(Better Late than N)ever to Excel
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.
The dog days: not entirely over.
This weekend, pinned against its back, a Hockey East team desperately in need of a turnaround got its act together when it mattered the most and got three big points against a reeling opponent.
That opening sentence should have referred to the Minutemen, making a giant statement about its chances in Hockey East this year, about its vast improvement over last year’s debacle. Instead, Jack Parker’s Terriers laughed in the face of certain doom and found themselves back on track after rallying from a combined five-goal deficit over the course of two games. Both teams needed these points. BU needed them that much more.
Now, for those interesting in silver linings, UMass was arguably the better team on the ice for the entire weekend save for overtime of game one and the fateful second period Saturday. Particularly on Friday night, they dominated play for large stretches and seemed to have put their awful performance at Conte in the rear-view mirror. But we’ve seen this show before. The past few years, especially last season, this team accelerates quickly in the wrong direction when things start to get bad. We see this air of inevitability as fans, and I’m beginning to wonder if the sense of dread is shared by the team and the coaching staff. It was especially clear Saturday from our vantage point two rows behind the UMass bench at Agganis. You could almost feel the helplessness set in after the abortion of a 5 on 3. I’m fairly sure BU controlled the puck for 99% of the period from that point on, and then it was only a matter of time. Honestly, it was a shooting gallery on Tegs for the last few minutes of the period, and that UMass actually still had the lead in the intermission is a minor miracle. It easily could have been 7-3 BU going into the 3rd, and I’m actually being generous. And this isn’t just a Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou problem (he wasn’t any better than the rest of the gang, but I won’t pin the ending on him because the call was weak-sauce, and shame on the BU radio guys for, as Derek who was listening put it, “acting like Mike killed a guy” even after the replay showed it was clearly a weak call). True, Mikey’s actually-pretty-good performance Friday night will go forgotten after Saturday. But really, none of the guys Toot put on the ice seemed capable of even coming close to controlling the puck, let alone clearing it, once BU got going.
Major props, by the way, to Teglia for even keeping it close despite his defense literally giving up for the entire second half of the game. I mean, completely giving up. They couldn’t clear the puck to save their lives. The entire. Second. Half. I know BU has a high-octane offense, but they’re not that good. There just looked to be nothing left in the tank, and it’s way too early to be saying that. But I can’t stress enough how ugly this was. Consider the phrase “Teg Stand” coined and minted after that performance. He gets my Kubbie Point for the game despite allowing five goals, because I don’t think there was a single one you couldn’t pin on the defense.
Honestly, I don’t feel like sitting here and bitching and moaning about how bad this game was. I witnessed it with my own two eyes, and that was enough. I would be happier talking about Friday, which ended in an unfortunate tie but in which UMass played three complete periods and just couldn’t bounce in that third, clinching goal, taking a point from a top-15 team and positioning well for the road ahead. But after this loss, pessimism is the only logical course of action. The offense was sharp early and, to its credit, fought back to tie the game when all seemed lost. Alas, it was just delaying the inevitable. The Minutemen have their hands full with another daunting weekend against UNH (which seems to have righted the ship somewhat) and then another bout with BC at the Bill.
Let’s face facts. Since the end of the Jimmy/Casey era, UMass has played 32 Hockey East games and won five of them. And those five are against Vermont and Lowell. While it’s great that UMass has hung around in every game since the 11-2 disaster at Lawler last year, they still have yet to take that “next step” of, you know, actually winning some of those games. Something needs to change with the attitude of this team. It’s a tired story to hear but we’re going to keep harping on it until the worm turns: this team does NOT hold leads as presently constituted, and until that changes, the “coulda been” games will keep ending up in the loss and tie columns. This team SHOULD be 3-2-0 in Hockey East, and COULD easily be 4-1-0 (with a goaltender in Providence instead of a cardboard cutout of Kevin Boyle). They’ve been definitively outplayed once this year, at Chestnut Hill, by the #1 team in the land. What a shame, then, that they’ve played themselves out of their potential when it’s counted.
The road gets less bumpy after next weekend. But anything less than 2 points is going to make that road a hell of a lot longer.
– Attendance: great turnout by the students, but WHERE THE HELL were the locals? Y’all are lettin’ me down this year so far. Although I’d rather the side that’s near-full be loud and into the game. It was like a bizarro basketball crowd.
– Speaking of which, this nugget from Matt on Twitter: “Sluts have a postman-like ability to ignore weather.” Snowtober Presented by Amway did not keep Halloween any classier. I have to say, Josh Brown as the Ghostbuster won the night for me.
– One criticism of the home crowd: this weekend showed us just how big the divide is between UMass and BU in terms of fan awareness. Scores of BU kids brought signs referencing Mike Pereira’s “snob” comments earlier in the week. Virtually nobody in the UMass crowd had any idea about this controversy. Then again, half of them probably don’t even know who Mike Pereira is. Baby steps. To the crowd’s credit, there was only a smattering of attempts at “Fuck BU” (and a “Fuck Boston?!” lol wut?). We’re getting there, guys. Forward progress.
– And NO MATTY G. I like how his replacement (let’s call him “some guy with an actual PA announcing voice”) deadpanned the cheesy Matty G staples he was forced to do. It’s almost as if he knows that it is never, in fact, time for a noise meter. Sadly, it’ll be back to the groan-worthy stylings of Mr. Goldstein next weekend. It was a good run, other guy.
– Scoops Mazurik: Not a bad fellow, as it turns out. Fight Mass: Making Friends In Hockey East Wherever We Go! (TM) Seriously, though, classiest group of visiting BU fans I’ve encountered yet. Too bad the older home fans in our section at Agganis were so obnoxious on Saturday. (To be fair, I figure rooting for a Jack Parker team probably would skew your opinion on what is and isn’t a penalty in the game of hockey.)
– As sucky as Saturday’s game was, those new road uniforms are fucking awesome. I want to see them more, in spite of the outcome. Although I’m not as enthused about the white helmets, either at home or on the road.
