Tagged: backing away from the ledge…

Carpe Fail

That’s Latin for “seize the fail,” FYI.

For those of you who are new to UMass sports fandom, this past weekend probably felt like a massive stomach punch (although the rest of us, in hindsight, probably should have known better.) Hockey got positively smoked by Quinnipiac (?!) in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 4-2 final score would indicate. This coming mere days after squeaking out just one goal against Hockey East cellar dwellers Vermont in a lifeless 2-1 defeat. Actually, truth be told, the Mass Attack has now sleepwalked through four games in a row. Any semblance of offensive prowess that they displayed in the early stages of this season seems to have been lost during that less-than-stellar Northeastern win, seemingly all wasted on the 7-2 drubbing of Holy Cross that now feels like it occurred sometime during the 1940s. No, much like windmills, scoring DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY!, but you know what I mean. At least in the NU and Maine games, the team looked like it cared a bit. Not so much on that three-game “road trip” to nowhere. QU, Lowell, and Vermont accounted for all six UMass victories last year. They’ve accounted for three consecutive losses and a distinct, familiar sinking feeling.

Obviously, fan discontent with this squad is reaching new highs (Christ, even Dick Baker is pissed), and being New England sports fans, everyone’s looking for a scapegoat. Last year, Marcou’s minus-a-billion plus/minus rating was an easy target, but he’s been distinctly less awful this season (though still not approaching Kublin levels just yet), giving credence to the theory that injuries played a big part in his struggles. The goalies have all been inconsistent, but each has shown flashes of brilliance. And then there’s Toot. Is the talent he’s recruiting simply not good enough to compete? Does the departure of Dennehy and his subsequent rise to glory playing in a high school rink telling us something? Is Toot’s “system” simply flawed, no matter what pieces he puts into it? All solid questions, all worth discussion, all of which will bring a variety of answers. (I’m going with maybe, absolutely, and its starting to look that way, respectively. But that’s just me.) But look, Toot’s not going anywhere. The guy’s a fixture, the longest-tenured by far of UMass’s “big three” coaches, and by all accounts, a great guy who does a lot for the community and for the school. He’s toyed with retirement as recently as last year, before signing his current deal which brings him through one more season after this one. Between that and getting rid of the Glenn Beck lookalike who was, ahem, “running” our football team for the past couple years in favor of an actual D1 football coach (hopefully), they’re not gonna pay to get rid of Toot now. I would be stunned if he was let go during this season, no matter how bad things may get. Now, if they miss the HEA Playoffs on the other hand…that’ll change our tune. There is no way this team should miss the playoffs in such a down year in the conference.

But, being the optimist that I am, I don’t foresee that being a possibility. Last year’s team improved markedly from first to second semester. They’ve hit a rough patch, and they do still have three dates with the #1 team in the country ahead, but I think they’ve got it in them to turn this around yet. It starts with actually giving a shit about these non-conference games. A game in shitty southern Connecticut on Thanksgiving weekend, I can sort of understand. But if you can’t get up for two Ivy League teams coming into the Bill (where, somehow, UMass remains undefeated, I should add) to close out the first half strong, you’re making a big statement on the team’s heart, regardless of how ultimately meaningless the games might be.

Let’s all take a deep breath for now and re-assess where this team stands in a week. Even then, there’s plenty of season ahead. It…gets…better?

Oh, also, bazkettaball. That’s what the Charleston game devolved to, by the way, after Chazketball was cut short by early foul trouble. The result was UMass hoops’s first really embarrassing loss of the season (I still believe in that Florida State team, despite how the rest of the Bahamas tourney went for them). I’m glad that the Battle 4 Atlantis (sigh) is over and the guys are back home and, you know, not playing three games in three nights of up-tempo ball. In less than an hour, they’ll tip off against the Towson Tigers, and since this is not lacrosse, it stands to reason that a return to winning ways is to be expected. Remember, UMass’s chances at an at-large bid are pretty reliant on winning a lion’s share of the shitty non-conf games (and, likely, one road win against a power conference team, like, say, Saturday at Miami) as well as a strong run through the conference schedule. The FSU loss didn’t hurt much, but Charleston might be a big blow later on. I’m getting way ahead of myself here, though. Let’s see how the guys fare tonight, back at home with a few days of rest under their belts and a god-awful opponent on the docket. This is the kind of gimme game (ahem, Maine) that can really derail a season, so it kind of sucks in that there’s so little to gain with a win and so much to lose with a loss.

So, uhh, win, please. I’d like to go back to that, k? Thanks.

 

-Max

 

 

Growing pains

Well, you can put the champagne away now.

Nobody thought UMass basketball was going to run the table this year, not the craziest fan with the marooniest glasses. Indeed, the Minutemen have failed their first true test of the season, albeit barely, falling to Boston College 76-71 at the Gahhhden. No Terrell Vinson heroics this time. Hell, no Tony Gaffney tip-in at the buzzer to force overtime. Just a sloppy, sloppy game on both sides, where the Minutemen failed to find the offensive rhythm they rely so heavily upon.

Now, this is no time for our boys to hang their heads in shame. Despite the huge opportunity lost tonight to really rile up the student support, UMass hung in there with a power-conference team, one with a certifiable superstar (Reggie Jackson), an experienced lineup, a head coach on the rise (Donahue, whom you may recall from last year’s home loss to Cornell). On another night, those missed bunnies fall in, and/or BC doesn’t cash in on seemingly every single free throw, and you’re looking at a steal of a win. But truth be told, the experienced Eagles were able to overcome the disjointedness of the game, and UMass wasn’t, and that made all the difference.

There’s a lot of good to take from this game. UMass didn’t let the game get out of hand down 13 early in the second half, cutting the lead to 2 on numerous occasions. Terrell Vinson actually showed up. Sean Carter was the energy player this team really needs him to be. Anthony Gurley continues to be an absolute beast. Most importantly, Daryl Traynham, back from his foot injury, was the sparkplug in the second half, doing just about everything to try and will this team to a win. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but from the sounds of it, good things happened every time DT was on the floor. To consider that this lil’ guy’s merely a freshman makes me very excited.

