I was on the phone last night with the pregame ceremonies streaming on UMassAthletics on mute when I noticed Steve Mastalerz being focused on by the camera. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Must’ve missed starting lineups. They must all be on the ice right now.” Then the game started, and with an overwhelming sense of dread, I (and everyone else watching at home and in the Bill) realized oh no, Toot’s starting our third-string goalie against BC. You know, the guy who got shelled in his first collegiate appearance by a dreadful UNH team. The guy whose last name neither his play-by-play announcer nor his own head coach seemingly can agree on a consistent way to pronounce.
Well, talk about “being like Mike.” Kid went out last night and proved everyone wrong.
The Minutemen blanked Boston College, 4-0, shutting out the Eagles for the first time ever. Yes, ever. BC outshot UMass 35-19, but a good chunk of that came during a third period that UMass spent killing penalties and generally just trying to turtle with that big lead – after all, they’ve blown a lead in seemingly every loss this season. And yeah, you have to think BC was looking ahead to Saturday’s Fenway game against Northeastern, which is, in fact, happening (despite the fact that even NESN isn’t showing it on TV, thanks to their boneheaded move of securing broadcasting rights to a basketball conference that contains only one New England team, which happens to be the consensus worst team in said conference). And yeah, the holes in that BC team are beginning to show (they lost too much on offense and in net, and even the best blue line in the nation can only carry you for so long).
So, all downplaying aside, Mastalerz stopped 35 shots, and while many of them were of the half-hearted variety, he did make a few that would make even Timmy Thomas tip his cap (okay, specifically I’m talking about the one 24 seconds into the highlight reel). And regardless of all the belittling I tried to do in that last paragraph, no UMass goalie had ever shut out BC before. Not Gabe Winer. Not Jon Quick. Not Paul Dainton. But Mastalerz did it in his third collegiate start, and he looked damn good doing it.
Really, the story of last name’s game is that the defense continues to play well, up and down the lineup. Much like the last game against the Eagles, UMass played a smart, opportunistic game, got a quick shot from Allen past Billett, caught a couple breaks off of turnovers leading to two-on-ones, and after squandering a few giveaway chances in the first, took advantage of the same opportunities in the second. Peter “Peterangelo” DeAngelo got the first UMass shortie since the season before last. TJ Syner put a couple of non-empty net goals in the net for a change, and continued to look like a flash of lightning out there from time to time. The key was to get an early lead and really force BC to start thinking toward tomorrow. UMass almost didn’t do that, committing some dumb penalties in the late first period that nearly led to an Eagles lead, but to their credit, the PK continued its recent solid stretch, and UMass converted on that momentum with a second period that has to rank among their finest all season.
So let’s look at the grand scheme of things for a moment. Lowell lost in hilarious fall-from-ahead fashion to Vermont, and suddenly the Minutemen, as “miserable” a season as they’re supposedly having, are just two points behind the supposed River Rat powerhouse, albeit with Lowell holding two more games in hand, but there’s no question which direction these two teams are trending. We could take a defeatist attitude and talk about the race for 8th place, where UMass has a comfy seven-point lead on Vermont for the basement, and thanks to last night’s results, a point up on UNH and two up on Northeastern. In fact, UMass is just three points behind Maine for home ice with a game in hand on the Black Bears. The best part of all of this? UMass has a home-and-home with Lowell, two at Maine, and two at the Bill against the Wildcats, plus another Matthews visit. And there’s still time to catch Merrimack, with that season series waiting to begin. Sure, the Warriors are #3 in the conference, but you have to like that the Minutemen have five of their six meetings with BC and BU out of the way already – and a respectable 2-2-1 record in those games to boot. (Even if it should be 4-1-0 with those two BU collapses. No, damnit, POSITIVE THOUGHTS)
Okay, getting-carried-away aside, Vermont comes in next weekend. Bury them.
P.S. Hey, oh by the way, UMass plays St. Joe’s at 4 in hoops, in a battle of two top-70 RPI teams. UMass is a bit short-handed with some injuries and needs all the crowd noise/energy help it can get. I won’t be able to make it, but I saw plenty of students in the student section watching on TV last night, so I know y’all are there. You know you don’t give a shit about the Saints-Niners game, and you’ll be home in plenty of time to watch Tebow-Brady II. Go, and be loud. Please?
On paper, we should have seen this coming. Boston College came into tonight’s game with a narrow victory at home over UNH and a blowout loss at Holy Cross. The Minutemen cruised to three comfortable victories, albeit against some pretty awful teams, but games in which the team won by double digits despite not shooting particularly well. It would be easy for the doubters to point to last year and say “here we go again,” as UMass’s 7-0 start came off the rails starting with a loss to a not-so-great BC team. But this year, BC will be fortunate to end the year “not-so-great.” They were picked unanimously to finish dead-last in the top-heavy ACC. They feature an absurd nine freshmen on the roster. And they’re a program that, truth be told, has never really been all that successful, not as much as their football team and certainly not even close to what they’ve done on the ice. Whereas the purists will always see UMass as a hoops school, basketball has always played third fiddle on the Heights.
