Great White Hope

Alright, hold off on the “fire Toot” talk. At least for now.

The maddening inconsistency of the 2011-2012 Massachusetts Minutemen ice hockey team has reached a new level of what-the-fuckery. One does not simply march into Agganis and control the ice for almost the entire 60 minutes against that offense, yet UMass did just that – and proceeded to fall asleep, again, at home to Providence the next night. This weekend, UMass swapped days – they got pasted by the Black Bears on Friday, but held Maine off the board almost entirely last night in Orono save for a highlight-reel goal by noted doucheface Joey Diamond falling on his ass on a wraparound. God we hate Joey Diamond. Everyone knows Triangles are better than Diamonds anyway.

For seemingly the millionth year in a row, UMass has decided to fuck with our patience. Last weekend I was back in “can we move on from Toot yet?” mode. Now, as you can probably guess, I’ve migrated back into glass-half-full territory. UMass holds the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East at this point in time, and at least on paper, a very realistic opportunity to hold onto that seed or even move up (more on that in a sec). Call these last couple wins letdowns for BU and Maine all you want, but it’s become abundantly clear that the Minutemen have the ability to win these games – it’s a matter of putting it together on a nightly basis. For all the rumblings about discord between the team and its coach, about lines and playing time, and guys not being mentally tough enough to, oh, not take the first period off every other game, the most important takeaway is that the talent is there. Jack Parker even said so! And when is he ever wrong?

Look, Derek and I witnessed it with our own eyes (more on that later, too). UMass came out on fire in the first, scored on a bad Maine giveaway in the opening minute, and withstood two dangerous Maine power plays. From there, the Minutemen controlled play for the final 40 minutes in much the same way they controlled that BC game, or the pivotal stretches of both BC wins. They have it in them. Why why why why why can’t they do this on a regular basis though?

I kind of liken the Minutemen of the past five years or so to that student who’s smart enough to skirt by but procrastinates like a mofo. (I’m not not saying I’ve been that guy.) The thing is, you can pass exams and ace essays waiting til the last minute to study or write. But what good is it gonna do you if you’re not actually learning? And why put the unnecessary stress on yourself? UMass does the same damn thing. If they could get fired up to play teams like Providence and Northeastern and grab those points early, they could coast into the playoffs and even have a shot at moving up (which shouldn’t be the goal to begin with, but one step at a time here). Instead, yet again, it comes down to the last couple weekends if the Minutemen are gonna give themselves a chance to pull off an upset in the first round. Which, by the way, they’ve proven they could be capable of doing if they can even give themselves that chance.

Technically UMass could finish as high as 5th or as low as 9th. Friday night’s loss officially eliminated the Minutemen from home ice contention, as they now trail Maine by 10 points with 8 points up for grabs. Here’s the standings, and the teams’ remaining schedules:

5. Merrimack 26 pts   @Lowell, vs. Lowell, @UMass, vs. UMass

6. PC 23 pts   vs. BC, @ BC, vs. Lowell, @Lowell

7. UNH  22 pts    @UMass x2, @Maine

8. UMass 18 pts   vs. UNH x2, vs. Merrimack, at Merrimack

9. Northeastern 18 pts   vs. Maine x2, @BU, vs. BU

UMass’s season series with Mack and UNH will be determined in these last two weekends. They’ve lost the breaker to PC and they split 1-1-1 with Northeastern. The second tiebreaker is conference wins, and each team has 7. The third tiebreaker is record vs. the top team in the conference. So UMass holds that if BC is #1, and Northeastern wins it if Lowell is first. UMass is 1-2 against BU and the Huskies lost their only meeting with the Terriers so far. There are three/four-way tie scenarios with 5-8, but they get messy and most of them don’t favor UMass.

Following so far?

So, obviously, the best of all possible timelines is 5th place, which entails UMass sweeping its remaining schedule and Merrimack losing all four. In that scenario, UMass would need PC to finish with less than 3 points in that four-game gauntlet (very possible). If NU and UMass each won out, that first place tiebreaker (Lowell/BC) would come into play again. Also in this scenario, ABC announces it’s pulling Modern Family in exchange for a seven-season run of Community, and Jack Parker and Jerry York are simultaneously trampled by a pack of magical unicorns. Actually, it’s not the most far-fetched thing of all time. Most of it would be in UMass’s hands in sweeping Merrimack, but the other prerequisite (sweeping UNH while Lowell sweeps Mack) could easily happen, and make for a fascinating final weekend.

If UMass sweeps UNH, they’re in good shape. The Minutemen would clinch the tiebreaker, and then all UMass needs is for UNH to lose in Orono on Maine’s senior night, OR take just one point against Merrimack. However, 3 points puts UMass behind the eight-ball still, since it means splitting the season series. UMass then enters the final weekend a point back, and at that point, UNH holds the second tiebreaker of conference wins. (Which sucks, because they’re 0-6 against BU and BC.) Also, please please sweep UNH.

A split and UMass can’t catch the Wildcats unless they sweep Merrimack, again a far less likely scenario. However, Northeastern is still within reach at that point. Maine and BU are both better (and hotter) teams than UNH and Merrimack. UMass and NU play the same number of home/away games (3/1). In this regard, by the way, a win/loss split is much better for UMass than a tie-tie split, thanks to that conference win tiebreaker. Oh, and 0 or 1 points this weekend? That’s gonna put the ball in Northeastern’s court. But it’s important to note that if both UMass AND NU lose all four remaining games, UMass gets in and the Huskies don’t.

Really, it boils down to this: these two games are fucking massive. Lose one or both, and you’re betting on the Minutemen to pull it out of the fire against a team that, while not exactly lighting it up recently, still seems to have their number (not to mention a trip to the Lawler house of horrors). Win both, and both UNH and NU have to step it up against their superior opponents in order to keep UMass out of the playoffs.

It doesn’t need to be pretty. Just get there.

– Max

Also…

Derek and I checked the final Hockey East venue off our checklist with our long-awaited visit to Alfond. Of course, in a couple years we’ll have one or two new destinations tacked on as Notre Dame and possibly Mystery Team X (RPI?) enter the Hockey East ranks, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ve finally got enough data to put together a Fight Mass guide to the rinks in our fine conference, and you can look forward to that shortly. Spoilers – Alfond’s gonna rank pretty high on my list. What a fun place.

I’ll get to basketball soon, I swear. Despite the La Salle letdown, Tuesday’s a huge game against Xavier, you should all go, blah blah blah. Oh, and lacrosse is 2-0, and now that I live with someone who knows a little something about the game, I might actually provide some insight this year. Maybe.

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