Now for the bad. Hashim “Moderate-Sized Village” Bailey continues to struggle with, well, just about all aspects of the game, committing silly fouls and failing to make full use of his still-quite-large frame, which you’d think would be an asset on an undersized team like this one. Javorn Farrell battled foul trouble all night and seemed largely neutralized by the constantly-shifting BC defense. Freddie Riley’s shot continues to be way too streaky. Had that three-pointer for the lead fallen, maybe he gets it going and this game ends differently…but when he’s frustratingly cold like tonight, it limits this team’s offensive options severely. Gary Correia’s struggles continued, and there’s not a lot of point guard depth right now with the injury still seemingly limiting how long they can keep DT out there.

The Eagles, hate to say it, look a heck of a lot better than most of us figured they’d be, in the first year under a new head coach and such. Donahue, unlike Kellogg, has experience on his side, as well as veteran talent already in place. They’re a better team than UMass right now. The fact that they did what they did without Raji tonight, in what turned out to be a fairly hostile environment (despite their proximity to home; after all, Boston College is conveniently located somewhat near the city it claims to be in) is particularly impressive.

Here’s the good news: the way this season is going, BC might be the best team UMass plays all season, except for maybe UCF (Seton Hall is missing its go-to guy, or I’d throw them in there as well). The A-10 has been inconsistent in non-conference play and seems ripe for the taking. Temple looks particularly disappointing, Xavier and Dayton are solid but beatable, Charlotte’s a mess and Richmond just lost to Old Dominion. Particularly as Traynham continues to take control of this team (as I think he will), TV gets his act together (as I hope he will), and Kellogg’s in-game coaching continues to improve, I can’t imagine that UMass will have as many easy shots missed as they did tonight, against a very good defense to boot. They’re sure to get better looks against the Maines and Central Connecticuts of the world, not to mention a good portion of that conference schedule.

So here’s the key: bounce back on this mini-homestand. Maine shouldn’t be overlooked because the team’s gonna want to bounce right back. Seton Hall is a Big East team on a Saturday night, so you’d expect a big crowd (although not as big, sadly, as it would’ve been if they won tonight), playing without its best player…gotta think they can pull that off. UCF is surprising a lot of people this year, and will probably be their next big test, but I don’t think they’re as good as BC this year. BU was expected to be better this year, but they haven’t looked too impressive in the early going. Sweeping is not out of the question, but even a 3-1 stretch leaves the Minutemen at 10-2, with what should be a win at Central Connecticut standing between them and the start of conference play.

Counting our chickens before they hatch? Probably. They could go 0-4, and then it’s back to the old drawing board. Still, you gotta admit, even when they lose, as they did tonight, this team can’t help but compete night-in and night-out. They’re making strides from last year in just about every aspect of the game. They never seem out of it like they did at times last campaign. I’d be shocked if they didn’t start to click real soon and start playing to their full potential.

Stay winning. Or rather, get back to winning, and then stay there. Tonight’s just a little bump in the road.

-Max

Saturday matinee

UMass Lowell River Hawks (2-11-2(2-9-0HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (2-6-3(1-3-3HEA))

(Today at 1:30 PM)

Over the past few weeks, something surprising and exciting has happened. Our beloved Mass Attack has been playing extremely well, and winning games. Over their past 3 games, the Minutemen are 2-0-1 and they have moved up to eighth in the Hockey East standings. The continuing presence of freshman forward Michael Pereira (7G/4A/11Pts/+6) and the emergence of freshman defenseman Adam Phillips (3G/2A/5Pts/-2) has been apparent. Pereira scored 3 goals, had 2 assists and was a plus-3 over the last three games, while Phillips had 3 goals, 1 assist and was a plus-4. Senior captain goalie Paul Dainton (2-3-2, 3.00GAA, .914save%) has gotten back into his sophomore form by putting up a career-high 43 saves against UNH, then breaking it with 44 against Vermont, and finishing the stretch with a solid 25 save effort against Quinnipiac. Dainton has elevated his game in his last three starts and the team has responded by elevating their play, as well. In the last three games, they have averaged 4.00GPG, while the season average for the Minutemen attack is only 2.82GPG. And the defense only allowed 2.00GPG and killed 90% of penalties in that stretch, which is much better than the season averages of 3.27GA/G and 74.1%.

While UMass and UMass Lowell are similar teams in terms of youth, it would appear that the two are on diametrically opposing paths. The River Hawks have dropped six straight games and ten of their last eleven. Although some of their losses have been close, they have also lost by four, five, and six goal margins this year. They sit dead last in the Hockey East standings despite playing the second most in conference games this year (BC has played 12, BU and Merrimack have both also played 11). The offense is only squeezing out a meager 2.13GPG. Their top goal and point scorer, Riley Wetmore (6G/6A/12Pts/-7) has only six goals in 15 games! Pereira has one more in five fewer games. This paltry offensive attack is not going to get it done with a young defense and a pair of freshman goalies. There is not a single skater with UML that has a positive or even plus/minus. In fact, five River Hawks have plus/minus ratings in the negative double-digits. The two frosh netminders, Doug Carr (2-7-1, 3.33GAA, .902save%) and Marc Boulanger (0-4-1, 4.25GAA, .868save%) are not exactly superstars, at least not yet. UML has, however, been sharp on the PK, killing 85.2% of power plays faced this season.

Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, this is not a slam dunk. This game has trap written all over it. Nothing kills a hot team more quickly than failing to get up against an inferior opponent. It remains to be seen whether Toot will stick with the hot hand in Dainton, whose 2.41GAA and .935save% in Hockey East play have been superb, or if he will roll the dice with the freshman Jeff Teglia (0-3-1, 3.37GAA, .899save%), who has also been getting progressively better. It remains to be seen if Eddie Olczyk or Anthony Raiola, who have played only one game apiece, will see ice time. No matter what lineup is out there for the team in white on the ice of The Bill this afternoon, it is certain that this is a game the Mass Attack should win against a team it needs to beat if it is to continue progressing towards greatness. (…Uh, goodness? Mediocrity? I guess mediocrity, but, hey, you’ve got to be mediocre before you can be great.)

