold and Ryan McGrath have also been hot the past few games.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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