Merry Christmas, everyone! (Don’t complain to me about political correctness. It’s Christmas. I’m not even religious. It’s basically a secular holiday now anyway. Get over it.)
Alright, so the other night’s loss to the Superfrauds, where, according to everything I hear, it was as predicted a pro-UMass crowd, puts the boys back in their place a little bit. However, they did have an awful shooting performance, like, beyond-awful; embarassing. And the aforementioned STUD Terrell Vinson was in foul trouble (I think) and didn’t play most of the game. So there’s that.
I still think the boys can bounce back. They’re 1-1 on this three-game trip, though I figured the two outcomes would be reversed. Let’s see how they respond at Davidson and we’ll have an idea of where they’re at as A-10 play begins.
ANYWAY…with this little basketball interlude out of the way, it’s time to get back to the ice, my focus on the game having been renewed by the Bruins’ 6-4 win against Atlanta that I had the pleasure of witnessing a few hours ago. The UConn tournament is fast approaching, but before it does, it’s time for some 20-20 hindsight analysis of the road they’ve traveled thus far.
10/3 vs. New Brunswick (exhibition)
(No, seriously, we all thought the team was doomed after that painful experience of a preseason hockey game. Definitely woke them up a bit methinks. Maybe a blessing in disguise. Still embarassing.)
10/8 vs. RPI
A 5-2 win for our boys which felt a lot more excruciating, mostly because of what happened five days prior. Irwin’s two goals seem like a distant memory now, but Jimmy’s four assists were just the opening act of a masterful first-half performance. The slow start to this game was worrisome, as was getting outshot by the Engineers; conversely, the team showed it could grind out ugly wins.
10/16 vs. BU
Kinda funny how beating the #2 team in the country and the defending national champs is now our least impressive win, but the truth is, the 3-2 score didn’t even really reflect how badly we outplayed the Terriers. I called this one for WMUA and I remember how many close calls there were, and it’s fortunate, because Chiasson damn near won this game by himself for BU in his first collegiate game. It’s funny how completely the tables have turned as these teams get set to meet on Comm Ave on Jan. 2nd, and hopefully, BU doesn’t return the favor.
10/23 vs. Maine
Two words: ug-ly. After Adam SHE-MANsky’s Oscar-worthy performance, sustaining what looked like a season- (and perhaps career-) ending injury on what was admittedly a cheap shot by Nolet, and settting off a slugfest. It’s funny that the guy was completely fine and played in the next game. Then again, what do you expect from Maine?
Anyway, in spite of Maine using “defending their ‘fallen’ teammate” as an excuse to take cheap shots at our guys the rest of the game, UMass prevailed 5-3, and we saw Mikey break out offensively, scoring his first collegiate goal on a beautiful feed from his brother. It didn’t look like much at the time, but now that we’re looking up at Maine in the standings (though, with games in hand, we could pass them), this becomes a standout win. I’m not sold on the Black Bears yet, though, not if their game is goon hockey.
Shemansky is lucky the remaining two games are up in the middle of nowhere, because he’s never going to stop hearing it from UMass fans after that one. (Then again, he’s no Dave Wilson.) But I still circle those two games as somehow being “revenge games” for Maine, as if that acting job was a noble cause to avenge.
10/30 at PC, 10/31 vs. PC
Mixed bag here. The 5-3 win at Schneider was a sign of what I think differentiates this team from the one we’ve seen the last few years – instead of falling apart when things went south, the boys rallied in the third period and took over the game down the stretch. I know, the Friars aren’t exactly world-beaters, but the Minutemen have had a reputation for playing to the competition and I think they shook that off with this game. Halloween sucked, but let’s be frank, nobody was going to beat Alex Beaudry that night. He’s the one goalie in Hockey East this year who can single-handedly steal a game like this. To be fair, UMass didn’t exactly come out gangbusters right away, but the extent to which they dominated the 3rd period (we outshot PC 21-0. That’s not a typo. TWENTY ONE TO ZERO) would have been enough to overcome a greater deficit than 2-0 on most nights. Not this one. Sucks when this kinda game happens in league play, but that’s life.
11/06 vs. Niagara, 11/08 at Niagara
A 4-1 home win and a 4-2 road win in one weekend, where again, the boys started slow and finished strong. Honestly, I prefer that to the “score early and pray that Dainton and the D can make it stand” strategy of the last couple years. Meyers finally got a start and looked (well, sounded) good in the road game. Niagara came in a snakebitten team and they certainly haven’t gotten much better since (they’re 51st out of 58 in the KRACH rankings), so these aren’t really resume-building games, but wins are wins.