-Derek

Kublin Kounter – Where we get to point out the stats which will not tell you how great the play of Doug Kublin is because his play is all about intangibles.

Last Week

2GP/1G/0A/1Pt/+2/4PIM

Season Totals

11PG/2G/0A/2Pts/+4/14PIM

The state of things, and stuff

Okay, okay, we’ll be the first to admit it here at Fight Mass: we’ve been slacking. Big-time. It’s not our faults, frankly…Derek’s got a hectic senior-year courseload (contrary to popular belief, the academic life at the world’s #56 university is, in fact, a bitch) and I’ve still got another 6 weeks or so left in my program down here at Disney World. (For those inquiring minds, Matt seems to have stepped back from a writing role and is accepting a more fitting role as our head Twitterer/social networker.) Between that and a less-than-exciting start to the season for the Mass Attack, you can see where keeping up with the site would be rather difficult. Rest assured, though, kids, that season 2 of Fight Mass is just getting started, as the men’s basketball season comes into full gear and the hockey team gets into the swing of Hockey East action. Remember, we started the blog around this time last year, and that was when I was in Amherst instead of all the way down the coast. I’ll be back soon enough.

So, catching up on where things stand for the Mass Attack…not a pretty start, to be sure. UMass is 0-6-3, the only winless team in D1 thus far. Things seem like they would be dire in Amherst, but let’s not freak out just yet. The Minutemen were not getting an at-large bid this year, as we’ve been saying from the start, and the 0-3-3 HEA record isn’t nearly as horrifying when you consider UMass lost those 3 games by a combined 5 goals. UMass also has three ties already after going all of last season without a single one. Two of those ties, to be sure, were games UMass should have won, against mediocre Providence at home and last weekend’s last-minute collapse at Lake Whitt. The tie against BU, a much hotter sister-kissing, could have easily been a win as well. Really, when you consider A) that this team is so ridiculously young and inexperienced, B) the injuries to the few remaining veterans, and C) the pretty tough schedule thus far, 3 points in 6 games isn’t that bad. The youngsters, particularly Pereira and Gracel, have been very impressive, and the defense hasn’t been a complete disaster, at least not in Hockey East play. Now, you can’t totally throw away games like the Army shitshow, but the truth of the matter is that despite all the horribleness of a winless first 9 games, UMass is just one point out of a playoff spot in Hockey East, where they were picked by so many experts to finish 9th or 10th. The Minutemen have been knocking on the door of the win column all year long. They’ve played exactly one awful game (again, the Army debacle), and have managed to not get swept in their three HEA series so far. Coming up are winnable games against a few more teams, Vermont and Lowell, who will be in that battle for the last HEA playoff spots. It’s the perfect time for our boys to finally put a W on the board, so let’s all calmly back away from the ledge for now until after these games are in the books.

In the meantime, guys, keep on coming out to support your team. I know the pre-Thanksgiving Vermont game can suffer from all the students going home early, but if you’re gonna be in town Tuesday night, go out there and cheer UMass to that elusive first win. You have the whole rest of the night to party and worry about getting home the next day for The Busiest Drinking Night of the Year(TM). I’ve been wondering when this team would have a poor start (didn’t happen in my four years in Amherst), and now that it’s happening, this is a good test of the bandwagon mentality for the hockey fans, and whether or not attendance will suffer due to the lack of wins. If the numbers have to suffer, those of you who go just have to be extra loud. Maybe this is the chance for the hardcore fans (that’s you) to take back the Mullins from the frat boys and Swesties? Hint, hint.

Segueing off from that rambling mess of a paragraph into basketball now! UMass hockey is reminding me an awful lot of last year’s basketball squad, with Dainton filling the Ricky Harris spot as the “lone remaining star senior,” and yes, I understand all the flaws in that comparison, but just the same – he’s the training wheels for a stocked group of freshmen. For Kellogg’s boys, those training wheels are off, and what we’ve seen so far is a somewhat wobbly 2-0 start with wins over Rider and Sacred Heart. Opening night included a 22-point deficit overcome for a 10-point win, in a game where UMass had a great student turnout, scared them off, then came back without them. Go figure. The Broncs are actually a pretty experienced squad, so for them to collapse so completely (with a little help from Gurley and Riley both getting ridiculously hot at the same time) says that UMass did something right. It’s a little disconcerting that Kellogg even said after the game that he didn’t know how it happened, though. But a win is a win. Unless, of course, it’s an 8-point win against Sacred Heart, an absolutely atrocious basketball team that should never have smelled the lead, let alone in the second half. However, considering last year’s team would have probably found a way to be 0-2 so far, you have to at least be happy with the results of these first two games.

The good? Daryl Traynham looks every bit as good as advertised, although hopefully game 2 is more indicative of his offensive talents than game 1 was. Gurley looks like he’s finally got things figured out. Riley’s gonna score a shitload of points for UMass before his career is over…you just can’t deny how smooth that shot is. Sampson Carter has been greatly improved, too. And UMass has done all this without Javorn Farrell, who was the unsung hero of last season, and with Terrell Vinson basically a ghost.

