Let’s do the time warp again…

Actually, let’s not and say we didn’t. It’s time for the Minutemen’s annual Halloweekend tilts against a not-so-scary foe in Providence. In last year’s visit, the Minutemen were shut down by then-sensation Alex Beaudry, donning his best Martin Brodeur costume apparently. It was then just a setback for the hot-starting UMass squad, true, but those 2 points the Friars stole were critical in the oh-so-tight Hockey East race.

This weekend, the Minutemen are not trying to avoid their first loss, but rather seeking their elusive first win on the campaign. We’ve been slacking here at Fight Mass, true, but we’re hoping that both we and our beloved hockey team pick up steam now that the season is coming into full swing. The Minnesota games felt like exhibitions, to be sure; like I said earlier, the Minutemen have virtually no shot at an at-large bid this year, and so those non-conference games can be used as nothing-to-lose experience builders. The two games against BU (which we really have failed to talk about at great length) were a bit more relevant. To summarize, UMass played well at Agganis for the first time in seemingly forever, in a game where we weren’t who they thought we were. Last week, Jackie Parker’s boys were at least a slightly bit more concerned about what was going on in there,* yet our boys still damn near pulled off a comeback despite multiple attempts to not only shoot themselves in the foot, but to damn near take a bazooka to them.

In fact, despite leading for a whopping 3.3% of their ice time this year (you can thank Walshy, who was too swamped by his ridiculous senior year courseload to get around to writing the preview this week, for that fun stat, which he hashed out with Rocks on the ever-so-delightful Fear the Triangle Facebook page), our boys have been in all four games they’ve played, against two of the nation’s top teams. In three of those games, our boys have had one atrocious period doom them…the first period in game 2 against Minny (3-0) and game 3 at Agganis (2-0), and the debacle of a middle stanza against BU last weekend (3-0). You could also throw in the first period of the opening game at Minnesota, where UMass was only down 1-0 and shots were even, but the Mass Attack also failed to cash in on an early seven minutes of power play time.

Really, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the stats, Rocks has you covered over at FTT, and really, his preview covers pretty much anything I could be able to tell you from listening to parts of  four games and reading box scores from down here. Suffice it to say, Beaudry is the key to this Friars team; they’re not an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination, but Beaudry’s hot-and-cold inconsistency makes it really tough to tell what to expect out of a tilt with PC. With Dainton, I feel like you’re gonna get an above-average effort night in and night out; rarely is he dominant or awful on any given night. Beaudry can be a world-beater one night and a sieve the next. Last year, we saw the former when he came to town. Hopefully this year it’ll be more treat than trick.

Meanwhile, I’d like to take this time to address the rioting incident of last week, and more importantly, the state of hockey fandom in Amherst lately. For those living under a rock, the Mullins Center cut off admission to the BU home opener when students, fearful of not getting those last couple hundred of the 3200 reserved student seats, “bum-rushed” the gates. In addition, although thoroughly less surprisingly, the chants once again boiled down to variations of “fuck BU” in addition to the usual “let’s go UMass” and “U! MASS!” staples.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see that the popularity of the team hasn’t dropped off one bit, despite the departures of so many key players. Actually, maybe we should be concerned about this – how many of the students in attendance even know who James Marcou or Casey Wellman are? I’d be willing to bet that it’s less than we want it to be. Truth be told, UMass has a reputation for its fans being less than knowledgeable when it comes to hockey, compared to some of its Hockey East brethren. This is a volume problem more than anything, in my honest opinion. At a school like BC, where attendance isn’t nearly as great (especially when taking into account the exponentially larger pool of possible spectators the Boston area provides as opposed to middle-of-nowhere western MA), the fans that do make it out there at least know what’s up. At UMass, I’d like to say we have a comparable number of hardcore hockey fans who know the score. However, it’s hard for those students to have a voice when they’re accompanied by the frat boy/Swestie girl masses who pregame hockey and come out because it’s the thing to do. This is why schools in rural areas, like us, Maine, UNH, and Vermont, have reputations for being nastier and more vulgar than the Boston-area schools – we draw the common denominator crowd, and their voices are much louder and drunker. (Then there’s Providence, whose team scares away possible crowds, Merrimack, with its high school arena and small student body, and Lowell, whose fans we can only assume are drawn in by shiny lights and pretty colors).

