Category: Uncategorized

Tie Fighters and Non-Fighters

GET IT BECAUSE STAR WARS ETC

Did you know Matt of Fight Mass dot com has never seen Star Wars and is proud of it? He likely won’t even get the joke in the title and definitely doesn’t even give even the smallest of fucks. Feel free to register your opinions on that to At Fight Mass on the Twittermatic.

Anyway. Whatever.

Let’s see how our three favorite teams did this week. First, our football team.

Yeah, that seems about right. Rather than talk about the 28-10 blown lead, which was predictable af, and rather than talk about that we got to be the laughing stock of the nation on a Scott Van Pelt bit this morning, and how everyone on the defense visibly stopped fighting after the first Toledo touchdown of the second half, and how Mark Whipple looks completely defeated and bored, let’s discuss how awesome our beer was for our tailgate.

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You know your tailgate beer is good when Dogfish Head looks like shit next to the rest of it

How awesome, you ask? What other tailgate in the country has Trillium DDH Fort Point pale ale, Tree House That’s What She Said stout, Night Shift Bean Porter, and a ton of other good shizz? None, probably, I’d assume, unless there’s a posse of craft beer fanatic Patriots season ticket holders out there somewhere. Sadly this continues to be the only good aspect week after week. I stopped at the convenience store near Gillette on Rt. 1 and some guy in the bathroom saw my jersey and asked “hey, do they have a football game today too or is it just people gathered to tailgate?” A dumb question seemingly at the time, but – y’know what? Maybe we do start skipping the games. I feel like the students are on to something.*

*This is not an opinion I actually advocate. Yet.

Let’s move on to hockey. Ah, hockey, the thing we started this blog about, and which we had the least amount of expectations for this season, and they continue to heed – for once! – our annual request of “please don’t suck.” Friday’s game against UNH started like one of the many, many, m-a-n-y trademark Mick Meltdowns (TM) where a seemingly unthinkable blowout happens about once a month and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it other than the team completely stopped playing. Only, a funny thing happened – they kept playing. Another funny thing, of course, was that UNH seemingly did stop playing, and their goalie isn’t very good to begin with so far this year. But one thing led to another led to yet another, and suddenly a 6-1 deficit went bye-bye and the Minutemen escaped with a point in their first Hockey East matchup of the year. Incidentally, this is the first time in the Mick era that UMass has managed to not lose their Hockey East opener, though to be fair, this is also the first time he’s gotten a Hockey East opener against a team not on Comm Ave. (Toot’s final year opened with that fall-from-ahead tie at Northeastern. Remember that? And some asshat almost made off with my jersey? Good times.)

So following the biggest comeback in the modern era of the program, UMass, now the de facto #22 team in all the land, gets a two-day trip to, umm, Trenton, NJ for some reason, to play Maine and probably Yale in a few more non-conference games. UMass is pretty adept at winning these random in-season tourneys in odd locations, but since this is bizarro year and so far they also seem adept at scoring goals, I have no idea what to expect. We’ve already seen them officially clinch the first-ever above-.500 month in Mick’s tenure (something seniors this year could have never gotten to see as students!) and there’s reason to believe a strong performance this coming weekend could end up with them…ranked? Right? It says that on the teleprompter. That can’t be right, can it? Huh. That’s what it says. Alright then.

Oh, and let’s throw one more thing in there quickly: KenPom, one of those wonderful college basketball prognosticating whozewhatsits, recently used a proprietary formula to predict the A-10 standings this year. UMass, naturally, has been picked to finish last. Behind Fordham. Yes, that Fordham. Seriously. Needless to say, this is some serious statistical #disrespect. #Disrespectistics? Something like that. Now, don’t get me wrong, with Pipkins’s status apparently still in limbo as far as qualifying to play this year, Hines and Holloway still massive question marks, and Donte Clark seemingly our best offensive player, I wouldn’t say this is anything other than the bridgiest of bridge years. But that doesn’t mean they’re worse than Forgoddamnham. Ah well. Couple more weeks before we get to see UMass prove it, in their opening game against Howard, whom I am not afraid of, for the record.

Alright, that’s it. No witty roundup this week. I’m going to go contemplate the fact that our football team is supposed to somehow improve next year with its two most prolific offensive players graduating. Bye.

-Max

On failure, failing and other meditations on crippling defeat

Okay real talk right now: is this program cursed?

No, no, come back, don’t walk away. Hear me out. LET HIM FINISH! It just feels of late that Matt’s famous refrain, “being a UMass fan is like watching your dog run away forever,” gets truer every day. I must have used the Lucy and Charlie Brown analogy by now, too. Just empty the chamber with that. Fire the musket. Fire the musket. Fire the musket. Every single time this godforsaken program gets our hopes up in any given sport, there’s a hilarious, crushing defeat lurking just around the corner. This past weekend, it was a 15-10 clusterfuck of a “football game” against one of the only MAC teams we should be definitely better than, Kent State, on a frustrating, chilly Homecoming afternoon. Not only did the once vaunted Frohnapfel offense get completely blanked in the second half, but they never really even came close to putting a drive together the entire half. There’s not enough Tree House beer in the world to drown out my sorrows (although, there is in my fridge now, in the weekend’s true saving grace) (also, there’s not enough Tree House beer in the world, period).