11/13 and 11/14 vs. UNH
Figures that I got to call the second game for WMUA, right? Funny thing is, UMass got outplayed (perhaps as badly as they have all season) in the first game and still pulled out a win, then controlled play for most of the second game and managed to lose. Hate to bring out the old excuses, but as they’ve discussed to death over on the UMassHoops forums, the ice SUCKS at the Mullins Center when it’s warm, as it was for this weekend series. You could say that we got the appropriate outcome from the series, but we’re really lucky that Wellman knocked home that equalizer (and that Foster fell asleep on Boehm’s game-winner). That said, this looked like a bad weekend for UMass against a supposedly mediocre Wildcats team, but 1-1 against these guys doesn’t look so bad considering how they’ve done against the rest of Hockey East so far. I fully anticipate a tie when we go to Whittemore next month, because it just seems fitting after those first two games.
And I’m done with Bobby Butler. Done. He was a Blue Devil nemesis when he played for Marlboro High, and he’s absolutely TORCHED the Minutemen for four years. Please graduate, and whatever you do, do not somehow end up on the Montreal Canadiens someday.
11/19 at Yale
Just a huge non-conference road win. Once again the boys rallied in the third period, and I just don’t remember the last two years having ANY confidence in the team being able to make such a comeback. I was working security and in the middle of signing someone in up in Sylvan when Jimmy scored the goal, and I remember not really hearing what happened for a moment, but it was undoubtedly the greatest moment of the season that I wasn’t present for.
11/24 at Vermont
I was one of the few scattered souls at the basketball game vs. St. Francis (NY), and let me tell you, the collective groan when we heard “Vermont 1 UMass 0” and “Vermont 2 UMass 1”, followed by the outburst when they announced “UMass 4 Vermont 2” shortly afterward, were the loudest moments of the game. (Not saying much.) I think this game put to bed any notion that Jimmy’s season is a fluke. Vermont is one of those scary places we never seem to win at, and so this was sort of cathartic I think. Plus, Vermont is still #15 in the KRACH, and though I think the Catamounts are gonna have a rough 2nd half if they don’t figure out how to score, right now these two HEA points double as a very nice resume-building road win.
11/28 at Quinnipiac
Ugh. Terrible loss, and avoidable at that. Dan Meyers is an alright backup, but why start him on the road against the hottest team/offense in college hockey? There’s no doubt in my mind the Bobcats are overrated as all hell; they’ve definitely come back to Earth a little since this game and I see them doing more of that in the second half. But even if that’s true, they WERE ranked above us. You start your ace in that case. I know, at least two of those goals would have probably gone in against Paulie. But that’s not how hindsight works. Dainton in goal would almost definitely not have given up that horrendous rebound on the first goal, and the whole complexion of the game would’ve changed. Cahoon agreed after the game that this game was lost in the first period, and who was our goaltender for that period? Exactly.
That said, we still easily could have won this game, if not for a questionable interference call on Braun-co that led to the game-tying 6-on-4 goal. The defensive breakdowns on both that penalty kill and the Wong game-winner cannot be overlooked. The defense has been up-and-down this year, no question, and this was a low. Just painful all-around, especially if QU’s smoke-and-mirrors show falls apart in the second half. At least it wasn’t a league game.
12/4 vs. Boston College
For all the hype and for everything that went into this game – my visitors from home who came up to see the game (my cousin’s first ever UMass game, in fact), the huge crowd, etc; this was probably the most boring game of the year. I walked down to Parking Services that afternoon to pick up some tickets for my sister and her friends, and I remember thinking, “It’s 50 degrees out. I can feel the Mullins ice melting. We’re going to lose.”
Briefly, I thought I would be wrong when Jimmy wrapped around that goal in the opening minutes, but it quickly became apparent that nobody could fucking skate on this ice, and the speed and finesse game UMass relies so heavily upon just does not work on bad ice. Again, it’s been talked to death on UMassHoops, but for those who don’t read it, the Mullins Center has one compressor which it shares with the practice rink (which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, has an open-skate/shoot session during UMass hockey games). This is not true about any other rink in Hockey East. As a result, the ice is a huge slushy mess whenever it’s unseasonably warm in Amherst. I swear this is not a conspiracy theory.
Other excuses? What the hell was Watson doing on the top line with Jimmy and Casey? I really hope this decision was more “let’s give Syner just a bit more time recovering from that injury before we stick him on the first line again” but I fear it was Toot trying to overmanage this team. Whatever it was, it didn’t work, and I never want to see it again.
