It’s been an interesting year for us at Fight Mass. We’ve seen plenty of firsts – first time we’ve seen a UMass hat trick in person (twice!), first time we’ve seen UMass beat Xavier in hoops, first time ANYONE has seen a UMass hockey team blank the hated Eagles.
And in a span of 17 seconds last night, we just might have seen the beginning of another first for us: a Hockey East playoff that excludes the Minutemen.
The Mass Attack thoroughly dominated play last night for roughly 58 minutes, so much so that the inbred flag-waver from New Hampshire situated behind the net by the student section looked like he could hardly watch. Even as the Minutemen fell behind 2-0 on a couple of bad breaks, the shots-on-goal, and the play on the ice to accompany it, were both so outrageously one-sided that UMass’s coming back to tie the game at 2 was more an inevitability than anything else.
But the glee of Hanley’s game-tying goal was short-lived. In a span of 17 seconds, UMass committed two egregious defensive mistakes – the first leading to a two-on-one and the second a head-man pass before the aforementioned yokel had even put down his flag – and just like that, the UMass momentum had crumbled faster than the Old Man in the Mountain. (Oh yes. I went there.)
To their credit, the Minutemen dominated almost every second of the game from there on out, getting within one on a pretty Danny Hobbs goal (!), and even negating a questionable late Guzzo penalty with an aggressive penalty kill that drew an equalizing penalty with about 90 seconds to go. UMass was so dominant on the faceoffs that they were able to pull Boyle for the ensuing offensive-zone faceoff without even blinking (I would’ve thought they’d at least make sure they had possession first, given the amount of time left and the fact that they had a power play coming).
In the end, it wasn’t enough. One goal short, thanks to a herculean effort from freshman Casey DeSmith. UMass may well have put ten goals past UNH sieve Matt DiGirolomo tonight, the way they were playing and the way DiGi’s season was going. Instead, DeSmith stepped up big-time against the most prolific UMass attack we’ve seen in a long-ass time, and those crazy 5th/6th place scenarios went by the wayside (although Merrimack unexpectedly clobbering Lowell put 5th place officially out of reach anyway). With Northeastern beating Maine in front of the Matthews Arena rubes, the Minutemen no longer have their playoff destiny in their hands.
UMass trails by two points with three to play. A win tonight and a Northeastern loss (which, by the law of averages, would probably be the most likely course of events) would set up the final weekend to determine everything. UMass plays a home-and-home with Merrimack, while the Huskies get one against a BU team embroiled in a rape scandal and dealing with a potentially distracting investigation. BU is almost a lock for home ice, while Merrimack is still fighting for it.
It’ll be a battle no matter what. The team had the fight and desire in them last night, without question, and I don’t think they’re done just yet. But if they lose tonight, we can look back at that 17-second lapse and wonder what might have been for this season.
Other sports: basketball plays at Dayton at 6, which they should play on the big screens at the Bill while we wait for hockey (but they won’t). Meanwhile, lacrosse is taking on the #11 Buckeyes out at the Ohio State University. As much as hockey needs the win tonight, it’s a pretty big day for those teams as well. This is one of the last games for lax this year against a ranked team, with a soft second half schedule – so they need to win these games now to make a case when selection day comes. (My roommate, lacrosse writer and noted curmudgeon Kyle Devitte, has agreed to write a UMass lax article for us if the Minutemen make the tourney. So, obviously, the stakes have never been higher.) And for basketball, which I promise to eventually get to, there’s three games left: a likely loss (at Temple), a likely win (home against Rhody), and this big ol’ question mark of a road game against a mediocre Dayton team. A win today likely wraps up a first-round bye and keeps UMass’s ever-so-slim at-large hopes alive. Right now, it probably would take winning out until the A-10 championship game and having two of those wins be against Temple – but damnit, anything is possible. Winning would also help their chances at getting into the NIT (and hopefully with some home games in that). More thoughts on that later.