The bad? Little Village Bailey may be in far better shape, but this whole “lack of tangible basketball skills in game situations” thing continues to be troubling. Here’s hoping he’s still getting used to his leaner body. Luckily, the team doesn’t hinge on his success, so he’s got time to become a big contributor off that bench. TV, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. What the hell happened to this guy? He was up-and-down last year, but in two games, he’s really been a non-factor. Guys with this much raw talent don’t just disappear overnight, so I’m confident he’ll get it together, but it does raise eyebrows. Sean Carter hasn’t really been too great either. Really, the big men need to step it up for tomorrow’s matchup with New Mexico State, which has a couple of big men of their own that will provide a better test than Rider or SHU have. Unlike the hockey team, hoops actually does need to win some non-conference games. I think the big dance this year is an attainable goal if (and this is a huge, huge if) TV improves, DT plays this well against better opponents, and Riley and Gurley continue carrying the offense. The cool thing about struggling to a 2-0 start is that you’re still 2-0, and I know Coach Kellogg and the team know they need to be a lot better in order for the wins to keep coming in. Even if the team proves to be not quite ready for that jump yet, I can see this team making a run in a suddenly-not-quite-so-deep A10 and/or getting back to the NIT and getting valuable postseason experience for the sophomores and for DT and the other guys like Putney, Esho, and Morgan if and when they work their way into the rotation.

In the meantime, and I hate to keep beating a dead horse here, but please go out there to the Mullins and support your boys. Hell, they’re undefeated! I love that the marketing department was able to get a good student turnout for opening night against Rider, but that flat start scared off a bunch of them, and the attendance for Sacred Heart was abysmal (although the timing of the game and the opponent were likely factors as well). If UMass keeps winning, I’m sure the student turnout will improve, and I love that the diehards in the front row(s) are already much more numerous than last year, when it was basically me, Matt, Hamel, Goggles, and a few other guys and the band every night. Our school is situated in the birthplace of basketball, and we’ve got guys like Marcus Camby and Gary Forbes (as Marv Albert said, from “U of Mass”) in the NBA, and our state is home to the greatest NBA franchise of all time. It shouldn’t be hard to get students to turn out for free games, especially this year with a team that has contention potential. Get out there and make the Mullins a nightmare for visitors again. I know I’ll be doing my part when I come home in January.

-Max

I guess the heavy stuff ain’t quite at its heaviest by the time it gets out to suburban Minneapolis.

(Weekend Preview)

Your UMass Minutemen take on the No. 15 Minnesota Golden Gophers

So the Mass Attack begins the season with two in the upper Midwest against a ranked opponent. Sound frightening? Sound like the Minutemen are way overmatched? Why? Let’s see, the Golden Gophers were 18-19-2 last year, 12-14-2 in the WCHA. They finished 7th in their conference and were bounced in the first round of their conference tourney. Your Minutemen finished at .500 with a record of 18-18-0 (despite a MASSIVE Cahoon Swoon), 13-14-0 in Hockey East. They finished 6th in the conference and were also bounced in the first round of their tourney. Okay, so we’re willing to concede that Minnesota played a MUCH more difficult non-conference schedule last year, but even given that, this was a sub-.500 team, they certainly weren’t world-beaters.

Well, we lost some key guys. Yeah, well so did they. The Gophers return fifteen from last year’s roster (10 forwards, 3 defensemen, 2 goalies), that’s the same amount as your Minutemen who return 10 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie (not included are Anthony Raiola, who was redshirted, and Kevin Moore, who has yet to play a minute in his two years with the team). Among the Gophers’ losses were their top two point scorers, Tony Lucia (11G/17A/28Pts) and Jordan Schroeder (9G/19A/28Pts), as well as two of their top four defensemen (David Fischer and Kevin Wehrs). However, the Gophers do return Mike Hoeffel (14G/10A/24Pts/7PPG), their top goal scorer and top powerplay goal scorer, from last year, along with top defensemen Cade Fairchild (4G/21A/21Pts) and Aaron Ness. Also back is forward Jay Barriball, who will be their captain this year. He played only five games last year before receiving a medical redshirt due to a season ending knee injury. Although Barriball hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the last three years, he could always return to the form of his freshman year, when he put up 20 goal, 23 assist, 43 point numbers. Minnesota also returns both starting goalie Alex Kangas (16-15-1, 2.61 GAA, .911 save%) and backup Kent Patterson (2-4-1, 3.10 GAA, .901 save%).

The Mass Attack’s depletion is a little more severe. Brace yourself, we’re about to drag up some memories; we’ll try to make this as quick as possible. Gone are: the top 5 point scorers from last year: James Marcou (11G/40A/51Pts), Casey Wellman (23G/22A/45Pts), Justin Braun (8G/23A/31Pts), Will Ortiz (13G/13A/26Pts), and Matt Irwin (7G/17A/24Pts); three of last year’s top four blue-liners: Braun, Irwin, and Martin Nolet (5G/4A/9Pts/59PIM); and a true heart and soul guy, great leader, and fantastic P.J. Axelsson-esque 2-way forward in Brett Watson (3G/6A/9Pts). Key returning skaters include last years no. 6 point scorer, T.J. Syner (8G/12A/20Pts), as well as defensemen Mike Marcou (7G/3A/10Pts) and Doug Kublin (we’ll get to his importance later on). Also returning is the man who is now undeniably, unquestionably the most important player on the team. That man is Paul Dainton. Dainton had the best record of his career last year (15-15-0), but otherwise had his statistically poorest season (3.08 GAA, .901 save%). Compare this to the numbers from his freshman (12-14-6, 2.56 GAA, .911 save%) and sophomore (12-14-1, 2.45 GAA, .913 save%) seasons. If the Minutemen are to succeed this year, Dainton needs to prove last year was an outlier and continue the trend of the previous two years (something in the 2.40 GAA, .920 save% range would be fantastic, but I’d be very happy with something like 2.60, .910).

Since both these teams lost a lot, it stands to reason that they are both pretty young. The Minnesota roster features 10 freshmen (6 forwards, 4 defensemen) and UMass has 13 (8 forwards, 4 defensemen, 1 goalie). The quality of recruits may be where the Gophers have the edge. UMass is counting on guys like Troy Power, Eric Filiou, Peter DeAngelo, and Michael Pereira. And these guys are all solid recruits. But if you google the names of the Minnesota freshmen, you are likely to find a professional scouting report on all of them. One in particular, 6’4” 188lb. center Nick Bjugstad, was the 19th overall pick of the NHL draft this year. He supposedly has good speed and vision and a fantastic shot to go along with his size. So, yeah, there’s that. But prospects are only prospects and no one knows how well they’ll do; just ask Danny Hobbs. (Incidentally, Danny Hobbs, you looked very, very good in the exhibition game, and we really need a guy like you to step up and shine now that Jimmy and Casey are gone. So if you could do that, we’d really appreciate it.)

