We’ve seen a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly since we last left you, our intrepid readers. The happenings for UMass’s big three programs (hockey, Chazketball, and football) have been a-happening. Reality bites, I’m afraid, as Matt and I have been hampered in our ability to keep the blog up-to-date by our full-time jobs, and Walsh continues to search for one for himself. So be a little understanding if free time, much like UMass power play goals, UNH fan teeth, or attractive Lowell residents, is at a premium.
That said, let’s check in and see how things are going for each of those teams.
Last night’s game against Yale was immensely encouraging in a lot of ways. UMass fought through a tough start (three penalties in the opening minutes) and put together a strong all-around effort for the rest of the game in a 3-1 win that wasn’t really even that close. It shows the team building off of its 4-4 tie with the Crimson of Hahhvahd, a game that itself served as a return to “actually trying” after the team pulled a Seguin and slept through its previous three.
Let’s take a moment here to address something mighty troubling. I got in some hot water a few games ago for taking some cheap shots at a few ditzy puck sl…err, scantily-clad female fans who came to cheer on their beloved Northeaste-wait, which one do we go to again? Where’s Kelly? But the Harvard game brought something much more harmful for UMass’s reputation than the most stereotypical Swestiest Swesties ever to set foot in the Bill. I’m talking, of course, about the dumb fucks who took it upon themselves to toss their chuck-a-pucks onto the ice during the game.
I feel like actions of this degree of stupid warrant a sternly-worded “fuck you” to the offending party (or parties…we’ll never know if it was the same kid, since from my vantage point, Mullins security did absolutely nothing to try and track the kid down, and it took until after the second offense for Goldstein to inform the audience that you’re, you know, not allowed to do that). Let’s forget for a moment that the stoppage of play that resulted from the second puck-chucking led to a UMass penalty that led to a game-tying Harvard goal, though there was, graciously, no actual penalty for the incident. Why the fuck would you do such a thing? How fucked up do you have to get before (okay, let’s be honest – during) the game to think this is a good idea? I’ve been to UMass games in some pretty intoxicated states. Lest you forget, I invented a version of the Jaegerbomb that has a higher alcohol percentage. But I know my limits, and I know the fine line between “rather” drunk and “fuck the consequences of all actions I might take” drunk. I might be giving the kid(s) the benefit of the doubt here, but I would hope that it would take a high blood alcohol level to make such a dumb fucking decision.
But what really defecated on my (and all reasonable UMass fans’) parade was that this somehow managed to happen twice. Whether it was the same kid or not, the fact that there was no public shunning of the offending party – in fact, quite a bit of appeased laughter – is a painful reminder that this student section has a ways to go before it escapes its own reputation. I appreciate the efforts being made by those in Section S, which I will always consider the “true” student section regardless of how asinine it is that they sit by the goal that UMass only shoots on once and with a limited view of the corner on the other side of the UMass bench. For the first time since my freshman year, there are kids up here who are actually trying to lead this diverse, ragtag group of variously-dressed, variously-cheering, variously-informed hockey fans and/or casual observers and/or Puffton pregamers. I feel like this is going to be a losing proposition until the team achieves some actual success and generates a following for more than just the spectacle. Just look at UVM. They had a few good runs, sent St. Louis and Timmah to the NHL, and now they have a great student section for a team that’s even more god-awful this year than UMass, their last meeting notwithstanding.
I think I speak for the other two (even if they won’t admit it) that the efforts of the Militia and a few rows of kids who “get it” are a step in the right direction, but for the Bill to return to the levels of intimidation unmatched since the four-game sweep of Maine in ’06, it’s gonna take some stepping-up, a lot more creativity (like the “Do my homework” chant! The guy who started it is awesome) and a lot less “Fuck you Harvards.” And an “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLE” for the fuckhead who throws the pucks on the ice, as he gets dragged out, barely able to stand, after getting pointed out by the rest of his row. That’s what things are like at the other nine schools in Hockey East, guys. Even Lowell and even fucking Merrimack. (Okay, maybe not Providence, but they would if anyone showed up to games.) It’s not weird, it’s not tattling – it’s called being a fan and not wanting your team to get a fucking penalty and/or injury because of some douche in the stands. And that, folks, is your sternly-worded “fuck you.” Thanks for coming and let us never have to speak of this again. (I’m choosing to act as though the wave started by the student section never happened, since this bullshit also actually happened at a Bruins game the other night.)
Ahem. So yeah, the Yale game went well. Hope they can carry the positive momentum into the second half now. I’m putting the Kubbie Kounter on hold, by the way. In fact, maybe we’ll just do it for the second half. I feel like Guzzo would be running away with it by now though, as he and Gracel might be the only Minutemen who showed up for those three straight losses. Just sayin’.