Anyway, so yeah, the season is over, barring (or even notwithstanding) a miracle win next week at Gillette against 19th-ranked Toledo. I just hope we get to see Ross Comis get some playing time and maybe create some hope for next year, because the cupboard will be awfully bare without Tajae Sharpe. At least Marquis Young is fun to watch. We’re gonna get stomped by BC again next year and so help me, I will set things on fire. I’m telling you, I’m not one to buy superstition, but what gods did we piss on the burial grounds of, exactly? Is this cosmic retribution for giving Cosby a degree (and if so, why is Temple 6-0)? Words fail me. It’s getting so bad that Matt’s other favorite team, Michigan, is doing UMassy things these days. Does this happen to the other programs on campus? Are there lacrosse and soccer and women’s tennis collapses and/or upsets that we don’t even know about because we don’t care enough? Did the UMass debate team make a grammatical mistake costing them a match with Worcester State? Does our a capella team have a 52-game losing streak to BC? These are serious things I ponder now.

In lighter, happier news, hockey is indeed now 3-0 after beating Sacred Heart in front of a crowd of…never mind, the point is, it’s a win. This team is going to have to earn the fan support back, and hopefully word of mouth about their hot start and exciting young cornerstones (plus having a hated neighbor state school in town next weekend) leads to a bigger crowd next week. After Plevy stole the spotlights on opening night, a slightly larger sample size has shown that Dennis Kravchenko looks determined to prove that Vatrano had very little to do with his success last year as a second fiddle. But let’s get real – there’s at least a 94% chance one of Kravvy, Plevy and Walshy gets hurt between now and the end of the year, right? Are there prop bets in college hockey? I feel like there must be. I don’t believe in sports betting – that’s a rant for a whole ‘nother column – but even I’d have to be tempted. Something must come. UMass is on the verge of its first winning month under Coach Mick if they can even just tie one of the next three games, none of which are against particularly lofty competition, and two of which are in a setting UMass has always inexplicably thrived in (mid-season non-con tourneys in places that make absolutely no sense to host said tourneys, this time Trenton). Oh, by the way, that’s serious – he’s had three .500 months, and that’s the high watermark. We can only hope this latest trend continues: that while a football team that has fallen miserably short of their expectations continues to flounder, the hockey team that came in with none is a shining beacon of light while we wait for the Big Four (or Five) to arrive on Coach Kellogg’s court next year, saving the program and sending us directly to the B1G.

Assorted Notes and Observations

  • Speaking of DK: ran into him at the tailgate with a couple players, Brower, Harris and Milligan from the Travis Ford days. They seem to be in good spirits. Hope they didn’t stay for the second half.
  • Actually, a good percentage of students did seem to stick around at halftime. Maybe it’s better if they don’t?
  • One more note at McGuirk: tried the baked potato, good stuff. The new culinary options are a step in the right direction, but I’m glad BAMF is aware that’s not good enough if we’re to stay in this stadium.
  • Seriously, Tree House is fucking amazing beer, and worth the trip to the middle of nowhere to pick up as much beer as your wallet can handle. Three words of advice: get there early.
  • That Colts fake punt though.

-Max

UMass 2015-2016. What will they win? Will they win things? Let’s find out.

Oh. Hey.

So a lot has happened in both of our lives since the last time you heard from the intrepid Fight Mass duo on a consistent basis. One of us moved to Florida. The other (me) moved back to Massachusetts, albeit actually not any closer to Amherst. We’ve both been tied up with the wonderful things that employment and significant others bring. It’s a beautiful thing, life.

Meanwhile, UMass has done a few businesses. In football, the New Mark Whipple Era has brought hope to the masses, and with hope, as we’ve discussed time and time again in this space, means expectations to be crashed expertly to pieces. Actually, it’s weird – I started this blog what feels like 15 years ago (it’s actually six, which, still, jeez we’re old now) as a hockey blog, and since graduating, hockey’s the only team that hasn’t produced massive disappointment. Mind you, it’s because they haven’t produced anything where expectations are warranted, but still. Football had a number of wins lined up last year and, in a series of sick circus acts, invented new and creative ways to lose to directional Midwestern nobodies and listless Power 5 programs. Cursing and sadness, dear readers. Still, there was at least hope. This year, with Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe back, we’ve come out gangbusters and are a lock for the MAC Championship Game. Haha, but actually, we’re 1-4, given up 62 points twice (!!) and, well, the Temple game. It’s at the point where losing by 10 on the road to us for FI goddamn U is, as their coach put it, an “embarrassing loss.” Sure, there’s plenty of season left to play, but we’re back to wondering whether having loved and lost is better than the Molnar years. (It definitely is, keep the faith, thousand points of light, etc.)