There is one more reason to be excited for this season opening series, and that is this: Doug Kublin does not have mono. Allow me to explain how important Doug Kublin is to the UMass Minutemen. He played 25 games last year. In those games, the Mass Attack was 16-9-0. In games without Doug Kublin in the lineup, the Minutemen were 2-9-0. Stark contrast? Yes, but it goes deeper than record. In the 25 games the Manlius, NY defenseman played, the Minutemen averaged 3.08 goals against. In the 11 games he missed, 3.64 goals against! Almost half a goal more per game! Every 2 games you play without Kubbie, you spot the opposition a goal. So ignore the fact that Doug Kublin has career scoring numbers that look like your mother’s (1G/5A/6Pts in 74GP); he is a plus player and vital to this team and if Paul Dainton needs to stand on his head and get numbers like those mentioned above to give this team a shot at going anywhere, Doug Kublin needs to be in the lineup and on the ice to give him a fighting chance.

So there it is, my vehement defense of our beloved Mass Attack’s chances this weekend. It’s gonna be tough and it ain’t gonna be pretty, but damnit, our freshmen look good and our vets look energized and if we could steal some wins this weekend we could have a dangerous team on our hands that just might think it’s good enough to go somewhere. And it might shut up Roman Augustoviz, whose tweets are some of the most annoying on the planet. Go ahead, check them out, I dare you. @eyeonupuk do it.

Also: Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia was a hoodrat. Now you finally know that.

So… yeah, let’s get back at it. Is it Friday yet?

-Derek

~Update: Apparently Eddie Olczyk’s  injury is more severe than my “source” stated. According to Dick Baker, Olczyk will likely miss the Minnesota series, as will freshman Troy Power, who sustained an undisclosed injury in practice on Tuesday.

Preseason Game Notes

Well, your UMass Minutemen lost their preseason game to UNB for the second time in as many years (this time 4-3 in OT). While we could pout about losing to a CIS team, in truth there were quite a few positives to take out of this game and at least one of the major downsides of this game should not affect the team too much this season.

UMass Scoring

1st Period

Danny Hobbs (backhand) from Troy Power and Eric Filiou

3rd Period

Michael Pereira (powerplay scrum goal) from Troy Power and Adam Phillips

Danny Hobbs (powerplay slapshot) from Michael Marcou

Game Notes

First, the positives:

~Your humble blogger actually bothered to take a notebook to this game and form coherent thoughts about it. Savor these game notes, because he will probably not be sober or emotionally detached enough to form rational thoughts during the game again.

~Danny Hobbs played well, his goal in the first period was one of the prettiest you will ever see. Hobbs had the puck at center ice a flipped a clever back pass to Power, who was charging up the side boards. Power threaded a beautiful return pass to Hobbs in the slot, who then delayed until the UNB goalie committed and moved the puck to his backhand for the goal. Hobbs also scored the third Minuteman goal on the powerplay in the 3rd Period. Marcou slid the puck across the blue line, and Hobbs took a hard low slapper from the right point. The puck had the slightest of deflections off of a UNB defenseman in front of the net and found the bottom left corner of the net. It would be nice to see Hobbs continuing this trend in the regular season, especially considering that he was a highly regarded recruit who has not really panned out (4G/7A/13Pts/-6 in 57 Games).

~Paul Dainton. He looked strong; he gave up only one of UNB’s four goals in two periods of work, and the sunlight coming through the practice rink’s windows could have had something to do with that one. He made a fantastic glove save in the first period, extending the glove just above his pad to snag a hard shot out of the air that appeared to be netward bound. In classic Dainton fashion, he played the puck a lot and kept us on the edge of our seats, but it didn’t cost him, and he played a very strong game overall.

~Brian Keane’s skating. It was simply exquisite (if you ignore the fact that he fell down away from the play while not moving with no one around him at one point). Keane’s skating created opportunities for himself and others and he was involved in the two best scoring chances the Mass Attack had in which they did not score a goal (One where his shot produced a very juicy rebound for Mike Pereira, and another where he screened the goalie on a Joel Hanley slapshot from the point). Keane’s fancy skating in the neutral zone allowed the team to do one of my favorite things which is:

~Rushing the puck instead of dumping it in. I know that we’re a speed team and, as such, Toot has thought it wise to dump the puck instead of carrying it into the zone a lot. Despite this logic, the dump and chase hasn’t seemed to work too well over the last couple years whereas creating plays off the rush has worked well when we have done it. I was pleased to see Toot allowing the guys to carry the puck in more and dump it in less today.

~The aggressive 2 man forecheck. I LOVE THE AGGRESSIVE FORECHECK. UMass forwards created havoc in the UNB zone when they used it, and it was very effective, especially in the first and third periods. I feel like they took their collective foot off the throat in the second and used the 2 man forecheck less, but when they used it, it was super effective.

~The Langeraap-Czepiel-Sheary Line. Okay, what can I say about a 5’9” center from Holyoke who had one goal last year? You take him and pair him with a freshman winger who is also just 5’9”. And then you match them both with a 6’2” 202lb. senior winger who has been injury prone, but still looks like he could kill you with just a look. Well, you’d probably say you’ve got a finessey fourth line with one big guy to protect it. You’d be wrong. This line played scrappy, hard-nosed hockey all day long. Czepiel and Sheary were constantly creating havoc for UNB and coming up with great takeaways in New Brunswick’s zone. Sheary also had a nice deflection on a Colin Shea shot that was saved, unfortunately. Langeraap looks like he’s in good form, as well, and he didn’t mind showing a little physicality in the game. In fact, this line started the game (much to my annoyance, at the time). My apologies to these guys, they played their hearts out in an exhibition game and I’ve gotta say my hat’s off to them and I hope they play this way in the regular season, because if they do they will be a fantastic energy line.