But damn…who could’ve seen this coming?
Despite shooting a pedestrian 47.8% from the field (which, over the course of a season, would rank 78th in the nation at this point), despite getting outshot at the free throw line by a staggering 25-7 margin, despite nobody on the team really doing anything you could describe as “going off” (Chaz led in scoring with 16), the Minutemen still completely dominated the final three-quarters of the basketball game, only falling behind early on a couple of quick threes and some nice free-throw shooting by noted Eurotrash flopper Patrick Heckmann. From there on, it was a clinic in pressure defense, controlling tempo, hitting shots in transition, and never taking the foot off the gas pedal – all of which are things the Minutemen have notably lacked in the first few years of the Kellogg era. Shit, we haven’t seen a good old-fashioned beatdown like this since – gulp – the Travis Ford days. So far, “going ahead by like 25 and then cruising to a modest 12-15 point win” has been as close to a blowout as we can get under Kellogg, whether we’re playing an A-10 foe or AIC. Until tonight, that is.
Look, let’s not start thinking we’re Xavier all of a sudden. The Minutemen benefited from plenty of awful, awful BC turnovers, missed open shots, and defense and rebounding that could best be described as “voluntary,” against a team that looks like it’d fit in much better on a soccer field if they were at all in shape (which they clearly are not, based on how gassed UMass’s pace left them by the middle of the 2nd half). I don’t know what Donahue is trying to do with this team, unless he thinks a squad of Jiri Welsches has a chance of competing in the ACC, but whatever it is, it’s a serious work-in-progress right now.
But give credit where credit is due. After playing down to some shoddy competition in the first half of the Northeastern and NJIT games, the Minutemen grabbed this game by the throat early and, save for a brief run that got the Eagles to the low teens, never really let go. The fun thing is that I still don’t think we’ve seen all this team is capable of, but we did see what happens when Jesse and especially Riley manage to put together even an average game shooting the ball. Both guys played with a lot more confidence and, yes, better shot selection. Most impressive of all, in my estimation, was Cady Lalanne, who showed off big-time with some blocks, quality positioning on rebounds, and even a nice shooting touch. He’s clearly the most polished freshman of the DK era, and until we actually see Jordan Laguerre on a basketball court, I might even argue the most exciting. Seeing how much guys like Farrell, Putney, Sampson Carter and Vinson have improved in two years, I can see quite a bit of potential for young Cady.
Between blowing out BC on the hardwood and sending Kevin “Glenn Beck” Morris packing, thereby clearing the way for the football team to bring in an actual coach to guide them into the FBS era, it’s been an absolutely stellar day for this athletics program – yes, even good enough to soothe the headache of Saturday’s debacle in Lowell. (By the way, I literally woke up with a headache Sunday and I think it had more to do with what happened in Tsongas than anything that transpired down the street at Lowell Beer Works that night.)
The rest of the week brings potential, with hockey looking to get back on track in Vermont tomorrow night (if you ignore games-in-hand, they could move into a points tie for home ice tomorrow night! *rolls eyes*). And then we get to see basketball – nay, Chazketball – on national TV for three days in the Bahamas tournament. Florida State is a huge test for this program, for sure, and for all we know they’ll go right out and get embarrassed and the hater bandwagon will be full once again.
We’ll cross that bridge when it comes. For now, bask in the glory of a blowout win over BC. It doesn’t happen every day.
Until last night, I had never seen UMass beat BC in hockey.
Now, that’s not to say that it hasn’t happened in recent memory. I vividly remember seeing a raucous Mullins Center, behind then-freshman goaltender Jonathan Quick, shock top-ranked BC on a NESN game, back when I was still a wee lad deciding whether or not to put myself in mountains of debt to go to BU or Syracuse (both with elite programs in hockey and basketball, respectively) or to suck it up and “settle” for, ahem, state school. Flash forward to my freshman year at UMass – stupid, foolish me decided “hey, I’ve got plenty of time left here” and decided to forego what woulda been my first ever BC-UMass game and, instead, celebrate my 19th birthday with some friends up at Southern New Hampshire U. Sure, good times were had, but finding out about an epic 2-1 win over the Eagles via text message, while welcome news, made me regret leaving campus just a smidge.
UMass would notch a couple of wins at Conte over the course of the next season-and-a-half, but the road-ready hockey fanatic of today was nowhere to be found. (Indeed, I think my first road UMass experience came at Agganis during my junior year; I didn’t venture inside Conte until the HEA Playoffs a year later.) Again, it was awesome how competitive the two programs had become, but damnit, I wanted to see a win in person.
My junior year, the day before a highly-anticipated showdown with the then-#4 Eagles on campus, I was hanging out in front of Brett with a few friends when I got the phone call that my uncle Timmy had passed away down in New York. I was in the basement of a family member I barely know, listening on a choppy radio feed, when Casey Wellman netted the game-winner in OT in what is possibly the greatest hockey game ever played at the Bill. I was there for the similarly-epic last-second comeback win against UNH (the “Boehm goes the dynamite” game), which to this day is my favorite memory in that building. But with all due respect to the Wildcats, it just wasn’t the same as beating BC, the school I’d hated as long as I could remember, first as a fledgling college hockey fan introduced through BU and then as the school that arguably gets the coldest of snobby shoulders from the elitists on the Heights.