And then basketball! Oh, what fun basketball briefly was there. We went down to Raleigh with our buddy Josh and had just a massive amount of fun getting stomped by Tennessee in the first trip to the dance since the 90s. Last year was meant as a renaissance of sorts, buoyed by the great honor of having the first openly-gay player in college hoops, and a good one to boot! And, well, I don’t have to tell you how that all ended. Now we’re seeing projections of another year without a postseason tourney appearance, no, not even the lowly NIT. Hope lingers on the horizon, with DK and the Champions Center pulling in four (hopefully five? Bruce? Bruce?!!!) top-notch prospects, and the ever-present mystery of whether the new names on this roster will Chaz them into the Chazmosphere once more. No matter how bright the future, this season just has that “bridge year” vibe as we approach it. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

So it comes back, as it always does, to the Mullins Center ice. It’s saddened us to see the attendance dwindle to the meager numbers Papa Triangle always told us old yarns of. It’s depressing to think that, at one time, we were worried about the huge swaths of students showing up not chanting anything creative, and leaving at 2nd intermission, when now they hardly come at all. We’ve seen this team lose to AIC and UConn, and give up goals in a way that we once thought we’d seen the worst of ever that one night in North Andover. Last year, even with NHL-quality talent in Vatrano and Montour, and a solid cast offensively, the lack of goaltending, discipline, and focus fueled a new level of disappointment. They weren’t supposed to be good, but how can they be this bad?

We enter 2015 with a new hope. A new AD, Ryan B.A.M.F.ord (sorry), has come in with a new energy and commitment to the hockey team that I think we all know his predecessor sorely lacked. The pressure on Mick is unspoken, but there is an undeniable air of change surrounding the whole athletic program. Change, in a commitment to getting UConn and BC on the schedule for multiple sports, as they should be every year. Change, in creative scheduling in general that seems designed with the goal of getting into a conference, and not just the Sun Belt, but somewhere we belong. Change in getting the sports teams into a spot where they’re keeping up with the schools #75 (with a bullet) national college ranking. And yes, change, in the sense that if things don’t shape up reaaaal quick, a real coaching search is a-comin’.

Having said that, UMass hockey is 2-0 after sweeping Colorado College on the road. Remember the last time they were 2-0 to start a season? Here’s a hint: this blog didn’t even exist at the time. That would be their 4-0 opening to the 09-10 season, which, in retrospect, was a hell of a lot more fun than anything the program has done since, no matter how up-and-down and frustrating that year was. Mind you, UMass has swept bad teams on the road even during the Mick Malaise. Remember those two games at Colgate last year that looked like they were played in some sort of awful M.C. Escher hockey rink due to the tilted home camera? That year didn’t really end too great.

Still, you have to like what you hear about this team so far. While we didn’t actually watch the overpriced stream, the word on the street is Austin Plevy is already making a name for himself as perhaps the Vatrano heir apparent (please don’t leave after the first season!). It’s a joke and a sham and just inane bullshit that he only tied some dick named Max for the Hockey East freshman of the week award. Anyway. Henry Dill being flat-out competent is a relief after last year, when all three goalies were just atrocious on most nights. And freshman Nic Renyard was cool and collected in game two, with a bevy of clutch third-period saves as UMass mounted a comeback reminiscent of, well, every single team against UMass the last five years or so. If one of them can just be fine in net, that’s all we ask for after last year. Let’s not forget the rumblings that Wakaluk has made huge strides, too.

So, as “the funeral is about to begin” rumbles over the Mullins PA and the team opens its home season, the ninth season I’ve spent as a fan of this forever-underachieving program, we once again keep the fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, this would be the year they come out of nowhere and shock the Hockey East world. Literally every other team in the conference has done it since Jon Quick left us eight years ago. (I’m counting UConn from last year just being mediocre as “shocking the Hockey East world” for the sake of this argument.) If we lose 8-2 to Sacred Heart and/or things go back to shit, that “funeral” is going to be for the Mick era, a nice guy hired to the wrong program at the wrong time and given nowhere near the resources needed to make it somehow work.

Either way, it’s been too long. I can’t promise you’re going to get Fear the Triangle-level posts. I can’t promise you’ll get the video podcasts Matt and I promised, then quickly abandoned last year. (You probably won’t.) I can’t promise this won’t devolve into a platform for me to wax poetic about how good Tree House Brewing is. I mean, I can’t even promise I’ll post again for the rest of the year. This shit’s hard to keep up with. Whatever.

