Hockey season is just about upon us! While our boys on the gridiron were busy eking out a win at Stony Brook (in a surefire trap/letdown style game), the hockey team is conducting scrimmages. Fear the Triangle and MassLive’s Dick Baker have been the top sources for the latest info from a hockey standpoint as the season nears, and I advise y’all to keep following those news sources. Baker pretty much reports any tiny little thing he learns about the team, from Danny Hobbs looking like he’s added muscle (a scary prospect for anyone who’s seen the guy in person; he was already pretty big) to Chase Langeraap looking to be this year’s Will Ortiz and escape the underperformance and injury woes.
Meanwhile, as I battle the notorious swarms of lovebugs down here in still-sunny Florida, my cohorts up north are getting ready for the annual preseason tilt in the practice rink. Matt and Derek will be the eyes and ears of the blog for the first semester this season, and I’m relying on them to offer first-hand commentary on the team and the student fanbase. Now, let’s be realists, kids. This team isn’t going to compete for the Hockey East title. Hell, being in the discussion for home ice in the playoffs would require a miracle. That being said, there are enough x-factors on this team that simply writing them off would be foolish. A senior goaltender with stand-on-his-head capability as Dainton showed at times last year cannot be ignored. There are players like Keane, Hobbs, and Langeraap who have underperformed as sideshows to the Jimmy & Casey show and have yet to live up to the potential we heard about when they first arrived. The defense is the biggest question mark. Some would say that an already-weak defense lost some of its only good pieces. My counter is that our defense was never good to begin with, and that fresh blood might be a good thing.
In fact, that, to me, is the ultimate theme of this year from the optimist’s perspective: fresh blood, a fresh start for a team that started with so much promise last year and ultimately fell victim to the success of its key pieces. That is to say, the talent level may have dropped, but I really think lack of talent wasn’t what doomed the 09-10 Minutemen. It was lack of preparedness to handle success, something Toot Cahoon is still learning — understandably, for a program that, in all honesty, is still getting used to the idea of competing for a Hockey East title on a regular basis. It was the inability to handle the pressure of being nationally-ranked and on TV, or, far more detrimentally, the constant distraction of having NHL scouts preying on Wellman, Marcou, and Irwin. Let’s be frank: UMass’s program, and Cahoon’s staff, weren’t able to ward off the scouts the way a York or a Parker or a Umile have been doing for years. That’s part of building a program, I think: dealing with success. Unfortunately, because UMass isn’t at that level, success isn’t going to come as frequently, and so the opportunity to learn how, as a school, to avoid these distractions comes less frequently as well.
That’s not to excuse the piss-poor play of the team last year, of course. These guys, especially the ones who aren’t being tempted with six- and seven-digit salaries, have to be able to carry their end of the bargain. Now that the scouts and agents will (presumably) be absent, it’s put-up or shut-up time for these guys. If that whole “too many distractions” excuse turned out to be erroneous (and/or the injury woes of guys like Langeraap persist), then yeah, it’s probably gonna be a long-ass year. But, to take a quick detour through Simmons-ville, this team just might have Ewing Theory potential, contingent, of course, on Dainton being strong in net, the defense taking a big step forward, aforementioned underperformers performing, and freshmen breaking out the way Marcou and Wellman did a few short years ago. A lot to ask for? Sure. But this is sports, and we watch because these are the kinds of things that happen in sports to keep them from being predictable. Toot’s recruiting core of Teglia, Pereira, Gracel, Power has a bright future, I’m fairly confident. But honestly, if there was ever a season where the youngsters were gonna get a chance to shine sooner than later, it’s this year.
Whether this team is out of contention by New Years’ or surprising everyone in March, though, one thing’s for sure: today, hockey is fuckin’ back, and we couldn’t possibly be happier. 😀
P.S. Consider this a “soft preview.” We’ll have more on UMass, and on the rest of Hockey East, between the preseason game and the official season-opener, of course.