Okay, I’ve been getting shit for not writing more, and between suddenly having more viewers (even if most of you are BU fans) and how jacked up I am about the Pats game, I feel like giving a quick post about tomorrow’s Yale game.
Unfortunately, due to training for my recent promotion, I won’t be able to attend, but Matt will apparently be making the trip down to the only hockey arena in the country that is literally shaped like a whale. There, he will watch UMass play the current #15 team in the country and #8 in the Pairwise, a game that will pretty much make or break their already-slim chances of playing their way back into the at-large picture. Getting swept by Colgate dropped them out of the Teams Under Consideration bubble, but remember, after Yale, they also have one against one of the two New Hampshire schools, who are currently 2nd and 3rd in the rankings. If UMass continues its up-and-down rollercoaster ride back in the right direction, a couple wins to close out 2012 would get them back into the mix at least; of course by that logic they’ll probably somehow lose to Bemidji State in between.
Mark will probably have a more hockey-intensive preview tomorrow, but the Bulldogs come off a winless home weekend of their own, getting smoked 6-1 by RPI and then tying Union 2-2. They’re led by senior Antoine Laganiere and junior Kenny Agostino, who have combined for 14 of their 33 goals on the season. Senior Jeff Malcolm has played a majority of the minutes in net, with a 2.45 GAA in 9 games (remember, the Ivy League teams start later in the season because they’re ever so much smarter than you or I.)
Honestly, we have next to no material for this game, because it’s fucking Yale and really, other than the aforementioned rink shaped like a Yale, we don’t know what we can do to make fun of them.
Really, there’s no good material to work with here. They’re in Connecticut, but it’s Yale, nobody thinks of Yale when they think about things they hate about Connecticut, not with that dump a little up the road in Storrs. Plus, New Haven’s not the worst place ever, despite the numerous warnings Matt is getting from those who know better than us. (He already lives in Springfield. Please.) I even tried Googling “Yale hockey sucks” to see what other ECAC schools’ fans were saying about Yale, but then I remembered Cornell is the only Ivy League hockey school with fans, and they apparently couldn’t care less. And how can you hate on Yale when you find out they were responsible for this?
I even tried looking at their list of notable alumni (which, as you might have guessed, is rather lengthy). But for every George W. Bush who went there, there’s a Bill “Greatest Man of All Time, Non-Kublin Division” Clinton. Clarence Thomas went there, but so did Sonia Sotomayor. My high school sophomore English teacher who drew triangles under everything she wrote on the board to emphasize points and said “umm” and “like” every other sentence went there, but so did the eloquent Silver Fox himself, Anderson Cooper. It’s a wash.
Here’s hoping Matt finds some hilarity to tweet about during the game, because we may have to resort to making our own fun. And when we do that, this tends to happen.
Lol but seriously, a win would be swell. Not only can we not fall back on toothpaste jokes after another loss – we really got nothin’ at all to work with. Thanks, Yale. (Assholes.)
Catching up on our intrepid heroes’ escapades over the past week or so…
Okay, seriously guys (0:09 mark):
Tonight’s 72-66 victory over Northeastern is somehow the most lopsided victory to date for the 4-3 Minutemen, who might well be off to the worst 4-3 start in the history of hyperbolic overreactions. You can really make a case that this team deserves to be 1-6 at this point, getting outplayed badly in their three actual losses and getting lucky against injured teams against Harvard and Providence. (The Siena game, ironically, UMass actually significantly outplayed their opponent and fell victim to awful luck on missing wide-open shots in the first half while the Saints banked in wild threes.) The Miami game was particularly disappointing, given the large (if late-arriving) crowd on hand and the RPI bump it could have provided. The Minutemen actually looked solid for the first 15 minutes or so in that one, but a series of missed opportunities and a few questionable calls pulled the wheels off quickly.
Now, the Minutemen also have the added burden of the Cady Lalanne situation. Not that Cady was looking 100% to begin with, but his absence (coupled with DK’s apparent lack of any sort of trust in Tyler Bergantino to do, err, anything yet) makes a thin lineup even thinner. I mean, for Chrissakes, Sampson Carter was our starting center tonight. The Minutemen gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Huskies. Absolutely mind-boggling. Luckily, Jesse Morgan finally seemed to come to life with some huge corner threes to spur the latest last-minute rally. UMass ended up shooting just shy of 48% for the game. At this point, we’ll absolutely take it.
11 days off now. The Season of Great Expectations (TM) is hanging together by a thread. The Minutemen’s at-large hopes are already in grave danger, and as cupcake as the rest of the non-conference schedule looks, this team doesn’t seem to have any interest in easy wins. It sucks to be so down on these guys, but the fact of the matter is that the fun and joy of Chazketball has given way to an all-too-familiar system of passing the ball around the perimeter, watching Chaz try to make everything happen, and chucking wild threes all day long. It looks an awful lot like the “bazkettaball” we lamented during the first few years of the DK era. If this team is going to go anywhere and beat anyone of note, it’s going to need to somehow pull back together, and quick. Here’s hoping Kellogg uses this week-and-a-half to refocus his guys before they take on Elon in Springfield.