Here come the Minutemen, again. Try as I might, and I’ve threatened many times (Matt can attest to me during the A-10 game against George Washington), I can’t turn my back on my alma mater and this program for long. Someday, this will be worth something. When will that be? Let’s find out.

-Max

Stonewalled

So that sucked, eh?

Tonight’s home loss to George Mason was pretty brutal viewing, and the numbers all back that up. 39.7% shooting. 7-of-25 from downtown. 11 missed free throws. 1-8 shooting for 8 points for Chaz. Three turnovers and just one hoop for DG. 91 points allowed. Yeesh. It’s like the half of the Mullins Center that didn’t show up got some kind of advanced notice.

And the late-game magic of recent memory? Absent tonight, thanks to clutch shooting from Sherrod Wright (one of the conference’s most underrated players) and UMass’s continued free-throw shortcomings. All of the good will from a coast-to-coast home win vs. La Salle followed by a gritty game on the road with URI dissipates with a loss like this. A few short weeks ago UMass was a lock for the NCAAs. Now, the odds are still ever in our favor, just with some added land mines that we’ve now planted for ourselves.

Dropping this one sends UMass’s RPI from 10 to 20, still in that fun “double dollar sign” range to which we look good on other teams’ resumes. Obviously, there’s now an uphill battle for that coveted top-four positioning that avoids a dangerous Thursday first-rounder in Brooklyn against an underachiever. But all is not lost! UMass can control its own destiny down the stretch with those head-to-head meetings with VCU, SLU and GW. The former two of those three are all at home, and will see sell-out crowds and a more energized Mullins Center where playing down to the competition like tonight won’t be an option. Plus, you can take the revenge factor out of it – both VCU and SLU beat UMass last year, the Rams getting us twice. GW on Saturday may be looking for revenge from Brooklyn last year (not to mention to bounce  back from getting routed by VCU tonight), but you get the picture. Mason was hungry to avenge what happened in Fairfax a few weeks back, just like the Bonnies and Hawks before them. The difference being UMass shouldn’t lose games like this at home, but what’s done is done. Nothing to do but try to bounce back.

If anything, the 2 1/2 years of the Chaz era have taught us the following:

1) UMass is capable of losing to anyone, anywhere,

2) There is next to zero momentum or continuity from game to game, either positively or negatively,

3) This crew brings their best efforts to the conference tourney.

So yeah, sixth place for the moment kinda bites, sure. Just the same, the next George on the schedule doesn’t scare me one bit. Let’s see what these guys are made of after their first home loss.

The Stretch Run: Q&A with a Fight Mass Dot Com Writer

Oh hey guys, what’s up? 

So life got busier again and I’ve found myself consistently putting off writing about the one thing that occupies much of my non-work week, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen Athletic Programs. It turns out it’s really tough to work full-time and travel around watching UMass play and write about said UMass. I think I might have mentioned that before.

Nonetheless, as both hockey and basketball gear up for the stretch run, I feel that now is the time to break the Fight Mass media silence (you know, besides our increasingly-popular Twitter account) for some long form opinion-sharing. I’ve decided to put this in the form of a Q&A, because it doesn’t matter why.

Let’s start with hockey. How are the prospects for these final few weeks looking?

Decidedly meh. Every time the team puts together a full 60-minute effort, they follow it up with a lackluster performance. This would have been fine had it been the story of their season, but instead we’re seeing a team play to its preseason expectation of mediocrity, after months of being sub-mediocre. Visualize trying to climb out of a deep dark hole, finally finding a ladder, and then curling up next to it and falling asleep. That’s basically UMass right now. Blow out Merrimack at home one night, blow a third-period lead at their place the next night. March into Matthews and put up 50 shots in a dominant 3-0 win one night, come home and lay an egg against Lowell the next. Four games remain: at Lowell (always a house of horrors), home against Northeastern (still looking like a tournament team somehow), and a home-and-home with a good Providence squad. Two wins might be the best we can hope for. UMass still has a realistic shot at hosting the opening-round playoff game, which would be the first since the Maine sweep my freshman year. It would be a good time, format be damned. It’s going to be real hard to see it happening if captain Troy Power remains out with what looked like a gruesome knee injury, but reports thus far indicate he’s not been ruled out just yet.

Did anything fun happen recently at games?

Oh yeah, we sat in front of Toot and noted Fight Mass fan James Marcou at Matthews last weekend. That was pretty cool. Also, we betrayed our roots and hung out up in the BU cheering section with our new buds Bloggin’ on Babcock at the recent comeback tie against them a few weeks back. Honestly, it was a blast to see how the “other half” lives. Gosh, their fans are just so much more coordinated with things like chants, yelling, and actually understanding what’s going on it a hockey game. And don’t worry, we were still happy when UMass rallied at the end, because we don’t get a higher draft pick if the team is bad so there’s no use rooting against them.