After that, the well dried up. UMass played BC 12 consecutive times after that, including back-to-back Hockey East Quarterfinals, and almost every single game played out the same way: BC flexing its muscle, UMass sticking around, and the Eagles pulling out a 2 or 3 goal win without seeming to have tried. The exception, of course, was that infamous game at the Mullins a few years back where the Minutemen were ranked ahead of the Eagles, had the entire campus behind them, and came out and got positively waxed 7-1. It was the only time in that stretch where UMass clearly looked like the better team on paper coming in, and it was especially painful, but what hurt the most for this fan is that, after years of dominance, BC’s days of easy wins against this team finally looked to be over. But alas, 12-0-0.
Expectations yesterday were at an all-time low. Derek and I trekked over to Durham on Friday night to watch a miserable 60 minutes of hockey in which the Minutemen rotated in two different cardboard cutouts of goaltenders and couldn’t beat a dreadfully-shaky goaltender to save their lives. It was a fun trip to see Lake Whitt for the first time, and we (almost disappointingly) didn’t get shit from a single home fan, but then again, what would they say that we didn’t already know? UNH looked awful for long stretches of time, and they STILL managed to put up a touchdown. The offense scratched together three goals, but despite a “live free or die” approach from the officials (the first penalty came late in the 2nd period), there was no building of any kind of momentum except the negative for these guys. A nice pass here, a good move there, and then it was time to fire the puck directly into DiGirolomo’s chest and hope he somehow dropped it. Which he did, a few times, but the point was clear: after that falling-backwards goal by Henrion with 5 seconds in the period, the team basically signed out, just like it did last weekend when things started to go sour against what we now know (thanks, Lowell) to be an overrated BU squad. It made me question what all this Navy SEAL business in the offseason is actually accomplishing. The slightest bit of adversity, and this team falls apart at the seams – and remember, the point of that training, grueling as it looked, was to make the guys mentally tougher. They were anything but in the past two games.
(**Side note, because I don’t feel like talking about that UNH game ever again. Mastalerz started and looked pretty shaky. Then again, what the hell is Toot starting the kid in his first career game in one of the more intimidating venues in college hockey? Why not Tegs? And then what was with the goalie swapping? These are things I’m glad we don’t have to really talk about this week, but we can’t pretend they didn’t happen at all.)
Who could blame anyone for looking at Saturday night’s matchup and penciling – nay, penning – in an easy win for the Eagles? But hey, we’re masochists. You could even say UMassochists, although please don’t, what an awful pun I have made. It’s homecoming weekend, damnit, and we already had our tickets, and crazier things have happened, right? Though I wasn’t please to see Boyle starting in net, I had this funny feeling about this game, and I put myself in (ew) the shoes of a BC fan. “This is a reverse lock. This has ‘trap game’ written all over it.”
I was right.
The Minutemen played likely their finest game since the two-game sweep at Alfond Arena that temporarily rescued their season in ’09-10. The offense used its speed to mitigate those gigantic, skilled defensemen that BC has built their program around. The D, fueled by the spark of young Mike Busillo’s debut, the best game by far of Oleg Yevenko’s young career, and the continued strong play of guys like Hanley and Allen and Shea, smothered the BC offense, won battles for loose pucks, threw their bodies around and played the physical game I was hoping they’d play at Conte a few weeks back, and generally made life more difficult for the Eagles than it had been all season. And while I doubt we saw the best BC has to offer last night, I certainly don’t feel like they mailed it in at all either. The Minutemen legitimately outplayed them in key moments and did all the little things they’ve failed to do in weeks past.
The crowd had to be part of it, too. I’ve been effusive in my praise of the Mullins Maniacs this season, but it has to be said – they’re rounding in shape nicely. The fans are into the game all the way through, they generally know when to chant things, the guys at the front of the student section seem to be a rotating, rowdy bunch that is far more conducive to a loud student section than the typical “row of puck sluts that gets disinterested and leaves halfway through the 2nd” that we’re used to. I heard only one attempt at a “Fuck BC” that was quickly stifled. I’m cool with “I believe that we will win” just for its infectiousness and positive vibes, even if our Durham trip showed that we’re not even the only Hockey East school doing it. I’m psyched that Oleg finally played well enough to warrant singing “O-leg, O-leg-o-leg-o-leeeeg!” a la Martin Nolet, although he’s got a long way to go before he’s half the player Marty was. And hey, we didn’t get a Noise Meter until the very end, when everyone was loud anyway. I am sad that my strategy of singing a different White Stripes song (not “Seven Nation Army”) during BC power plays only worked for three successful rounds (“Apple Blossom” was the one that snapped the streak). And I’m just slightly concerned that a fellow alum (our good friend Matt, aka “Goggles”) was the catalyst for many of the chants (surely we can find some current students with loud voices, right?) But overall, the student section was the best I’ve seen it in some time, and they were rewarded. It was definitely surreal, and almost magical (yes damnit I said magical) that the Minutemen actually put a game away with an empty-netter, and the emotion in the air as Boyle was mobbed by his teammates is something I haven’t seen in a long time at the Bill. The last comparable moment for me as a UMass fan was Vinson beating Memphis a few years back at the Garden. That’s all well and good, but it’s creating endearing moments like this weekend that students will remember and will keep them coming back to games with positive attitudes. No matter how bad things may get, anything really is possible in sports. That’s why we’re fans.