Since the 8-2 debacle against Lowell, which occurred on a Sunday and starred Jeff Teglia (who has since turned up on numerous milk cartons) and therefore cannot really even be considered part of the official UMass canon, the hockey team has stabilized somewhat. They were able to grind out a pre-Thanksgiving win against seasonal foe Vermont, pulled a tie against a feisty Quinnipiac team, and now come off a home-away split with the Northeastern Huskies. The most recent weekend does seem a little maddening at first, with UMass dominating both games from start to finish, yet with drastically different results: on Friday at the Bill, they couldn’t buy a goal against Chris Rawlings and lost 1-0 on a fluke breakaway goal. On Saturday, where we and dozens of other maroon-and-white faithful got the last laugh on Teddy Bear Toss night, UMass put 45+ shots on the net and six of them went in, including one for HEA Rookie of the Week KJ Tiefenwerth, his first (finally!).
Looking at the standings, UMass is remarkably just one point out of a home ice slot. Are there legitimate concerns surrounding the Power/Rowe injury situation, the slow start of Mike Pereira, the dismal play of any goaltenders not named Boyle? Sure. But UMass still has one of the toughest strength-of-schedule rankings in the country, is still the only team in the nation to beat #1 UNH, and is in striking range in the Pairwise standings (currently 23rd). UMass closes the year with remaining non-conference games on the docket, and a strong showing could well propel this team into contention for an at-large bid. Colgate, the #24 team in the Pairwise, comes in for two this weekend (a chance to avenge last season’s first-round lacrosse disappointment!). UMass then heads to Yale next week, currently fourth in the Pairwise, and which is a team UMass has actually played well against in recent years. After a break, the Minutemen ring in the new year up in Hanover in the Dartmouth tourney, against dreadful Bemidji State and then a crack at either UNH (as a non-conference foe) or Dartmouth, who are 2 and 3 in the Pairwise respectively. If UMass can play well in this stretch – like 3-1-1 or 4-1-0 good – the second half schedule looks good for UMass. The two at UNH are daunting, and there’s still another trip to Chestnut Hill, but there’s only one more with BU (at Mullins), two cracks at Maine at home, a two-gamer up in Burlington, one more at Matthews, home-and-homes with Providence and Lowell, and of course all three games left with Merrimack. Again, while it’s more road-heavy than the first half, the fact that UMass has just one more each against BU and BC (and knows it’s capable of staying around with both teams) means that a vast majority of what’s left is against the rest of the “middle of the pack” teams that UMass is striving to differentiate itself from. I think now that Boyle’s the established starter, if he can continue to play at least as well as he did this weekend against NU, we could be in for a fun second half.
Remember: the two guys who carried this team last year, Sheary and Pereira, really haven’t even gotten going yet, nor has the expected biggest freshman contributor (Tiefenwerth). Did Saturday’s rout at Matthews mark a turning point? (Or was it when all of us passed through the inauspicious Stargate on the Northeastern campus?) Cautious optimism, people! CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM!
(P.S. Special thanks this weekend to: the Mullins Militia for accommodating me for the Miami game on my lonesome as Matt was working; Amy of the Bench Crew for hanging out with the gang and putting up with our shenanigans Saturday night, and also our good friend Roy for being the honorary Fourth Fight Mass Dude; and the Husky Hockey Blog fellows for crossing enemy lines to come meet us at the end of the game. And of course, congratulations to the Coogan family on their future addition! We suggest Douglas for the youngin if he’s a boy. Just sayin.)
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:
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.)
Ah, the end of a season, the time of year where we start questioning whether Derek Kellogg really knows what he’s doing, or why we even waste our time on a football program headed by the worst coach in the history of the sport, or…huh? What’s that you say? Optimism, huh?
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: the state of our fine ice hockey team is, as Darrelle Revis might put it, “in total disarray.” Well, maybe not that bad (nothing is), but it’s certainly got us, as drunk Max might put it, “a slightly bit concerned.” We don’t know what will happen with Toot – is this his final season? Does the school have a backup plan if it is? Will he decide he wants to stick around and will the school want him around if so? Are we possibly sort of fucked no matter what?
Look, we love Toot around these parts. His commitment to the Pioneer Valley and the school, his willingness to call out Hockey East’s corrupt officials and his own players alike, his CVS composition notebooks and ridiculous voice, the whole she-bang. But we’re equally torn about whether he’s ever going to be able to bring this program to the “next level.” He’s certainly had a few shining moments in his tenure, those moments being 2004 and 2007, but we’ve now seen three straight one-and-done seasons at the hands of BC. In Toot’s defense, the last of these exits followed a two-game series where UMass thoroughly outplayed the Eagles for two straight games and lost two consecutive snakebitten heartbreakers, with no help from some questionable officiating (although the Minutemen did get away with some things in both games after the damage was already done – proof that make-up calls and non-calls don’t necessarily work out for the team getting them).
