Oh, hey, talking about hockey when it’s 95 degrees out? Sounds about right.
The Don “Toot” Cahoon era has come to an abrupt end this week, with the long-time mayor of Cahoonaville apparently dissatisfied with the lack of dedication the hockey program is getting from the athletic department at UMass. Rumor has it, the man was not enamored of the fact that the new radio deal for UMass includes basketball and football, but not hockey, even though the latter is easily the most popular of the three with the student body, plays in the most elite conference in its sport, and is far and away the most likely of the three to win a national championship anytime soon thanks to the favorable tournament format should they ever actually make it back into said tournament. Really, it’s not hard to say where the man could be a bit disgruntled.
In his 12-year tenure at UMass, Toot managed a program-record 166 victories. He took a program out of perennial last-place status and brought it to relative glory twice, in 2004 and 2007, the latter of which marked the Minutemen’s first ever trip to the big dance, and the team has made the conference tournament for ten years running now. He coached a future Conn Smythe winner and a number of other NHLers in his tenure. He worked tirelessly to better the community around him.
Having said all that…he also lost 225 games, plus 42 ties. He has had a number of teams with loads of talent that have made the aforementioned HEA tournament less for their own merits and more because of awfuller teams like Vermont, Blaise-era Lowell, and pre-Dennehy Merrimack. He frequently and blatantly got outcoached by his peers in the second halves of seasons, and his boys have now lost a remarkable six consecutive Hockey East Tournament games at Conte Forum.
Truly, it is bittersweet to see a new era of UMass hockey come our way. Some have been vocal about their desires to oust Cahoon, citing that second paragraph. Others point to the great things he has done in the paragraph above it. In the end, you have to face the facts: he’s an awesome guy, and he’s had his success, but the program has been treading its wheels for nearly five years since Jon Quick and co. came a game shy of the Frozen Four, despite the likes of James Marcou, Casey Wellman, T.J. Syner and Mike Pereira coming through the door. Some would say he deserves better. I say that given the fates of his colleagues in the bottom half of the conference the past few years, most of whom have similar track records and even shorter periods of losing hockey, he’s been pretty fortunate to keep his job this long. Obviously, what he contributes to the community off the ice has to have been a factor in his staying around, and he deserves all the credit in the world for that. In a time when a certain other high-profile team in the state is under fierce scrutiny for the questionable character of its players, it’s refreshing that Cahoon has produced so many quality graduates from this program. Save for maybe the Boehm situation, the hockey team’s been about as well-behaved as you can expect one to be in Toot’s tenure, and have represented the maroon-and-white well. The players I’ve briefly interacted with are all polite, friendly, and respectful, and the scholarly achievements of guys like Martin Nolet speak for themselves.
Where do we go from here? Joe Meloni and, of course, Fear the Triangle have already got the inside scoop on who could replace Toot. If Dennehy is definitely a no-go (hey, a man can dream, right?), Darren Yopyk sounds like the guy I’d like to see the torch (or, in this case, CVS floppy notebook) passed along to. Current Wild scout, former UMass grad assistant…not exactly Derek Kellogg, but he has ties to the squad already and sounds like he fits that “up and coming assistant coach” mold, having learned under the tutelage of Mark Dennehy. Plus, Yopykstan seems as suitable as anything as a replacement for Cahoonaville. Don’t get the wrong idea – Norm Bazin isn’t walking through the door and turning a bottom-3 team into a tournament contender overnight. But if the guys who are still here stick around (we’ll wait and see what the fallout is, but I’m holding out hope that only the incoming recruits are affected and we don’t have any or many current defectors), there’s a solid enough core to build around that the right guy can really do something with in the next 2 years.
I’ll agree with Toot and Senor Triangle on this, though – that Toot felt compelled to leave early is a telling sign of just how piss-poor the school’s support of this program is. The attendance remains strong given the team’s lack of on-ice success the past few years (compare to basketball, which took nearly a full season of being super-fun to watch before the masses started to flock back at the end). Yes, this is a big year for the football team moving up and all, but considering the school won’t be able to get its act together in time to get billboards up for the July 4th beach exodus, I’m not sure I’m even buying that. I realize the budget is tight, but hockey deserves better – the fans deserve better, the players deserve better, the coaches deserve better.
We’ll continue to follow FTT and Meloni for the latest updates as UMass searches for its next head coach…and keep our fingers crossed that basketball’s renaissance and all the road game payouts football has scheduled will have a trickle-down effect. But I’ll settle for being able to hear the game on the radio first.