Welcome back, boys and girls.
It is October 2012, and that means we are mere days away from the start of the 2012-2013 UMass hockey season, with basketball tipping off in about a month. The leaves are changing, football’s on the telly (not to mention in our backyard in Gillette Stadium, with UMass showing improvement week-by-week…more on that later), and there’s a chill in the air. The Red Sox are…I mean, the NHL is…uhhh…so yeah, like I said, there’s a chill in the air.
I can’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy up here in southern New Hampshire. I mean, sure, life is grand in the Granite State – paying no taxes, living free and/or dying, trying to swerve through the giant maze of Romney/Ryan campaign signs that has temporarily replaced our road system…it’s quite the life. But down there in western Mass, a new generation of freshmen is about to descend upon the Mullins Center, ready to see what all the fuss is about, why all the upperclassmen have made it the place to be on Friday evenings in Amherst. Despite the struggles of the last few years, students have continued to pack the Bill in respectable numbers, and even though our beloved Toot has taken his floppy CVS notebooks home for good, there is plenty to be excited about with this roster. Ironically, the coaching change seems to have left the team as united as ever, with the players spending the summer on Twitter proclaiming their brotherhood just as fervently as their basketball cotenants. We’ve seen the good, bad, and ugly of coaching changes in Hockey East the past few years – and with any luck, it’ll be UMass’s turn to catch lightning in a bottle. The pundits have once again projected UMass to the middle-to-bottom of the league. You know me. Forever the optimist.
But there really is something special hanging in the air over this offseason. It’s the dull, constant, unmistakable buzz of a basketball season genuinely poised to get this school back on the map again, Victor Cruz and Jon Quick be damned. We’re still a little ways off from opening morning against Harvard next month, but from those of you I’ve talked to, there’s no question that in this season of upheaval and new beginnings for hockey and football, it’s the hoops squad whose immediate ceiling is the highest. Actually, fuck that – they’re a couple early surprise wins in Puerto Rico away from busting through the roof of DuBois Library.
Over the next two weeks, Matt and I will be bringing you up to speed as we get ready for opening night for hockey against UConn. Don’t expect a season preview, that’s what Sir Triangle is here for. Instead, I’m going to go ahead and re-write the How the Rest of Hockey East Really Feels (To Us) section one team at a time, with a general outline of how I think each team is going to perform this season, starting at our least-hated hated rivals and working up to BC (spoiler alert). I’ll be compiling it all together in a permanent form at the end, so enjoy the current “Minutia” section while it’s there. Also to look forward to is my pictoral recap of our fantastic Michigan adventure, complete with an hourlong Fightcast we recorded in the wee hours of the morning on a desolate stretch of I-80 in western PA, as soon as Matt finds a way to get me the audio for final mixing. And I am still toying with some ideas for a new logo, though I may just stick with this throwback.
Welcome to season 4 of Fight Mass, everyone. Strap in, this might be the year things finally get good.
The Enemy is Everywhere (formerly “How The Rest of Hockey East Really Feels (To Us)):
#10: Providence College
The Skinny: The Friars have become somewhat of a thorn in the Minutemen’s side in recent years, a mediocre-at-best foe for whom getting more than one win in a season has become a remarkably difficult task for UMass, despite the latter’s seeming superiority year after year, and frustratingly validating anti-UMass criticism. They actually didn’t suck in general last year, making it slightly easier to deal with. Bottom line is, though, this is an, ahem, “basketball school.” They’ve felt isolated from Hockey East ever since they joined, and are probably the most relieved of anyone to have UConn joining so they’re not alone down there in southern New England.
UMass tends to play them around Halloween, which carries a degree of irony considering the arena is usually packed with interesting or exciting costumes whereas the Friars wear such nonthreatening, boring uniforms. Hell, their uniforms are even lazier than my burn on them in that last sentence.
The Barn: Schneider Arena is one of the weirdest fucking places in the world, seriously. It’s got a slick lobby and parts of it are fairly shiny with recent renovations, but most everything else about it feels like an afterthought, from the two or three rows they call a “student section,” to the spotty audio and lack of videoboards, to the bathrooms which don’t seem like they should even be open to the public. Still, parking is far and away the best in the league, and it’s never hard to find a seat. If yours is blocked by a railing, just stand – nobody’s behind you!
The Fans: Like I said, no student section to speak of. I think they’re all pictured above, actually. The locales are too busy pretending their school is good as basketball or academics to bother showing up for games.
The Locale: Providence is a pretty sweet place, believe it or not, with a hoppin’ club scene, awesome restaurants, and holy fuck is that mall huge. We like Fear the Triangle’s recommended pregame haunt, the Abbey down the street, which has decent beer but a killer burger and sandwich menu. It may be worth exploring other options though.
2012 Prognosis: UMass will probably go 1-1-1 against them like we do every fucking year. Whatever.