Category: Football

The Prospectus: UMass @ Wisconsin

Hey guys! UMass sports is back! and it’s on TV today! Happy? Cool, you have most likely reached your emotional peak for the day, baring any midwest miracles or live births during the game. I’ll keep this post as short as possible because a) we are about 90 minutes from kickoff as I type this and b) writing an in depth preview for a game that has a 45 point spread is an abject waste of time unless you are getting paid for such preview. I’ll just leave it at this. Wisconsin is best off joining the AAC, because as it currently stands Wisconsin is a tier 2 Big Ten team. Yeah, they are swell and they win and they have a cool badger but they will never be Michigan or Ohio State or even Penn State for fucks sake. They are Kansas State, and Kansas State lost last night, and because Kansas State lost last night and Wisconsin is Kansas state WE CAN FUCKING DO THIS YOU GUYS. Ok that was fun, yeah we’re not going to do this. Drink some good beer and enjoy the slaughter guys.

Best Case Scenario

UMass scares early, is still in the game in the 4th quarter. This post gets more views than it deserves. Randall Jette does a barrel roll fumble-interception-twopoint-conversion for a touchdown that is number one on SportsCenter, beginning the yearly UMass tradition of having a single good play in a murder and promoting the shit out of it.

Worst Case Scenario

This. UMass becomes national punchline. Bucky the Badger sleeps with my girlfriend. Rob Blanchflower injures himself further eating cheese. I say something stupid and offensive, and am uninvited from the tailgate next week. Max Page hits Charley Molnar with a chair.

Guys, 41 days until hockey.

-Matt

Michigan FightCast, or “What I Did on My Summer Vacation”

Sooooooo, a little while back, Matt and I embarked on an epic voyage to the glorious land of Michigan for a UMass football game. It’s a painfully slow and sad week, between a) our football team’s predictable-yet-still-disappointing-somehow winless parade of suck, b) the Fog Game which is now officially a thing, and c) the fact that it’s not basketball yet. I’ve been busy with work  I mean lazy nope, saving this for a time like this, yeah, that’s the one! Anyway, rather than write about it using words and phrases, I chose to have us record an hour-long FightCast on the way home.

Please be warned: we recorded this at like 1 am in the middle of western Pennsylvania, running on very little sleep, burnt out, and everything else I can think of excuse our incredibly disjointed storytelling and laughing at our own jokes. There’s also a metric fuckton of profanity and inside jokes. I promise there’s some genuine insight on what a “hey let’s just fucking drive to Michigan and basically wing it” roadtrip is like. I wish we’d taken more pictures and stuff – I’ll try to get some of the pictures up on the Fight Mass Facebook page (which, incidentally, you should “like” immediately if not sooner). Last disclaimer: when I say an hour long, I mean literally. It’s 53 MB. You should still be able to download it if you right-click and save, but just clear some space on your iPod (delete some porn if you have to). Feedback is appreciated, although yes, we know parts of it suck. I present to you, in its full unadulterated form:

FIGHTCAST EPISODE 2

In case you’re wondering, in honor of us seeing them last week in Providence, the music is from the band Say Anything. The intro is “I Am a Transylvanian” and the outro is “Spidersong,” two spectacular songs that they neglected to play during the show.

I’ll try to sneak in the next edition of the Hockey East hated list before the weekend, where I’ll be taking in games for the first time this season (for real!) and the original Fight Mass trio will be reunited at homecoming. Here’s hoping our presence helps UMass bounce back. (If we don’t, certainly BU’s awful goaltending might.)

– Max

Day One

Ok, before all you guys get on my case, UMass played in the BCS National Championship in 2016 (promptly getting pwnd by Georgia, but I digress) and just orchestrated a move into the Big East Conference for 2017, so fuck you, dude calling me lazy for not writing on this poorly formatted blog more often.

Its been a strange few months. Despite having the best secondary baseball team ever (hashtag nattitude), it was a long boring summer of Red sox drama, hockey changes that highlighted the immense lack of respect our alma mater has for our most favoritest sport, and occasional Springfield robbery/murder fantasies due to choosing a career dealing with kids who stab at your soul while having low self esteem being the Kevin Morris of career choices. However, here we are in fall again, with the 3 major college sports set to start and give us constant speculative opportunities to distract us from the fact that we are on a rock hurdling through space and our lives and everything we do is ultimately meaningless. But seriously folks, what a swell as hell time of year.

So tonight we dine in hell, Our beloved Minutemen football rag tag group of farmers take on a university in a place that actually runs Yankees themed “I’m drinking Dunkins” ads. Tonight we get to take on the thing most realistic UMies aspire to be, a national name that has nice facilities and can at least compete on a national level. Game prognosis? Not super fucking positive. Its fun that on a year where I have zero faith in this team (as a cynical hyper realist I see that programs making a jump up to the big time deal with what the kids are calling “rape you can’t get pregnant from”) I will be traveling to more games than any other year. (Yes, I guess this is me announcing to our blogging audience that me and Max will be making the trip to the great state of Michigan in a few weeks.) I fully expect to see this team lose some ugly games this year, and be perpetually ignored so we can all have a patented UMasshoops “the globe hates us and is a joke conspiracy ALIENS” circlejerk. But just like your pal Matt Civello in NCAA Football 13, the further forward you get away from this moment, the more successful you will be. Just by making the jump, things will be getting better. Every single recruiting class to come in will be better in some way (especially in the early years). So, UMass brethren, the next few years for Football will suck but, fuck it, we get to drink and hear Brad Nessler name shitty facts about our University in NCAA 13 and we get to troll idiot midwesterners and we get to experience IT! Whatever the fuck that is. We worked hard to get here and god damn it, we deserve to enjoy every second of it. I’ll see you guys in a few hours and be having the time of my life. Score not contingent on anything.

Talk to you guys later,

-Matt

FightCast Episode I: The Maine

Oh, yeah, you read that right. FightCast. A portmanteau of Fi…guys? Guys? Where’d you go? Come back!

Yeah, welcome to the digital era, where the future will be televised. On the radio. On the, err, Internet. On the Maine. I should stop talking now. Just listen. Disclaimers:

– We recorded this last Friday right after the CCSU game, so the material is slightly dated. But hey, I managed to get it posted before the next UMass game, so there’s that. Besides, none of you were gonna listen to it at all during New Year’s anyway

– It’s an hour long. Load it on your iPod and drive somewhere while listening to it.

– Language. Par for the course here, but uhh yeah, not safe for work.

– Inside jokes. There are some. Sorry.

– There are a few rants, including Matt about UMassHoops, and both of us about politics. It’s got some rough edges. Deal with it.

Anyway, it’s all kinds of fun, so without further ado:

THE FIGHTCAST EPISODE 1

 

So also, there’s hockey tomorrow, not that anyone cares because Frozen Fenway is coming up and Providence, ho hum, been there done that. However, our intrepid Jarod Hendrickson, who by the way is the only person writing Contributor’s Corner articles these days hint hint someone write for ussssss! anyway, here’s another look back at the Florida games and ahead to a rematch with the Friars. The Fight Mass boys won’t be there, but Jarod’s planning on making the trip down. Take it away, J:

Contributor’s Corner: “Providence/The Town Preview”

UMass looks to turn the page to 2012 with a strong start to the second half of the season. The Minutemen put in a solid all around game and upset #13 Cornell at the Florida College Classic behind a pair of goals from sophomore Conor Sheary. They then fell 5-2 to Maine in the championship game the following night, going 0-5 with the man advantage. UMass now finds themselves at (6-8-4) (2-6-3 HEA), good for 9th place in the standings.