A full season post-mortem isn’t really our thing, and we can’t pretend we’d do a better job of it than the three-sided one already did. (Besides, I’m a couple weeks late on that. Deal with it.) But you have to see this year as an improvement. The team won roughly twice as many games, managed not to embarrass itself against the “big three” of BC, BU and Maine, actually won the regular-season series against the Eagles, and did all of this despite virtually zero collegiate goaltending experience coming into the year. What do they lose going into the next year? Two top-liners, Hobbs and Syner, and Mike Marcou, whose single-year evolution from “worst defenseman in the conference” to “actually pretty good most of the time” had to account for at least a couple of wins. Syner is a dynamic player whose absence will be missed, and Hobbs is another Chase Langeraap – a solid player and good scorer who unfortunately never really met his potential due to injuries.
Next year’s team, provided nobody leaves early (note: PLEASE NOBODY LEAVE EARLY) will return that massive sophomore (now junior) class. That means dynamic scorers like Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira, scrappers like Troy Power and Pat Kiley (both of whom played very well down the stretch), and a solid defensive corps that figures to be that much better with another year under their belts. It’s also nice that juniors like Rocco Carzo and Darren Panda-Rowe-nium (aka Darren Rowe-vell) finished the season strong, as this team will need contributions from the seniors and freshmen/sophomores to support that big junior class. It would be great if this KJ Tiefenwerth fellow could step in and provide another scoring option to help fill the void Syner is leaving; I think Hobbs’s gap will be adequately filled by the improvements of the remaining players. And I think Kevin Boyle finally stepped up and earned the starting job by the end of the year. A big problem this year was the lack of a true #1 and the overall inconsistency that resulted among the goalie corps. I’d rather see Boyle be the starter and let Tegs and Mastalerz, if both stick around, compete for the #2 spot.
This will be a big test for the Toot Cahoon era. On paper, this team should be better than 8th place. This team, with two years of mostly close losses under its belt, an exciting freshman scorer coming in, and some actual experience in goal, should have what it takes to compete for a home ice spot. Toot’s due for a year where things get back on track. Both Hockey East and the UMass athletics program itself are at crossroads next year, with football upgrading, basketball finally back, lacrosse competing for a national title, and Notre Dame and (ugh) probably UConn joining Hockey East. The last train might be departing Cahoonaville if this team can’t manage a winning record next year.
End of Season Awards:
Most valuable player: TJ Syner
Barely edged out Mikey Franchise here. TJ will be missed. His speed and tenacity embodied the scrappy mentality of the team in its biggest wins of the season, and of course he led the team in points as well.
Most improved player: Mike Marcou
What can I say? We ate crow like crazy over this guy. Granted, anything would have been an improvement over last year, but it became pretty clear that his struggles last year were injury-related and, healthy this year, he was solid and consistent all year long. Irreplaceable? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. But good enough that we’ll actually miss him, which was unthinkable a year ago. Big ups to him for proving the haters, i.e. us, wrong. (I will point out that he was my sleeper pick for most improved player earlier this year. So suck it.)
Doug Kublin Memorial Award for Kubitude: Conor Sheary
We’re a bit biased, since Derek is also from Melrose and we’ve befriended Conor’s dad, who Derek used to work with and who is a fantastic man. But Conor was absolutely an everyman for this team, taking faceoffs (and doing a damn good job of it), scoring goals both pretty and gritty, and showing that TJ isn’t the only guy on this team who can absolutely fly at times. So he wins our now yearly award for embodying the Kublin spirit, even if he didn’t exactly fly under the radar with those of us who’re paying attention. We hear he’s a humble kid, too, and we hope that he takes it upon himself to improve his game even further – he and Pereira have “devastating combo” written all over them for next season.
All Hockey East Team:
F: Spencer Abbott, Maine
F: Chris Kreider, BC
F: Brian Flynn, Maine
D: Brian Dumoulin, BC
D: Chad Ruhwedel, Lowell
G: Doug Carr, Lowell
League MVP: Spencer Abbott, Maine
Rookie of the Year: Scott Wilson, Lowell
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin, Lowell
I’ll go ahead and break this into two parts, BS Report style. Stay tuned for my basketball wrap-up and overall thoughts, probably later on tonight.
Worry no Moore. UMass procrastinated again, but the team handed in its year-long assignment the day before it was due this year.
Tonight, the pressure will be off up in North Andover, thanks to a 5-1 blowout that looked like it was destined to be another late-game classic between these two teams, who have played quite a few nailbiters over the last few seasons aside from the LAST time we saw “Moorsey” between the pipes. The last two trips to Mullins particularly for the Warriors have been decided by disappointing last-minute goals for the visitors, and when Shawn Bates tied the score early in the third last night, we looked back at the myriad almost-goals for the Minutemen – and the close calls they got away with – and couldn’t help but feel that more heartbreak was a-comin’.
