Selected to finish in the bottom half of the Hockey East coaches' preseason poll, the University of Vermont women's hockey team's 2021-22 season was a surprise to some.
But ahead of the Hockey East semifinal round, the Catamounts are still playing and it's not too late to hop on the bandwagon of the hottest team in the conference.
Already this winter UVM has snapped records, brought home Olympic hardware and beaten the No. 1 ranked team in the country. If you need more reasons to root for the Catamounts, read on:
Vermont hosts semifinal
Starting off the list is simple: No. 2 Vermont (22-10-3) has never hosted a semifinal. Watching the Catamounts on their biggest stage to date is easy ... Gutterson Fieldhouse on Wednesday at 6 p.m. against No. 3 Connecticut (23-8-4).
Stream: Hockey East semifinals
Tickets: Hockey East tickets
The Catamounts' nine-game win streak in the middle of the season, the longest in program history, was jump-started with a triumph over Connecticut on Jan. 8.
Bella Parento, Montpelier's own, has worked the blue line for the Cats in every game this season. Parento, who has tallied nine points this year, is one of only a few Vermont skaters who have appeared in all 35 games. Both of her goals have been game-winners, too, including the decisive tally vs. No. 1 Northeastern.
Vermont's defense has a 90.7% penalty kill efficiency on the year — good for second in the conference behind Northeastern.
2022 Olympians return
Didn't get enough Olympic hockey? Look no further than this Vermont team that boasts four Olympians on the roster.
Finland’s Sini Karjalainen is hot off winning a bronze medal in Beijing and is back in the defensive zone for Vermont.
Kristyna Patkova, Blanka Skodova and Natalie Mlynkova represented the Czech Republic in the country's first-ever women’s Olympic tournament appearance. Skodova, a goalie, was the lone Olympian that did not enter the game in the team's quarterfinal win over Providence.
McPherson, Schafzahl shine for UVM
One is the single-season record holder as the winningest goalie in program history. The other holds two impressive records for a skater over one campaign.
Sophomore Jessie McPherson's season between the pipes has been nothing short of incredible. In 23 games this winter, McPherson has 15 wins while holding teams to a 1.92 goals-against average. McPherson's goals-against average puts her fifth overall in the conference.
In the 4-1 quarterfinal win over Providence, McPherson turned back 31 shots.
Senior Theresa Schafzahl is having the best offensive statistical season for a Catamount skater in program history. The Austria native is Hockey East's leading scorer — the first time a Catamount has held that title — and UVM's single-season goals (25) and points record holder (46). Schafzahl broke both of Vermont native Amanda Pelkey's marks that stood since the 2013-14 season. UVM is also plus-32 when Schafzahl is on the ice.
And Tuesday, Schafzahl was named Hockey East's player of the year — the first Catamount to earn the honor. Last week, she was also the lone player selected unanimously to the Hockey East first team.
Maude Poulin-Labelle was also named to the first team. Kristina Shanahan got a second team nod and McPherson was an honorable mention pick.
Jim Plumer, in his ninth season on the Catamount bench, was voted unanimously Tuesday as Hockey East coach of the year. He was co-coach of the year in 2014.
UVM's best season ever
The list ends as simply as it started: This is the best season that the Catamounts have ever had.
Most wins in a season. Highest seed in the conference tournament. First ranked team in program history and 2021-22 was the first time Vermont beat the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
Contact Jacob Rousseau at JRousseau@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter: @ByJacobRousseau
This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Hockey East: 5 reasons to root for Vermont in the tourney semifinals