Okay, that’s enough hockey. Let’s get to shooty hoops. What’s gone wrong since that #13-ranked start?

Right, we were riding on cloud nine when we left you last, and since then we’ve seen that fun little number next to our name disappear and be replaced by enough lingering doubts to fill 40 pages of UMassHoops game threads. Unfortunately, that procrastinating-til-the-last-minute strategy, which many had hoped would provide enough close calls to finally wake the team up to the dangers of letting teams hang around, collapsed in their face in not one, not two, but three straight roadies against middling conference foes. We almost saw it happen again against a below-middling Rhody team over the weekend, but Chaz and the trademark general incompetence we seem to see every year from URI’s program bailed us out in the end. To be sure, UMass has kept every one of these games competitive. If you want to spin the excuse-o-meter, you’ll find hot Richmond shooting, shoddy officiating in Olean (and, for that matter, the first half in Kingston just to keep the Rams in the game), and self-inflicted foul wounds on Hawk Hill. I’m not convinced Richmond’s home crowd made a big difference, but the atmospheres in Philly and particularly up in Olean (where the students are literally on the court) certainly qualified as intimidating. Winning on the road is never easy in a good conference, and the A-10 has been much better than advertised this year outside of URI, Mason and Fordham.

But are we still going to make the tourney?

Yeah, I think that’s still a pretty safe bet. UMass hosts Mason tomorrow night, which should be safely in the “W” column. That would put us at 7-3 with this six-game gauntlet: at GW, vs. VCU, vs. URI, at Dayton, at Duquesne, vs. Saint Louis.

Home against URI should be another win, and Duquesne is hot garbage and provided we’re not a top-15 team again I can’t imagine their fanbase (?) making that an intimidating environment. That would get us to 9 wins, matching the total from the last two years. I think that in order to be contenders in Brooklyn, UMass would be wise to finish top-four and avoid a tiring first-round affair. So if UMass can find a way to split those remaining four, that’d be swell. George Washington has always matched up well against us, but I feel their record this year is a bit inflated by a weaker schedule, and they’ve got a few injuries to sort through. VCU isn’t the same away from home when they can’t run their “mug the fuck out of everyone” defense. Dayton started strong but has scuffled of late, but because there’s literally nothing else to do in Dayton, their fans show up at their needlessly large arena every single game and I could see that being a trap. And then we have senior day, Chaz’s (hopeful) final game at the Bill, what currently projects as the first legitimate opportunity to witness a Mullins court-storming since that UConn game before even I was a student. The Billikens will be a true test with their pace and style that will require our outside shooting to be on point to have a chance. I think 2-2 in that span is very much achievable. 3-1 (with a win over SLU) might be enough to win the regular-season title, depending on other outcomes. Let’s hope we can still have that conversation in a little bit.

What about football?

Hush your mouth. We’ll have all offseason to talk about Whipple.

 

Alright, that’ll be it for now. Back to watching random college basketball (SD State vs. Wyoming, yes I have a problem, shut up). Tune in to @FightMass for all your George Mason live-tweeting needs.

Yule Shoot Your Coach Out

Welcome back to UMass sports, guys! Hope you had a merry Christmas and also a non-denominational Happy Holiday, especially you, Nick Canelas. We now return to your regularly schedulWHAAAAAAAAAAAAT?

wow

Yeah, so I’ll admit, Charley getting das boot this quick was a bit of a surprise given that, oh I dunno, it’s almost January already and whatnot. But timing with coaching hires isn’t really the UMass way, is it? It does suck to take the focus off of the basketball success story by getting the local media all abuzz about how awful the football program is again (didn’t we just do this a few weeks ago?) but, as much as I wanted to see Charley succeed, the reaction from the players and donors seems to suggest that there was more to this than just the 2-22 record. I don’t think he buried the school the way Morris did – we had, and hopefully will still have, pieces to build around. Molnar’s lack of progress in year two suggests he might have just not been the right x’s-and-o’s coach for the job. Anyway, now begins the coaching search, so, you know, Nick Saban would be a good pick IMO. I’ll settle for Mark Whipple though. A lot of schools would settle for Mark Whipple.

I was tempted, by the way, to take down Dan Shank’s “column” for the Globe where he goes on and on about how happy he is to see UMass fail, but given his recent track record in sports predictions, maybe this is the best thing that could have happened to UMass. In which case, thanks for the reverse jinx! But seriously, #logoff.

So moving on to happier thoughts, the basketball team ah goddamnit they lost too didn’t they. Yes, in the world’s least aesthetically-pleasing game, played with rims made of granite on a sliding panel of styrofoam, the Minutemen suffered their first loss of the season 60-55 at the hands of Florida State last weekend. Nothing really went UMass’s way, from god-awful shooting from 3 and the FT line to lousy officiating (including a glorious missed foul at the end that could’ve been avoided by jacking up another 3, which we would have missed anyway, but still). In the good news column, the loss only dropped us to #2 in the RPI since Florida State is a much better team than people are giving them credit for, even if they did also play like dog shit. Whatever, we’re gonna have a packed house against Providence on Saturday, we’re still ranked. Feelin’ fine.

