Well, after a night of heavy drinking and a full day of recovery and putting my mind to other things, my thoughts, as always, have come back to the UMass hockey team, its once-promising season now left in shambles following its second consecutive weekend of getting swept by an inferior team in a home-and-home. Once again, the defense was atrocious in the road game, and once again, the Minutemen failed to score at home. Throw Joe Cannata up there with Rawlings and Madore in the “not-all-that-great goalies stepping their game up big-time against UMass” discussion; he was sensational.
Here’s the problem with this game though: you simply cannot turn games against inferior opponents into must-wins, and that’s what UMass did not once, but twice in this second half. The blowout losses to BU and UNH to start the second half forced them to need that win at Matthews, and for a while, the season appeared to stabilize, winning four straight. The ensuing shutout loss on that Sunday afternoon against Vermont and Madore didn’t seem so bad, since the defense played well enough to win, Madore stood on his head, etc. But the awful games that followed – at BU (again) and against BC at home – forced the Minutemen to go into these two series against hungry Northeastern and Merrimack teams desperately needing wins, and you can never count on winning a game by sheer talent disparity. These last two home shutouts prove that: UMass dominated play for the entire game, dictated the shots on goal, played solid defense for the most part, but too many mental mistakes and the collective snakebittenness of the entire fucking offense right now, combined with stellar goaltending efforts by guys whose teams desperately needed them, doomed UMass to their current fate.
Which, by the way, is somehow not as bad as it seems. With 3 games left, UMass still mathematically could finish as high as third. Seriously. And it is actually even in their own hands to a degree, since the team currently in third, Maine, is UMass’s opponent for the last two games. It would, of course, entail UMass playing with a lot more urgency than they have of late (even last night, the team visibly had given up by the midway point of the third, prompting a “please do something” chant). It would also, of course, involve a ridiculous turnaround in the luck department. And UMass would, in all likelihood, first have to win this Friday at BC, where they’ll have the misfortune of yours truly calling the game for WMUA (they’re 1-4 with me behind the mic; after the 3-2 win against BU, I’ve called the UNH home loss, the first Agganis trip and the Madore shutout) as well as playing a team which, in two games, has shown they can both grind out tough wins AND blow people the fuck out, both at the Bill.
Here’s the flipside: now that guys like Jimmy and Casey are probably tuning out the season and looking ahead at their NHL prospects (although I’m not exactly sure that “having a team on your shoulders and completely disappearing for eight games” is something NHL scouts are looking for), the Minutemen quite easily could lose these last three contests and fall out of the playoffs completely.
And if that doesn’t put Toot Cahoon on the hot seat for the duration of next season — the last year on his contract — I’m not sure what will.