Still Fighting It

Well, as usual, it’s gonna come down to Maine. Would we have it any other way?

Once again, in last night’s 2-1 heartbreaker at Conte Forum, UMass came frustratingly close to stealing a game and all-but locking up a playoff spot. The Mass Attack, who in the course of one weekend lost to these two teams by a combined 16-2 score for some reason only played each team twice this year, finished their two weeks of hell against two top-5 teams by losing all four games by a single goal. For the third straight game, they trailed 2-0, then rallied but fell short in the end. And for seemingly the billionth year in a row, the season-ending pair of games against Maine will determine this team’s playoff fate.

Ironically, unlike last year, the Minutemen don’t need to sweep the two games to make the playoffs, although that would be lovely. UMass leads Providence by two games for the final playoff spot, and the Friars have a home-and-home with Merrimack coming up. And let’s face it, if you can’t beat Lowell when your playoff life is on the line, the Warriors aren’t who you want to see. Of course, UMass gets the Black Bears, who still have an outside shot at home ice if they sweep and Merrimack somehow gets swept. But the team with the most to play for next weekend is the Minutemen, because the embarrassment of being one of those two teams out of the playoffs is there for the taking.

After four straight heartbreakers in a rebuilding year, it’s natural to look at the games in the context of “what to build off of for next year.” There’s some optimism for next year, and of course there’s also some concern. The young defensemen – Phillips, Allen and Hanley in particular – have really been stepping up of late, the former on offense and the later two as defensive stalwarts who have stopped making nearly as many “freshman mistakes.” Syner and Hobbs are setting themselves up as the clear senior leaders offensively for next year’s squad. Even guys like Kiley and Power, not exactly major contributors this year, have shown some energy out there. On the other hand, we lose Kublin (!!!) and, of course, the main reason we’ve been in these games lately, Paul Dainton, whose ascent to the team saves record was accelerated by the massive shot totals he faced these past two weekends. Sure, he’s had his low points this year, and there’s plenty of young talent between Teglia and Boyle coming in, but losing a four-year starter at goal is an adjustment no matter how you spin it. It’s also a bit concerning that Mike Pereira’s production has tailed off so harshly, and we’re hopeful that he’s just hitting the rookie wall and not prematurely hitting a sophomore slump. We’ll obviously be analyzing the team’s prospects for next year at season’s end, but these are just a few of the storylines to watch.

No matter how painful these games are – especially for the seniors, both in the stands and on the team – just keep in mind that this team was picked by experts to finish 9th for a reason. They’re young as hell and they lost a key group of juniors and seniors, some unexpectedly, to the pros. They also just seem unlucky this year, ending up on the wrong end of some really closely fought games and not getting the bounces a young team needs to be successful. That said, a trip to Durham or back to Not-Boston to take on the Wildcats or Eagles, and hopefully continuing to compete as they have the past week weeks, would be an even bigger building block for the youngsters, and a point of pride for the seniors.

And while they could bank on backing into that 8th spot via Merrimack sweeping Providence, we DID see Lowell take 3 points this weekend. Let’s not leave anything to chance.

Beat Maine. Hell, sweep the two games. After all, it’s freaking tradition.

-Max

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