Kneejerk reactions: So, uhh, where’s that panic button?

Charles Barkley is hosting tonight’s Saturday Night Live. I’m not sure if “turrible” quite covers what’s going on with our beloved Mass Attack these days.

UMass put together yet another “60 minutes of ineptitude” tonight in a 7-2 trouncing up at Lake Whittemore tonight, dropping to 5-5 in conference play and 2-6 in their last 8 contests overall. Dan Meyers got the start in net, but even Jon Quick (hell, even Tim Thomas) wouldn’t have been enough to stem the tide tonight. The truth of the matter is, the Minutemen played like shit in front of Meyers’s net, starting about five minutes in on the first power play and continuing for the remaining 55 painful minutes. UMass had spurts of offense here and there, but once again, their opponent was able to keep the Marcou line in check, and with Lecomte and Langeraap (injuries) and Boehm (mysterious suspension) still sidelined, the other lines could get nothing going. Defensively, the Minutemen were once again listless, granting effortless penetration into the zone nearly every possession.

Having called the BU game, I could empathize with UMass play-by-play announcer John Hennessey. The Minutemen are playing so poorly that it’s hard to call the action; every intended pass goes to the wrong man, every offensive break gets broken up, and the other team is able to glide so smoothly up and down the ice that it’s hard to keep up. At least in Boston last weekend, UMass kept the game fairly close for the first 40 minutes. Here, after coming out with some energy in the first five minutes, the boys seemingly gave up as soon as that first power play shot got tipped in. The Wildcats had scored a power-play, even-strength, and short-handed goal before UMass knew what hit ’em, and tagged on a first-career goal by McCarey at the end of the period on a play where the defense apparently just let him waltz in.

How a team in such desperate need of a W could come out so flat against the league’s first-place team, after a much-needed week of rest, boggles the mind. Those two early games in Amherst demonstrated a pair of evenly-matched teams talent-wise. UNH didn’t demonstrate a noticeable talent advantage in this game, nor did they have to, because UMass didn’t bother to play.

So what’s wrong with this team? This is the second straight Meyers start in which the team has fallen apart from the beginning. Both tonight and down at Quinnipiac, it’d be a stretch to blame Meyers himself for the loss. But the Minutemen seem to have trouble getting fired up to play well when Pauly D isn’t in net. (Side note: Yes, we are going to refer to the UMass #1 goalie by a “Jersey Shore”-inspired nickname for the remainder of the season, and frankly, we’re kicking ourselves for not thinking of it sooner. More on that next week.) Now, granted, that doesn’t excuse the BU game, but as we’ve discussed, UMass was playing their 3rd game in 5 days, with Dainton in net for all of them. It’s a real conundrum when you have one goalie for whom the team doesn’t feel like playing, especially when your other goalie is in dire need of rest.

It’s no secret that chemistry and leadership issues have been a factor in the Minutemen’s collapses of years past. We were assured that the old blood was out and that the team was gelling like never before this year. Has that positive energy disappeared following a string of winnable games (1 minute from pulling off the comeback win in QU, down just a goal against BC late in the 3rd, up 2-0 in the 2nd in Lowell, dominating play against Bentley but having nothing to show for it)? Whether it’s the chemistry or the motivation, this team is clearly not even close to living up to its potential lately, and it’s cliche but true: that falls on the coaching staff.

Now, we’re not your typical Chicken Little, stereotypical Boston sports fans here at Fight Mass. We’re keeping an even keel about this; you’ll need to see a bunch more losses before we begin the “Fire Toot” debate. So here’s some “well hey nows” for you, but be warned, there’s caveats to all of them. First, the Wildcats are a damn good hockey team. Besides a less-than-stellar showing last night in which they needed a questionable game misconduct penalty to spark a power play goal earning a tie with Lowell, they’ve been gangbusters against the rest of the conference, and the Whitt is always a tough place to play, regardless of the crowd, with its gargantuan ice surface. Our problem isn’t that the Minutemen lost to these guys on their home ice…it’s the effort, not the result, that is worrisome.

Also, there’s plenty of time to go in the season to flip this script before it carries on any further. The Minutemen, despite all of their recent struggles, remain in the thick of the home ice race in Hockey East, in a conference where a couple of wins strung together can drastically affect your standing. There’s enough time left that I won’t even call tomorrow’s game at Matthews a must-win, although it would be nice to see the Minutemen vent their frustrations against a Huskies team that might be deflated after their heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the River Rats tonight (if you didn’t watch it, Lowell blew a multitude of 3- and 2-goal leads but proceeded to dominate the overtime). A loss tonight puts all the pressure in the world on that two-game set next weekend against the ugly sister, as if they weren’t big enough games to begin with.

There’s a lot of hockey to be played, but something needs to be done, and the team needs to wake up and at the very fucking least compete against NU tomorrow. That involves a “whatever it takes” approach to wake these guys up. Maybe give Leary a chance? Bring Donnellan back? Suck it up and let Boehm play again? Again, I’m not calling for his head just yet, but Toot and company had better have a new approach tomorrow, because this just ain’t working.

One of my favorite sayings in the physical fitness community is the classic Einstein quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” When it comes to lifting routines, it means you gotta introduce some entropy to get your body to avoid plateauing. Well, when it comes to their play on the ice, UMass has, in the last 3 games, hit rock bottom and proceeded to plateau, making the same dumb mistakes and having the same general lifelessness. If they keep this up, it won’t be long before even yours truly is reaching for the panic button.

-Max

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