Oh, Craig Finn, is there anything you haven’t already written a great lyric for?
UMass hockey fought valiantly this past weekend against BU, but fell exasperatingly short once again against the Warsofsky-less Terriers in front of a large, but (once again) fairly disinterested crowd. I’ll weigh in eventually (pinky swear!) with that long-promised overview of where I feel the student section is going – the wrong direction, by the way – and the factors that have led to the discontent of the Fight Mass writing staff and my fellow alumni who were present for better days. In the meantime, let’s see where UMass stands as the final three weeks of the regular season approach.
At this point, I think we can divide the rest of the conference into subgroups: the contenders (BC, UNH, and – gasp – Merrimack), the pretenders? (BU and Maine), the plucky upstarts (Northeastern), the scrappers-to-make-the-playoffs (us, Providence, and Vermont), and Lowell (Lowell). The skeptical question mark for the pretenders is where the biggest grey area is for me. There’s no question that the top 3 teams have differentiated themselves as the class of Hockey East. You could argue that BU or Maine can still play their way back into that discussion, but with Maine falling ever-closer to the middle of the pack hurts their legitimacy, and I don’t trust either of their goalies anyway. BU barely squeaking by us doesn’t change the fact that they just finished fourth in their own four-team tournament, one that their home PA announcer is the PA announcer of. I’ve seen Merrimack in person and watched BC and UNH on TV several times. BU is just not as good as those teams, regardless of the fact that they’re only 2 points behind the Warriors. Northeastern, meanwhile, damn near won the Beanpot, are looking better by the week – and, of course, have 4 games left against BC and UNH while BU gets to feast on UVM and Providence. With 6 points to overcome, it’s gonna take recent trends for the two Boston dog teams to escalate if those last two games between them are going to matter. Still, you have to admire Cronin’s team and how far they’ve come, even if they do rely waaaay too heavily on that McNeely-MacCloud tandem and Rawlings occasionally standing on his head. And they have a guy named Dongara. Hehe.
So then you’ve got the bottom of the standings, with a rebuilding team (us), a hard-to-figure-out and probably underachieving Vermont team, and, well, Providence, who does nothing particularly well but isn’t awful enough to mitigate the fact that on any given night, their goaltender can steal a game. (See: last Saturday or 50% of the fucking games Beaudry has against us.) Lowell, of course, is historically, hysterically bad, but our lead over the rest of Hockey East is tenuous at best. There’s two playoff spots left for these three teams, and someone’s gonna get left out in the cold. Here’s where they stand:
7. UMass – 15 points
Remaining: 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A), 2 vs. BC (H/A), 2 vs. Maine (H/H)
8. Vermont – 14 points
Remaining: 2 vs. UNH (H/H), 2 vs. BU (A/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/H)
9. Providence – 12 points
Remaining: 2 vs. BU (H/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/A)), 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A)
For tiebreakers, UMass holds the breaker on Vermont, Vermont holds the breaker on PC, and PC holds the breaker on UMass. Think of it as the worst game of rock-paper-scissors ever. Or for the nostalgic nerds out there, think of UMass as fire, Vermont as grass, and PC as water. And Lowell as Magikarp. Except nobody’s super-effective.
So obviously, the Minutemen have the toughest task ahead. If UVM and PC both sweep Lowell, as one can reasonably expect, that would put each of them ahead of UMass if the Minutemen fail to gain a point for the rest of the year. And that’s even if they lose the other four games apiece (which is also quite reasonable). UMass has definitely played better at home of late – relatively speaking – and I give them a fighting chance to pull off an upset over a Da Costa-less Merrimack team or a coasting BC team. But as usual, those last two games of the season against Maine are probably going to decide our fate. Last year’s team went up to Alfond against a pretty similar Maine team and stole two wins. This year, they’re at home, and Maine is in a bit of a nosedive since an impressive win over BC on January 16th. They’ve since been swept by UNH, earned just 1 point against BU in two games at home, tied Northeastern, and got walloped by Vermont at home before edging by the other night. Maine has two with Lowell that will likely get them back on track, but they follow that with two against Merrimack. One would expect Maine won’t have nearly as much to play for in that final weekend, if BU beats up on the rest of their schedule and locks down the final home ice slot.
Here’s hoping UMass can pounce on the Black Bears like they have in years past in that last weekend. Otherwise, our playoff hopes might mean – wait for it – rooting for Lowell. Eww.
Note: I’ve got plenty to say about the basketball team’s recent slide as well, but I’ll wait on that, maybe until after the Rhody game. I can only hope that things will be much more fun to talk about by then.