But a funny thing happened. UMass didn’t fold, didn’t fret about what could have or should have been. Instead, they played possibly their finest period of hockey all season long, got monster goals from their senior offensive stars, and, with five minutes left to go and the Freeing of Moore imminent, Mark Dennehy pulled Cannata in desperation. Merrimack’s season, after all, was on the verge of slipping away, their tenuous hold on an at-large bid and home ice against the Black Bears very much at risk.
Two length-of-the-ice empty-netters later, we saw the most beautiful moment of the entire season.
I’ve only met Kevin Moore briefly, when he lived with the freshmen during my junior year in the same dorm. But by all accounts, the “Rudy” chants that were started last night were fitting. This kid’s worked his ass off the last few years, juggling all the same responsibilities his teammates do, with nowhere near the glory to show for it. Granted, if UMass was out of the playoff hunt, I’d have no doubt that Toot would’ve given Moore the start last night, because fuck it, why not. But this was a must-win game, something I don’t think all of the students quite understood when they booed Toot’s refusal to pull Boyle in a three-goal game with 2:30 left. But after the second empty-netter, there was no doubt in my mind that Toot would find a way to make it happen. And after a brief scare immediately following that goal, where Boyle was still out there, the first whistle inside of two minutes gave Moore his shot.
I know there’s that very small contingent of us who got to see Kevin Moore play last year in the infamous blowout game at Lawler, and the ovation he got from the 20-or-so UMass fans in attendance was a very cool moment indeed. But it’s hard to top last night. The team deserves props for putting themselves in a position to make it happen, and congrats to Moorsey for earning it. Unreal.
So here’s where things stand now. A loss tonight clinches 8th place, and a likely date with the white-hot Eagles, winners of 10 straight since their earlier malaise, unless they lose to Vermont and BU finishes a sweep of the now-eliminated Huskies. A win, however, sets up interesting scenarios. Lowell plays Providence tonight at Tsongas, and if they win as well, the Minutemen hop into 7th over the Friars. BC is most likely to win the division, though the aforementioned scenario could drop them to 2nd and they’d play UMass anyway. More likely is a BC win/tie and BU win/tie, setting up a date with the Huskies, a team UMass has held multiple-goal leads against three times this season, albeit only earning three points out of those three games. The Minutemen led 3-0 once at Agganis before a meltdown, and won their last trip there. And let’s not forget that the comeback in the first game was largely keyed by contributions from Trivino and Coyle, and the Terriers are also now without Max Nicastro on the blue line. And on top of all else, the Terriers would offer an opponent that isn’t, you know, BC again for the millionth year in a row.
But here’s the most intriguing scenario: UMass win, BC win or tie, BU loss, Lowell win. It’s not at all out of the question, with the Huskies having nothing to lose on senior night against their most hated rival, and with Lowell playing its own senior night against the lackluster Friars. Lowell, much like Merrimack before last night, is just 2-1-3 in their last six, and would also provide the least expensive travel option for yours truly. I have my reasons, obviously, but how sweet would it be after what’s happened this season if UMass ruined Lowell’s magical year? (Although, to be fair, playoff wins vs. ANYONE would be sweet, and if the alternative plotlines are “avenging the last few years against BC” or “beating the team that had the scumbag rapists,” you really can’t go wrong with any of ’em.)
Of course, any hope of getting not-the-Eagles rests on a win tonight, unless you think Vermont can beat BC tonight (in which case I presume you also think Newt Gingrich might be our next president). The last time UMass took the ice at Lawler was a 2-1 nailbiter that ended with a Merrimack player getting away with the most blatant delay-of-game ever, covering the puck behind the ‘Mack net with his glove for a good 15 seconds. Last night convinced me more than ever that these teams have gone in opposite directions since that game – maybe not as dramatically as we’d hoped, but the Minutemen, at least for the last four games, have outplayed their opponents and in some cases dramatically so, while the league seems to slowly be figuring out Dennehy’s magic.
I keep telling myself this. And then I remember that Lawler/Volpe/University of Sears is an awful awful place in which the Minutemen never ever escape with a win, no matter how good or bad the home team is in that particular season.
So, sigh, bring on the Eagles again, maybe this time will be different.
Oh, also, baskettaball tonight. Walsh will be on-hand at Lawler for the whole game, along obviously with El Triangle (pronounced “tree ON glay”). Matt and I will be live-tweeting on @FightMass from the Rhody Rematch, and if the game’s a blowout we’ll leave at halftime to catch puck drop; otherwise we’re shooting to get up to Merrimack for period 2. Either way, EVERYONE GO TO THE FUCKING BASKETBALL GAME TODAY IT’S THE LAST ONE EVEN THOUGH REALLY IT’S ALMOST ASSURED THAT THERE WILL BE A PLAYOFF GAME HERE TUESDAY. WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO ATTEND. Either way, this is the real “senior night” so let’s send Big Sean and Daddy Hill off with a 20-win season.