So where does this put UMass going forward? In the big picture, it’s a 2-point weekend. The Minutemen are still 1-4-2 in Hockey East with 20 league games to go. But it sure as fuck beats being 0-5-2. And the road ahead finally gets a lot easier, with a very winnable stretch of Hockey East games on the docket, starting with a second chance at Northeastern this weekend. The Huskies are a prime example of a team that, just a year ago, started off terribly and finished strong to make a nice late run. The Minutemen need to model themselves after that path. Now, we all know the flip side of “anything is possible,” namely that the boys let this success go to their heads and come out flat again next weekend. But we’d like to think that this, their first win in their last 32 games against Hockey East teams not named Lowell or Vermont, is the springboard they’ve desperately needed.
So far I’ve witnessed two things this season that I never saw in my four years at UMass: a hat trick, and now a win over BC. You know what I did see when I was a student? Year after year of strong starts and horrid finishes. Maybe this is the year that we see the opposite. Hey, the “Wait a second…we WON?!” tag is out of retirement, and Little Dude invited us to a house party. You never know.
Winless weekends are never truly fun, especially when we UMass fans have been treated to so many of them over the past year and a half. The Minutemen came up 0 for 2 in a big hockey/football weekend against front-running BC and soon-to-be-former CAA archrival New Hampshire. There’s a little bit of silver lining to each loss, enough to make me hesitate to use “shit sandwich” to describe the weekend as a whole. I think the somewhat less-pessimistic “less than stellar” will suffice.
Friday, the Minutemen lost for the 926th straight time to BC, 4-2. Not a lot to say about this other than BC is good and we are not as good at hockey. In fact, it really sucks to admit this, but the Eagles actually look better this year in spite of their losses on offense and in goal. On top of all that, it doesn’t even look like we can make fun of their fan apathy this year – Conte Forum had golden-clad spoiled brats filling both endzones AND an entire side of the arena, something we haven’t seen in our Conte visits in recent years. You know, good for them, it’s about time they come out to support this runaway powerhouse of a hockey program. (Then again, their basketball team has been picked to finish dead last in the ACC, and their football team is on its way to a winless season against teams that aren’t in the middle of transitioning from FCS. So I guess they have to have something.)
It was good to see Teglia perform his best Dainton impression in net (complete with trying to play the puck at any and all opportunities, to the detriment of our heartrates) and props to Andrew Tegeler, who scored his first collegiate goal and earns my Kubbie Point for the game (Matt’s, I believe, goes to Teglia). But barely scratching to within 2 goals of BC is not going to cut it. It just isn’t. Papa Triangle is starting to question if this team has made any improvement at all over last year’s. I can’t say I blame him, but let’s wait and see how they handle BU (who just lost to Holy Cross!!!1 and also who UMass played better against last year than they did against BC) before we start jumping off the library.
Of course, if Toot keeps the HoPS line separated again like he inexplicably did in this game, we’ll probably lose both games by 10 goals. Not really, but yeah, let’s not be doing that anymore, k? K. (I will leave ample opportunity for Derek to rant about this, because hoooooh boy was he steamed about this.)
Saturday, Matt and I joined the Section U guys and gals for the second and final annual Colonial Clash at Gillette against the Wildcats of
Villanova wait that’s next week… New Hampshire. It was the very definition of a mixed bag for me, though as a short-term event I thought it was a great experience. Here are some observations:
– We lost the game, in case you didn’t hear. Now, as far as this season is concerned, it is (Rob Lowe) lit-rally (/Rob Lowe) irrelevant. In the long run…I’d actually argue that losing this game HELPS the Minutemen. I don’t really feel like talking about Kevin Morris any more, but rest assured, the “fire Morris” sentiment is getting stronger every day. There’s absolutely nothing about this guy that gives any of us confidence that he’s the direction the University needs to be moving in. None. Zero. Yesterday’s game was classic Morris mismanagement – Pagel finally signs of figuring out this offense, so let’s keep running with Hernandez against a good run defense. The special teams looked completely unprepared for this game on every single kickoff. You can’t blame Morris for things like turnovers, Levengood’s inability to kick, umm, anything, or the refs’ inability to understand concepts like “pass interference” and “the clock stops when the ball-carrier goes out of bounds.” You can blame Morris for “getting outcoached by an FCS coach.” Which he does, week in and week out, and when it does, the losses won’t be as close as this one was.