Anyway, I leave you with this. Good night, sweet world.

Four Score, and several years later

So it was that the fourth anniversary of your blogging/Tweeting heroes is met with the agony of a 5-3 defeat at the Mullins Center for the UMass hockey team, in front of literally dozens of fans in a driving snowstorm. The program is in a much different place than it was that fateful night four years ago tonight when I pulled up WordPress on my desktop in North A 309A and started writing my very first post. UMass was in the midst of what looked like a promising season, one which naturally fell apart for them pretty quickly. FBS football was a distant dream. UMass baskettaball was an abortion circus on the court. My time at UMass was coming to a close, and I wanted to have something to keep me tied to the university community.

Four years later, I live and work with my Twitter cowriter, I’ve been to dozens of games home and away, driven halfway across the country twice, experienced the finest hockey barns, college towns, and beer havens Hockey East has to offer. We’ve met lots of fun people along the way, made our fair share of internet enemies and, in most cases, frenemies. Fight Mass has been a major part of my life, and Matt’s life, and we’re both eternally grateful to the experience, warts and all. Thanks for being part of the ride, and here’s to more good times ahead. Hoops is ranked and unbeaten, football is in FBS and (we can only hope) on its way to not being a national laughingstock once our coach has a full array of recruits and scholarships as his disposal. Hockey, despite tonight’s roadblock, is coming off the program’s first-ever(!!!) three-game road winning streak, and for whatever reason, finally starting to buy in and play with a sense of pride. That includes the much-maligned seniors, whose apathy is at least understandable if still not exactly excusable, and so we remain hopeful for a strong second half against a somewhat less-intimidating conference slate. Happy days indeed, not the happiest days yet, but happy.

That sappy sentimental bullcrap aside, I’ll take this opportunity to deliver the previously-promised gallery and rundown of our trip to South Bend and Chicago, including a writeup for the new Travelogue section. Enjoy, and we’ll see you on the Twitter machine for tomorrow night’s showdown in Athens.

———

Travelogue: South Bend, IN (Notre Dame)

The Setting: So South Bend appears to be two different entities. In the first, the quintessential (Matt went so far as to call it the most quintessential) college campus, with rustic (albeit repetitive) architecture, sprawling quads, the famous landmarks. Encircled by strip malls seemingly stuck in the 80s, the Notre Dame campus is an oasis of college classicism.

And then there’s the entire everything else around it. Like I said, everything around the campus is the strip malliest of strip malls. Downtown South Bend, a quick jaunt down the road, sounded promising based on my experiences in classic midwest college towns like Ann Arbor and Madison. Sadly, there is nothing in downtown South Bend that remotely resembles either of those meccas. In fact, I’m tempted to say there is nothing in downtown South Bend, period. After Friday’s game, our only full night in town, we were planning on hitting up the best-reviewed Yelp bar in town, the Fiddler’s Hearth, for what we envisioned as a classier McMurphy’s with a better taplist and classic Irish food. Instead, we walked into a cramped saloon with nothing more interesting than Smuttynose (hey, we have that here!) on tap and but a single TV over the bar. I’m sure the food was fine, but that wasn’t the scene we were seeking, so we left the car nearby (after all, we figured it would be harder to get a parking spot where all the bars are!) and walked a half-mile through the freezing cold to…well, where were we going again? A cursory glance of the local spots revealed that most of the businesses were closed already (?!) and the few spots that were open? The best we found was some redneck bar with indoor smoking and pool tables, no good beer and no people. We assumed the students were all just away on break already? (They weren’t, we later learned.) I feel like even the tumbleweeds were afraid to come out. The desertedness of the town was so severe that we began to wonder if Manti Te’o may have imagined more than just his girlfriend.

The one saving grace, if you can even call it that, is the little shopping/apartment development that we later discovered over near the campus, which looks like it was put up in the past five years, leaving us to wonder what the fuck people did for fun before that. We did manage to find a relatively nice beer bar to enjoy my midnight birthday, and there appeared to be one or two bars in the more collegey vein with actual patrons, but still. Maybe things are different on football gamedays when people are all out on the town and out drinking (protip: I was here twice in my high school days with my ND family members, and though I couldn’t drink, the atmosphere is infinitely more festive around the campus). But as far as college towns are concerned, this is among the worst. (But, you know, Chicago is like an hour and a half away. So there’s that.)

