BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – When Brady Leisenring was learning to play hockey in Stowe he watched as Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin led the University of Vermont to the NCAA Frozen Four.

Now, as a high scoring senior for the Catamounts, Leisenring is the assistant captain of the team that, at 4-0, is off to its best start since 1996, the season after St. Louis and Perrin led the team to its closest brush with the national championship.

Two national polls rank Vermont 11th.

“We’re off to a great start because we’ve got such great team chemistry and team work ethic,” said Leisenring.

The fast start is a coming out of sorts before the Catamounts make their debut as a member of Hockey East, the division of such perennial college hockey powerhouses as Maine, New Hampshire, Boston University and Boston College.

“I’m impressed with what they’ve done so far. You can’t argue with a 4-0 record in which a team outscores its opponents 16-5,” said Dave Hendrickson who covers Hockey East for U.S. College Hockey Online.

“The Catamounts have go-to guys at every position: a terrific goalie in Joe Fallon, scoring power with Brady Leisenring and Torrey Mitchell and a defense led by Jaime Sifers,” Hendrickson said.

And the Catamounts are no stranger to Hockey East. Last year, Vermont was 4-2 against Hockey East opponents.

“Probably the only thing that has people still wondering how good they are is that their opponents haven’t been particularly strong,” Hendrickson said. The three teams Vermont has beaten this year have a combined record of 3-11-0.

“Hockey East is a very competitive league; each night anyone can win,” Leisenring said. “That’s the great thing about hockey. You need to show up each night with the same effort and the same goals. Anything can happen.”

But before Vermont takes the ice Tuesday in Boston to play Northeastern in its first Hockey East game, the team is headed to Niagara Falls for a Friday-Saturday series with Niagara.

Last year the Purple Eagles humiliated the Cats at home with a two-game weekend sweep.

“We were outplayed, we were out hustled,” said third-year head Coach Kevin Sneddon.

But that double loss provided Vermont with the wake up call that ignited their last season as a member of the ECACHL. A week later, Vermont stunned Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in Duluth. The next night the two teams tied 2-2.

Vermont finished last season 21-14-4, 13-6-3 ECACHL, and lost in the league semifinals to Cornell.

But this is a new season.

“The guys have some confidence, but they’re also nervous about the season, in a good way. They know it’s going to be a big challenge,” said Sneddon.

All this is with a team that a few years ago was a doormat.

When Leisenring, who redshirted last year because of an injury, was a freshman, the Cats won three games.

That was before Sneddon arrived to take over the program.

His arrival in the fall of 2003 coincided with that of UVM Athletic Director Bob Corran and a mandate for athletic excellence. UVM President Dan Fogel has let it be known that success on the field, rink or court is as important to the university as academic excellence.

“Within the last few years our school has been going in such a good direction,” Leisenring said. “As a whole, we’ve got a new athletic director, a new president and we also got a new hockey coach.”

In January 2004 when UVM announced it was leaving the ECACHL for Hockey East, the team was 0-13-0 in the ECACHL and 2-13-3 overall.

But the Cats finished the 2003-2004 season with five wins in its last eight games.

Sneddon credits the turnaround to how hard his athletes work. Most spent the summer in Burlington staying in shape. But he also asks a lot of them.

“I just ask the guys to come to the rink everyday and give it their all, not only physically but mentally,” Sneddon said. “You know, use the game of hockey to learn important life lessons. They gotta work together, they’ve got to communicate. They can’t take days off. That’s not acceptable.”

AP-ES-10-27-05 1534EDT

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