P.S. Let’s go ahead and jump on the “props to the Bench Crew” bandwagon for making #FreeMoore a success. Frankly, Toot doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, but also frankly, there was no chance Moore wasn’t going to play last night if the opportunity arose. But more importantly is that it’s social media outlets like the Bench Crew that get kids excited about games and, gasp, knowledgeable about what’s actually going on, like the student fans at the other nine schools in Hockey East. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED MORE OF.
It’s been an interesting year for us at Fight Mass. We’ve seen plenty of firsts – first time we’ve seen a UMass hat trick in person (twice!), first time we’ve seen UMass beat Xavier in hoops, first time ANYONE has seen a UMass hockey team blank the hated Eagles.
And in a span of 17 seconds last night, we just might have seen the beginning of another first for us: a Hockey East playoff that excludes the Minutemen.
The Mass Attack thoroughly dominated play last night for roughly 58 minutes, so much so that the inbred flag-waver from New Hampshire situated behind the net by the student section looked like he could hardly watch. Even as the Minutemen fell behind 2-0 on a couple of bad breaks, the shots-on-goal, and the play on the ice to accompany it, were both so outrageously one-sided that UMass’s coming back to tie the game at 2 was more an inevitability than anything else.
But the glee of Hanley’s game-tying goal was short-lived. In a span of 17 seconds, UMass committed two egregious defensive mistakes – the first leading to a two-on-one and the second a head-man pass before the aforementioned yokel had even put down his flag – and just like that, the UMass momentum had crumbled faster than the Old Man in the Mountain. (Oh yes. I went there.)
To their credit, the Minutemen dominated almost every second of the game from there on out, getting within one on a pretty Danny Hobbs goal (!), and even negating a questionable late Guzzo penalty with an aggressive penalty kill that drew an equalizing penalty with about 90 seconds to go. UMass was so dominant on the faceoffs that they were able to pull Boyle for the ensuing offensive-zone faceoff without even blinking (I would’ve thought they’d at least make sure they had possession first, given the amount of time left and the fact that they had a power play coming).
In the end, it wasn’t enough. One goal short, thanks to a herculean effort from freshman Casey DeSmith. UMass may well have put ten goals past UNH sieve Matt DiGirolomo tonight, the way they were playing and the way DiGi’s season was going. Instead, DeSmith stepped up big-time against the most prolific UMass attack we’ve seen in a long-ass time, and those crazy 5th/6th place scenarios went by the wayside (although Merrimack unexpectedly clobbering Lowell put 5th place officially out of reach anyway). With Northeastern beating Maine in front of the Matthews Arena rubes, the Minutemen no longer have their playoff destiny in their hands.
UMass trails by two points with three to play. A win tonight and a Northeastern loss (which, by the law of averages, would probably be the most likely course of events) would set up the final weekend to determine everything. UMass plays a home-and-home with Merrimack, while the Huskies get one against a BU team embroiled in a rape scandal and dealing with a potentially distracting investigation. BU is almost a lock for home ice, while Merrimack is still fighting for it.
It’ll be a battle no matter what. The team had the fight and desire in them last night, without question, and I don’t think they’re done just yet. But if they lose tonight, we can look back at that 17-second lapse and wonder what might have been for this season.
Other sports: basketball plays at Dayton at 6, which they should play on the big screens at the Bill while we wait for hockey (but they won’t). Meanwhile, lacrosse is taking on the #11 Buckeyes out at the Ohio State University. As much as hockey needs the win tonight, it’s a pretty big day for those teams as well. This is one of the last games for lax this year against a ranked team, with a soft second half schedule – so they need to win these games now to make a case when selection day comes. (My roommate, lacrosse writer and noted curmudgeon Kyle Devitte, has agreed to write a UMass lax article for us if the Minutemen make the tourney. So, obviously, the stakes have never been higher.) And for basketball, which I promise to eventually get to, there’s three games left: a likely loss (at Temple), a likely win (home against Rhody), and this big ol’ question mark of a road game against a mediocre Dayton team. A win today likely wraps up a first-round bye and keeps UMass’s ever-so-slim at-large hopes alive. Right now, it probably would take winning out until the A-10 championship game and having two of those wins be against Temple – but damnit, anything is possible. Winning would also help their chances at getting into the NIT (and hopefully with some home games in that). More thoughts on that later.
Alright, hold off on the “fire Toot” talk. At least for now.
The maddening inconsistency of the 2011-2012 Massachusetts Minutemen ice hockey team has reached a new level of what-the-fuckery. One does not simply march into Agganis and control the ice for almost the entire 60 minutes against that offense, yet UMass did just that – and proceeded to fall asleep, again, at home to Providence the next night. This weekend, UMass swapped days – they got pasted by the Black Bears on Friday, but held Maine off the board almost entirely last night in Orono save for a highlight-reel goal by noted doucheface Joey Diamond falling on his ass on a wraparound. God we hate Joey Diamond. Everyone knows Triangles are better than Diamonds anyway.