More troublesome to me, seeing as how the game was for all intents and purposes an exhibition, was the game presentation itself. Gillette Stadium, for all its daddy’s charge-style excess (fireplaces?!!!) and sterile reputation by NFL standards, was home to some of the most amateurish in-game presentation I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. We here at Fight Mass like to laugh at things like this – like that game we went to in Lowell, pre-renovations, where the announcer called out “30 seconds to play in the period,” Ke$ha randomly came on during the game, and they spent every stoppage on some Rowdy the River Hawk cornball storyline. Yesterday at Gillette felt an awful lot like that, only it was our team, and…wait, what’s that? Why, that’s Matty G’s music…nooooooooooooooooo!
It will be a glorious, glorious day when Matty G and his noise meters and over-the-top, trying-WAY-too-hard-and-failing-miserably delivery are no longer associated with our university. (Nothing personal.) For the time being, can we at least quarantine him to PA duties at hockey games and lineups at basketball? There is NO reason, in a football game, we should have a pre-recorded video of Matty G, being COMPLETELY serious, looking like a Tim and Eric Awesome Show sketch – only, again, not a joke. On top of all that, the clips would freeze halfway through. It was hilarious at first, then you remember “hey, remember how this whole MAC thing relies heavily on getting people in Eastern MA to come to games and want to come back?” If you’re not going to wow folks on the field, could we at least invest a dollar or two in the game presentation?
I don’t know a single person who enjoys Matty G who finds “NOOOOOOOISE MEEEETERS!” cool. We tolerate it at hockey because there’s so much else to the presentation and because we’re more concerned about the action on the ice anyway. I just think if we’re gonna have Gillette Motherfucking Stadium as our home field, we can at least try with the presentation. No Matty G. Let the POWER AND CLASS OF NEW ENGLAND lead the students in cheering. Hell, pump their music over the loudspeakers if you have to (BC sure does that with their hockey band). And for the love of Cosby, can we please get a copy of Jock Jams 2 that doesn’t skip? Please tell me they fired the intern who thought “hey, well, this recording of ‘Y’all Ready for This’ skips badly every time we play it, but let’s keep playing it every five minutes.” I’m guessing no, since we’re talking about a school that still doesn’t realize that the recording of “Fight Mass” that plays at hockey games has a nasty skip in it that throws the whole “Go! U! Mass!” chant off for everyone. Mind you, this has been the case for AT LEAST SIX YEARS NOW. (We could, of course, fix this with a hockey band.)
Okay, so that rant went in a lot of directions. Long story short: Gillette good, Teglia good, HoPS line good, Matty G bad, splitting up HoPS line bad. But you get your choice of toppings! That’s good. The toppings are also cursed. That’s bad. Can I go now?
Sorry I’ve been so scattershot this past week or so, what with my whole moving up to New Hampshire business. I have another article from contributor extraordinaire Jarod that I failed to post regarding UMass’s student section from the home opener and a semi-preview of the road ahead for hockey. Since most of it is relevant (especially regarding the student section, as we prepare for what had better be a sellout with the Halloweekend Hockey East home opener against BU) I will post it this week, along with hopefully the Kubbie Kounter page and maybe one or two other goodies.
Take care, and remember that a seven nation army couldn’t hold me down. AGH DAMNIT BC
Let the records show that on Saturday, September 24th, an FBS team with an FBS roster and its season (and likely, its head coach’s job) on the line beat up on a transitioning FCS team with an injury-ravaged FCS roster, 45-17.
Of course, that’s not the storyline here. The storyline is “UMass proves to the world it isn’t ready to move up to FBS play by getting trounced by a struggling BC team.”
Okay, so Saturday’s game was a trainwreck from the very first pass out of Kellen Pagel’s hand. UMass, dealing with enough injuries as it is, seemed to lose a player every other play, getting knocked out by a more physical Eagle counterpart. The passing game, and UMass’s safeties, were about as non-existent as the D1 college football atmosphere at the only stadium in the country where tailgating is relegated to a parking garage. BC started just about every drive at the 50-yard line, if not closer, thanks to an atrocious day for the special teams (save for one scintillating runback by Julmiste). Even J-Hern was held relatively in check, after running roughshod over the Michigan defense a year ago. Basically, it was 60 minutes of suck. Hell, even the broadcast sucked, from the undeniably-awful diagonal camera angles (even McGuirk can get a straight-away camera shot!) to the announcing crew that made the Boom Goes the Dynamite guy look like a pro.
That all being said…the pessimism about this loss is inexplicable. Yes, the final score stings, as does the seven-game losing streak to BC (wait, we used to beat them at football?), especially given how close UMass has been to beating FBS teams in recent years (including these same Eagles a few years ago with our backup QB vs. Matty “Ice” Ryan). Yes, it especially hurts given that, at the end of the year, we’ll look back and see that we were BC’s lone win of the season. But bitterness aside, the Eagles needed this game, and not just for the standings or to keep Spaz’s job. This is a difficult time for BC fans, seeing their stranglehold on New England D1 sports loosening. UConn is trying to hop aboard the ACC Express as the Big East collapses. The last thing BC needed during these tumultuous times, 0-3 though they were, was to lose at home to, ahem, that other FBS football team in Massachusetts.