That being said, I really wasn’t all that impressed with BC. UMass was able to get myriad chances, and on another night, they might have gotten a little luckier. Those freshman defenders are pretty good, but again, the game slowed down for them quite a bit. Thankfully, this won’t be a problem for the next two meetings, and since BC has gone from middle-of-the-pack to national championship contenders in a matter of weeks, the two remaining meetings have become that much bigger. The NESN game in February will be massive. Mark my words.
12/5 at Lowell
Warning: Lowell rant forthcoming.
My 22nd birthday was the Monday following this game. Now, the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was Rivers Cuomo getting in a bus accident and getting my birthday Weezer/Motion City Soundtrack concert in Boston cancelled. But this was 2nd – yes, even worse than losing to BC.
Now, last year, it would’ve been different. I liked Lowell, I really did. They were a scrappy bunch of kids that gave BU all it could handle in the HEA championship game (I still rooted for the Terriers, of course, but that’s just personal bias). “UMass Jr.” was an affectionate little name for these guys. It was good to see someone else from the middle of the HEA pack succeed. It gave us hope.
This year, something happened to these guys. They fell in love with themselves. Mostly because, with so many big names in HEA graduating or fleeing to the NHL, everyone looked at the team who had the most coming back. (This involved overlooking UMass, due to their seven graduating seniors; completely ignoring the fact that a bunch of those guys were dead weight at this point, and that all the guys who carried UMass to being a goal away from knocking off Northeastern last year were coming back a year older and wiser.) Certainly, Lowell had a lot coming back as well, but people seemed to conveniently forget that these guys didn’t actually win anything last year. They rode a hot streak into the playoffs, and came one pretty horrible officiating decision short of stealing the Hockey East title.
But the expectations and swagger displayed by their rabid fanbase far overstretch what most people look at as “reasonable,” to the point where not being picked to win Hockey East, something they’ve never ever done, was seen as outrageous disrespect. Umm, okay. Whatever.
What grinds my gears more than anything, though, is this notion that Lowell is somehow a far superior hockey program to UMass. Yes, Lowell has had far more success in the season series. They’ve had our number, in good years and bad. For whatever reason, we don’t match up well with the Loch Monsters (or is it River Hawks? They both sound like AHL teams). But we’ve been to one HEA championship game. They’ve been to two. Neither of us have won it all yet. Meanwhile, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament once, and even pulled an upset in it. They…haven’t. Ever. EDIT: Just kidding, further research shows that they actually have made it on 3 occasions, with a grand total of 2 wins in those trips, making it further in the tournament than UMass exactly zero times. Yeah, yeah, they were a successful D2 program back in the day. Good for them. Doesn’t count.
Look, I’m not trying to say the Minutemen are in the BC-BU-UNH-Maine level of Hockey East prestige. We’re not. At all. But neither is Lowell, not even close. Of late, we’re both middle-of-the-pack teams, with an opportunity to break out of that rut this year. They’re on the same level as we are. Which, I guess, is all you can ask for when you’re Lowell, because that would be the ONLY thing Lowell Community College has that is on the same level as the University of Massachusetts. (That goes back to my hatred for the question “Which one?” but that’s a whole other rant which I’ll get to someday soon.)
Which is why this loss hurts so much more. We had them on the ropes, they lost 3 straight before this game, and proceeded to suffer maybe the worst loss in Hockey East this year (3-2 at home to Princeton, which had been winless on the road) the very next weekend. “Tailspin” doesn’t begin to describe it. We grabbed a 2-0 lead, everything was looking up, and then we blow a long 5-on-3, Ortiz takes a dumb penalty, and it was downhill from there. After we fell down 3-2, there was even hope when Syner found Mikey to tie it up early in the 3rd, but for the first time I think all season, we got badly outplayed in the 3rd period.
Whatever. Lowell desperately needed this win, and it showed. But the battle of the state schools in mid-January will probably be two of the biggest games of the year. A sweep for us would bury their season. A sweep for them would put them right back in it, and we’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll be there for both games so we damn well better win one. I’m still owed a birthday present.
12/12 vs. Merrimack
Ahh. Much better. 4-1 doesn’t even really tell the story; the boys came out guns a-blazin’ in the first two periods and put this one away early. The early-season hype for the Warriors looked pretty silly; these guys didn’t look like a D1 hockey team (save for Da Costa, who is the real deal). But hey, HEA points are HEA points and we’ll take ’em. Good exclamation point for a dynamite first half for Ortiz, too.
…Phew. So that’s what’s happened so far. The wait ends in just three days. Last few years, we’re used to looking back at the first half as the “glory days” of the season. Not this time.