But here’s the thing about those other local state schools: they have hockey traditions, vulgar though they may be. UNH, UVM and Maine have all experienced varying degrees of success in the last decade, while UMass is new to this whole “actually contending” thing. Contending for long periods of time builds tradition, and tradition breeds actual interest in the sport itself, rather than merely the spectacle. Hockey is a sport whose popularity is on the rise in this part of the country, what with the Bruins’ recent run of successful seasons (and damn, do they look good this year or what?). I honestly think that gradually, the percentage of fans who are hockey-savvy will rise, and the unorganized masses will find coherence. I agree with what Rocks said about the topic a few days ago, though: in order for a true student hockey fan tradition to begin, it needs to be helped from within, with a student movement. Hell, that’s part of why I started Fight Mass. You guys who read this at home, in class, on your iPhone during that hour of waiting for the game to start in the Mullins…this is where you guys come in. You know what’s up. You know that, for UMass to rise to the level of the elite hockey schools in the region, it has to come from both on and off the ice. With the caliber of player that Cahoon is getting rising (to the point where we’ve got NHL scouts prying guys out of Amherst – something that from all accounts was unthinkable ten years ago!), things are looking good for the on-ice product. It’s up to the fans to get their act together. Nobody’s gonna force the students to suddenly become more imaginative, more clever, more coherent. A million “Be respectful, keep it clean” signs won’t do that, and, as you’re well aware by now, I don’t want it to be kept “clean.”

Toot and the players have gushed in recent years about how much it helps to have 8,000+ in that building. It’s what gives this team its identity, its soul. It’s what makes Amherst “the zoo” and Mullins “the Bill.” This is our team, and they deserve better than drunk assholes screaming random profanities and leaving after one or two periods. We have the biggest arena in Hockey East, and there is strength in numbers. Make this blog and FTT and all the other UMass blogs and websites viral. Spread the word. Build this community. Invite people to games on Facebook. I’m not ashamed to say resorting to fliers with important chant-worthy information might be a good idea, at least until the fans start coordinating with each other independently. Hell, way back when I was a freshman, we’d have the other team’s goalie’s mother’s name. It’s harsh, true, but compared to today (where I doubt half the fans even know the name of the other team’s goalie himself, let alone his mother), it’s an upgrade.

What this all kind of boils down to, though, is the need for a hockey band. Everyone else in Hockey East has one (Christ, even fucking LOWELL has one) and we have one of the greatest marching bands in the country. I don’t know if Parks’s death would improve, due to his opposition to the idea, or hinder, due to the school wanting to honor his wishes, the chances of it happening, but the conversation certainly needs to be brought to the forefront. I know a few marching band members who say they’d be all for playing at games. I think a student pro-hockey band movement would help make it happen. If it’s funding that’s the problem, the alumni (oh wait, that’s me LOL) need to step up and get it done. As Rocks has said countless times, it would help coordinate the student body, it would fully cement hockey’s rightful place among the big sports on campus along with basketball and football, and it would just be fucking awesome. It’s a big missing piece in a program that’s been coming together brilliantly.

As my personal return to Massachusetts is still two months away, I’m afraid I can’t do a whole lot from down here. I rely on my fellow writers and to all you loyal readers to continue the revolution (to crib a marketing theme from UMass this season). As my esteemed manager Mike Whitt says every day at Blizzard Beach, “you can’t have a revolution if everybody’s not on board.” This is our time. I now open up the floor to any further discussion in our lovely comments box section for those to express their concerns.

Oh, and let’s get 4 points this weekend, please. Thanks.


*Inside jokes. You’ve gotta trust me on this one.

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