Moving on from there…Saturday…Jan 7th…Fenway Park. A day we’ve been all looking forward to for a very, very long time that hasn’t come soon enough. All that stands between our beloved team and that epic experience is a date with Providence on Thursday. As usual, these two points on the line are huge for the Mass Attack, who currently find themselves on the outside looking in at a playoff spot. The good news is only 3 points separate 5th place Providence (8-8-1)(6-4-0 HEA) and us, a 4 point weekend would go a long way into propelling UMass back up in the standings. The Friars have surprised a lot of people this season, playing solid all year and sweeping a then #1, unbeaten Merrimack last month. But hey, we beat #1 BC, so that’s a wash. Providence has started the new year with a 5-2 loss to Brown. PC is led by freshmen Ross Mauermann (6 G/8 A) and junior Tim Schaller (9 G/4 A). Alex Beaudry (7-7-1, 2.93 GAA, .898 save%) should be in net. This game is no pushover like the past (like we won those anyways..) and UMass can’t overlook this game while having their sights set on Frozen Fenway. I’m looking forward to be making my first trip to PC and seeing the game in person, and they better not disappoint. This game offers a great tune up for Saturday’s tilt, and hopefully UMass can gain some momentum going into Fenway.

And then there’s the biggie. The granddaddy of them all (sorry Rose Bowl)…Frozen Fenway. After a two-year hiatus, college hockey is back at the cathedral of Boston, starting with your UMass Minutemen vs. Vermont at 4pm followed by UNH (sucks) vs. Maine at 7pm. The games will also be televised on NESN as part of their “hockey is really fucking awesome day in New England”. What an amazing experience this will be for all fans (yes even UNH) involved, especially those making their first ever trip to Fenway, including yours truly. The logo and signs for these games should read “Frozen” Fenway. Thanks to global warming, this ass backwards winter season will continue through the weekend. The flask in my back pocket will be cooler than the temperature for the game. The forecast for Saturday calls for a high of 48 degrees with sun and 10% chance of rain. So the fans will be drunk AND comfortable. The ice…meh at best. If you thought you’ve seen shitty ice at the Mullins, we’re all in for a treat this weekend. Expect slow, sloppy play, forcing teams to go to a “back to basics” game plan. Short, crisp passes will be key, and UMass’s speed will be hampered by the conditions. There’s nothing we can do about the weather, however, it is what it is and both teams will have to deal with it. At least it’s not supposed to rain (knocks wood). Both goaltenders will have to adjust to the changing light and the unique sightlines Fenway presents. Which leads to the question of who will occupy the net for UMass. It’s been a guessing game all season, but I see Teglia (0-4-1, 3.30 GAA, .891 save%) getting the start Thursday and Boyle (5-3-3, 2.99 GAA, .898 save%) in net at Fenway, although it’s definitely possible for Boyle (who’s emerging as our #1 goalie) to pick up both starts. As for Vermont (4-13-1)(1-9-1 HEA), they’re awful. Like a “only have 3 points in Hockey East and are in 10th place” level of shitty. Despite this, UMass dropped a 2-1 decision up in Burlington last November, getting only 19 shots on goal and giving Vermont their first and only win in Hockey East so far. The leading scorer for the Catamounts is Sebastian Stalberg (7G/12A) and their backstop is Rob Madore (3-10-1, 3.96 GAA .865 save%). So yeah, it’s a game the Minutemen can easily win, yet as they’ve proven with bottom tier Hockey East teams in the past, can also inexplicably lose.

The Minutemen’s keys to victory need to be simple for Fenway. Their penalty kill is third worst in the nation, so it is crucial they stay out of the box. Weather conditions will play a factor, so smart hockey and a full 60 minute effort should put UMass in a good spot when the clock hits :00. This is going to be an unreal experience, so take it all in and enjoy this awesome privilege we’ve been given. On this day, UMass can have nice things, and hopefully they can deliver a win to cap off a great day of hockey.

————–

So there you have it. I’ll try to write something after Thursday’s action on the ice (as well as basketball’s A-10 opener against Fordham), but if not, you probably won’t be hearing from us until Saturday. See you all at Fenway!

-Max

Merry Happy!

Happy non-denominational winter holiday to all of you loyal Fight Mass readers. The hockey season is about to resume with what amounts to an exhibition down in Florida against Cornell and then a rematch with one of UMass’s foes from the 2006-07 NCAA Tournament, Clarkson (who surrendered the first-ever Minutemen tourney win) and Maine (who, after losing four games in two weekends to UMass, got its ace goalie back and stopped UMass from making the Frozen Four). Basketball is riding another win streak and has a rematch with Central Connecticut State, they of the inexplicable blowout road loss last season, coming up on Thursday. Here’s a few of the things we are excited about here at FM, and which things give us the old “bah, humbug” feeling.

A few of our favorite things:

Hockey, as we established when last we left you, is coming off of a pretty impressive showing, a win and a tie against two Ivy League teams that have been performing reasonably well this season. Of course, even that fucking zoo movie probably looks pretty entertaining compared to the disaster of the previous three games for UMass, but it was good to see signs of life. Anything we say in terms of a full midseason recap is going to pale in comparison to the absolutely wonderful mid-season recap posted by Awesome Triangle Dude, but needless to say, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the play of guys like Guzzo and Sheary, and the recent improvements of Yevenko and Boyle. And hell, Fredo Marcou hasn’t been a disaster this year, though he still provides a bit too much high blood pressure in some defensive situations disproportionate to the amount of offense he supposedly generates. But hey, if you told us a few months ago that he was gonna put up 8 points and a +1 at the break after what happened last year, and we’d launch a federal investigation into what you’re smoking. And I even gave him the coveted “player I’m betting will have a breakout season” tag that I gave to Chase Langeraap last year with positive results.

– Basketball. As with last year, the awesome start has tapered off somewhat. At first glance, this year might look a lot like last year in the first 10-15 games. Last year they rushed to a quick start against mediocre teams, many of which experienced some less-than-advantageous travel conditions. This year they played some bad teams playing on more reasonable rest, and then embarked on a rough stretch of three games in three games (two against some pretty good competition in FSU and CoC, both losses), followed by travel home for a game, travel back to play a decent Miami team in a close loss, back home, and back down to ECU again for a nailbiter of a win against a team they should paste. Since that stretch (which is unlike anything they had to deal with last year), they’ve seemed to recover nicely, and are steadily adapting to not having Sampson Carter out there. I’ll say this – Esho and Lalanne are working their way into more and more playing game every night they’re out there. After a few lackluster showings, grinding out a win against a good Davidson team should boost everyone’s confidence going forward. Just gotta avoid the old-fashioned let-down.

– Charley Fucking Molnar. Oh, so THAT’s what a head coach looks like. I forgot after Brown left. Have you seen the press conference? Go to UMassAthletics and watch it. No, fuck you, porn or CoD can wait, do it now. I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week and I get why the big-wigs are so enamored of this guy now. Holy shit can this guy orate. I’m actually reminded a bit of Obama when he was campaigning. And while Obama’s approval ratings are sort of Morris-esque right about now, something tells me that running a football team might be a little less difficult than being, oh, I dunno, the leader of the free world.

Let’s pump the brakes for juuust a second and point out that he’s never been a head coach at any level before. And the guy he’s learning from right now, Brian Kelly, isn’t exactly a Calipari-level mentor like Cal was to DK. But Molnar does have a lot of experience in the conference UMass is going into, having worked at all three directional Michigans. He’s already brought in a big recruit in local kid AJ Doyle, a recruit I’m so excited about that I don’t mind that a) he went to CM, and b) that I just linked to the Herald. And believe me, both of those things would normally bother me.