So here’s where we discuss the titular 30 Rock reference. The Minutemen descended into the crevasse, alright. Tuesday’s game at East Carolina might be the ugliest display of bazkettaball that I’ve ever had to witness, right down to the horrific webstream with ECU’s overly excitable announcers and PA guy blasting on echo over an uber-low resolution video that constantly flashed things like “MAKE SOME NOISE” and “DEFENSE.” (You get what you pay for, unless it’s UMass All Access video, wakka wakka wakka!) UMass built a massive first-half lead almost effortlessly, then actually stopped giving effort for a disturbingly long period of time as ECU fought back valiantly before finally shooting itself in the foot one time too many. And I mean damn I’d hate to be the doctor who has to fix up that foot! I can’t say it’s the worst UMass win I’ve ever seen, since I’ve seen them trail AIC late into the first half and beat Fordham at home on a buzzer-beater, but it was a bit discouraging to think that ECU had to miss a flurry of 3’s and free throws for UMass to pull this one out.
But whatever – they did pull it out. A win is a win and this one came on the road, and after a horrific travel schedule the likes of which I haven’t seen this team have in my time following them. Three games in three nights in the Bahamas, a flight home, a flight back to Miami, another flight home, and another flight back down to Greenville? Brutal, especially for a team that runs a full-court press for most of every game. So let’s put this one in the rearview mirror and focus on a 7-3 record and a cupcake schedule between this team and the start of conference play. It looks like the A-10 will be a bitch this year, in a good way for the conference but maybe not for UMass. I figured the conference would be up-for-grabs, but clear front-runners have emerged in Xavier and the Fighting Majeruses (Majerusi? Whatever, they’re fat, and I refuse to acknowledge whatever a Billiken is) and we’ve seen teams like Dayton pull off some nice upsets. Hell, even Fordham has three wins somehow. Really, the only team that looks truly horrible in this conference is – wait for it – oh this is great – weeeeeeeeeee’re Rhode Island born, and we’re Rhode Island (in)bred and when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead! Yeah, URI is 1-8 with a home win over Chaz-less Hofstra. In a word, epic. (They’ll probably sweep us.) So yeah, any thought of competing for an at-large bid now depends upon running the rest of the non-conference table and making a big dent in the conference. It would’ve been nice to get at least one of the three that they’ve lost so far, but there are still high-RPI teams left on the schedule – all at home – in the form of Xavier, Saint Louis, and Davidson (?!). And really, I think this team is at least as any team in the conference outside of Cincinnati.
There are question marks, of course. For every great story (Esho and Cady being solid out of the gate Morgan coming out of his slump, Carter’s alley-oops, and of course Chaz) there are concerns. Sampson is out for the season, which blows because he was starting to create favorable memories in my head of Etienne Brower, with a combination of length, underrated D and a smooth shooting touch from the line and the arc. At least he gets to redshirt and won’t be leaving us with the rest of DK’s inaugural class. Freddie had been…let’s say not so great coming into last night’s game, then he lit it up for the first half aaaaaand inexplicably was benched by DK for the rest of the game. Not what you want to do to a player who’s….let’s say moody. Look, we criticize the shit out of Riley, and he and Matt’s Twitter spats were well-documented. But we do it out of love, man. We want Freddie to be the spot-up 3-point ace he seems capable of being, but we’re sports fans – we get frustrated when our players struggle, and unfortunately, his shooting numbers make him a magnet for the criticism. (The mess that was the offense the last two years didn’t help, but he’s undoubtedly slumped to start this year as well.) Now, he finally looked to be breaking out of it, and Kellogg sits him on a team that already is a guard short with Laguerre’s academic ineligibility. DK’s making strides from a coaching standpoint this year, no doubt, and the new system on both offense and defense is working much better than anything they were doing the last few years. But unless there’s more to this story (which is certainly possible), I find it highly perplexing. Here’s hoping the team irons out whatever was going on here for tomorrow’s Springfield Siena game. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m way more confident about it than I would have been a year ago.
Okay, this post is getting to “way tl;dr” territory. So I’ll keep it brief for now and probably try (ha) to follow-up soon. As a Notre Dame football fan (go ahead, toss the paper balls and boo) I’m pleased with the appointment of Charley Molner. I know, something about the combination of Charlie and offensive coordinator and Massachusetts and Notre Dame sounds like failure. And while both took over for a beleaguered and unpopular coach (I kinda liked Willingham, actually, but the results spoke for themselves), Weis was taking over his alma mater with extraordinary expectations and a storied history, a program that even I’ll admit was moving in the wrong direction on the prestige scale. (Though, fingers crossed, Kelly is slowly righting that ship.) The Minutemen have nowhere to go but up, and out of the crevasse that was (was! WAS! It’s SO good to say that!) the Morris era. Granted the bar may be low, but his rally cry – that UMass should be the best college football program in New England – is solid, and frankly, quite achievable given that BC is in a downward spiral and UConn’s rise to glory is fizzling. True, it’s premature to crown the guy when he’s yet to be a head coach in his career, and we haven’t seen how he recruits yet. But let’s be frank – we weren’t going to get a Mike Leach to come here just yet. The first year might be a little shaky, between the growing pains of an FBS schedule, a first-year head coach and a cupboard left pretty bare. And the pressure’s a little greater than it was for DK, who wasn’t replacing a coach UMass was still paying and who didn’t have a new conference and stadium to work with. If next season’s excitement is tempered by the lack of actual success, well, that’s the crevasse the Morris era has left us in. We may have to dig just a little deeper before we find the way out.