Some Vt. hockey fans torn between Bruins, Blackhawks

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June 21, 2013, 6:48 pm
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(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Brian Roloff was skating and taking shots on the ice at the University of Vermont's Gutterson Fieldhouse Friday morning, and reflecting on his college hockey teammate, Viktor Stalberg.

"It certainly makes you proud," Roloff told New England Cable News. "We kind of always thought he'd be in the NHL; hard to believe he wouldn't be."

Stalberg, a former University of Vermont Catamount for the three seasons between 2006-2009, is now a Chicago Blackhawk, playing left wing. That appears to have made for some divided loyalties in the Burlington area, where even some die-hard Bruins fans are finding themselves rooting for Chicago players in the Stanley Cup Final.

"Normally I'd probably be inclined to be a Bruins fan," Roloff said. "I'm kind of torn right now, because I'd love to see Vik win, but at the same time, I've kind of grown fond of Boston."

Former UVM men's hockey coach Mike Gilligan, a native of Beverly, Mass. and a longtime Bruins fan, said he has loved watching one of his star college players from more than a decade ago. Gilligan is keeping a close eye on Patrick Sharp in the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks left winger played for Gilligan at UVM for two seasons from 2000-2002, and is now scoring pivotal goals for Chicago against the Bruins.

Despite Gilligan's admiration for the player he helped recruit, he chuckled he would be unlikely to ever root against his beloved Boston. "There's obviously some mixed emotions," Gilligan said. "I'd like to see Sharp and Viktor score maybe hat tricks each and then the Bruins beat them 7-6. That's the way I look at the games!"

John Pijanowski was wearing the gear of his two favorite hockey teams as he ate breakfast at Handy's Lunch in Burlington Friday: a hat bearing the Bruins insignia and a sweatshirt with "Vermont" written across the chest. He indicated he has had to swallow his Bruins pride a bit to praise a Blackhawk throughout this hotly-contested series, but only, he insisted, because Sharp was a UVM Catamount first.

"Patrick Sharp is probably the best player on the Chicago Blackhawks, bar none. Knowing he came from the University of Vermont-- that's special," Pijanowski said. "But there is divided loyalty there. I've been a Bruins fan since I was 5 years old, so clearly I'm rooting for them to win."

No matter who fans root for, the hockey program at UVM believes having former players doing so well in the NHL really helps recruiting the next generation of Catamounts.

"Development is a key word in recruiting," said Kevin Sneddon, the men's hockey coach for UVM. "And when you can say the University of Vermont is producing excellent NHL players, it certainly helps in recruiting. It's a lot of fun to watch the NHL throughout the year, because we have excellent alums doing very, very well in the National Hockey League. Whether it's [Tampa Bay Lightning star] Martin St. Louis or when [former Bruins goalie] Tim Thomas had his excellent run, and now Viktor and Patrick."

Sneddon, who told NECN he generally roots for the Montreal Canadiens instead of the Boston Bruins, is cheering for the Blackhawks in this series.

"I cheer for whatever team has Catamounts on it," he said, smiling. "Hopefully Vermont gave a little bit of help in preparing them for what they're doing right now."

Brian Roloff, who plays in a pro hockey league in Germany, said he is excited to keep tracking the one-time UVM standouts Sharp and Stalberg in the upcoming Stanley Cup Final games. As for his prediction for the series, this player with divided loyalties thinks it’ll be a close one to the end: "Probably Game 7, triple OT," Roloff said.

Tags: Boston, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago, Boston Bruins, Patrick Sharp, vermont, University of Vermont, Burlington, Stanley Cup Final, Viktor Stalberg, Jack Thurston, University of Vermont Catamount, Mike Gilligan, Brian Roloff
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