Most importantly, Molnar sounds like he has exactly the right mindset for this job. Unlike Morris, who came in with “hey, let’s build a team that might occasionally be competitive in the CAA” as his mentality, Molnar, with admittedly-higher stakes and with way more resources at his disposal, knows what we really want. With all due respect to the Akrons and Bowling Greens of the world, this move, to be truly successful, is about the future, about using the MAC as a stepping stone to greater things for the entire athletics program. In the greatest of all possible timelines, that future is probably at least 6-8 years down the road, when UMass plays in the NBC Presents “Community: The Movie” Bowl on the network that inherits the void left behind when FOX goes out of business. Meanwhile, back in real life, we’re looking at more like a decade-plus, and Molnar seems to understand that. It’s not gonna happen overnight, especially having to build an FBS roster from slightly-below-scratch. But the good thing about next year, honestly, is that the team’s not eligible for bowls yet. They have a year to assess just how much catching-up this program needs to get into position, and they have a couple of holdover QBs that Doyle can understudy. I hope the fans have the patience to stick it out if the going is tough early, although I think the big edge Molnar has over Kellogg here is that, while DK was taking over a team that was on the brink of capturing the fans’ excitement with Ford’s NIT run, Molnar is taking over for a lame duck who certainly coached like a lame duck for his entire tenure. We’d be crazy to expect results right away – what we’ll be looking for is progress. I got a good feeling about this one.

– The new banner. Sweet and simple. Figured it was time to change it up. Lemme know what you think.

– Laughing at other peoples’ expense. Look, rape is never okay, but while we have tons of sympathy for Trivino’s RA, we will shed not a single tear for the dismantling of that Terriers team over the past couple weeks, with both Coyle and Trivino leaving the squad. Merrimack’s return to earth? Yeah, #1 might have been a bit of a stretch – hopefully we’re seeing the start of some sort of Dennehy Downfall in the same vein as the infamous Cahoon Swoon. And on the hardwood? Nobody’s feeling bad for Xavier for losing games due to suspensions stemming from that trainwreck of a brawl in Cincy. Getting the heartiest laughs, though, are your 1-11 Rhode Island Rams, who have a 12-point home win against Hofstra (RPI #270) to their credit. Yikes. The Jim Baron era might be dwindling down to its ugly, ugly face- I mean, conclusion. The only downside is the RPI hit our conference is taking, but it’s worth it to see those yokels suffer. Fight Mass mid-week Rhody Road Trip this year? Probably not…but it would be fun.

– Fenway Park. Less than 2 weeks. Joy. 😀

Bah, humbug:

– You know what? I’m still feeling jolly, so I’ll keep the negativity brief. But let’s be honest: ninth place in Hockey East this year, in what is really kind of a down year for the conference, isn’t gonna cut it. Yeah, the boys are keeping a lot of these games close, and there’s some shoulda-couldas in there (opening night, the BU series, etc.) but the results are what matter, and this year we were expecting a bit more growth. There’s a lot of season ahead, and plenty of games against the teams immediately within striking range in the standings, so no need to panic just yet, but if they drop the first two to PC and – gasp – the Fenway game vs. UVM, then it may be worrying time. Gotta win at least one of these…two puts them right back in the thick of things. Remember, we still have ‘Mack three times…it’s not getting any easier.

– Student turnout at hoops. It’s, eh, still on the lacking side. The good news is that the home schedule is actually pretty solid. Xavier, St. Louis, St. Joe’s, and Charlotte are all teams that are at the very least in the “receiving votes” conversation. URI at home for senior day is always a good proposition. And La Salle and St. Bona’s aren’t awful this year. Really, the only sucky scheduling quirk this year is that the Davidson game was during intersession. The next two are not big draws, but the students are out of town anyway. If the team can actually keep the wins coming, word of mouth has to eventually spread. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be helping, dear readers. Talk up UMass hoops. Those of you who don’t really care for hoops? At least you can hold your damn tongues when they show the promos at the Bill instead of groaning about how much the team sucks. I groan when they advertise the women’s game not because they’re women, but because the team actually is legitimately terrible and has been for a long time. Men’s hoops has a chance to actually make something of this season. If you’re not gonna support them, stay out of the way.

To be honest, I think it’s gonna take cracking the top 25 for the student interest to be revitalized. I’d love to be proven wrong this year. At least we have the hard-working efforts of the Mullins Militia out there. Keep up the good work, boys…it’s at least looking better than the last few years. Progress!

– Our posting. Hopefully now that Matt has a new wireless keyboard thinger for his iPad, he’ll be contributing to more than just the Twitter. And Walsh? Where’d you go bro?

Honestly, having a full-time job makes it pretty damn hard to keep up with this thing. I dunno how the Triangular one does it, but our hats are off to him.

 

Alright, a couple days and we’ll be back to chat about the Florida tournament and the CCSU game. Enjoy the last few days of 2011 and try not to drink too much eggnog. And remember, if years were Christmas then this December would be the December of our December.

– Max

Into the Crevasse

We’ve seen a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly since we last left you, our intrepid readers. The happenings for UMass’s big three programs (hockey, Chazketball, and football) have been a-happening. Reality bites, I’m afraid, as Matt and I have been hampered in our ability to keep the blog up-to-date by our full-time jobs, and Walsh continues to search for one for himself. So be a little understanding if free time, much like UMass power play goals, UNH fan teeth, or attractive Lowell residents, is at a premium.

That said, let’s check in and see how things are going for each of those teams.

Hockey:

Last night’s game against Yale was immensely encouraging in a lot of ways. UMass fought through a tough start (three penalties in the opening minutes) and put together a strong all-around effort for the rest of the game in a 3-1 win that wasn’t really even that close. It shows the team building off of its 4-4 tie with the Crimson of Hahhvahd, a game that itself served as a return to “actually trying” after the team pulled a Seguin and slept through its previous three.

Let’s take a moment here to address something mighty troubling. I got in some hot water a few games ago for taking some cheap shots at a few ditzy puck sl…err, scantily-clad female fans who came to cheer on their beloved Northeaste-wait, which one do we go to again? Where’s Kelly? But the Harvard game brought something much more harmful for UMass’s reputation than the most stereotypical Swestiest Swesties ever to set foot in the Bill. I’m talking, of course, about the dumb fucks who took it upon themselves to toss their chuck-a-pucks onto the ice during the game.

I feel like actions of this degree of stupid warrant a sternly-worded “fuck you” to the offending party (or parties…we’ll never know if it was the same kid, since from my vantage point, Mullins security did absolutely nothing to try and track the kid down, and it took until after the second offense for Goldstein to inform the audience that you’re, you know, not allowed to do that). Let’s forget for a moment that the stoppage of play that resulted from the second puck-chucking led to a UMass penalty that led to a game-tying Harvard goal, though there was, graciously, no actual penalty for the incident. Why the fuck would you do such a thing? How fucked up do you have to get before (okay, let’s be honest – during) the game to think this is a good idea? I’ve been to UMass games in some pretty intoxicated states. Lest you forget, I invented a version of the Jaegerbomb that has a higher alcohol percentage. But I know my limits, and I know the fine line between “rather” drunk and “fuck the consequences of all actions I might take” drunk. I might be giving the kid(s) the benefit of the doubt here, but I would hope that it would take a high blood alcohol level to make such a dumb fucking decision.