But here’s the rub – UMass ain’t an FBS team. Not yet. Not with this roster, and certainly not with this coach. For Morris to watch Pagel clearly have nothing out there pass after horrifying pass, and to not think “hey, let’s run Hernandez a bit more” or “let’s give that Hill kid a shot” is absolutely mystifying. Coaching aside, though, UMass’s porous secondary finally came back to haunt them in this one. Any time Rettig fired the ball long, the coverage simply didn’t matter – nobody on UMass seemed capable of keeping up with even the mediocre BC receivers. Not being able to limit the passing games of URI or Holy Cross is one thing – BC, bad as they are this year (and trust me, they’re pretty bad), is still in the ACC, literally out of UMass’s league for the moment. UMass almost coached and willed their way to an upset last time they were here, against a BC team that looked past them. BC needed it this time, and it showed.
I just don’t see the point in panicking over this. Would a win at BC, or at least a better showing, have a positive impact going forward? You bet it would. But like it or not, they were still heavy underdogs. Inexperience at QB, lack of depth, weakness in the secondary…those are all things that will fix themselves through time and through recruiting at the higher level FBS membership affords. And guess what? These games mean nothing right now. The Minutemen don’t even start MAC play until next year, and don’t become bowl-eligible until the following year. A lot can – and will – happen between now and then. For anyone who thinks UMass isn’t “ready” for FBS play, though, remember that they played like absolute shit in weeks 1 and 2, and were likely outcoached in both games, and still pulled off wins. Right now, they’re like a “AAAA” ballplayer; good enough to graduate to the big leagues, not good enough to thrive there.
Much like that AAAA player, however, they’re not going to get better staying in the minors. (Not to mention, in this analogy, all the other teams are either dropping to AA or moving out of comfortable bus-driving range.) UMass is gonna take their lumps from the big boys as they get their feet wet in FBS. That doesn’t mean they don’t belong there. Toledo, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan are not BC, as much as I wish I could say that. Just remember that this team has several guys playing in the big show right now (hello Victor Cruz vs. the Eagles!) and recruiting can’t help but improve with the rise in competition and quality of facilities that is coming. Switching labels to FBS isn’t a magic cure-all in itself, but it’s not just merely symbolic – it means more scholarships, more TV exposure, and more appealing matchups against the big boys that an FCS team can’t use to lure prospective talent. You’ll never convince me Kevin Morris is the right coach for this job, but I’m holding out hope that the administration knows this as well and is searching for the right guy to bring in this offseason.
So chill out. It sucks, but it is what it is: the last time UMass will lose – as they should – to an FBS team as an FCS team.
Well, as usual, it’s gonna come down to Maine. Would we have it any other way?
Once again, in last night’s 2-1 heartbreaker at Conte Forum, UMass came frustratingly close to stealing a game and all-but locking up a playoff spot. The Mass Attack, who
in the course of one weekend lost to these two teams by a combined 16-2 score for some reason only played each team twice this year, finished their two weeks of hell against two top-5 teams by losing all four games by a single goal. For the third straight game, they trailed 2-0, then rallied but fell short in the end. And for seemingly the billionth year in a row, the season-ending pair of games against Maine will determine this team’s playoff fate.
Ironically, unlike last year, the Minutemen don’t need to sweep the two games to make the playoffs, although that would be lovely. UMass leads Providence by two games for the final playoff spot, and the Friars have a home-and-home with Merrimack coming up. And let’s face it, if you can’t beat Lowell when your playoff life is on the line, the Warriors aren’t who you want to see. Of course, UMass gets the Black Bears, who still have an outside shot at home ice if they sweep and Merrimack somehow gets swept. But the team with the most to play for next weekend is the Minutemen, because the embarrassment of being one of those two teams out of the playoffs is there for the taking.
After four straight heartbreakers in a rebuilding year, it’s natural to look at the games in the context of “what to build off of for next year.” There’s some optimism for next year, and of course there’s also some concern. The young defensemen – Phillips, Allen and Hanley in particular – have really been stepping up of late, the former on offense and the later two as defensive stalwarts who have stopped making nearly as many “freshman mistakes.” Syner and Hobbs are setting themselves up as the clear senior leaders offensively for next year’s squad. Even guys like Kiley and Power, not exactly major contributors this year, have shown some energy out there. On the other hand, we lose Kublin (!!!) and, of course, the main reason we’ve been in these games lately, Paul Dainton, whose ascent to the team saves record was accelerated by the massive shot totals he faced these past two weekends. Sure, he’s had his low points this year, and there’s plenty of young talent between Teglia and Boyle coming in, but losing a four-year starter at goal is an adjustment no matter how you spin it. It’s also a bit concerning that Mike Pereira’s production has tailed off so harshly, and we’re hopeful that he’s just hitting the rookie wall and not prematurely hitting a sophomore slump. We’ll obviously be analyzing the team’s prospects for next year at season’s end, but these are just a few of the storylines to watch.