For seemingly the millionth year in a row, UMass has decided to fuck with our patience. Last weekend I was back in “can we move on from Toot yet?” mode. Now, as you can probably guess, I’ve migrated back into glass-half-full territory. UMass holds the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East at this point in time, and at least on paper, a very realistic opportunity to hold onto that seed or even move up (more on that in a sec). Call these last couple wins letdowns for BU and Maine all you want, but it’s become abundantly clear that the Minutemen have the ability to win these games – it’s a matter of putting it together on a nightly basis. For all the rumblings about discord between the team and its coach, about lines and playing time, and guys not being mentally tough enough to, oh, not take the first period off every other game, the most important takeaway is that the talent is there. Jack Parker even said so! And when is he ever wrong?
Look, Derek and I witnessed it with our own eyes (more on that later, too). UMass came out on fire in the first, scored on a bad Maine giveaway in the opening minute, and withstood two dangerous Maine power plays. From there, the Minutemen controlled play for the final 40 minutes in much the same way they controlled that BC game, or the pivotal stretches of both BC wins. They have it in them. Why why why why why can’t they do this on a regular basis though?
I kind of liken the Minutemen of the past five years or so to that student who’s smart enough to skirt by but procrastinates like a mofo. (I’m not not saying I’ve been that guy.) The thing is, you can pass exams and ace essays waiting til the last minute to study or write. But what good is it gonna do you if you’re not actually learning? And why put the unnecessary stress on yourself? UMass does the same damn thing. If they could get fired up to play teams like Providence and Northeastern and grab those points early, they could coast into the playoffs and even have a shot at moving up (which shouldn’t be the goal to begin with, but one step at a time here). Instead, yet again, it comes down to the last couple weekends if the Minutemen are gonna give themselves a chance to pull off an upset in the first round. Which, by the way, they’ve proven they could be capable of doing if they can even give themselves that chance.
Technically UMass could finish as high as 5th or as low as 9th. Friday night’s loss officially eliminated the Minutemen from home ice contention, as they now trail Maine by 10 points with 8 points up for grabs. Here’s the standings, and the teams’ remaining schedules:
5. Merrimack 26 pts @Lowell, vs. Lowell, @UMass, vs. UMass
6. PC 23 pts vs. BC, @ BC, vs. Lowell, @Lowell
7. UNH 22 pts @UMass x2, @Maine
8. UMass 18 pts vs. UNH x2, vs. Merrimack, at Merrimack
9. Northeastern 18 pts vs. Maine x2, @BU, vs. BU
UMass’s season series with Mack and UNH will be determined in these last two weekends. They’ve lost the breaker to PC and they split 1-1-1 with Northeastern. The second tiebreaker is conference wins, and each team has 7. The third tiebreaker is record vs. the top team in the conference. So UMass holds that if BC is #1, and Northeastern wins it if Lowell is first. UMass is 1-2 against BU and the Huskies lost their only meeting with the Terriers so far. There are three/four-way tie scenarios with 5-8, but they get messy and most of them don’t favor UMass.
Following so far?
So, obviously, the best of all possible timelines is 5th place, which entails UMass sweeping its remaining schedule and Merrimack losing all four. In that scenario, UMass would need PC to finish with less than 3 points in that four-game gauntlet (very possible). If NU and UMass each won out, that first place tiebreaker (Lowell/BC) would come into play again. Also in this scenario, ABC announces it’s pulling Modern Family in exchange for a seven-season run of Community, and Jack Parker and Jerry York are simultaneously trampled by a pack of magical unicorns. Actually, it’s not the most far-fetched thing of all time. Most of it would be in UMass’s hands in sweeping Merrimack, but the other prerequisite (sweeping UNH while Lowell sweeps Mack) could easily happen, and make for a fascinating final weekend.
If UMass sweeps UNH, they’re in good shape. The Minutemen would clinch the tiebreaker, and then all UMass needs is for UNH to lose in Orono on Maine’s senior night, OR take just one point against Merrimack. However, 3 points puts UMass behind the eight-ball still, since it means splitting the season series. UMass then enters the final weekend a point back, and at that point, UNH holds the second tiebreaker of conference wins. (Which sucks, because they’re 0-6 against BU and BC.) Also, please please sweep UNH.
A split and UMass can’t catch the Wildcats unless they sweep Merrimack, again a far less likely scenario. However, Northeastern is still within reach at that point. Maine and BU are both better (and hotter) teams than UNH and Merrimack. UMass and NU play the same number of home/away games (3/1). In this regard, by the way, a win/loss split is much better for UMass than a tie-tie split, thanks to that conference win tiebreaker. Oh, and 0 or 1 points this weekend? That’s gonna put the ball in Northeastern’s court. But it’s important to note that if both UMass AND NU lose all four remaining games, UMass gets in and the Huskies don’t.
Really, it boils down to this: these two games are fucking massive. Lose one or both, and you’re betting on the Minutemen to pull it out of the fire against a team that, while not exactly lighting it up recently, still seems to have their number (not to mention a trip to the Lawler house of horrors). Win both, and both UNH and NU have to step it up against their superior opponents in order to keep UMass out of the playoffs.