But what really defecated on my (and all reasonable UMass fans’) parade was that this somehow managed to happen twice. Whether it was the same kid or not, the fact that there was no public shunning of the offending party – in fact, quite a bit of appeased laughter – is a painful reminder that this student section has a ways to go before it escapes its own reputation. I appreciate the efforts being made by those in Section S, which I will always consider the “true” student section regardless of how asinine it is that they sit by the goal that UMass only shoots on once and with a limited view of the corner on the other side of the UMass bench. For the first time since my freshman year, there are kids up here who are actually trying to lead this diverse, ragtag group of variously-dressed, variously-cheering, variously-informed hockey fans and/or casual observers and/or Puffton pregamers. I feel like this is going to be a losing proposition until the team achieves some actual success and generates a following for more than just the spectacle. Just look at UVM. They had a few good runs, sent St. Louis and Timmah to the NHL, and now they have a great student section for a team that’s even more god-awful this year than UMass, their last meeting notwithstanding.

I think I speak for the other two (even if they won’t admit it) that the efforts of the Militia and a few rows of kids who “get it” are a step in the right direction, but for the Bill to return to the levels of intimidation unmatched since the four-game sweep of Maine in ’06, it’s gonna take some stepping-up, a lot more creativity (like the “Do my homework” chant! The guy who started it is awesome) and a lot less “Fuck you Harvards.” And an “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLE” for the fuckhead who throws the pucks on the ice, as he gets dragged out, barely able to stand, after getting pointed out by the rest of his row. That’s what things are like at the other nine schools in Hockey East, guys. Even Lowell and even fucking Merrimack. (Okay, maybe not Providence, but they would if anyone showed up to games.) It’s not weird, it’s not tattling – it’s called being a fan and not wanting your team to get a fucking penalty and/or injury because of some douche in the stands. And that, folks, is your sternly-worded “fuck you.” Thanks for coming and let us never have to speak of this again. (I’m choosing to act as though the wave started by the student section never happened, since this bullshit also actually happened at a Bruins game the other night.)

Ahem. So yeah, the Yale game went well. Hope they can carry the positive momentum into the second half now. I’m putting the Kubbie Kounter on hold, by the way. In fact, maybe we’ll just do it for the second half. I feel like Guzzo would be running away with it by now though, as he and Gracel might be the only Minutemen who showed up for those three straight losses. Just sayin’.

Basketball

So here’s where we discuss the titular 30 Rock reference. The Minutemen descended into the crevasse, alright. Tuesday’s game at East Carolina might be the ugliest display of bazkettaball that I’ve ever had to witness, right down to the horrific webstream with ECU’s overly excitable announcers and PA guy blasting on echo over an uber-low resolution video that constantly flashed things like “MAKE SOME NOISE” and “DEFENSE.” (You get what you pay for, unless it’s UMass All Access video, wakka wakka wakka!) UMass built a massive first-half lead almost effortlessly, then actually stopped giving effort for a disturbingly long period of time as ECU fought back valiantly before finally shooting itself in the foot one time too many. And I mean damn I’d hate to be the doctor who has to fix up that foot! I can’t say it’s the worst UMass win I’ve ever seen, since I’ve seen them trail AIC late into the first half and beat Fordham at home on a buzzer-beater, but it was a bit discouraging to think that ECU had to miss a flurry of 3’s and free throws for UMass to pull this one out.

But whatever – they did pull it out. A win is a win and this one came on the road, and after a horrific travel schedule the likes of which I haven’t seen this team have in my time following them. Three games in three nights in the Bahamas, a flight home, a flight back to Miami, another flight home, and another flight back down to Greenville? Brutal, especially for a team that runs a full-court press for most of every game. So let’s put this one in the rearview mirror and focus on a 7-3 record and a cupcake schedule between this team and the start of conference play. It looks like the A-10 will be a bitch this year, in a good way for the conference but maybe not for UMass. I figured the conference would be up-for-grabs, but clear front-runners have emerged in Xavier and the Fighting Majeruses (Majerusi? Whatever, they’re fat, and I refuse to acknowledge whatever a Billiken is) and we’ve seen teams like Dayton pull off some nice upsets. Hell, even Fordham has three wins somehow. Really, the only team that looks truly horrible in this conference is – wait for it – oh this is great – weeeeeeeeeee’re Rhode Island born, and we’re Rhode Island (in)bred and when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead! Yeah, URI is 1-8 with a home win over Chaz-less Hofstra. In a word, epic. (They’ll probably sweep us.) So yeah, any thought of competing for an at-large bid now depends upon running the rest of the non-conference table and making a big dent in the conference. It would’ve been nice to get at least one of the three that they’ve lost so far, but there are still high-RPI teams left on the schedule – all at home – in the form of Xavier, Saint Louis, and Davidson (?!). And really, I think this team is at least as any team in the conference outside of Cincinnati.

There are question marks, of course. For every great story (Esho and Cady being solid out of the gate Morgan coming out of his slump, Carter’s alley-oops, and of course Chaz) there are concerns. Sampson is out for the season, which blows because he was starting to create favorable memories in my head of Etienne Brower, with a combination of length, underrated D and a smooth shooting touch from the line and the arc. At least he gets to redshirt and won’t be leaving us with the rest of DK’s inaugural class. Freddie had been…let’s say not so great coming into last night’s game, then he lit it up for the first half aaaaaand inexplicably was benched by DK for the rest of the game. Not what you want to do to a player who’s….let’s say moody. Look, we criticize the shit out of Riley, and he and Matt’s Twitter spats were well-documented. But we do it out of love, man. We want Freddie to be the spot-up 3-point ace he seems capable of being, but we’re sports fans – we get frustrated when our players struggle, and unfortunately, his shooting numbers make him a magnet for the criticism. (The mess that was the offense the last two years didn’t help, but he’s undoubtedly slumped to start this year as well.) Now, he finally looked to be breaking out of it, and Kellogg sits him on a team that already is a guard short with Laguerre’s academic ineligibility. DK’s making strides from a coaching standpoint this year, no doubt, and the new system on both offense and defense is working much better than anything they were doing the last few years. But unless there’s more to this story (which is certainly possible), I find it highly perplexing. Here’s hoping the team irons out whatever was going on here for tomorrow’s Springfield Siena game. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m way more confident about it than I would have been a year ago.

Football

Okay, this post is getting to “way tl;dr” territory. So I’ll keep it brief for now and probably try (ha) to follow-up soon. As a Notre Dame football fan (go ahead, toss the paper balls and boo) I’m pleased with the appointment of Charley Molner. I know, something about the combination of Charlie and offensive coordinator and Massachusetts and Notre Dame sounds like failure. And while both took over for a beleaguered and unpopular coach (I kinda liked Willingham, actually, but the results spoke for themselves), Weis was taking over his alma mater with extraordinary expectations and a storied history, a program that even I’ll admit was moving in the wrong direction on the prestige scale. (Though, fingers crossed, Kelly is slowly righting that ship.) The Minutemen have nowhere to go but up, and out of the crevasse that was (was! WAS! It’s SO good to say that!) the Morris era. Granted the bar may be low, but his rally cry – that UMass should be the best college football program in New England – is solid, and frankly, quite achievable given that BC is in a downward spiral and UConn’s rise to glory is fizzling. True, it’s premature to crown the guy when he’s yet to be a head coach in his career, and we haven’t seen how he recruits yet. But let’s be frank – we weren’t going to get a Mike Leach to come here just yet. The first year might be a little shaky, between the growing pains of an FBS schedule, a first-year head coach and a cupboard left pretty bare. And the pressure’s a little greater than it was for DK, who wasn’t replacing a coach UMass was still paying and who didn’t have a new conference and stadium to work with. If next season’s excitement is tempered by the lack of actual success, well, that’s the crevasse the Morris era has left us in. We may have to dig just a little deeper before we find the way out.

