So a lot has happened in both of our lives since the last time you heard from the intrepid Fight Mass duo on a consistent basis. One of us moved to Florida. The other (me) moved back to Massachusetts, albeit actually not any closer to Amherst. We’ve both been tied up with the wonderful things that employment and significant others bring. It’s a beautiful thing, life.
Meanwhile, UMass has done a few businesses. In football, the New Mark Whipple Era has brought hope to the masses, and with hope, as we’ve discussed time and time again in this space, means expectations to be crashed expertly to pieces. Actually, it’s weird – I started this blog what feels like 15 years ago (it’s actually six, which, still, jeez we’re old now) as a hockey blog, and since graduating, hockey’s the only team that hasn’t produced massive disappointment. Mind you, it’s because they haven’t produced anything where expectations are warranted, but still. Football had a number of wins lined up last year and, in a series of sick circus acts, invented new and creative ways to lose to directional Midwestern nobodies and listless Power 5 programs. Cursing and sadness, dear readers. Still, there was at least hope. This year, with Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe back, we’ve come out gangbusters and are a lock for the MAC Championship Game. Haha, but actually, we’re 1-4, given up 62 points twice (!!) and, well, the Temple game. It’s at the point where losing by 10 on the road to us for FI goddamn U is, as their coach put it, an “embarrassing loss.” Sure, there’s plenty of season left to play, but we’re back to wondering whether having loved and lost is better than the Molnar years. (It definitely is, keep the faith, thousand points of light, etc.)
And then basketball! Oh, what fun basketball briefly was there. We went down to Raleigh with our buddy Josh and had just a massive amount of fun getting stomped by Tennessee in the first trip to the dance since the 90s. Last year was meant as a renaissance of sorts, buoyed by the great honor of having the first openly-gay player in college hoops, and a good one to boot! And, well, I don’t have to tell you how that all ended. Now we’re seeing projections of another year without a postseason tourney appearance, no, not even the lowly NIT. Hope lingers on the horizon, with DK and the Champions Center pulling in four (hopefully five? Bruce? Bruce?!!!) top-notch prospects, and the ever-present mystery of whether the new names on this roster will Chaz them into the Chazmosphere once more. No matter how bright the future, this season just has that “bridge year” vibe as we approach it. I really, really hope I’m wrong.
So it comes back, as it always does, to the Mullins Center ice. It’s saddened us to see the attendance dwindle to the meager numbers Papa Triangle always told us old yarns of. It’s depressing to think that, at one time, we were worried about the huge swaths of students showing up not chanting anything creative, and leaving at 2nd intermission, when now they hardly come at all. We’ve seen this team lose to AIC and UConn, and give up goals in a way that we once thought we’d seen the worst of ever that one night in North Andover. Last year, even with NHL-quality talent in Vatrano and Montour, and a solid cast offensively, the lack of goaltending, discipline, and focus fueled a new level of disappointment. They weren’t supposed to be good, but how can they be this bad?
We enter 2015 with a new hope. A new AD, Ryan B.A.M.F.ord (sorry), has come in with a new energy and commitment to the hockey team that I think we all know his predecessor sorely lacked. The pressure on Mick is unspoken, but there is an undeniable air of change surrounding the whole athletic program. Change, in a commitment to getting UConn and BC on the schedule for multiple sports, as they should be every year. Change, in creative scheduling in general that seems designed with the goal of getting into a conference, and not just the Sun Belt, but somewhere we belong. Change in getting the sports teams into a spot where they’re keeping up with the schools #75 (with a bullet) national college ranking. And yes, change, in the sense that if things don’t shape up reaaaal quick, a real coaching search is a-comin’.
Having said that, UMass hockey is 2-0 after sweeping Colorado College on the road. Remember the last time they were 2-0 to start a season? Here’s a hint: this blog didn’t even exist at the time. That would be their 4-0 opening to the 09-10 season, which, in retrospect, was a hell of a lot more fun than anything the program has done since, no matter how up-and-down and frustrating that year was. Mind you, UMass has swept bad teams on the road even during the Mick Malaise. Remember those two games at Colgate last year that looked like they were played in some sort of awful M.C. Escher hockey rink due to the tilted home camera? That year didn’t really end too great.
Still, you have to like what you hear about this team so far. While we didn’t actually watch the overpriced stream, the word on the street is Austin Plevy is already making a name for himself as perhaps the Vatrano heir apparent (please don’t leave after the first season!). It’s a joke and a sham and just inane bullshit that he only tied some dick named Max for the Hockey East freshman of the week award. Anyway. Henry Dill being flat-out competent is a relief after last year, when all three goalies were just atrocious on most nights. And freshman Nic Renyard was cool and collected in game two, with a bevy of clutch third-period saves as UMass mounted a comeback reminiscent of, well, every single team against UMass the last five years or so. If one of them can just be fine in net, that’s all we ask for after last year. Let’s not forget the rumblings that Wakaluk has made huge strides, too.
So, as “the funeral is about to begin” rumbles over the Mullins PA and the team opens its home season, the ninth season I’ve spent as a fan of this forever-underachieving program, we once again keep the fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, this would be the year they come out of nowhere and shock the Hockey East world. Literally every other team in the conference has done it since Jon Quick left us eight years ago. (I’m counting UConn from last year just being mediocre as “shocking the Hockey East world” for the sake of this argument.) If we lose 8-2 to Sacred Heart and/or things go back to shit, that “funeral” is going to be for the Mick era, a nice guy hired to the wrong program at the wrong time and given nowhere near the resources needed to make it somehow work.
Either way, it’s been too long. I can’t promise you’re going to get Fear the Triangle-level posts. I can’t promise you’ll get the video podcasts Matt and I promised, then quickly abandoned last year. (You probably won’t.) I can’t promise this won’t devolve into a platform for me to wax poetic about how good Tree House Brewing is. I mean, I can’t even promise I’ll post again for the rest of the year. This shit’s hard to keep up with. Whatever.
Here come the Minutemen, again. Try as I might, and I’ve threatened many times (Matt can attest to me during the A-10 game against George Washington), I can’t turn my back on my alma mater and this program for long. Someday, this will be worth something. When will that be? Let’s find out.