It doesn’t need to be pretty. Just get there.
Derek and I checked the final Hockey East venue off our checklist with our long-awaited visit to Alfond. Of course, in a couple years we’ll have one or two new destinations tacked on as Notre Dame and possibly Mystery Team X (RPI?) enter the Hockey East ranks, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ve finally got enough data to put together a Fight Mass guide to the rinks in our fine conference, and you can look forward to that shortly. Spoilers – Alfond’s gonna rank pretty high on my list. What a fun place.
I’ll get to basketball soon, I swear. Despite the La Salle letdown, Tuesday’s a huge game against Xavier, you should all go, blah blah blah. Oh, and lacrosse is 2-0, and now that I live with someone who knows a little something about the game, I might actually provide some insight this year. Maybe.
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Breaking Bad lately. (Okay, definitely. I just caught up on four seasons in the last 3 weeks or so.) But the last two weeks of UMass hockey has me feeling like Walter White, down in the crawlspace, alternately screaming and laughing maniacally as it all falls apart. (I won’t spoil anything else here for those who haven’t seen it, but here’s the scene I’m referring to. It’s one of the greatest 2 1/2 minute scenes in TV history.)
Of course UMass would find a way to stick around in back-to-back huge games at Northeastern and Merrimack. And of course they’d find a way to lose both games, one just moments into overtime and the other in the waning seconds, in a scene so reminiscent of opening night (at Northeastern, coincidentally) and so painfully predictable that all you can do is laugh.
And of fucking COURSE! they would go out the next weekend, clinging to their playoff lives, and get their first road win of the season, and first-ever win on the road against a top-ranked team, in a venue that has been a house of horrors ever since it opens its shiny-but-overpriced doors, only to come out the next night, with the same goalie and same lineup, and sleep through the first ten minutes of the game. Oh, and just as a bonus teaser, they rallied down 4-1 and 5-3 to pull within a goal with a few minutes left, and even got a gift power play, and proceeded to fail to take advantage of it.
Four games. Two points, with six more left on the table thanks to continued poor play at the beginning and end of games. UMass could’ve been in a position to leapfrog Maine with a sweep next weekend. But alas, here we go again, six games to go, dogfighting for eighth in a ten-team league for the fifth year in a row. Wait, wait, don’t tell me – they’re gonna win juuust enough, and catch enough lucky breaks, to sneak in as a “dangerous” #8, where they’ll proceed to lose a pair of heartbreakers at Conte Forum again. Pretty sure that episode is a rerun.
You know what’s more heartbreaking? This team, charmed as they’ve been to catch those breaks and sneak in as eighth, might have been better off missing the playoffs in those years. We’ve been tirelessly optimistic that Cahoon and his staff have been on the brink of figuring it out the last few years. It’s getting so very, very hard to keep that attitude. UMass is a snag with the coaching situation now, almost surely without the funds to make a coaching change thanks to the disgusting amount of money Kevin Morris will be getting from the state in order to protect our football team from having to be run any further into the ground by him. Playoffs or no playoffs, there’s no way Toot’s not coaching his final year of his contract unless he retires.
Look, I’ll say it again: Don Cahoon is, by all accounts, a fine human being, a great hockey mind, and a man the community is lucky to have. But it’s time to face the obvious – any other school in this conference would have already fired him by now. Look around the league at the schools that have made coaching changes this year. Hell, Lowell’s in first place. Lowell. And Providence has taken strides since shedding a longtime anchor as well. Northeastern’s had their struggles under Madigan, but they also lost the most talent on the ice in that group. Changing coaches isn’t some kind of magic bullet that’s guaranteed to improve things, but honestly, at this point, what choice do we have? BU head coach/evil Disney villain Jack Parker, who would certainly know about these sorts of things, was bewildered in interviews before and after the game by UMass’s lack of success this season. He thinks they’re too talented to struggle like this. Too fast, too skilled. If that’s not an indictment of our current coaching staff, I don’t know what is.
Next season we lose a guy who’s become an improbable anchor of the blue line in Marcou, and two of our most talented forwards in Syner and Hobbs. Certainly, production that is replaceable. But the vaunted Blaise MacDonald recruiting line has yet to land anyone who looks as program-changing as a Scott Wilson or a Chad Ruhwedel. Certainly, the nucleus that returns – talented forwards like Guzzo, Sheary and Pereira, a much-improved blue line, and three goalies with some playing time under their belts – shows a lot of promise.
But I’ve been saying that for far too long. Beyond next year, how this program positions itself in its recruitment of both players and Toot’s replacement (assuming next year is, indeed, his last) will go a long, long way to determining how soon this program escapes this perennial Groundhog Day-esque spring purgatory.
P.S. That’s enough negativity for one post. I know I’ve been slacking on articles, but I’ll have my slightly-more-optimistic basketball catch-up article up this week. Keep in mind that it’s a lot more fun to write these after a win.