– Max

A Somewhat More Perfect Union

Just a week ago, the question for the Minutemen was whether they could put up a strong enough showing against UNH and BC to give them momentum going forward into the easy part of their schedule. Even the most optimistic of fans (ahem…this guy) couldn’t have predicted that, a night after getting smoked by the Wildcats, UMass would go out and make their biggest statement in nearly two years by knocking off the top team in the country. They played – finally – a complete 60-minute effort and they reaped the rewards.

Now the question is how they can deal with this newfound success. UMass teams in the past have had trouble with this concept. In 06-07, they followed up both of their wins over BC with losses (one by blowout fashion at home to the same Eagles the next night, the other with the most embarrassing of possible hockey outcomes – a loss to Lowell). The next year, UMass beat #9 BC and lost the next game at Gutterson; they later swept a three-game stretch against top-7 teams (including beating Notre Dame and Colorado College in the Lightning College Hockey Classic) – and proceeded to lose their next five en route to an epic collapse. Three years ago this weekend, UMass blew out then-#1 BU (their last win over a top-ranked team) and proceeded to get shut out by Lowell the next night (remember when UMass used to lose to Lowell? That was fun). Later that year, the boys looked like they were going to emerge from the Cahoon swoon after a tie against #7 UVM at the Gutt and a win over #3 Northeastern at home…and then they lost four straight. (To be fair, that team was a goal away from reaching the Garden, and they beat a top-3 Northeastern team three times including the playoffs. Alas…’twas not to be.)

I could go on, but you get the point – the problem this program has had in the Cahoon era isn’t getting signature wins, it’s following up on them. (That and a propensity for second-half collapses, but those things kinda go hand-in-hand.) Momentum doesn’t exist for this team – they could be speeding toward a wall, and then they’ll go and sweep Maine to end a season. They’ll be riding the highest of highs, then suffer the lowest of…ehh, I won’t even go there, Lowell sucks.

This weekend is a chance for the Minutemen to pick up what should – and I wish there were more things I could do to emphasize this text – SHOULD!!!!!!! – be two easy wins. Holy Cross is, of course, an Atlantic Hockey team, and while they now-famously have a win over BU on their resume, that same BU team has played badly enough that UMass should frankly be embarrassed to only have one point against them, before you even take into account how those games went down. But come on, we’re talking about a school that produced Bill Simmons* and wears purple. How good can they be?

Then there’s a rematch with Northeastern, the first time since 2006 that I’ll be at a home game with neither Matt nor Derek present. (Eerie.) The Huskies barely stole a point on opening night against UMass, but have been pretty bad since, and hopefully won’t get the luxury of spending the entire third period on the power play this time. As Papa Triangle pointed out in his preview this week, while the Huskies’ power play was horrible in that game, the Minutemen couldn’t put together any momentum to get the put-away goal on the board because, oh let’s think, they had one (or two) fewer guys on the ice for much of the second half of the game. I’m optimistic that the guys’ opening-night jitters are behind them and they play a much more disciplined game.

That said, history suggests UMass is in for a letdown after that BC series. If UMass has to come away with just two points this weekend, though, let’s get real here – the Holy Cross game, as much as it would suck to lose, is an exhibition at this point. UMass’s shoddy start to the year has once again put them into Hockey East-or-bust mode, although I’m much more confident about this team’s chances of competing for a trip to the Garden than I was last year (obviously). They’d need a pretty remarkable second half to be thinking about an at-large bid. If UMass loses to the Crusaders, I’d be okay with it – provided they beat Northeastern tomorrow.

(But don’t let that stop you from going to the Bill tonight, kids. And don’t forget, game starts at 6!)

—-

Oh, so hey, baz-ketta-ball starts tonight. As usual, I’m half-assing it with my whole “preseason preview” thing this year. Anyone who’s mentioned it to me lately should know, though, that I’ve been quite high on this team’s chances this year. Last year’s team was just not quite there yet. A lot of – ahem – “experts” think UMass might barely make the A-10 playoffs this year, but these are people who are looking at the stats, seeing Gurley’s points are gone, and predicting a fall-off. If anything, losing Gurley is the best thing that could happen to this team. Nothing against AG, he certainly had his moments and improved dramatically after a terrible first year in Amherst, but he’s the training wheels that this team needed to lose, the crutch that they kept falling back on. He led the team in scoring, but he took a remarkable number of shots to do it, and the team seemed to stand around waiting for him to do something far too often. This year, with DK finally seeming to concede that this team is better-built for a high-paced game rather than whatever the failed dribble-drive experiment had devolved to last year, I expect a much more balanced attack. I expect big things from guys like Putney and Morgan. I expect that having an actual point guard is going to facilitate a more potent offense. I expect Matt’s BFF Freddie Riley to finally break through. I expect Junkyard Dog Javorn Farrell will thrive now that he’s not forced to play out of position at the point. I expect one of the touted freshmen (Esho and Lalanne) to step up to the plate. I expect Terrell Vinson will come out motivated after a disappointing start to his career. And I expect that this team will breeze through a way-too-easy non-conference schedule and it will result in a team with a pretty good record that probably still has no shot at an at-large bid, but I’d be happy with a legitimate run in the conference tourney and a return to the NIT. I expect they’ll be good enough that even Derek, who loved UMass basketball but has sworn off UMass baz-ketta-ball, will be convinced to come to a game with us. Baby steps here.

Do I expect too much? Oh, of course. I’ve been burned by these guys before…we all have. But there are fewer question marks here than there ever have been in the past. Being away from campus, of course, I haven’t actually seen any of this team yet this season, so I suspect we’ll have a better grasp of what these guys are made of after tonight’s Cage match with Elon. Who, by the way, UMass should certainly beat, seeing as how they’re a reverse Nole(t).

See ya there.

– Max

* Nahh, Simmons is alright.

This isn’t where I parked my car…

Winless weekends are never truly fun, especially when we UMass fans have been treated to so many of them over the past year and a half. The Minutemen came up 0 for 2 in a big hockey/football weekend against front-running BC and soon-to-be-former CAA archrival New Hampshire. There’s a little bit of silver lining to each loss, enough to make me hesitate to use “shit sandwich” to describe the weekend as a whole. I think the somewhat less-pessimistic “less than stellar” will suffice.

Friday, the Minutemen lost for the 926th straight time to BC, 4-2. Not a lot to say about this other than BC is good and we are not as good at hockey. In fact, it really sucks to admit this, but the Eagles actually look better this year in spite of their losses on offense and in goal. On top of all that, it doesn’t even look like we can make fun of their fan apathy this year – Conte Forum had golden-clad spoiled brats filling both endzones AND an entire side of the arena, something we haven’t seen in our Conte visits in recent years. You know, good for them, it’s about time they come out to support this runaway powerhouse of a hockey program. (Then again, their basketball team has been picked to finish dead last in the ACC, and their football team is on its way to a winless season against teams that aren’t in the middle of transitioning from FCS. So I guess they have to have something.)

It was good to see Teglia perform his best Dainton impression in net (complete with trying to play the puck at any and all opportunities, to the detriment of our heartrates) and props to Andrew Tegeler, who scored his first collegiate goal and earns my Kubbie Point for the game (Matt’s, I believe, goes to Teglia). But barely scratching to within 2 goals of BC is not going to cut it. It just isn’t. Papa Triangle is starting to question if this team has made any improvement at all over last year’s. I can’t say I blame him, but let’s wait and see how they handle BU (who just lost to Holy Cross!!!1 and also who UMass played better against last year than they did against BC) before we start jumping off the library.

