Crawl Space

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Breaking Bad lately. (Okay, definitely. I just caught up on four seasons in the last 3 weeks or so.) But the last two weeks of UMass hockey has me feeling like Walter White, down in the crawlspace, alternately screaming and laughing maniacally as it all falls apart. (I won’t spoil anything else here for those who haven’t seen it, but here’s the scene I’m referring to. It’s one of the greatest 2 1/2 minute scenes in TV history.)

Of course UMass would find a way to stick around in back-to-back huge games at Northeastern and Merrimack. And of course they’d find a way to lose both games, one just moments into overtime and the other in the waning seconds, in a scene so reminiscent of opening night (at Northeastern, coincidentally) and so painfully predictable that all you can do is laugh.

And of fucking COURSE! they would go out the next weekend, clinging to their playoff lives, and get their first road win of the season, and first-ever win on the road against a top-ranked team, in a venue that has been a house of horrors ever since it opens its shiny-but-overpriced doors, only to come out the next night, with the same goalie and same lineup, and sleep through the first ten minutes of the game. Oh, and just as a bonus teaser, they rallied down 4-1 and 5-3 to pull within a goal with a few minutes left, and even got a gift power play, and proceeded to fail to take advantage of it.

Four games. Two points, with six more left on the table thanks to continued poor play at the beginning and end of games. UMass could’ve been in a position to leapfrog Maine with a sweep next weekend. But alas, here we go again, six games to go, dogfighting for eighth in a ten-team league for the fifth year in a row. Wait, wait, don’t tell me – they’re gonna win juuust enough, and catch enough lucky breaks, to sneak in as a “dangerous” #8, where they’ll proceed to lose a pair of heartbreakers at Conte Forum again. Pretty sure that episode is a rerun.

You know what’s more heartbreaking? This team, charmed as they’ve been to catch those breaks and sneak in as eighth, might have been better off missing the playoffs in those years. We’ve been tirelessly optimistic that Cahoon and his staff have been on the brink of figuring it out the last few years. It’s getting so very, very hard to keep that attitude. UMass is a snag with the coaching situation now, almost surely without the funds to make a coaching change thanks to the disgusting amount of money Kevin Morris will be getting from the state in order to protect our football team from having to be run any further into the ground by him. Playoffs or no playoffs, there’s no way Toot’s not coaching his final year of his contract unless he retires.

Look, I’ll say it again: Don Cahoon is, by all accounts, a fine human being, a great hockey mind, and a man the community is lucky to have. But it’s time to face the obvious – any other school in this conference would have already fired him by now. Look around the league at the schools that have made coaching changes this year. Hell, Lowell’s in first place. Lowell. And Providence has taken strides since shedding a longtime anchor as well. Northeastern’s had their struggles under Madigan, but they also lost the most talent on the ice in that group. Changing coaches isn’t some kind of magic bullet that’s guaranteed to improve things, but honestly, at this point, what choice do we have? BU head coach/evil Disney villain Jack Parker, who would certainly know about these sorts of things, was bewildered in interviews before and after the game by UMass’s lack of success this season. He thinks they’re too talented to struggle like this. Too fast, too skilled. If that’s not an indictment of our current coaching staff, I don’t know what is.

Next season we lose a guy who’s become an improbable anchor of the blue line in Marcou, and two of our most talented forwards in Syner and Hobbs. Certainly, production that is replaceable. But the vaunted Blaise MacDonald recruiting line has yet to land anyone who looks as program-changing as a Scott Wilson or a Chad Ruhwedel. Certainly, the nucleus that returns – talented forwards like Guzzo, Sheary and Pereira, a much-improved blue line, and three goalies with some playing time under their belts – shows a lot of promise.

But I’ve been saying that for far too long. Beyond next year, how this program positions itself in its recruitment of both players and Toot’s replacement (assuming next year is, indeed, his last) will go a long, long way to determining how soon this program escapes this perennial Groundhog Day-esque spring purgatory.

– Max

P.S. That’s enough negativity for one post. I know I’ve been slacking on articles, but I’ll have my slightly-more-optimistic basketball catch-up article up this week. Keep in mind that it’s a lot more fun to write these after a win.

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