No matter how painful these games are – especially for the seniors, both in the stands and on the team – just keep in mind that this team was picked by experts to finish 9th for a reason. They’re young as hell and they lost a key group of juniors and seniors, some unexpectedly, to the pros. They also just seem unlucky this year, ending up on the wrong end of some really closely fought games and not getting the bounces a young team needs to be successful. That said, a trip to Durham or back to Not-Boston to take on the Wildcats or Eagles, and hopefully continuing to compete as they have the past week weeks, would be an even bigger building block for the youngsters, and a point of pride for the seniors.
And while they could bank on backing into that 8th spot via Merrimack sweeping Providence, we DID see Lowell take 3 points this weekend. Let’s not leave anything to chance.
Beat Maine. Hell, sweep the two games. After all, it’s freaking tradition.
No.2 Boston College Eagles (22-7-1(16-6-1HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-18-5(5-13-5HEA))
Preface: Sooooo we probably won’t win tonight, but Paul Dainton is just 20 saves from breaking Brian Regan’s career saves mark. So, that’s something to look forward to.
What can we say about Boston College this year that everybody doesn’t already know? They have the best scoring offense in Hockey East (3.78GPG), the 3rd best scoring defense in Hockey East (2.22GA/G), and the best scoring differential in Hockey East (+1.57). The Eagles are a team that possess both Cam Atkinson (24G/16A/40Pts) and Brian Gibbons (13G/26A/39Pts). John Muse’s Hockey East numbers (14-4-1, 1.86GAA, .936save%) are rather absurd. They have the top power play in Hockey East action (23.9%); their Hockey East PK (87.3%) is a mere 0.3% behind BU for league lead. The BC roster boasts seven 20-point scorers and 11 NHL draftees.
The game plan against the Eagles should be the same as it has been the past few weeks. Discipline and special teams. Discipline is obvious. BC has the top power play in Hockey East. The UMass penalty kill unit looked atrocious last week. The Minutemen cannot afford to take penalties. Along the same lines, the defense needs to stay disciplined and cover their assignments well against a team as skilled as BC. The power play looked better last week and actually scored a couple goals. Let’s hope it continues to progress this weekend. The Eagles are averaging 7.7 penalties a game in Hockey East play, so the PP unit should have plenty of chances to hone their skills against a really talented penalty kill.
Northeastern showed us the book on how to tie or beat BC last weekend. Either your goalie has to have a fantastic night… or BC has to start Parker Milner (3-2-0, 2.66GAA, .901save%). Our hopes for Milner are rather low, as he started last Friday and gave up 4 goals on 9 shots and got yanked halfway through the game. Barring a surprise Milner visit, the Minutemen will need a godly performance out of Dainton, along with disciplined play and strong special teams work, to have a shot at winning. Oh, and score that first goal. When scoring first, the Minutemen are 5-5-2; when not, they are 1-13-3. The story is much the same (although with better numbers) for the Eagles. When scoring first, they are 18-2-1; when they don’t score first, they are 4-5-0.
Notes for fans: Wear a polo with a popped collar. The irony is great. Three Boston College players, Milner, Philip Samuelsson (4G/11A/15Pts), and Patrick Wey (1G/6A/7Pts), were involved in an incident over the summer in which they were in a car that collided with an MBTA train. Low quality vodka and blood smeared low quality beer cans were found in the vehicle the BC players were in. Chants like “Greeeeeeeeeeeeen line,” “Watch that train,” “Blood smeared beer cans (clap clap clap clap clap),” should be used liberally whenever aforementioned players are on the ice. Also, as suggested by friend of the blog Tyler De Ruiter, the “wheels on the bus” chant shall be replaced by a “wheels on the train” chant. Feel free to come up with your own chants. As long as they have some smatterings of wit, they will be appreciated.
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.
There are three sure things in life: death, taxes, and the pure unadulterated joy that Fight Mass experiences when bad things happen to the Lowell River Hawks hockey program.
So you can only imagine our elation in the fact that, 12 games into the conference slate, the ugly sister is now a hideous 2-10, three points behind the Mass Attack despite playing four more games, and, most importantly of all, appeared thoroughly mismatched for a majority of today’s 5-2 Minutemen win that easily could have been more of a blowout.
Lowell showed next to no heart in the first and third periods, inept in just about all aspects of the game of hockey, bailed out by a few near-misses and a couple nice saves by their freshman goalie Doug Carr, a former recruiting target of the UMass program. UMass completely dominated the opening frame, highlighted by T.J. Syner’s brilliant lightning-strike goal that the cameraman could barely keep up with. They finished the period up 2-0 and, frankly, should have tallied at least one more time given their momentum.