Of course, if Toot keeps the HoPS line separated again like he inexplicably did in this game, we’ll probably lose both games by 10 goals. Not really, but yeah, let’s not be doing that anymore, k? K. (I will leave ample opportunity for Derek to rant about this, because hoooooh boy was he steamed about this.)

—-

Saturday, Matt and I joined the Section U guys and gals for the second and final annual Colonial Clash at Gillette against the Wildcats of Villanova wait that’s next week… New Hampshire. It was the very definition of a mixed bag for me, though as a short-term event I thought it was a great experience. Here are some observations:

– We lost the game, in case you didn’t hear. Now, as far as this season is concerned, it is (Rob Lowe) lit-rally (/Rob Lowe) irrelevant. In the long run…I’d actually argue that losing this game HELPS the Minutemen. I don’t really feel like talking about Kevin Morris any more, but rest assured, the “fire Morris” sentiment is getting stronger every day. There’s absolutely nothing about this guy that gives any of us confidence that he’s the direction the University needs to be moving in. None. Zero. Yesterday’s game was classic Morris mismanagement – Pagel finally signs of figuring out this offense, so let’s keep running with Hernandez against a good run defense. The special teams looked completely unprepared for this game on every single kickoff. You can’t blame Morris for things like turnovers, Levengood’s inability to kick, umm, anything, or the refs’ inability to understand concepts like “pass interference” and “the clock stops when the ball-carrier goes out of bounds.” You can blame Morris for “getting outcoached by an FCS coach.” Which he does, week in and week out, and when it does, the losses won’t be as close as this one was.

More troublesome to me, seeing as how the game was for all intents and purposes an exhibition, was the game presentation itself. Gillette Stadium, for all its daddy’s charge-style excess (fireplaces?!!!) and sterile reputation by NFL standards, was home to some of the most amateurish in-game presentation I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. We here at Fight Mass like to laugh at things like this – like that game we went to in Lowell, pre-renovations, where the announcer called out “30 seconds to play in the period,” Ke$ha randomly came on during the game, and they spent every stoppage on some Rowdy the River Hawk cornball storyline. Yesterday at Gillette felt an awful lot like that, only it was our team, and…wait, what’s that? Why, that’s Matty G’s music…nooooooooooooooooo!

It will be a glorious, glorious day when Matty G and his noise meters and over-the-top, trying-WAY-too-hard-and-failing-miserably delivery are no longer associated with our university. (Nothing personal.) For the time being, can we at least quarantine him to PA duties at hockey games and lineups at basketball? There is NO reason, in a football game, we should have a pre-recorded video of Matty G, being COMPLETELY serious, looking like a Tim and Eric Awesome Show sketch – only, again, not a joke. On top of all that, the clips would freeze halfway through. It was hilarious at first, then you remember “hey, remember how this whole MAC thing relies heavily on getting people in Eastern MA to come to games and want to come back?” If you’re not going to wow folks on the field, could we at least invest a dollar or two in the game presentation?

I don’t know a single person who enjoys Matty G who finds “NOOOOOOOISE MEEEETERS!” cool. We tolerate it at hockey because there’s so much else to the presentation and because we’re more concerned about the action on the ice anyway. I just think if we’re gonna have Gillette Motherfucking Stadium as our home field, we can at least try with the presentation. No Matty G. Let the POWER AND CLASS OF NEW ENGLAND lead the students in cheering. Hell, pump their music over the loudspeakers if you have to (BC sure does that with their hockey band). And for the love of Cosby, can we please get a copy of Jock Jams 2 that doesn’t skip? Please tell me they fired the intern who thought “hey, well, this recording of ‘Y’all Ready for This’ skips badly every time we play it, but let’s keep playing it every five minutes.” I’m guessing no, since we’re talking about a school that still doesn’t realize that the recording of “Fight Mass” that plays at hockey games has a nasty skip in it that throws the whole “Go! U! Mass!” chant off for everyone. Mind you, this has been the case for AT LEAST SIX YEARS NOW. (We could, of course, fix this with a hockey band.)

Okay, so that rant went in a lot of directions. Long story short: Gillette good, Teglia good, HoPS line good, Matty G bad, splitting up HoPS line bad. But you get your choice of toppings! That’s good. The toppings are also cursed. That’s bad. Can I go now?

Sorry I’ve been so scattershot this past week or so, what with my whole moving up to New Hampshire business. I have another article from contributor extraordinaire Jarod that I failed to post regarding UMass’s student section from the home opener and a semi-preview of the road ahead for hockey. Since most of it is relevant (especially regarding the student section, as we prepare for what had better be a sellout with the Halloweekend Hockey East home opener against BU) I will post it this week, along with hopefully the Kubbie Kounter page and maybe one or two other goodies.

Take care, and remember that a seven nation army couldn’t hold me down. AGH DAMNIT BC

-Max

Ready or not

Let the records show that on Saturday, September 24th, an FBS team with an FBS roster and its season (and likely, its head coach’s job) on the line beat up on a transitioning FCS team with an injury-ravaged FCS roster, 45-17.

Of course, that’s not the storyline here. The storyline is “UMass proves to the world it isn’t ready to move up to FBS play by getting trounced by a struggling BC team.”

Okay, so Saturday’s game was a trainwreck from the very first pass out of Kellen Pagel’s hand. UMass, dealing with enough injuries as it is, seemed to lose a player every other play, getting knocked out by a more physical Eagle counterpart. The passing game, and UMass’s safeties, were about as non-existent as the D1 college football atmosphere at the only stadium in the country where tailgating is relegated to a parking garage. BC started just about every drive at the 50-yard line, if not closer, thanks to an atrocious day for the special teams (save for one scintillating runback by Julmiste). Even J-Hern was held relatively in check, after running roughshod over the Michigan defense a year ago. Basically, it was 60 minutes of suck. Hell, even the broadcast sucked, from the undeniably-awful diagonal camera angles (even McGuirk can get a straight-away camera shot!) to the announcing crew that made the Boom Goes the Dynamite guy look like a pro.

That all being said…the pessimism about this loss is inexplicable. Yes, the final score stings, as does the seven-game losing streak to BC (wait, we used to beat them at football?), especially given how close UMass has been to beating FBS teams in recent years (including these same Eagles a few years ago with our backup QB vs. Matty “Ice” Ryan). Yes, it especially hurts given that, at the end of the year, we’ll look back and see that we were BC’s lone win of the season. But bitterness aside, the Eagles needed this game, and not just for the standings or to keep Spaz’s job. This is a difficult time for BC fans, seeing their stranglehold on New England D1 sports loosening. UConn is trying to hop aboard the ACC Express as the Big East collapses. The last thing BC needed during these tumultuous times, 0-3 though they were, was to lose at home to, ahem, that other FBS football team in Massachusetts.

But here’s the rub – UMass ain’t an FBS team. Not yet. Not with this roster, and certainly not with this coach. For Morris to watch Pagel clearly have nothing out there pass after horrifying pass, and to not think “hey, let’s run Hernandez a bit more” or “let’s give that Hill kid a shot” is absolutely mystifying. Coaching aside, though, UMass’s porous secondary finally came back to haunt them in this one. Any time Rettig fired the ball long, the coverage simply didn’t matter – nobody on UMass seemed capable of keeping up with even the mediocre BC receivers. Not being able to limit the passing games of URI or Holy Cross is one thing – BC, bad as they are this year (and trust me, they’re pretty bad), is still in the ACC, literally out of UMass’s league for the moment. UMass almost coached and willed their way to an upset last time they were here, against a BC team that looked past them. BC needed it this time, and it showed.