The Venues: Most relevantly to UMass, Notre Dame joining Hockey East is a big boost for the league’s already-impressive collection of venues. Compton Family Ice Arena is a very different beast from what we’re used to, given the mish-mash of adorable small-time venues (MC/PC), classic barns (UVM/ME/NU), and mid-range but respectable sites like our own, Conte, Tsongas and the like. Compton, I suppose, can best be described as mixing the best of the two actually-in-Boston venues, with the shiny amenities and luster of Agganis coupled with the intimacy and balcony of Matthews. Our seats in the balcony to the left of the press box were probably among the “worst” seats in the house, and even those provided a very good view of the rink. The locals were loud and boisterous, though the student section wasn’t really distinctive like in, say, Matthews or Alfond. Overtaking them, of course, is the new best band in Hockey East (until we start playing at games, of course). The Band of the Fighting Irish is awesome, leading some classic (if derivative) college hockey chants and playing a good mix of new and old songs, in addition to the iconic fight song after every goal. The goal horn is a little jarring to hear on TV, but sounds much cooler in person than it does on TV, and probably jumps into 2nd place after Maine on the all-important Hockey East Goal Horn Power Rankings. The most impressive thing about the arena to us was the staff, which is far and away the most friendly and accommodating in Hockey East. It’s not saying much, between the completely ambivalent staffs of Northeastern, Merrimack and our own, to the aggressively unfriendly UNH/UVM/BC staffs and the draconian BU folks. But the charming old men and women of Compton never missed an opportunity to thank us for making the trip, catapulting them ahead of the friendly folks of Maine and Lowell in the welcoming rankings. The locals were nothing but friendly, too, even after UMass pulled off the upset Saturday. In fact, Matt, noted Notre Dame hater extraordinaire, came to the only logical conclusion there can be based on how friendly everyone was: if you hate Notre Dame, you’ve clearly never been. The people here are awesome. It’s the bandwagon fans in the Northeast (and elsewhere) who have no ties whatsoever to the school who root for it “cuz I’m Irish kehd and the feckin leprechaaaahn and go Irish kehd” who project all the suck that people these days associate with ND. Those people should suffer a horrible snake-related fate. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, A+ venue, for sure, and one Hockey East is lucky to have now.

Other venues in the area include the newly-renovated Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, which looks like a very swell, very blue place to watch a basketball game, and that one football stadium I guess or whatever. I’ve been to Notre Dame Stadium a few times in the past thanks to my ND alumni family members brainwashing me at a young age, but it will obviously be a treat if we get a chance to come back here and watch UMass lose by 40 probably win somehow, thereby ruining Notre Dame’s season because I’ve seen more of that in my lifetime. But it really is great to see a classic football stadium with zero outside advertising outside of a single NBC Sports logo, no logos, just rows and rows of seats. It’s not as impressive as the Big House, but it’s iconic as hell and something all sports fans should see once in their lifetime. We’ll be back for you, Notre Dame Stadium.

Best Food: We weren’t in town long enough to make a good determination about this. However, consider this: Compton sells hockey helmet-shaped souvenir popcorn bowls.

Best Beer: So after our first night, where we settled on The Mark, a gastropub with a solid beer list but not much atmosphere, we did discover a few places the next day that had much better draft lists than anything downtown. We didn’t end up going to O’Rourke’s (also in that same little shopping plaza!) but it looked like a solid choice. Ultimately, we ended up watching UMass-BYU hoops at Legends of Notre Dame, which we initially dismissed as what we figured was a memorabilia shop, then realized was a bar/restaurant, and then upon taking a gamble, we got lucky with a killer beer list and $4 drafts of local craft (Three Floyds, Bells, and the like). The food there was mediocre – I enjoyed my sandwich enough but Matt had “the worst reuben he’s ever had” so let’s call it a draw – but the hospitality, cheap beer specials, and access to watch our game on a busy day (the overflow crowds from a day’s worth of basketball games showed up) made it the best choice.

Of course, as the pictures would profess, our biggest score in the state of Indiana was in Munster, IN, just outside of Chicago on the Illinois border, at the legendary Three Floyds Brewpub. Three Floyds is borderline Alchemist-status out there, only it never got destroyed, is in an infinitely more urban location, and makes more than one kind of beer now. But the hype factor is on par, and I would say the beer is, too. Their self-proclaimed flagship beer is the Alpha King, a solid pale ale, but their most famous offering in the beer world is their Zombie Dust, one of the finest beers either of us have ever had the pleasure of tasting. We bought a case because of course we did, and it’s a must-try if you’re able to get out there. Other offerings, such as the seasonal Alpha Klaus and the scotch ale Robert the Bruce, were quality choices as well. Chicago was a wonderful time for the brief 24 hours or so we got to spend there, and if you’re even remotely into craft beer, go here and have your mind blown, and come back and thank us later.

