Hey kids, remember that one time when UMass won two games in a weekend?
They managed it just once last season. Once. It was in the Ledyard Bank Classic when the Minutemen had their only two-win weekend of Mick’s inaugural campaign, besting Bemidji State and the Dartmouth
Fightin’ Klumps Big Green. It was the first of the team’s two winning streaks, each of two games, the entire season. Seriously.
What about the last time our boys won two games against the same squad in a weekend? You know, I didn’t either. So I hopped in the way-back machine and…well whaddya know. March 2010, the last two games of the season in our own inaugural campaign, up at good ol’ Alfond Arena. How long ago was that? I used a fucking LOST reference as the article title, that’s how long. That saved our season just long enough to push us into one of the seemingly dozens of soul-crushing, closely-fought two-game first-round hyphenated-adjective sweeps at Conte, but damn was it fun at the time.
Let’s keep going. When was the last time the Minutemen swept a two-gamer at home against one team? Yeah…that would be Maine as well. February 20-21 of ’09, a pair of 4-3 wins. Winning is fun! Let’s talk about winning some more.
Okay, no, you get the point. What the UMass hockey team accomplished this weekend may not be the most impressive thing in the history of college sports, or even that happened this weekend in college hockey. But it’s a damn fine start to the home slate for 2013-2014, in a year where any winning this team does can be safely filed under “prove people wrong.” Michigan State stumbled in battered, bruised, and in a few notable cases, barred from competing. But this is still a member of the Big Ten, nay, the B1G!!!!1, damnit! To see what was, frankly, such a dominant display, on homecoming opening weekend in front of two rabid screaming student crowds no less, was exactly what the team needed to do to have any hopes of hooking onto the interest of the fickle student base.
Here’s three keys to the weekend that brought smiles to the faces of the Fight Mass gang.
1) The Power Play
One of UMass’s few strengths last year was their power play percentage, finishing 3rd in the conference in conversion percentage. With four tallies on Saturday, the team looks even better in this regard so far this year, despite losing 7 of the 31 goals in Carzo, Rowe and Allen. Moreover, and again we need to keep in mind that the Minutemen weren’t seeing all of the Spartans’ guns, the execution looks so much crisper than last year, with sustained, long possessions and a greater sense of general organization and attack.
2) The Second Line
We all knew that UMass would start the season knowing that if at any time they needed find offense, the GPS (Gracel-Pereira-Sheary) line would be a solid option. (I’ll go die now, thanks.) The bigger question, particularly with the Vatrano suspension, was who would fill in to pick up the slack, because we all remember what goes wrong with the offense concentrated into one line. Every time the trio of Pigozzi, Power, and Iacobellis took to the ice, good things seemed to be around the corner this weekend. The latter two each have a pair of power play goals already, and their aggressiveness, forechecking, and physicality gives the second line a complete changeup feel to the lightning-quick offensive prowess presented by the top line. Iacobellis looks so poised out there already for a freshman in particular, and if he avoids the beginners-luck style slump we’ve seen others have after impressive debuts (Mike Marcou and Rocco Carzo come to mind), that second line can be the difference-maker. Of course, it makes Vatrano’s absence hurt that much more.
3) The Students
Right from the start, I’ve been an advocate of the new endzone student seating. For one, I’ve always found the previous arrangement somewhat awkward, in a sense that the hardcore students tended to rally around the flag in the front of S and T, then everyone else sort of disbursed across the rest of that half of the rink. No cohesion or unity whatsoever. By focusing the students around the endzone, as seemingly every other school ever has discovered, the noise factor and intimidation for the visiting goalie increases exponentially.
As for the chants, it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, being behind the glass makes it much harder to hear the PA system. You could tell that freshmen comprised much of the section directly behind the goalie, because after UMass’s first home goal of the season they actually tried to sing “Seven Nation Army” (I wish this was a joke) before catching on to everyone else doing the Rock n Roll Part 2 chant. But aside from the occasional drunken homophobic hecklers (what else is new), there was no “fuck _____” which was a pleasant surprise. Moreover, even without Matty G on the mic, the students were rowdy and into the game the whole time, and the goalies’ mothers’ names were both spread well, leading to an awesome “Cheryl’s Tits” chant that was topical (breast cancer awareness month!). Kinks to work out? “Spartans swallow” was pretty lame and unoriginal, and jingling keys in a one-goal game with five minutes left is downright moronic. But overall, I see potential for this to work. B+ effort kiddos, and that’s a big improvement over years past.
All-in-all, if you (like most sane people) disregard the football team’s outing on Saturday, a very successful weekend. Pregame tailgating, sanctioned or otherwise, was a great time for which we thank the University for allowing everyone to partake in, though you have to assume football will resume that tradition next year when they return. And hey, we finally met @UMassLad and he turned out to be a pretty swell guy. Now, who was that last team UMass swept a home series with or a series overall with?
Oh right. The team we play for the next two weekends in a row. More to come on that. Meanwhile, enjoy the World Series. We sure will be.