I just don’t see the point in panicking over this. Would a win at BC, or at least a better showing, have a positive impact going forward? You bet it would. But like it or not, they were still heavy underdogs. Inexperience at QB, lack of depth, weakness in the secondary…those are all things that will fix themselves through time and through recruiting at the higher level FBS membership affords. And guess what? These games mean nothing right now. The Minutemen don’t even start MAC play until next year, and don’t become bowl-eligible until the following year. A lot can – and will – happen between now and then. For anyone who thinks UMass isn’t “ready” for FBS play, though, remember that they played like absolute shit in weeks 1 and 2, and were likely outcoached in both games, and still pulled off wins. Right now, they’re like a “AAAA” ballplayer; good enough to graduate to the big leagues, not good enough to thrive there.

Much like that AAAA player, however, they’re not going to get better staying in the minors. (Not to mention, in this analogy, all the other teams are either dropping to AA or moving out of comfortable bus-driving range.) UMass is gonna take their lumps from the big boys as they get their feet wet in FBS. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. Toledo, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan are not BC, as much as I wish I could say that. Just remember that this team has several guys playing in the big show right now (hello Victor Cruz vs. the Eagles!) and recruiting can’t help but improve with the rise in competition and quality of facilities that is coming. Switching labels to FBS isn’t a magic cure-all in itself, but it’s not just merely symbolic – it means more scholarships, more TV exposure, and more appealing matchups against the big boys that an FCS team can’t use to lure prospective talent. You’ll never convince me Kevin Morris is the right coach for this job, but I’m holding out hope that the administration knows this as well and is searching for the right guy to bring in this offseason.

So chill out. It sucks, but it is what it is: the last time UMass will lose – as they should – to an FBS team as an FCS team.

-Max

Chinese Democracy

Okay, no more fucking around, I’ve been officially blackmailed into writing this piece that I’d been procrastinating for so long. Much like Duke Nukem Forever, Daikatana, GnR’s Chinese Democracy, Marco Scutaro’s throws across the diamond, and the 2010 New York Jets, this piece was long-delayed, had to be re-done several times, and will almost assuredly disappoint in the end. Deal with it.

So here we stand in a bizarre time for New England sports. This is a hawwkey taaawn, for the first time in a long time. The Bruins are the hottest ticket in town, hoisting a Stanley Cup, running shirtless around town and running up million-dollar bar tabs. Hell, even Dreamboat Ellsbury can’t get enough action to keep up with Marshmont, Seguin, and the boys. The Swesties this fall will be trading in their pink Red Sox caps for pink Bruins caps. And with the NBA on a one-way ticket to Lockoutsville (the NFL having cancelled its reservations in the city’s town’s skeezy motel, thankfully heeding the advice of a psychopath), hockey seems destined to be ready to fully captivate everyone’s sports eyes, save for one and a half days a week this winter. You know what that means, right? I would be shocked – SHOCKED I say! – if attendance doesn’t skyrocket around Hockey East this year. That would include our beloved Minutemen, as our freshly-minted Bruins fans invade the Mullins Center eager to see some good ol-fashioned HAWWWWKEY in person, without the possible distraction of, say, the Celtics playing the Bulls or Heat or Lakers at the same time. (Of course, there’s always the off chance that more people will stay home to watch the Bruins now, but shut up, let me continue pontificating for a bit, geez.)

I’ll be totally honest – I was rooting for the NFL lockout too. Why, you ask? Well, aside from my not-so-secret sentiment that the NFL receives a disproportionate amount of coverage from the sports media compared with equally-if-not-more-deserving sports like hockey, hoops, and baseball (nothing pisses me off more than random offseason notes in the NFL like Brett Favre’s latest unretirement distracting from oh I don’t know A FUCKING PENNANT RACE MAYBE), I was also kind of really excited for the potential benefits this might have toward a little thing called UMass football. Yes, our boys are finally graduating to the “big show,” and technicalities aside, I guarantee I’m not alone in suddenly caring a hell of a lot more about what this team does now that it “matters.” Yes, it’s just the MAC, and yes, the CAA was actually a slightly stronger conference last year despite its higher “status.” Whatever. UMass was not bowl-eligible, and now they can be.

…Well, except for the fact that they’re stuck in CAA purgatory this year. It’s hard to imagine that won’t impact the players, who really have nothing but pride to play for. But it will mean everything that the fans come out and show their support, because it’s gonna depend on us, and on you, for this to work. The Kraft family has provided the stage, but the difference between this being “the big step up the UMass program’s been waiting for” and “another mistake that the Globe can flaunt around as ‘proof’ of the state school’s inferiority to their darling private schools, while ignoring anything positive UMass does” is whether or not the fans show. If the fans don’t show, this doesn’t succeed, and it sets the whole athletics program back big-time. If it succeeds, UMass is a name brand, the only (likeable) D1 FBS college football program in Massachusetts, and all of a sudden things get a little easier on the recruiting and ticket-selling fronts for the other sports, all of a sudden Dick’s Sporting Goods is putting Sam the Minutemen next to Baldwin the Eagle, all of a sudden the Big East is knocking again…alright wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. That’s all way down the road. Like, you can’t see it from atop Du Bois far. (That’s good, hopefully I can afford season tickets by then.) But it has to start somewhere, and it’s starting in Foxborough of all places.

It starts with 5-6 Saturdays a year, against schools that (UNH aside) are about as interesting to UMass fans as the William and Maryses of the world. In this economic climate, taking the family to a Pats game on a Sunday for $500+ (and that’s just the tickets) is out of the question. The chance to see FBS college football, however technically that description is, is going to draw casual interest in New England, I’m convinced. It’s going to be whether the team gets the diehards, the lifers, the young alumni still not ready to leave UMass behind (ahem, the founders of this blog say hi) and – of course – the students.

Therein lies part of the problem. Frankly, the quality of the UMass student section in all sports has gone decidedly downhill in my five-plus years of being associated with this school. (THERE. I SAID IT.) When I was a freshman, the diehards were standing in the preseason game at the Practice Rink teaching newbies the chants and singing Fight Mass with the full left-right diagonal clap dealie. Now? There’s seriously kids who think it goes “Hey…you suck…fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass!” Nobody aside from us three has asked Matty G how much time is left in the period for a couple years now. Clever chants, fun twists on old ones (“Your mom called! She said you suck! Your dog called! He said you suck!”), even dumb guilty pleasures like Noleeeeeet-Nolet-Nolet-Noleeeeeeeeeet” have been supplanted with – yup – “fuck (name of school).” And the occasional “let’s go UMass!” And that’s fucking it. All the things that make college sports fun – all the shit that got me hooked in the first place, besides the hockey of course – have gone by the wayside, and though the gate numbers have been solid despite the team’s less-than-stellar record, the atmosphere has suffered. We’ve gone from “notoriously profane fans who yell mean-spirited things and get really loud when they need to” to “notoriously profane fans who yell really fucking stupid things and have to be told when to get loud by a NOOOOOOOOOISSSSSSSEEEEEEEEEMEEEEEEEEEEEETERRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!1” I don’t need S&P to tell me that’s a downgrade. (hurrr he made a political funny)

See, here’s what I loved about the Bruins this season – there were no pink hats yet. It was like watching the Red Sox back in ’04. The bandwagoners always seem to watch on the edge until the very end. I was at games 3 and 4 of the Flyers series. That place was loud. People were actually into the game, people knew what was happening. Maybe that’s just the difference between hockey and baseball, or maybe it’s because cell phones are exponentially more powerful these days, but I feel like the atmosphere at Fenway ain’t what it used to be. It’s not about the team anymore – it’s about being seen. I have a horrible sinking feeling that this is the Bruins’ impending fate, actually. Actually, the Bruins’ run has put the UMass students into perspective for me. For so long, I felt like the sudden surge of Tourette’s-like stupidity was a sign that our students really were the neanderthals the Globe and the rest of the eastern-MA media stereotypes them as. Then I watched kids from all over the Commonwealth erupt from the North Station area after game 7 with, not “let’s go Bruins” but “fuck Vancouver” – and after every chant for a Bruin was something like “Luongo sucks! Luongo sucks!” It actually distracted me from celebrating that emotional moment (which, by the way, I wrote about over here, shameless plug). For a moment I was disgusted, but in a way, it was also a relief – these are BC kids, and BU kids, and Northeastern kids, and they’re no classier than our guys. At the same time, though, it’s a bit discouraging to think that, as a whole, these are Massachusetts kids.

That’s what this boils down to, methinks. Boston kids are spoiled sports fans. I mean, no shit we are. No fanbase has been this lucky over a decade, and with three teams at least in the conversation to win their sport’s next championship (and the other, well, not playing for a while). That’s why apathy about the sports teams makes so much sense. We have an NFL team that contends for a Super Bowl literally every year, so why care about a D1-AA football team aside from some tailgating? The Celts have the big three, so it’s no big deal if Derek Kellogg’s boys aren’t winning. (Just wake us up when BC or URI is in town.) And the hockey team? It’s a great pregaming event, but let’s try to get out before the third period so we can drink some more before we head to the frats/Hobart and banging/being drunk Swestie sluts. I mean, even the group of friends me, Matt, and Walsh partied with my senior year after games in North…most of them were there as a pre-pregaming event.

Ah, but I think I’ve argued this before – hockey’s a special case. It’s become the thing to do on campus that the University doesn’t discourage. The other big two either a) don’t play in “real” D1, or b) play on weeknights. Friday and Saturday nights can’t be overslept, nor can studying get in the way. This works heavily in hockey’s favor – they can draw a crowd without playing particularly well, due to the perfect timing of most of their schedule. Ironically, though, this has been a huge negative for the quality of the student section.

See, the team hasn’t played particularly well over the past three semesters. Alright, “dismal” might be a better word. They never had a stretch that bad for that long in the few years prior, when the fanbase was breaking attendance records and riding the momentum of the ’04-05 Hockey East and ’06-07 NCAA runs that finally put the program on the map. Anyone who started following the team starting midseason of ’09-10, though, has seen nothing but failure. We still have the upperclassmen who were freshmen and sophomores when the school was still buzzing about those then-recent playoff runs, so hockey’s status as a popular weekend event lives on through them. The enthusiasm and hockey know-how just didn’t carry on to this generation, though, because the teams they witnessed were mediocre. We now, however, have another batch of freshmen and sophomores who have seen three semesters of low-quality play (half a year of the Jimmy/Casey fiasco, and a whole year of rebuilding) and who are getting bad habits from the start.

Look, I can’t just stand here on this soapbox and say I want every student to do this when this happens and say that when this happens. But I’m not horribly enthused about where this is going. I guess I’d rather the Mullins be full of students for hockey games than the barren wasteland it’s become for basketball, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t have a Hockey East-caliber student section as it stands today. And we totally did for a couple years there. Now? Like I said…one big pregame party, where the douche yelling “fuck BC!” in between looking at the Smokeshow of the Day on fucking Barstool and talking about that one time he played JV in high school to the girls in Marchand shirts reigns supreme, until he leaves midway through the second. Oh, and we’re probably playing BU that night.

That’s where we stand now. There are a number of directions it can go in, but you – yes motherfucker, YOU – have a lot to do with it. I really want Fight Mass to get bigger this year. I’m not looking for personal gain from it – I’m happy with my software support job in Manchester for now, and am more than happy to delay pursuing my dreams in sports journalism until my financial situation is more clear. And I’ll be damned if this thing ever makes any money. No, I really want this to be a rallying point for those of you diehards who, like me, have bigger and better things in mind for our alma mater. For a while, you see, this dream was just that – a pleasant thought, like “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had even half a section of kids wearing our school colors, let alone a jersey or something to indicate they know they’re at a sporting event?” But now, with this football thing (oh hey look I tied it all together, go me!), shit’s for reals. Integrating the fanbases is something I’ve preached before, but now I mean it. The students who go to hockey and the students who go to football and the students who go to basketball…it’s never seemed as uniform as when I was a freshman. Granted, those were the best of times for me, it turned out. Lasme and Freeman were around, the hockey team had Jon Quick, football had its epic playoff game against UNH…the future seemed so bright, and everyone knew it. Moreover, Maroon Platoon was present at every game. There was some kind of school-sanctioned unity going on. I’ve seen the rise of Mullins Militia presence last semester when I came back from Florida. This has GOT to continue next year. Get kids hooked early, spend whatever budget there is to keep these kids devoted. Sell big on the future for this program, and get the kids who care to spread the word.

And it IS a bright future! Football may be spinning its wheels for a year, but building momentum for the first year in the “big show” is important. Hockey is returning a very promising young class, keeping almost everyone who did any scoring last year, and adding some more talented freshmen, all in a year where the rest of Hockey East figures to be down. Basketball…Kellogg finally has “his” guys in there and seems devoted to simplifying that offense to fine-tune it to the players he actually has. The Big Three programs on campus seemingly have nowhere to go but up after last year, and this is a perfect time to get freshmen excited about the team. Push hockey to the kids who are hooked on the sport after the double-whammy of Olympics last year and Bruins this year. Push basketball to those who need something to fill the Celtics void. And push football, because as much as I love hockey, I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that the success or failure of football’s FBS jump is vital for the entire program going forward. That’s why, for the first time, I’ll actually be including some football coverage on the site this year (though rest assured, it’s still a hawwwkey taaaahwn.)

I haven’t lost faith completely in the classes of ’12 and ’13. There’s some very passionate sports fans there who are waiting for something to cheer for. The teams have to do their part, of course, to make the games count for more than just an amusing diversion from books or a place to be seen before the parties. But, silly as it sounds, I want this incoming freshman class to learn the traditions the right way, before “fuck fuck fuck fuck Go UMass” becomes part of the lexicon. It might come in the form of a basic rookie guide, which sounds lame when you picture a school-sanctioned “appropriate” one, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’d much rather prefer a more natural approach, and that means you – the student readers and fellow recent alumni – to band together and make an example. Speaking of bands, this would be so much easier if we had a hockey band, and it looks like this might finally almost be a possibility at some point, but until then, it’s in our hands. I have no problem with the douche in the Howitzer t-shirt, aside from his taste in sports websites and his inability to at least use the word “fuck” in a more clever manner/chant. But in order to get him to care about what’s actually happening on the ice, or to get him and the Swesties and everyone else to realize there’s (gasp) a THIRD period, it’s up to those of us who do know and care to start showing it a little more. So let’s give last year a mulligan with the rebuilding effort, and actually build something ourselves this winter, shall we?

So there you have it – yet another meandering rant-turned-pep-talk from yours truly. Hope it thoroughly fell short of your expectations, which I imagine were massive at this point. Now for some more teasing – I have some fairly big plans for this blog in its third year, as part of my strategy for FM to become a rallying point for my fellow devoted UMass student fans and/or a place where I can bitch and moan about the power play for several paragraphs. You’ll have to stay tuned for that. In the meantime, for your concrete hockey news based on things like numbers and journalism, stay tuned to everyone’s favorite craft beer enthusiast/hockey fan, Fear the Triangle, and keep asking yourself: is it October yet?