Ah, officiating. Is there anything sports fans bitch and moan about more? Officiating draws more anger, disgust, and frustration from normally even-keeled individuals than taxes, the weather, and Oscar/Emmy/Grammy results all rolled together. (Seriously, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is up for Best Picture? And don’t get me started on the unwarranted praise heaped upon Modern Family. Err, I digress.) Officiating boils our blood because, when mistakes are deemed to be made, good efforts from your team’s players go for naught. Mistakes from the other side get wiped away. The game, as it were, is taken out of the hands of the players and put into the obviously-completely-overpaid-and-incompetent hands of a dude dressed like a prison guard.
The thing about officiating is that it’s absolutely impossible to judge the job officials do when you’re partial to one team. Maybe others are different, but I find it nearly impossible to watch a sporting event without rooting for one side or the other. If “my” teams aren’t playing, I root based on the standings, for the teams that have already played “my” teams (yes, that does mean BC this year in basketball, don’t shoot me), for the teams with the most likable players or who are playing the villains of the sport in question, and when all else fails, the underdog. To varying extents, for better or for worse, I get attached to the game. And when you’re attached to the game, to one team or the other, you see the game in a different light, and borderline calls become egregious oversights or pointed slights one way or the other. Obviously, the extent varies from “(shaking head in disbelief as LeBron takes five steps on his game-winning layup against some last-place team)” to “WHAT THE FUCK HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY CALL GOALIE INTERFERENCE WHEN HE GOT PUSHED INTO THE GOALIE AND YOU EVEN CALLED THE PENALTY FOR PUSHING HIM INTO THE GOALIE?!!!!!” based on who’s playing. But you have to be real detached from what’s going on to see things with no bias whatsoever.
Now, having said all of that, let’s not sit here and pretend the officiating wasn’t a factor in Friday night’s home loss (home what-now?!) to Lowell for the Minutemen. I’ve seen officiating crews get jeered jokingly from fans skating onto the ice. I’ve never seen an entire arena stand up and boo as loudly as they did Friday night as the zebras skated onto the ice to start the second and third periods. I could rehash the harsh words of our triangular colleague or even mild-mannered Craig Finn lookalike slash veteran hockey beat writer Dick Baker’s even more sternly-worded column (protip: it’s much more fun if you read it in Finn’s voice), but you know the score: UMass rushes out to a 1-0 lead and an 8-0 shots advantage, Lowell gets four power plays in the period (of which one was definitely a good call, one could’ve gone either way, and the other two were as real as Rick Santorum’s election chances), and it’s all downhill from there. Some of the Lowellier of Lowell fans will sit there and mock all they want, but when even their complete homer-to-end-all-homers play-by-play announcer is expressing surprise at some of the calls and – more importantly – the non-calls the other way, something has to be up, no?
But, y’see, here’s the thing – in spite of it all, UMass had a chance to win this game. They trailed 3-2 with plenty of time to go in the third, put a couple goals past Doug Carr (finally), and, in the rare stretches of even-strength play that were to be found, they dominated play for large stretches of time. What better middle finger to the fates than to pull out a game in which the other team had seven power plays to your two? Nope. The Minutemen couldn’t even get out of their own zone for the final minute of the game to pull their goalie, then let in a bad rebound goal to seal the deal instead. And, as the three-sided one predicted, the mental collapse carried over to the next night, in a 5-2 loss that, while not without a few disagreeable calls, was lost single-handedly by bad UMass decision-making.
Good teams fight through the bullshit. If they’re only playing well at even strength, they make the most of that even-strength time and worry about killing the penalties when they have the lead. You know what didn’t come from a call? The giveaway that led to Lowell’s go-ahead 2-1 goal that really took a lot of the life out of the building. The fact of the matter is, even after one of the night’s worst calls – Phillips going for a “boarding” call in the final five minutes on a play where his man fell down virtually untouched in front of him – the Minutemen had over two minutes left to do something with the post-penalty-kill momentum. They did not. They ran out of gas, despite having a week off while Lowell played its fourth game in eight days. And then they did the same the next night, after storming back to tie a game at 2.
And so here we are, with UMass fighting for its playoff life yet again. Look, Lowell’s got a damn good team this year, but UMass had a chance to pull even (ahead with the tiebreaker) if things had rolled a little differently. But it’s our job as fans to get mad about the calls. It’s the players’ job to find a way to win in spite of them, and definitely to shake frustration off. The Minutemen did neither, and lost Friday and Saturday for those respective reasons. They’ve got a chance to turn things right back around this weekend with their juiciest chance yet at a road win (Northeastern) and another big home game against a ranked team (Merrimack, whom they played extremely close twice last year and, err, we’re not sure what happened in the other game, maybe it got canceled?).
A good showing next weekend and we can chalk Lowell’s sweep up to the fact that they’re the better team this year, plain and simple. But if this turns out to be the beginning of the end, the Minutemen have nobody to blame but themselves.
(And maybe Hansen. But mostly themselves.)