~The powerplay while inside the offensive zone. I really liked the down low cycling and looking for the man in front of the net. This was combined with a few point shots to keep the PK honest. Although the powerplay goals that our boys did score was a point slapper and a scrum in front of the net, I feel like most of our powerplay production this year will come from that down low cycling game, if it remains strong.

Now, a few concerns:

~The breakout on the powerplay. While the breakout stalled a little in the second period, the Minutemen were mostly able to gain entry all night. Except when on the powerplay. I don’t know why, but whenever we went up a man we seemed to have issues gaining the blue line. Compounding this were some shots on the rush when we did gain the line that were rushed and from bad angles. The set plays once in the zone seemed to be working really well, so why take a bad angle wrister when you could probably set up something better?

~The penalty kill. The PK let UNB have A LOT of time in the offensive zone with the man advantage. Let Maine have that much time, and I guarantee they score.

~Line changes. They were lazy and sloppy. I’m willing to chalk it up to being the first game and only preseason, but they need to be much more crisp when the regular season rolls around.

~Defensive positioning. Especially in the third period and the overtime, our D-men looked to pressure the puck on the strong side and frequently overextended themselves. (Noteworthy exception: Doug Kublin. He looked as solid defensively as ever and denied a couple opportunities with good positioning and stickwork. Fundamentals, kids. Fundamentals.) This allowed UNB to get many wide open shots that our freshman netminder couldn’t stop.

~Jeff Teglia. God, I’m sorry, he was awful. It was tough to watch. The kid definitely has potential though. One can clearly see he’s very athletic and made a couple acrobatic saves. Unfortunately, he seems to have some issues seeing through screens and controlling rebounds. He also is way too slow to close the five-hole when he goes into the butterfly. The lateral quickness was his biggest issue, though, as he couldn’t get post-to-post quick enough to stop a couple goals from shooters left wide open (see rant on defensive positioning above). Three goals in one period and an overtime is unacceptable. I’m very confident he will improve (and, who knows, maybe today was just first game jitters), but the question is, will he improve enough to be the No. 2 goalie for this season or will it be Kevin Moore, who didn’t play today, who gets the nod?

~The ice. It was so bad. They had to stop the game and sweep it. I know it was warm out and I know the practice rink is always worse than the ice at The Bill, but seeing it today brought back memories of the second UVM game last year. I do not want to relive that.

Things I’m torn about:

~Mike Marcou. He did all the little things well, like positioning himself and sticking the rebounds to the end boards. His game in the defensive zone was Kublin-esque. And he rushed the puck really well. All day long. The only concern I have is that he may be too aggressive on the rush, taking the puck too deep and exposing the team to a counterattack. He didn’t get burned today, but he could in the future. Nevertheless, I suppose we shouldn’t try to change that aggressive tendency of his game so I hope it works out and he torches the opposition more times than we get burned.

Result

I mean, come on guys, we lost to UNB. But I guess I’m about as happy as I could be with that loss. And, to be honest, I’ve come out of that game with much more hope for this season than when I went into it. One way or another, it’s going to be an exciting season and I just can’t wait for it to start for real.

-Derek

~Edit: Eddie Olczyk left the game early and was seen on crutches following the game, but sources indicated the injury was very minor, and he should be fine by next week.

~Edit Pt. 2: Darren Rowe logged all his minutes playing on the wing, which was something we had heard inklings of at the end of last season. It makes sense given his shiftiness and playmaking abilities when juxtaposed with his somewhat small size and lack of checking power.

two for the road

Hey, let’s start with the good news! Lacrosse downed Providence 17-3. Now for something a little darker…

Dick Baker reports (it’s too depressing of a story, so I won’t even worry you with a link) that Jimmy’s going pro, too, although where has yet to be determined.

You heard that right: he gone. (Or as good as gone. But you know how agent-speak works, since I presume you are a Red Sox fan. By the way, you should be a Red Sox fan if you’re a UMass fan. I make no exceptions to that rule unless your weird cross-dressing uncle happens to be A-Rod.)

I’ll get this all out of the way now: James Marcou is the best hockey player I’ve had the privilege of watching (aside from the two Bruins games I’ve attended). His creativity, passing skills, and heart have been unmatched, and he’s been a joy to watch since my second-favorite player, Quick, left early after my freshman year at UMass.

So where do we go from here? Well, I hate to say it, and I will have a lot more to say in the near future, but the words “rebuilding year” keep popping into my head right now. It’s one thing to lose a pure scorer like Wellman, but he was the beneficiary of so, so many of the brilliant setups of Jimmy’s. That is a hell of a lot harder to replace.

From the “glass-half-full-but-still-sort-of-empty” department: where, exactly, did James Marcou get the team? In Jon Quick’s triumphant year (sans-Marcou/Wellman), UMass went to the Elite Eight. In Jimmy’s three years? Three straight second-half collapses, three straight first-round exits in the HEA tournament.

Simply put, the offense last year was far too reliant on Jimmy and Casey, to the extent that, at one point, someone (Lecomte I believe) said in the Collegian that they were just waiting for the top line to get it going. Did anyone else notice a recurring theme for the teams that are playing at the Garden right now? They don’t rely on one line for all their offense. Even with two of NCAA’s leading scorers, the Minutemen were 8th in Hockey East in goals scored. That’s not getting it done. (Don’t even get me started on the defense, because damnit, I’m tryin’ to be optimistic here!)

Now, in no way am I saying I expect the Minutemen to be better at the start of next season. They just lost their top 5 scorers…duh. But I could see a team with a lot of young talent and some promising freshmen that will improve as the year goes on, and maybe surprise people in the Hockey East Tournament while setting up for a run the following year. And yes, it has been extraordinarily painful to write that last sentence, especially considering that it reminds me of the basketball situation. (So, basically,

I don’t mean to cut-and-run, but I’m not exactly devastated that this is all happening after my final season as a UMass student. Rebuilding sucks, especially if your head coach isn’t named Jack Parker, Jerry York or Dick Umile. Just remember, when Marcou and Wellman came in, like any touted recruits, nobody knew they’d immediately become contributors. Now it’s up to this year’s freshman class to step up and fill the void. Could it get ugly? That’s always a possibility, especially if the injury bug bites what’s left of the team, or a good number of the prospects don’t pan out. But this team’s still got plenty of unsung talent and guys who underperformed or battled injuries last year.