– Baz-kett-a-ball starts in just 11 days! I know, I can’t believe it either. Rumor has it the Minutemen may or may not have beaten Drexel in a controlled scrimmage! Matt and I said hi to Coach Kellogg at ABC after the hockey game on Friday. He is very tall and very politician-like, but I was honest when I said I believe this team is gonna surprise some people this year. I might have more on that later this week…
– …but probably not. Merrimack, NH is still without power for the most part, and my office just got power back so it’s back to work tomorrow. I’ll try to get something up before the season opener, but I make no promises. NONE.
You want the scars, but you don’t want the war
#13 Boston University Terriers (2-2-0, 1-1-0 Hockey East)
Massachusetts Minutemen (1-2-1, 0-2-1 Hockey East)
The BU Terriers come stumbling into Amherst this Friday to start a home-and-home weekend series with the Minutemen. After managing to fell Denver, that’s number two in the nation Denver, two weekends ago, the Terriers were stunned by a huge upset loss to Holy Cross at home last Saturday. Starring in this loss was senior BU goalie Kieran Millan. Starring for the Crusaders, that is. Millan gave up five goals to the Crusaders last weekend. His up and down performance thus far this season has been a bit of a microcosm of his entire career at Boston University. His stats this year (2-2-0, 3.28 GAA, .903 save%) have been pretty terrible. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, the Terriers can still score goals and they have been scoring them at a rate of four a game. The team is still packed with talented offensive forwards, with guys from Alex Chiasson (4G/3A/+7) to Matt Nieto (4G/1A/+5) to Corey Trevino (3G/2A/+1) to Sahir Gil (1G/4A/Even) to Wade Megan (2G/1A/-1). The team is packed with 10 NHL draft picks, six of them forwards. The Terriers have yet to score less than three goals in any single game this season and have scored four or more in all but one.
The key to beating the Terriers is to contain their offense. Let’s face it, on the defensive side of the puck there are not nearly as many recognizable names. Gone is David Warsofsky and the only really impressive D-men the Terriers have left are Adam Clendening and Garret Noonan. That leaves four defensemen for the Mass Attack to pick on. Hopefully, Toot will go back to the star-studded top line of TJ Syner (1G/6A/+1), Danny Hobbs (3G/2A/+1), and Franchise Pereira (3G/2A/+1) this weekend and stop fucking with an offense that has been great, minus the BC game where he did fuck with the lines. If the offense has its chemistry right, it should be able to exploit some of the lesser BU defensemen and put a few past Millan, who will hopefully continue to be iffy.
Now to the real question. If the offense does play up to its ability, the game can certainly be won with some solid, fundamental defensive play. Unfortunately, this is a defense featuring The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou and that can be problematic. Minus the aforementioned Show and some lapses in discipline from Mountain Man Олэг Евэнко, I think the defense has been okay. The issue has been that okay defense only clears rebounds away some of the time when goalies leave them in the slot. We have to assume that Tegs will be in net for at least one (hopefully both) of these games, so the rebound issue shouldn’t be too bad. The defense just has to deny BU any golden opportunities and hopefully Teglia will be able to stop the shots he’s supposed to and won’t leave any juicy rebounds. Denying BU golden opportunities is definitely easier said than done, given how strong the Terriers’ offense has been this year, but if the Minutemen stay disciplined and stick to the fundamentals it should not be a particularly difficult task.
That’s really it. These two games could certainly be high scoring shootouts. If that’s the case, I don’t know how I feel about the Mass Attack’s chances this weekend. The keys are to minimize the damage the high octane Terrier offense does and put a decent amount of shots on Millan and hope they find their way through screens or drop in front of the net for easy rebound opportunities. I think it’s really key that the Minutemen compete in both these games and come out of this weekend with AT LEAST two points. If the Minutemen do that, it’s a weekend we can all feel good about. If they don’t, well we’re going to start seeing some fan apathy and a lot more questions about how strong this team, and its coaching staff, really is.
On a personal note, I’m quite excited. This Friday will mark my first return to the Bill as an alumnus, which will be quite a bittersweet experience for me. Hopefully the result will make it more sweet than bitter. I say this with the utmost joy and anticipation. Is it Friday yet?
10/22 Weekend Preview
Massachusetts Minutemen (1-1-1, 0-1-1 Hockey East)
#2 Boston College Eagles (3-1-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
The Minutemen take on one of the best teams in the nation on Friday as they will do battle with the Eagles from Boston College. BC is a perennial Hockey East powerhouse and it looks like this year won’t be any different. The Eagles’ offense has been scoring at an impressive 4.50 clip while they have been giving up 2.25 goals a game, a figure that is deceptively high due to their one loss which included an empty net goal. In their three wins, the Eagles have amassed 16 goals while only allowing five. BC’s goal scoring is well distributed amongst the team; junior forward Chris Kreider leads the team with three goals and five other Eagles (Bill Arnold, Johnny Gaudreau, Barry Almeida, Pat Mullane, and Stephen Whitney) are tied for second on the team with two goals apiece. The offense is fueled by the forwards, who account for the top eight point scorers on the team. The defensive corps is only responsible for seven of the Eagles forty eight points thus far (two goals and four assists).
Boston College’s defense is led by a solid core of upperclassmen who know what it takes to get things done on the defensive side of the game. Senior captain Tommy Cross is the only defenseman on the team with an official leadership role but these guys clearly all know how to lead by example. Not only are there no minus players in the top six group of Cross, four juniors, and one sophomore, but there aren’t even any defensemen with even plus/minus ratings. Brian Dumoulin leads the team in plus/minus rating with a +5. Other than sophomore Isaac MacLeod, who I have not seen very much of, I can say that I have not seen a single defenseman on the Eagles who is anything less than outstanding. Junior Parker Milner finally has a chance at being the go-to guy between the pipes for the Eagles, and he is not squandering that opportunity so far. His stats are simply fantastic (3-1-0, 2.01 GAA, .923 save%). Those of us who had hoped that he wasn’t good enough to fill John Muse’s jockstrap are certainly disappointed.