 

Alright, yay, we have enough of these things to open up a new page for them. Keep an eye out for a few more over the intersession break. In the meantime, thanks again for continuing to read the blog and Twitter. We love you all. ❤

– Max

 

A Volley Cheer

Make no mistake: we have been awfully harsh on our beloved hockey team in this space and, moreover, on our Twitter feed in the past month-plus. Really harsh. I think words such as “abortion” and “trainwreck” have been bandied about. In our defense, we’ve watched our team flounder about during possibly the most crucial stretch of its season, barely scratching out a couple of Hockey East points while getting its lunch handed to it on at least a bi-weekly basis. Granted, the runaway success of the hoops team has done wonders for our mental sanity as the diehard fans we are, but it’s still just been a tough season to watch. The biggest disappointment has not been that the team is merely underperforming – it’s been downright lackadaisical. As bad as the UNH camo game would have been had it actually happened and wasn’t just a horrible LSD-induced bad trip, the Vermont game was the absolute nadir of suck. The UNH game was a result of a goalie who wasn’t ready for the stage being pushed onto it like a sacrificial lamb wearing a shitty digital camo jersey, digging an impossible hole from which to climb, against a Wildcats team that needed a win badly. But to have a 2-0 loss, with your top goalie in net against a freshman and a far less talented foe, and to just completely mail in 60 minutes of haphazard, disinterested slop hockey, generating nothing resembling a constant attack, was so disheartening that I almost reconsidered Matt and I’s planned trip to South Bend. Why spend the time and money to see this team now (after all, we’ll be back in two years and we might not suck then! Right?), and miss out on a trip to Springfield (and Smith’s) to see a sellout crowd against the BYU Fightin’ Jimmers? Even some of our Twitter followers were teasing us for our choice. Why spend my birthday watching bad hockey?

Alas, with the vacation time already booked, we bit the bullet and drove 16 hours to the home of the Fighting Irish, with stops in Chicago and Munster, IN (I’ll explain) along the way. And not only did we have an absolute blast every step of the way, we also saw a UMass hockey team go toe-to-toe with one of the best in the nation for two straight nights, succumbing late in the first game, and grinding out an actual win in the second. In both games, so many aspects of the game were just plain better than we’d been witnessing, and we saw a lot more of the team that tied BC two nights (only getting credit for one, naturally) and a lot less of whatever the fuck the Vermont game was. Is there still lots of work to be done? Sure. Is this team going to magically turn it on in the second half and roll to a home ice position? Nah. Is Ben Gallacher a heart attack waiting to happen every time he touches the puck? Look, we’ve made our enemies in the past (ahem, Freddie Riley, cough, Mike Marcou) with our past criticism, and I know I sort of instituted a pseudo-ban on ganging up on individual players. We’re trying reaaaaaaaaaaaal hard not to let that happen, but then again both of those players ended up putting together not-the-worst senior seasons, so if that’s what it takes to get him to turn it around, then yes, Gallacher is the worst. (Sorry bud. You’ll thank us later if the past is any indication.)

We still think, warts and all, this team has potential. True, the performance from the GPS line of Gracel-Pereira-Sheary has been below expectations, but Gracel had himself a fine weekend and the other two looked more like their last-season equivalents again. We’ve had all kinds of baseless and somewhat-based speculation that the seniors on the team seem to be the biggest problem, tuning out a coach who didn’t recruit them and protesting the loss of their teammates cut in the preseason. But that didn’t seem like the case this weekend at least. And we still can’t sing enough praises for the second line of Pigozzi, Power, and Iacobellis, all of whom have bought into whatever Mick is teaching and who will be the core next year to build around along (hopefully) with Frank Vatrano. Long and short of it is that UMass still has just two wins and only nine conference games left, sitting in 9th despite by far playing the most games in the conference already. But with the new format this year, a finish in the 6-8 range earns home ice in the first round, and that is a goal this team can realistically achieve with a better second half. The potential is there – we saw it in the BC games, the Michigan State games, and now against Notre Dame. If Mastalerz can stay healthy (big if!), the pieces are there for a turnaround. UMass has plenty of time before they return to conference play, and these nonconference foes coming up offer a chance to build momentum for that.

Of course, it could just be a flash in the pan. We could have just seen the last of this team being competitive in 2013-2014, and maybe they’ll continue the disastrous path to 11th place and a first-round sweep by a middling team like, say, Vermont. But the journey, as always, remains worth it. Stay tuned for part 2 with the pictures and whatnot tomorrow night.

– Max

All Things Go

 

Well, it’s off to Chicago (and, subsequently, South Bend) for us. Make sure you tune in to @FightMass for all of the exciting updates from Compton Family Ice Arena as UMass hockey takes on the Fighting Irish, and also in things that are certainly going to be more fun, we’ll be exploring the Windy City for the first time (and livetweeting your prerequisite in-bad-taste Mormon jokes and whatnot) as we hopefully take in BYU vs. Chazketball in a South Bend bar.

See you in a few days!

– Max