It might not be immediate, but life moves on without #7 and #19. We could wallow in self-pity…but optimism’s a lot more fun. Now I don’t know about you, but I intend to get out there today and let Guinness and Irish car bombs wash away the sting.

Oh, and godspeed, Mr. Marcou. As with Wellman, we will support you wherever you go. (Hopefully, if you DO make it in the NHL, you and Casey will end up with Boston somewhere down the line. …Please?)

-Max

The funeral WAS about to begin…

…and, given the dire situation UMass found itself in coming into this weekend’s tilts in Middle-of-Nowherono, ME, it may yet be ongoing. But let’s not take anything away from the fact that the Minutemen sounded like a team on a mission tonight. They pounced all over freshman Shawn Sirman, to the point where we actually did get to see old friend Dave WIIIIIIILLLLLSSOOOOONNNN make a cameo (and, oddly enough, he didn’t give up any goals, which is decidedly un-Wilson-like).

Now, granted, we’re talking a UMass team with the season on the line against a Maine team that might not get home ice if they drop both games and the rest of the league action goes against them, not to mention playing in a not-so-hostile Spring Break edition of Alfond Arena. But the stakes for UMass’s last game were basically the same on both ends, and despite playing one of the best defensive games we’ve seen from the maroon-and-white all year long, against an Eagles team playing in front of a listless crowd and with 2nd-place (no more, no less) all but locked up, the Minutemen still weren’t able to capitalize on their chances.

Now, the three principal writers here at Fight Mass were sitting mere feet away at the Hangar on Tuesday for the RNX hockey show, and though we weren’t really able to hear most of Toot’s outburst about his team, we were able to piece together between the various web recap/transcripts and our visible impression of him that Mr. Cahoon was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore, regarding the behind-the-scenes behavioral stuff going on with this team. Clearly, his words finally got through tonight, and Hockey East was reminded that UMass is about as big a wildcard as one can imagine.

Could they still miss the playoffs? Easily. But the Minutemen have nonetheless put themselves into a position to climb as high as 6th, grab some positive momentum (which had slowwwwly been building during two straight frustrating L’s), and crash someone’s playoff party, like they came so very very close to doing to Northeastern last year.

Barring a disaster tomorrow, the Minutemen have, at the very least, shown us that they cared. The eulogy we were prepared to write for these guys a few weeks ago involved more of the same from the past couple years: lamenting the Cahoon Swoon, pondering what might have been had a key underrated defenseman not missed significant time down the stretch, wondering what exactly is going on with the discipline behind closed doors and the mentality of the players, even considering blaming ourselves and our friends for contributing to the players’ sense of celebrity and entitlement on this campus.

But why worry about the eulogy before we know when the funeral is?

-Max

P.S. Tomorrow afternoon. Senior night for men’s hoops at the Mullins Center, 4 PM. Free t-shirts, and a chance to honor one of the all-time greats to don the maroon-and-white, or at least one of the best pure scorers in school history, Lex Mongo Ricky Harris. Plus, it’s URI (sucks). So, uhh, go. And get your friends to go too. Did I mention free t-shirts?

Don’t stop…believing…?

Well, that was interesting.

I’ll echo a lot of what Ben said about the game itself. The Minutemen finally showed up defensively, but for the second time this year, got stymied by Parker Milner of all people. The offense continues to scuffle, and as much as Toot is trying to shake things up (i.e. Lecomte on the top line, Czepiel centering for Jimmy and Casey, the TJ-Tiz-Rocco line, etc.), all UMass managed for their troubles was one lousy garbage goal by Brett Watson (finally). The chances were there, though, and in front of a BC crowd who — by the way, Ben — had a legitimate excuse to be a little on the older and quieter side (the students are out on spring break), the Minutemen were markedly better in all aspects of the game than they had been in the past several weeks, save for maybe the Merrimack game which could have easily been a blowout win.

So, of course, it may be way too late in the season for a moral victory to mean anything, especially when every out-of-town result turned out to be a negative for the Minutemen. But the fact remains that the Minutemen virtually control their own destiny this final weekend at Orono, and UMass showed us something against BC, even if (as I suspect) the Eagles weren’t putting 100% effort into it. Regardless of what happens at Lawler tonight, the Black Bears will be reeling; if ‘Mack wins, UMass would have a shot at knocking Maine out of the playoffs (!) with a sweep next weekend, and with the teams so tightly bunched, a UMass sweep or even 2 or 3 points might be enough. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but the beauty of sport is that this really isn’t over yet, and, being the masochistic Boston sports fans we are, anything truly can happen.

If UMass had folded like everyone assumed they would last night, we’d be writing the eulogy right now. The end result was probably a little more heartbreaking, but at the same time, as long as there’s a hope that this team can put it together for three solid periods like last night, then they’ve still got time for their luck to turn.

Maybe.

-Max

Hockey East Outlook (Part 1)

Those of you who follow UMass hockey may have noticed that the Minutemen are currently holding on to fourth place in Hockey East. You may also know that fourth place is the last slot for home ice in the Hockey East tournament. Given the precarious position that the Minutemen are in, I decided to review all the other teams in Hockey East whose slots are up in the air. I’ve omitted BC and UNH because they will, almost definitely, finish in the top two spots. I’ve also omitted Merrimack and Providence because, well, they’re bad and should feel bad. I’ll wait until next week to make my predictions, as I’m still not sure of how good some of the more schizophrenic Hockey East teams (UMass, BU, Northeastern) are.

3. Maine Black Bears 14-9-3 (11-6-2 HEA) 24 Points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 @ Boston University
2/13 @ Boston University
2/19 vs. Lowell
2/20 vs. Lowell
2/26 @ Merrimack
2/27 @ Merrimack
3/5 vs. UMass
3/6 vs. UMass

Outlook:
Since the return of Scott Darling, the Black Bears have been terrific. They have gone 3-0-1 in these four games including a sweep of Hockey East leader UNH last weekend. They have a high-powered offense that has averaged 3.73 GPG in Hockey East play this season, and when you combine this with the play of Scott Darling (.916 save%, 2.40 GAA in conference), the Black Bears are a team to be reckoned with. Their remaining schedule may be the most balanced of any team’s in Hockey East. They go to play the schizophrenic Terriers next weekend, who have played very well lately. They then go to play the impotent Jeremy Dehner-less River Hawks and the Merrimack Warriors (who play like a NCAA-tournament team when at home). Their season comes down to a final weekend with our Minutemen. By this time, they may have a spot locked up, but the Minutemen will probably still be fighting for home ice.

4. Massachusetts 16-11-0 (11-9-0) 22 Points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Northeastern
2/13 @ Northeastern
2/19 @ Merrimack
2/20 vs. Merrimack
2/26 @ Boston College
3/5 @ Maine
3/6 @ Maine

Outlook:
Here we go again. After going 11-6-0 (6-4-0 in Hockey East) in the first half of the season with a goal differential 0.70 goals per game, the Minutemen have begun their patented Cahoon Swoon. They have gone 5-5-0 since the mid-season mark (all Hockey East games) and are actually losing the goal differential by 1.71 goals per game. (I’d say these results were skewed by some massive losses, but let’s face it, when you lose a lot of games by a lot of goals, the results are not being skewed, that’s just how bad you are.) The offense has been bad, the goaltending has been questionable (although Dainton has certainly not played as poorly as the numbers would seem to indicate), and the defense has been beyond horrendous. The team also misses savvy defense-oriented role players Mike Lecomte and Doug Kublin. The next four games are key for the Minutemen. They have a two-game series this weekend with a Northeastern team that is getting healthier and better, but these are two games the Minutemen should take. The Mass Attack then faces lowly Merrimack. Merrimack has been very good at home, but UMass cannot afford a split if it is to stay in home ice contention. UMass then goes to BC (I’m not even gonna touch this one). The fate of their playoff run could hinge on the final series of the season in Maine

5. Boston University Terriers 11-12-3 (8-9-2) 18 Points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Maine
2/13 vs. Maine
2/19 @ Providence
2/20 vs. Providence
2/26 @ Vermont
2/28 @ Vermont
3/5 vs. Northeastern
3/6 @ Northeastern

Outlook:
Jack Parker owns Hockey East. Apparently, he decided he wanted a little more drama in his tournament run this year. After going a horrid 4-9-3 (2-7-2 in Hockey East) in the first half, the Jack Parkers Terriers have gone 7-3-0 in their last ten games, including a record of 6-2-0 in Hockey East. They have an offense that spreads the puck around, with no single superstar, but eleven skaters who have double-digit point totals. Kieran Millan is steadily improving. He is by no means a top-flight goaltender, but he is no longer the reason the Jack Parkers Terriers lose games. After Maine, BU does not have to face a legitimately good opponent this season, meaning they could make a serious run at home ice if they continue to improve.

6. Lowell River Hawks 14-12-2 (8-9-2 HEA) 18 Points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Boston College
2/13 @ Boston College
2/19 @ Maine
2/20 @ Maine
2/26 vs. Providence
2/27 @ Providence
3/5 vs. Vermont
3/6 vs. Vermont

Outlook:
At this point, the River Hawks appear to have played themselves out of home ice contention. After appearing to right the ship with wins over Boston College and Merrimack, Lowell was dealt a crushing blow. Their elite defenseman Jeremy Dehner (a +16 on the season) was diagnosed with a broken hand. Since this massive loss, the River Hawks have gone on to drop their last three games, including losses to Northeastern and Merrimack. Things don’t get better for UML this weekend; they will play the BC Eagles who have been rolling of late, and look unbeatable. Next weekend they’ll have to go to Maine for two games to play a team in the Black Bears who look to have a strong grasp on the no. 3 spot. Even a home-and-home with Providence is doubtful to save UML’s season now.

7. Vermont Catamounts 13-9-4 (7-8-4 HEA), 18 points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Merrimack
2/13 vs. Merrimack
2/19 @ New Hampshire
2/20 @ New Hampshire
2/26 vs. Boston University
2/28 vs. Boston University
3/5 @ Lowell
3/6 @ Lowell

Outlook:
Don’t let the good out of conference record fool you, Vermont is a bad team. The only thing that holds this team together is its defense. The offense is mediocre, at best. Their goaltending is very poor. Rob Madore is the better of the two Catamount netminders and he only has a .902 save% in conference! Their out of conference record has been boosted by wins against the like of Dartmouth and Alabama-Huntsville. The team’s results have been consistently mediocre, and i can not imagine them making a run at home ice. They should get a temporary boost against Merrimack this weekend (although, they couldn’t get four points against lowly Providence last weekend), but I’m not sure this team can muster even a single point over their next four games.

8. Northeastern Huskies 13-12-1 (8-10-1 HEA) 17 Points

Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/13 @ UMass
2/14 vs. UMass
2/19 vs. Boston College
2/21 @ Boston College
2/26 vs. New Hampshire
2/27 @ New Hampshire
3/5 @ Boston University
3/6 vs. Boston University

Outlook:
I thought I’d put Northeastern on this list because they were improving. Chris Rawlings has played really well down the stretch. In fact, he has only given up more than two goals once (to Vermont on January 29th) since he gave up six in an overtime to Lowell on January 9th. He’s boosted his save percentage to over .900 in conference play. This is a team that could get itself together and move up the standings, I thought. Then I saw their remaining schedule. Two against BC, two against UNH, two against BU. No chance.

…Is it Friday yet?

-Derek