After a 26-minute, penalty-free first, the refs decided to call one type of penalty (tripping) rather than zero, as UMass found themselves with three straight trips to the box. Lowell promptly sleepwalked through two 40-second 5-on-3 advantages, but Ryan Blair’s shot from the point unfortunately found its way through past Dainton, a seemingly-crushing blow for a UMass squad just seven seconds away from that post-huge-penalty-kill momentum boost. For a while, it looked like Lowell finally had something going, competing on UMass’s level for the remainder of the period, and tying things up at the end of the period on Wetmore’s cheapie goal that handcuffed Dainton.
Shades of last year’s 2-0 collapse a year ago in Tsongas, right? Nonetheless, you had to sense that, all things equal, UMass would turn things back around in the third, given how the first period played out and given the lack of talent and composure Lowell has shown all season long. That’s exactly what happened, as Doug Kublin, who is incidentally The Official Favorite Player of Fight Mass (TM), accounted for a goal and an assist in a 3-goal third period where Lowell could get absolutely nothing going. 5-2, final. Pure joy.
So don’t look now, but the Mass Attack is now unbeaten in its last four games. Is this finally the year where they start poorly and THEN play well, instead of vice-versa? Probably not. But the fact that they’re holding up against the likes of UNH and BU, and winning games against dregs like Quinnipiac, Lowell, and Vermont, is a wonderful sign of progress on Toot’s team’s part. Next on the schedule is a date with the Black Bears, who surely want revenge from last year’s regular-season finale. Thanks for practice, River Rats…time to see where these youngin’s really stand now.
To recap: today, the Red Sox have gotten Adrian Gonzalez, the Mass Attack have made big strides in their battle to keep out of the Hockey East cellar Lowell so fittingly occupies this year…all that’s left is tonight’s rumble in the Garden (and maybe a certain announcement from the MAC, hint hint…) and tonight has a good chance at being redemption for the shortcomings of my birthday weekend of a year ago. And really, that’s the most important thing here.
It’s fitting that the Boston area is being pounded by a driving rainstorm tonight. The droves of UMass fans who made the trip to Conte Forum tonight, amassing a student section that put BC’s home crowd to shame for the second straight night, were sent home disappointed by a 5-2 final that was much more exciting than the score would indicate.
Who’s the goat tonight? If we had to pick one, it’d be the officiating crew, which trumped last night’s “performance” with a disjointed clusterfuck of a 2nd period featuring a number of dubious calls in BC’s favor, followed by yet another “let ’em play” 3rd period in which BC was able to pretty much do whatever they wanted without fear of a whistle. But blaming the refs only takes you so far; Dainton was better than he was last night, but a couple of defensive lapses here, a couple of missed scoring chances there, in series where UMass needed to catch a number of breaks…it just wasn’t happening. BC was the superior physical team, and the Minutemen sadly ran out of gas in the third period. That old sports cliche usually reserved for basketball rings true for hockey: you just can’t keep playing from behind, it takes too much out of you.
Give the team all the credit in the world. They easily could have packed it in after the horror-show of February, but first in Maine and now this last weekend, we saw a team with heart, desire, and the talent to hang around with anyone in Hockey East. It’s really unfortunate that they didn’t pull off home ice, especially how close Hockey East was and with an 0-6 February in which they played well enough to win at least 3 of them, and with all those close losses that could have been ties. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Whatever. The fact is, they put themselves in a position to erase all those bad memories, and they fell just a little short.
So what’s next? While the other three HEA playoff series go to a game 3 tomorrow, UMass prepares for an offseason which will certainly weaken their defensive corps and, depending on what happens to Jimmy and Casey, may make next year into a full-on rebuilding season. On the other hand, if one or both of UMass’s offensive stars are here next year, there’s a lot to look forward to. We’ll get into more detail soon (it’s a long offseason, after all), but I see next year being a big “step-up” season for guys like Lecomte, Keane, Langeraap, and Kublin, all of whom battled injuries at times this year. And let’s not forget that we return Paul Dainton in net. But make no mistake: the key to next year, besides whether James and Casey are here, is who, if anyone, can fill the shoes of Nolet and Braun on the blue line. Mike Marcou and Darren Rowe both showed some signs at times early on, yet both had atrocious ends to the season. Irwin and Kublin are good anchors to have, but between the other guys and the incoming frosh, someone (preferably, more than one) needs to step up.
We’ll cross that bridge when it comes. For now, it’s the time of year where we hang up our maroon and white – for now – and enjoy the spectacle that is playoff season in college hockey, not to mention March Madness (the first weekend of which perennially comprises my favorite four-day span of the sporting year). Thank you Ortiz, thank you Watson, thank you Meyers, thank you Nolet, and thank you Braun, and good luck to you all in future endeavors. Thanks for the rest of the team for a fantastic run. And thank you, the readers, for coming along on the ride with us. We’ll continue to write this summer, even as our paths take us in different directions (mine, for example, to Orlando until January, where I’ll continue to follow the teams from a distance online and hopefully be able to see in person when I return). While I won’t be here in person, the other writers will be taking the reins, and I hope this site takes off even further next year and that more students can get involved, whether it’s reading, commenting, or even contributing themselves.
Until then…ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLES!