Back to the Future

Winning?! What is this winning you speak of?

It was a perfect weekend for the UMass athletics program. UMass hockey won two games in a single weekend, one pretty and one ugly. Basketball, after a shaky stretch in the first half, flexed its muscle down the stretch and took over against Elon, as the Chaz Williams era began with a bang. If you want to take it even further, women’s basketball even got a win to start the year, and UMass football lost, which, for those following at home, is a victory for the future of the program.

We won’t equivocate on this: the level of competition was not high this weekend. Holy Cross looked a far cry from the squad that upset BU on Comm Ave earlier this year. Northeastern has officially taken Lowell’s throne as unquestioned worst team in Hockey East this year. And Elon is, well, Elon. But wins are wins, and the first step to escaping the “rebuilding” label is winning the games you’re supposed to win. Both teams did that in spades this weekend.

Friday’s double-header was a thing of beauty, especially on the ice. I wrote on Friday morning about the very real possibility of a letdown against Holy Cross in a virtual exhibition game (given UMass’s slow start and their weak non-conference schedule, an at-large bid is a major long shot). But the Crusaders looked like anything but spoilers on Friday night, managing to play a game that was ugly enough to match those hideous purple uniforms. UMass had exactly one true “blowout” win last year (our trip to Gutterson!) and so it’s good to get one of those at home to improve the students’ opinion of this program, even if it did make the second half of the game almost a little boring. It was also pretty cool that after not seeing a hat trick at home my entire time at UMass, we (and all of the freshmen, incidentally) have now seen two at home this year. Of course, Allen didn’t get credit for his trick until one of Guzzo’s goals was changed to him later in the game, which is funny because we were cheering the entire third period for Guzzo to get what we thought would be his OWN hat trick. Still, Stephen and the rest of the Minutemen looked solid from beginning to end and took care of business early and often. As Matt pointed out after the game, you can tell that Toot didn’t even have to yell at his team too much given how intact his voice was during the postgame interview with Brock Hines.

Last night’s game was a lot uglier, but the result was another win and, more importantly, two conference points and a clinch of at least a tie of the season series against the Huskies. Both teams came out kind of flat and played surprisingly poorly through two periods given the importance of the game for each team. Yet the Minutemen took control of the game in the third after a late power play goal by Mike “The Franchise” Pereira tied the game late in the 2nd off a nice rebound on a King Phillips shot (good to have him back!) and Gracel put UMass ahead for good in the third. The Huskies, to their credit, turned up the intensity at the end, including a scary minute where Mikey almost gave us all a heart attack at least three times trying to clear the puck with NU on the 6-on-5, but Syner’s empty-netter from his own blue line was a thing of beauty, the kind of game-clinching goal that UMass is finally, finally starting to get. Has the worm turned on their inability to close out close games? Fingers crossed. We’ll see what this team is made of with a pair against disappointing Maine and upstart Lowell next weekend…more on that later this week.

(Sidebar: Speaking of ugly, those two puck sluts I relentlessly tweeted about all game long. We’re talking the most disgustingly spray-tanned skanks you’ll ever see, beyond trashed, so completely clueless that they cheered for Northeastern’s first goal of the night. I’m only half-joking when I say that the Mullins Center staff needs to wash and disinfect the boards in front of Section S that these two were grinding on. I’m all for team spirit, but come on now, show the slightest bit of class. I think I’m asking for too much here.)

Lastly, some thoughts on the Rage at the Cage Friday night. I’ll certainly take a comfortable 18-point win any day of the week, no matter who they’re playing, especially how last season finished. It was disheartening to be down by four at halftime to a Southern Conference team, but when you consider one of our key players (Putney) got hurt and missed most of the game (and the team looked visibly shaken for several minutes, and who can blame them given how scary the injury was), and Riley and Morgan were a combined 2-for-2351 (give or take) from the field, putting up 85 points regardless was something I’ll gladly take. The pressure defense was a mixed bag – sometimes it looked stifling, other times it led to easy looks in transition that the Phoenix simply failed to make, but the guys played with a refreshing amount of energy.

Looking at individual players – there was a lot to be pleased with. The biggest story, of course, is the debut of Chaz Williams, who looks like everything we could have possibly dreamed of at point guard. Shooting, court vision, great hands on defense, even some rebounding for a little guy. The spark when he’s on the court reminded me of the Daryl Traynham era, only his game is clearly a step ahead of Daryl’s, plus his defensive strategy isn’t as…ahem…aggressive as Daryl’s. You gotta remember that this team hasn’t had a true point guard for a whole season since C-Lowe (sorry, Gary), and DK’s sloppy implementation of the dribble-drive definitely did not fit Lowe’s game at all. Now we’re finally seeing the benefits of several years of putting together a team and a system that fits the team, and Chaz appears to be the perfect man to quarterback this offense. Aside from that, his game is electrifying – even when UMass was winning early last year, they’ve rarely been fun to watch in the Kellogg era. Chaz is the most exciting player this team’s had since Tony Gaffney, and that’s a BIG plus when it comes to getting the attendance numbers back up.

Aside from Chaz, Terrell Vinson had some great numbers coming off the bench – it’s early, but if this is going to be the year he finally breaks through, this was certainly a good start. The other new guys – Esho and Lalanne – got some minutes, and though both seem pretty raw, they both look like they’ll bring good size. Cady got a longer look than Maxie, and while his awareness needs work, there’s surely some potential going forward. Really, the only negatives you can take from this game were the play of Riley and Morgan. Not only did the offense struggle mightily whenever Chaz left the court, but two of them (Freddy in particular) took some atrocious shots (we’re talking “contested, several feet behind the line with 33 on the shot clock” atrocious). I did think both of them looked a little better on the defensive end, but, well, it’s Elon – these guys weren’t hitting the broad side of a barn. The thing is, we know that both Freddie and Jesse are actually capable of catching fire and hitting these shots, but that doesn’t make it less cringe-inducing when they launch ’em, particularly when everyone else is in a good rhythm. Moreover, if Chaz and Vinson (and to a lesser extent two guys who quietly had great games as well, Javorn Farrell and Sampson Carter) are going to fill the scoring void left by Gurley, the Minutemen can look at their 2-guards’ shooting as a bonus. Last year, UMass only rallied past Rider on opening night because Riley and Gurley caught fire on those kinds of shots. Friday proved that UMass can beat an inferior team without clicking on all cylinders, something that wasn’t necessarily the case the past few years. Hopefully the two of them can find their shot as the season goes on, because if they’re on, this offense looks pretty damn good.

Next up for the Minutemen – hey, how ’bout that – the Northeastern Huskies come to town tomorrow night. I don’t anticipate that the buzz of opening night will necessarily translate to a good Monday night turnout against an America East foe, but for now, I’m not concerned about attendance. I am a slightly bit concerned about Putney’s injury, and I doubt we’ll see him in this week’s games, but I’m actually confident that UMass can take care of business against NU and NJIT without him, and that he can be back as UMass goes for 4-0 at BC. Jinxes be damned – in Chaz we trust.

– Max

Kubbie Points for the weekend:

Max: DeAngelo (Friday), Phillips (Saturday)

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. Pingback: Around Hockey East: 11/15 | Husky Hockey
  2. Anonymous

    So I read this blog very avidly and normally I am in agreement with the strong opinionated views that are expressed on here. However, your little sidebar about the “puck sluts” and the tweets you made, aside from being filled with demeaning and sexist comments, are just asinine. At no point have you or anyone else been anointed judge of who is allowed to come to sporting events and who is a real fan or not. I was sitting pretty close to the two girls in section S and I witnessed them trying to get a good view of the game, I was even close enough to them to hear them asking the people around them questions about hockey. It was clear they had a limited knowledge of hockey and of our wonderful chants, but they were showing a desire to learn. Yes, they made a mistake in when to cheer but they embarrassedly apologized to the people around them and learned more about the game through that. It is not about the mistakes they made but the lessons they learned. It is very painful to read your remarks regarding their clothing, as far as im concerned they were wearing Umass shirts and red stuff in their hair to show support. What can you really complain about? Aside from the fact that referring to a girl based on how she dresses as a “slut” perpetuates a sexist bias in judging a girl on how she dresses, it is also just plain stupid. I hope that your anger towards them based on their dress is not based on a jealousy of not being social with girls who look and dress in that manner because that would also just be dumb. The attitude you have expressed in your sidebar is exactly what I think is wrong with the Umass fan base. Why exclude anyone who is passionate about our sports teams? Why heckle at them and make them feel bad about themselves? Who are you to judge them based on outfits worn to our hockey event? New people bring new Ideas, I was sitting near a student who was cheering “Marcoops” every time Michael Marcou make a classic and expected mistake. I thought this was hilarious and I started to yell it with him. What if this student decided to dress in a way that you didn’t like and you mocked him and he never came back to the game? You would have made the game less enjoyable for me. I think it would be wonderful if from now on you decided not to attack Umass fans and maybe show support for those who want to watch the game? We cant all have the immense amount of hockey knowledge you have so maybe you could be proactive and try to teach people. Show some class, or maybe im just asking for too much.

    Plus its not like they were cheering for Teglia or something.

    • bittym87

      Lol, no, we’re not having this argument on a hockey blog. Lighten up a bit and keep in mind that my comments PALE in comparison to what the girls in the student section had to say about those two.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s