While the Mass Attack cannot claim to have the kind of suffocating defense that the Eagles have right now, they can claim to have the kind of offensive firepower that rivals Boston College’s. The Minutemen are averaging 4.00 goals a game and the Syner-Pereira-Hobbs line has been mind-numbingly good since the return of Danny Hobbs. In those two games, they’ve accounted for six goals and ten assists. What’s concerning is that they have provided almost all of the offense. Although the Mass Attack certainly has other offensive talent to fall back on, so far only four players not from the top line (Colin Shea, Conor Sheary, Brendan Gracel, and Adam Phillips) have lit the lamp this year. Two of the five goals not produced by the top line have come on the powerplay, which is another exciting part of the 2011-2012 edition of the Mass Attack. So far in this early season, the Minutemen are converting powerplays at a very proficient clip of 21.1%.
What is not as exciting about this year’s Minutemen is the defensive side of the puck. On the whole, the team has played relatively well on defense. No one has played poorly, but the momentary lapses the team has seem to come at the worst possible moments. Despite outshooting their opponents by a wide margin, the Minutemen have given up as many goals as they have scored this year. A big part of the problem is the penalty kill, which has been successful a dismal 75.0% of the time. The penalty kill is all about fundamentals. Body positioning, stick positioning, denying passing lanes, keeping the puck to the outside, clearing bodies from the front of the net, clearing rebounds from the front of the net. That last one has been a killer. Freshman goalie Kevin Boyle has given it his all so far this season, but where he most clearly needs work is on his rebound control and his recovery and positioning for the second shot. College hockey goalies deny the first shot and rely on their defensemen to get to rebounds before the opposing forwards do; Hockey East goalies deny the first shot and prevent a second chance, either by allowing no rebound or by steering one out of harms way. I would expect to see Jeff Teglia’s first start of the year tonight. Boyle looked out of his element last Saturday and gave up some really ugly goals before he was finally (Yes, finally, Toot left him in WAY too long against the Friars on a night where he clearly just didn’t have it.) yanked for Teglia. Tegs stopped all eight shots he faced and looked rock solid in his first action of the year. Hopefully his great play in relief last weekend carries into this weekend; the Minutemen will need a huge performance from him if they want a chance to steal one from the Eagles at Conte.
This one should be exciting, folks! No more excuses. Our number one goalie should be in net, our offense is firing on all cylinders, our defense is playing well enough to pull out wins as long as Tegs helps ‘em out a little. Everyone should be excited because this is a game where we can see how our lineup matches up with one of the best out there. I expect they will matchup quite well and I expect a tight game tonight. I can’t tell you who’s gonna win this one, but I can tell you this is the most positive I’ve felt about the potential result of a UMass-BC game in a long, long time.
Weekend Preview: Part I; is it Friday yet?
Bentley Falcons (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Atlantic Hockey) vs. UMass Minutemen (0-0-1, 0-0-1 HE)
It is once again the most wonderful time of the year for the young students of the University of Massachusetts. The home opener is upon us again, bringing with it majesty, grandeur, and fresh hope. Although our beloved Mass Attack has already been tested in a fiery duel of aggressive offenses and spectacular goaltending, this Friday’s bout with the Falcons will be the first chance most of the UMass fan base will have to see the team play with their own eyes this year.
In their first game of the season, the aforementioned duel to the death… or tie, the Minutemen found heroes old and new. Senior co-captain TJ Syner scored and was instrumental on the powerplay, sophomore winger Conor Sheary started to make good on my prediction of a 20G/20A season by notching two brilliant assists, winger Emerson Auvenshire tallied his first career NCAA point by assisting on Branden Gracel’s goal, and, perhaps most importantly, goalie Kevin Boyle stood tall in net and made 29 instrumental saves in his very first collegiate start. Unfortunately, the team tired in the third period and Northeastern was hungry for a point. The Mass Attack failed to notch their first win of the year by less than three seconds, and honestly would have had the win if not for some really outrageously bad turnovers in their own zone throughout the entire game. BUT, you, noble reader, must keep in mind that the Minutemen were missing a couple key faces on the ice last Friday in Boston. These faces are, of course, those belonging to senior co-captain Danny Hobbs and sophomore netminder Jeff Teglia; they are once again healthy and ready to join the fray.
Looking at the team offensively, Hobbs can only add to an offense that was firing on all cylinders last week. The Minutemen scored three goals, blasted 39 shots on Chris Rawlings, took nine shots on net in five-plus (technically six, but one lasted only 13 seconds) powerplay opportunities (believe me, I’ve been watching UMass hockey for awhile now, this is a tad better than usual), and even scored a powerplay goal!!!!!!!!!!11 This was all done without last year’s leading scorer, Hobbs, who will certainly be a force to be reckoned with if he wants to improve on last season’s point total of 28.
Defensively, the team certainly will not be made worse by the return of Jeff Teglia. Boyle stopped 29 of the 32 pucks sent his way last week, for a very respectable .906 save percentage. If Teglia wants the full-time starting goalie job, he’ll have to do a lot better than that, and he certainly seems capable. Hopefully a little competition between the two (and, also, Steve Mastalerz) will bring out the best in both goalies and whoever starts Friday night should be looking to shut out an obviously inferior team.
But wait, are the 0-2 Falcons really that bad? Well, to be fair, we can’t really say that just yet. In two games this season, Bentley has scored two goals and given up nine. These numbers have, however, been posted against Michigan. The Michigan that’s ranked number four in the country. That Michigan. So Bentley’s numbers thus far this year are a little skewed. Let’s look at Bentley’s numbers from last year. They went 10-18-6, with nine of those wins coming against fellow Atlantic Hockey cupcakes. They scored 2.53 goals a game while giving up 3.44 and their 8.4% powerplay success rate made the Mass Attack’s mediocre man advantage (12.5%) look downright lethal. Bentley’s meager offense lost two of its top three scorers at the end of last season and only return one guy (sophomore forward Brett Gensler) who scored more than eight goals last year.
One can go on and on about Bentley’s offense, from their lack of true playmakers to the absolute dearth of scoring ability from the point, but what may give Bentley fans a glimmer of hope this year is what’s between the pipes. On back to back nights last weekend, Bentley’s skaters were dominated on the ice by a far superior team; however, their two netminders acquitted themselves quite nicely. Despite giving up five goals, senior Kyle Rank made 44 saves. A save percentage of .898 is not something most goalies aspire to, but it is certainly nothing to sneeze at when you post it against the fourth best team in the nation while they are blasting 49 shots at you. Compared to Rank, sophomore Branden Komm got off lightly, having to face only 42 shots. He saved 39 of those for a very tidy .929 save percentage. That, by the way, is the same percentage Chris Rawlings posted against the Mass Attack while he was standing on his head last Friday.
Okay, I’m just going to say it. Even if Bentley’s goalies play well again, we should win this game. This is a game Kevin Morris probably couldn’t lost. It’s embarrassing enough that I can actually remember the last time we played the Falcons. Because we lost. It was the middle of the beginning of the end for the 2009-2010 Minutemen, who proceeded to follow up the Bentley loss with the worst (by far) Cahoon swoon ever seen. But that’s all in the past, and this is the first half of the season. The Bentley Falcons are a team that managed to finish tenth out of twelve teams in the worst conference in D1 hockey last year. They are, frankly, a joke, and for guys like TJ Syner, Danny Hobbs, Kevin Czepiel, Darren Rowe, Rocco Carzo, Eddie Olczyk, and The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou (By the way, what the fuck was The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou doing out there last Friday night?! I mean, yeah, two assists, that’s nice, but where the fuck were you on the defensive end? Clear the fucking puck! For fuck’s sake, man! You are a fucking defenseman. Not offenseman, DEFENSEman. I’m so fucking sick of this. Just make the fucking simple fucking play and get the puck out of the fucking zone. Fuck, am I the only one who sees this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.) to lose twice to Bentley, in two tries, would be absurd. Come on guys, I know you remember that last loss, make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Really, all it’s gonna take to win this Friday is smart play. That’s it, simple, smart play. No bad penalties (I’m looking at you, Oleg), no dumb turnovers in the defensive zone, and just put plenty of rubber on goal. As long as whoever’s in net for Bentley doesn’t decide that last week was just a springboard for an even better performance this week, enough pucks will find their way to the back of the net to top the Falcons’ anemic offense. And, if not, well, I’ll eat Scoops Mazurek’s hat.
P.S. Check back for part two of this weekend preview, which will appear sometime late Saturday morning or early Saturday afternoon.
Season in review, or, “A Walk Through Hell”
That’s really the only way to describe a year where your absolute favorite sports team finishes 6-23-6. That’s a bafflingly ugly number, ain’t it? In perspective, UMass finished just six points ahead of Lowell, which had one of the worst seasons any D1 athletics program has ever had in any sport ever. The difference there was UMass’s 3-0 record against its vastly inferior little sister school. The Minutemen would win three other games all season – two against a pretty-bad Vermont program, and a lonely nonconference rout of Quinnipiac (hardly adequate revenge for last year’s heartbreaking loss which sent the Minutemen into a season-collapsing tailspin).
We all saw this coming, although some of us (i.e. this blog) saw a slightly less hopeless season ahead. While most critics rightfully saw an already-overrated Lowell squad losing pretty much every relevant player to graduation as a recipe for disaster, most were equally skeptical of a UMass team losing its five leading scorers to either graduation or the professional ranks, and UMass was thus picked to barely finish ahead of Lowell in many preseason rankings. Indeed, in many years, 16 points would be enough to doom UMass to miss the postseason, and only yet another awful Providence season allowed UMass the chance for a hard-fought two-game sweep against BC (again). The Minutemen managed not to win any of its final 14 games down the stretch. Their last win? Paul Dainton’s only career shutout victory, which we attended, the 6-0 thomping of Vermont that led the three of us to some misguided optimism about how far this primarily-freshman team had come in just over half a season.
Yet, for once, the long stretch of winless games down the stretch actually showed signs of improvement, believe it or not. As the schedule turned from the dregs of Hockey East, from the Lowells and Vermonts and Providences of the world, we saw the Minutemen jack up the caliber of play to match the opposition. With the notable exception of one weekend, during which the UMass men’s club hockey team apparently suited up and wore the varsity team’s numbers in a 17-2 combined clubbing at the hands of BC and ‘Mack, UMass played a long series of down-to-the-wire heartbreakers against the class of Hockey East – Merrimack, BC, Maine. Five straight one-goal losses followed by an easily-winnable tie.
In fact, making that weekend more inexplicable, the Minutemen played the class of Hockey East pretty damn close all season long. Even in that BC game, the Eagles were kept mostly in check until they broke it open in the waning minutes. In the three-game series against UNH and BU, the Minutemen pulled off two ties (again, both winnable games, but I digress), and kept the other games close enough considering the considerable blue line youth on display back early in the year. UMass blew leads against the Huskies twice at home (though their visit to Matthews was a pretty poor showing) too. All of these woulda-shoulda-coulda moments can come to a couple conclusions, not any of which are mutually exclusive:
1) These guys were young, like REAL young, and has yet to learn how to close games out.
There was a severe lack of experience at pretty much every key position this year for UMass. Doug Kublin led the blue line corps, but everyone else of note was a freshman or sophomore. Adam Phillips and Joel Hanley saw a huge chunk of minutes. Anthony Raiola was forced into a lot of action. Conor Allen and Colin Shea logged a lot of ice time. See a pattern? Outside of Kubbie, who really had any significant experience coming in? Darren Rowe played a bit, as did Mikey Marcou. The latter had a pretty awful season, but he’s also going on just one year of regular playing time, and missed a number of games this year to injury. The young D-corps got better as the season went on, but can we really expect/trust these guys to be able to know how to shut down bigger, more experienced forwards when the game’s on the line? Not yet, my friends. Not yet.
Likewise, the forwards, outside of Hobbs, Syner, Concannon, and Langeraap, were a rotating group of youngsters. The offense performed admirably in the absence of Jimmy and Casey and the like, but even those guys took until their sophomore years to develop into offensive leaders. Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, Branden Gracel – all of them look poised to have great careers for this squad. I’m also high on the prospects for guys like Troy Power and Adam Phillips (as I’ve said in the past, I’m a big proponent of having a blue-line scoring threat like Irwin showed flashes of being) contributing in big ways offensively next year. Syner and Hobbs, while not as dominant as Marcou and Wellman were, are a dynamic scoring duo who I think will have a lot better support around them than their predecessors had (no offense to Syner and Hobbs themselves, who were part of that support). This unit will nonetheless require a bit more time playing together to really find their groove. The offense unfortunately did struggle at times this year, but again – it’s hard to imagine such a young team succeeding against bigger, more experience teams, when the Minutemen are already at such a recruiting disadvantage to the more established powers of Hockey East. The program is making strides, but it’s not there yet, and it’ll take a lot more sustained success if and when it wants to get up to that level.
On the flip side…
2) The results would have been even worse – a lot worse – without #31 between the pipes.
The Minutemen, as I noted in last year’s postseason recap, did have one important crutch coming back – a senior goaltender, one who has always been at least above-average in Hockey East, and one who’s had a penchant for stealing games on occasion. Dainton was true to form this year, posting solid numbers and seemingly playing his best hockey down the stretch run, including another strong showing in the playoffs at Chestnut Hill. Obviously, next year the training wheels come off, and UMass will be relying on Jeff Teglia an awful lot.
There are some bright spots to this. Jeff Teglia may have struggled a bit in his initial appearances for the Minutemen, but he nonetheless got some experience under his belt. When Dainton took over following Jon Quick’s sudden departure in ’07, he was a pure freshman with no collegiate experience, handed the starting job with only sophomore Dan Meyers behind him. Granted, Teglia’s “experienced” backup next year is Kevin Moore, similar to Meyers in clubhouse presence and leadership but slightly less legitimate as a “backup.” On the other hand, Dainton also didn’t have a young buck behind him competing for playing time. Tegs will have two freshman recruits, Boyle and Mastalerz, and the competition for the starting job can only help as a motivating factor.
Beyond that, though, it’s pretty well-established in the local media that Dainton was the prototypical “good clubhouse guy,” earning that “C” on his uniform in his leadership of the young Minutemen. Here’s hoping that this means he taught Tegs everything he knows (minus the whole “wandering around outside the crease to play the puck” thing? Please? My heart can’t handle three more years of this!) and maybe even offered some advice to Boyle and/or Mastalerz, too.
And who knows? Not to belittle the accomplishments of the program’s all-time saves leader, but couldn’t it be within the realm of possibility that one of these recruits (who, for what I can recall, all seem more highly-touted than Dainton was when he was recruited) could emerge as being better than Pauly D was? Is that blasphemy? This is a program that produced a top-5 NHL goalie right now in Quick. Sure, that was back when Dennehy was pulling in quality recruits, but goalie coach Mike Buckley is still here. While I think that the students’ chants of “Teg-li-a!” in that last weekend against Maine were frankly pretty moronic (that student article is coming in the offseason, I swear!), I still have a good feeling that the goalie situation with resolve itself sooner than later. (As in, before the bulk of the conference schedule starts next year. Fingers crossed.)
So, yeah. The walk through hell is over. It was one of the worst seasons in program history on paper, yet, unlike the baskettaball team’s season, the trend was upward nonetheless. Aside from Dainton, what is this team losing next year? Chase Langeraap finally started to put it together at the end of his career, and everyone knows that we’re heartbroken to be losing Kubbie, but Saunders was a frequent healthy scratch, Concannon and Lecomte are what-could-have-been stories thanks to lingering injuries, and Keane never really lived up to expectations.
Next year, we’ll see another couple blue-line prospects in Mike Busillo and the towering Oleg Yevenko. Between Yevenko and Phillips, the blue-line will finally have something we haven’t really seen much of in this program: size. Meanwhile, while losing Kublin, UMass will bring back a solid young corps who have improved throughout the year, with Phillips, Hanley, Rowe, Raiola, Allen, and Shea. With all those guys coming in, Donnellan hopefully returning from injury, and Mikey hopefully using his rough year as motivation to come back much-improved (being healthy from the get-go would help), hopefully the team can cover up the loss of one of the most consistent defensemen the team’s ever seen.
Likewise, offensively, unless someone unexpectedly bolts to the NHL like last year (highly unlikely), there are a lot fewer question marks. Again, Pereira, Hobbs, Syner, Gracel, and Sheary form the basis of a highly effective offensive corps. Rocco Carzo will hopefully use his strong finish to the season as a springboard to becoming a contributor offensively. Czepiel, Olcyzk, Filiou, DeAngelo, Power, and Kiley all saw playing time this year and have potential to be a strong supporting cast with another year under their belts. Shane Walsh and Zack LaRue will come in as freshmen with solid juniors numbers and a chance to contribute without the pressure this year’s freshman class had of carrying the team. Last-minute update: And you can add Joseph Manno to that list, too. He and LaRue both have some pretty impressive scouting reports going for them. And really, for Derek’s sake, it would be sick to have a guy named Walsh AND a guy from his hometown of Melrose (Sheary) on the same team, both doing well.
Do I think these guys will suddenly become the class of Hockey East next year? Of course not. Unless eeerrryone gets up and leaves, BC’s current crop of stars has one more year together, although I’m far less sold on Parker Milner than I am with John Muse. BU and Maine also have a significant amount of talent returning next year, and Northeastern could be frisky if their young stars can fill the McNeely/MacLeod void right away. UNH loses a massive percentage of its scoring and should be on the decline next year, and, while Merrimack’s days in the basement appear over for a while, they do lose some key seniors, including goalie stalwart Joe Cannata, and I just don’t see Da Costa turning down the limelight of the NHL as well. In the bottom ranks, I don’t see Vermont getting significantly better anytime soon, and who knows what to make of Providence or Lowell given their coaching situations. In other words, the middle of the pack is, honestly, a pretty reasonable expectation. I could see this team finishing anywhere from 3rd to 7th next year. There’s a lot of factors at stake. Given everything, though, improvement is the only logical scenario. The question is how much this team improves, and we will have to wait through another long summer and fall until we get to find out.
So that’s the year and the outlook in a nutshell. Now, as for the blog. This was my first year following the team as an alum. Half the year I was limited to watching choppy streaming video online from my apartment in Disney World, and the other half I got to experience the game from the student section a few more times (albeit at 12-16 bucks a game) with Derek and Matt and the gang. We also made a number of roadtrips, one successful (Vermont!) and a few less so (to Merrimack, as well as Matt and Derek’s trip to UNH, which I still need to visit). We will continue to follow the team next year, both from a blog standpoint and literally, as we look to cross Orono and Providence off our to-do list. We also want to make trips to Quinnipiac and any other New England venues the team gets scheduled to visit (Harvard? Cornell?).
That said, I founded Fight Mass to create a venue for the student section to band together, something I haven’t quite seen yet. I love that some of you have approached us about the blog, and your continued readership has been tremendous. Really, I could write about this all day regardless of who reads it, but at the same time, I’d love for those of you who do read it to continue to get involved and spread Fight Mass to your friends. I’ll get into it further when I write my student section piece (I swear, offseason, it’ll happen soon – I figure it’s the perfect thing to fill the offseason void), but I think part of the problem with UMass from a student fanbase perspective is a lack of organization. Without organization, a student section cannot build tradition, aside from “one random drunk guy yells ‘fuck BU’ and everyone else joins in, derp!” It was an organized, albeit small, group of fans that built the limited tradition UMass has (i.e. its chants, many of which are cribbed from other Hockey East schools, by the way), and even these traditions are falling apart (i.e. we don’t even say “how much time’s left?” anymore, people think the goal chant is “fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass,” and other various fails one would expect from a Lowell but certainly not from a school of this caliber). I don’t want to just tell people what to do, because a) that will never work, and b) no one man should have all that pooowah. Instead, I want the students who know what’s going on to have a place to gather, and tell themselves what to do, together.
More on that later. For now, what you need to know is that myself, Matt, and Derek will continue to write for the blog, observers that we are. (Ben is welcome to continue contributing as well, if he so desires.) We have a few interested undergraduates who have contacted us about contributing. I’ve talked to all of them and gotten a writing sample from one, and I like the cut of all of their very different but interesting jibs. None of us is comfortable about “handing the reins” off to anyone, of course. I’m not entirely sure if that will ever really happen, because if someone with a 9-to-5 “real” job like Coogan can find the time to maintain a blog at a high level of involvement, we should be able to do so between the three of us with whatever employment we post-graduate scrubs can scrounge up.
How the blog will continue remains to be seen, but I envision the three founders contributing more the way we have so far: myself as the “big picture” guy, Walsh with the nitty-gritty hockey knowledge, Matt with his sharp wit and fury of a thousand suns fueling his various rants. Alongside that we see contributors as a chance for us to stay in touch with the student section, as we almost surely will be limited in our ability to all three of us commute all the fucking way to Amherst from wherever we happen to be when next season rolls around. For all we know, we might all end up closer to Boston (the other two already do live near there and I live slightly closer to there than to Amherst) and we’d catch the Minutemen in person more often in their road games out here. This is where the contributors would be useful. Again, it’s all up in the air. For now, if you’re a reader and interested in contributing, hit us up on the Facebook group and send us a message. And keep telling your friends, goddamnit! “Like” the Facebook group. It takes like 10 seconds. Really.
One more thing I’d like to say before the sun sets on our season recap is that the highlight of the year, for me anyway, was the chance to befriend Mark of Fear the Triangle. I’ve made it no secret that FtT is my most prominent inspiration for starting Fight Mass, and I’m pleased to announce that he’s also a great guy outside of his Internet persona, too. His blogging advice has been priceless and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with a more genuine love for this program and dedication for what he does. And on top of all that, he’s provided us with some tremendous beer recommendations to boot – even Toot gave him a shout out on senior night at the press conference. (Seriously. Read the “Road Trip” section on FtT if you’re going to a UMass road game ever.) We here at Fight Mass are proud to call him a friend and the UMass hockey community is lucky to have him.
So that’s it for the 2010-2011 season. Like I said, I’ll be offering my take on what’s wrong with the student section soon, and maybe the occasional update on our nationally-ranked men’s lacrosse team or the hopefully-imminent move of UMass football to the FBS, but otherwise, there’s not a ton to talk about in the offseason. I would like to take this opportunity to mention my forthcoming secondary blog, Six Lengths Ahead (tentative title, which will probably stick since I already started it and such) in which I will be publishing various musings, from Boston’s pro sports teams and other non-UMass happenings, to other pop culture things. Yeah, it sounds kinda Simmons-y, but hopefully with all the wit and none of the continuous references to the same three or four 80’s movies. Anyway, I haven’t written anything yet (I’ll probably start with a roundup of this week’s returns of Community, 30 Rock and Parks & Rec, or a look at the soon-to-be-done-for-the-season U.S. adaptation of the brilliant British show Skins) but rest assured that content is coming. Oh yes, it’ll be coming, hard and long (maybe not 3,000+ words long, but you know) all summer long and beyond.
As for the hockey team, the future is always brighter than the surface of a freshly zambonied ice surface. For all we know, Hobbs will head off to the Rangers early, all the goalies will suck, and the team will struggle along yet again. Or they’ll bolt out of the gate to a 10-2-2 record, then Cahoon Swoon their way to another low seed and early exit.
But maybe, just maybe, they won’t. And so goes the life of a UMass hockey fan. Call it masochism, call it madness, call it blind loyalty to an alma mater. We call it devotion. And one of these years, damnit, we’re bound to be right.
And so the question begs to be asked…
Is it October yet?
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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.
Weekend in Review: February Thaw Edition
The Mass Attack found ways to lose games this weekend. In the Friday game, the Merrimack Warriors proved that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. After taking a 1-0 lead into the 3rd period, the Minutemen found themselves down 2-1 with less than 6 minutes to go in the game. Enter Adam Phillips (8G/5A/13Pts), who scored back-to-back goals (the first 5-on-5, the second on a 4-on-3 power play) to give the Mass Attack the lead. Credit Mike Pereira (10G/13A/23Pts) with a fantastic screen on the first of these goals, as the shot was one that would’ve been easily savable, if not for the screen. Unfortunately, with less than 1:30 to go in the game, Colin Shea (1G/4A/5Pts) lost his stick and then inadvertently slapped the puck into his own net with his hand. Shea was, unsurprisingly, a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game. Shortly into OT, Paul Dainton (6-13-4, 2.95GAA, .910save%) gave up a juicy rebound that was netted by Carter Madsen (7G/6A/13Pts). And that was that.
Game two was all about Dainton and offensive ineptitude. Shots: 41-16 Merrimack. Score: 2-1 Merrimack. It was pretty much what you’re thinking right now. Dainton had an up and down night on Friday. He made some spectacular saves, but he let in two goals he probably shouldn’t have (including the game winner). On Saturday, Dainton made some spectacular saves. Then, he made some more. Then, he made some more. Dainton was great on Saturday. Unfortunately, Merrimack did what Merrimack does when it gets a lead at home. It clogged the neutral zone. Considering the ice at Lawler is about five feet wide, it isn’t hard to do. The one UMass goal came courtesy of TJ Syner (8G/15A/23Pts) in the 3rd, with the ice opened up because UMass was on a 4-on-3 power play. Saturday’s game did have some terrible officiating, too. Danny Hobbs (8G/14A/22Pts) got absolutely mugged in the corner by an elbow and came off the ice very slowly, but no call. Fortunately, Hobbs returned later in the game. Bunyan and Keenan also missed an incredibly blatant delay of game call with less than 20 seconds to go in the game.
- The power play went a respectable 2-for-9 (22.2%), but both of those goals were on the 4-on-3. Still, I thought the 5-on-4 power play featured much better player movement and a better net-front presence. The power play did have a difficult time getting into the zone against Merrimack’s stifling forecheck.
- The penalty kill, on the other hand, was pretty bad. It only killed 5 out of 8 penalties on the weekend (62.5%) and the power play goals came at the worst times. On Friday, power play goals flipped the game from a 1-0 lead to a 2-1 deficit and on Saturday, the game winner was a power play goal. One of the two power play goals on Friday was Dainton’s fault, but even if he didn’t let that in, a 6-for-8 on the PK isn’t very good.
- Conor Sheary (6G/7A/13Pts) scored again and later added an assist on Friday. It’s nice to see a kid who has excelled at some of the grittier aspects of the game (even given his somewhat diminutive stature) find his scoring touch at this level. It’s also nice to hear “That goal scored by Conor Sheary from Melrose, Massachusetts” (my hometown) come out of John Hennessy’s mouth.
- Mike Pereira has not scored in a long time. He hasn’t had a goal since the January 29th 2-2 tie with Northeastern. That’s 6 games without a goal for the Mass Attack’s leading goal scorer. Pereira has had 3 assists in that timeframe, but as a guy who accounts for nearly 15% of UMass’s goals in Hockey East play, he needs to be putting more pucks in the net.
- UMass Lowell was swept by Maine this weekend meaning they have [finally] been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Hopefully we’ll see some brotherly love from this sister school. They play Providence twice next weekend and Vermont twice after that. We could use some UML wins (or ties); maybe the statistical elimination will create some spoiler-drive in the River Hawks.
- Mike Marcou (3G/6A/9Pts/-14) still sucks. Real bad.
- Lawler Arena also sucks.
- And most importantly: Paul Dainton will almost definitely (barring injury) break Brian Regan’s UMass career saves record (3,050) in his next start. After this weekend’s 70 save performance, Dainton needs just 20 saves to get to 3,051 for his career and pass Regan’s record mark.
Last Week: 0Pts/Even/1SOG/4PIM
Season Totals: 3G/4A/7Pts/+4/22SOG/32PIM
Ugh, Bright Out Night
No. 14 Boston University Terriers (13-8-7(10-5-5HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-15-4(5-10-4HEA))
Tonight, UMass will face a team that is 4th (technically, tied for 3rd) in the Hockey East standings. This seems like a daunting task, especially considering that last weekend’s results make it look like the Minutemen don’t have a chance against any team with a winning record. Although BU looks like its miles behind of the BCs and UNHs of the world, they are still quite a formidable force. Offensive contributions by familiar faces have been strong; Alex Chiasson (9G/15A/24Pts), Chris Connolly (8G/13A/21Pts), David Warsofsky (7G/12A/19Pts), and Joe Pereira (12G/6A/18Pts) are as good as ever. Freshmen Charlie Coyle (7G/14A/21Pts) and Sahir Gill (4G/13A/17Pts) have been outstanding, as well. And junior backstop Kieren Millan’s numbers in conference play (8-4-5, 2.48GAA, .929save%) have been very solid.
The Terriers are a team that likes to play close games. They haven’t had a Hockey East Game decided by more than two goals since a 5-2 loss at Boston College on 12/4. In games decided by one goal this year they are 8-3; by two goals: 3-0. In blowout games (by 3 or more goals), the Terriers are just 2-5. The fact that BU is involved in so many games is not surprising considering that they are averaging 2.93 goals for and 2.93 goals against per game this season. The Minutemen prefer to play wide open games; their record in games decided by less than 3 goals is a miserable 1-8. If the Minutemen are to play in a game with a 3+ goal margin and win, huge contributions will be needed from guys like Mike Pereira (10G/10A/20Pts), Danny Hobbs (7G/13A/20Pts), TJ Syner (7G/12A/19Pts), and the red-hot-of-late Chase Langeraap (7G/5A/12Pts). A much better night in net will be needed as well, obviously, as both Paul Dainton (6-10-3, 2.88GAA, .912save%) and Jeff Teglia (0-5-1, 4.81GAA, .851save%(ouch, those number are physically painful)) looked overmatched last weekend.
Boston University LOVES to pass the puck around. They are a very skilled team with 9 NHL draftees, not counting the goalies, and they clearly know how to make some NHL-level passes. Seven Terriers have double-digit assist totals this year (tied for most in Hockey East with Maine and Merrimack, but done with less goals for than either). For comparison, UMass has 4. What the key to this game is to the Mass Attack should be clear. Solid, fundamental defense. A goalie can stop a guy with a great shot, but it is exponentially harder for a goalie to go post-to-post to stop a tap in that follows a great pass. The only way to disallow great-passing-goals is to stay with a man on a man. This means discipline in all meanings of the word (not getting caught up ice, not taking bad penalties, and executing clean line changes). It’s surprising that BU’s powerplay is not better (12.1%) given how good their passing is. But I still wouldn’t take a chance playing undisciplined hockey against the Terriers. To me, this is the key to the game. To even have a chance, the Minutemen must play solid defensively and let the offense come to them.
The Semester Hasn’t Started Until the First Home Game
Northeastern Huskies (7-10-5(6-7-4HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-12-3(5-7-3HEA))
This weekend’s home-and-home scrap with Northeastern could be a crucial one in the Hockey East race. Our Minutemen are coming off of two of their most successful games. With a four-point weekend, the Mass Attack could actually move ahead of Northeastern in the standings, even though the Huskies have played two more Hockey East games than the Minutemen. As noted in a fantastic post by our fellow bloggers at The Gut, Northeastern has the toughest remaining Hockey East schedule. If the Minutemen could get ahead of the Huskies this weekend, there could be no looking back. Equally important is the fact that UMass has a very difficult remaining schedule, as well. All but one of the Mass Attack’s remaining games after this weekend are against BC, BU, Maine, and Merrimack. Any way you look at it, this is a very important weekend for UMass Hockey.
Northeastern is a team with a good combination of size and shiftiness. Two of the smaller players on the team, seniors Wade MacLeod (11G/11A/22Pts) and Tyler McNeely (7G/10A/17Pts), are their two top scorers. On the other hand, their defensive corps (although small in number) is quite large in terms of physical stature; only one defenseman under 6 feet has played for the Huskies this year. This size is backed by sophomore standout goalie Chris Rawlings (6-8-5, 2.27GAA, .928 save%). As NESN is quite fond of noting, Rawlings has never lost to UMass. On the off chance Rawlings doesn’t start both games, their backup, Clay Witt (1-2-0, 1.57GAA, .938save%), is no slouch either.
With this size and these backstops, one would expect Northeastern to play a solid defense-first game. And one would be correct; Northeastern’s 2.29GA/G in conference play is the third lowest in Hockey East. Only Boston College (2.28GA/G) and New Hampshire (1.73GA/G; Matt DiGirolamo is, notably, ridiculously good) have allowed less goals per game in Hockey East play. For comparison, UMass is giving up 2.67GA/G against Hockey East foes. And only one Huskie defenseman (Drew Ellement (-4)) has a negative plus/minus rating. What the Huskies sacrifice for this defensive prowess is some offensive firepower. Other than MacLeod and McNeely, only Mike McLaughlin (7G/3A/10Pts) has more than 4 goals on the year. They also don’t get much offense from their defensemen. Only 2 Husky d-men have multiple goals (Anthony Bitetto (2G/11A/13Pts and Jamie Oleksiak 2G/4A/6Pts). For comparison, UMass has 4 in Phillips, Rowe, Marcou, and Kublin. (Even though Phillips and Marcou are possibly injured, the point is that the system the Minutemen play in allows for offensive contributions from everywhere on the ice.) The result of all these numbers is that Northeastern only scores 2.47 goals a game in Hockey East play. Only UML (2.22GPG), Providence (2.20GPG), and Vermont (1.73GPG) score fewer goals in conference play. UMass scores on Hockey East opponents at a clip of 2.87 goals per game.
The Mass Attack comes into the game hot. They have won 3 of their last 4 while riding a hot goaltender in Paul Dainton (6-7-2, 2.63GAA, .919save%). However, these four games were against Lowell and Vermont. Prior to those four games, UMass had lost five straight. The last team UMass beat before beating UML and UVM? UVM. In fact, ALL FIVE UMASS WINS IN HOCKEY EAST PLAY ARE AGAINST UML AND UVM. If this team wants to be taken seriously, it needs to beat a Hockey East opponent who is not a colossal joke. This could be the weekend to do it, given the positive momentum from the wins against aforementioned shells of teams. Northeastern also comes in riding a hot streak. They have gone 4-1-1 in their last 6 games, including beating UMass thanks to a third period collapse by the Minutemen. Rawlings had two shutouts in this period, but also gave up an inexplicable three goals to Vermont in the one loss.
One more note: as mentioned to me by Matt, the Bill will be hosting a [shitty] concert on Friday night. The mercury is supposed to get down to 11 that night/Saturday morning, so hopefully the ice will recover. If it doesn’t, it could be bad news. A slow, sloppy ice surface would fit the Huskies style of play far too nicely. I believe the key to the game is to be extremely aggressive. I mean, on-the-verge-of-recklessness-offensive-aggression. Why do I say this? Well, it’s because Northeastern usually dresses only 5 defensemen. If the Mass Attack can wear out the Husky defense, Northeastern’s defensive edge will disappear. On the defensive side of the ice, MacLeod and McNeely need to be taken away as offensive options. To me, this means playing Kublin and Shea whenever possible against Northeastern’s top line. This might be difficult during Friday’s game, but when UMass has home ice and last change on Saturday, there will be no excuse for not matching Kublin and Shea against MacLeod and McNeely.
If all goes well, we may dare to dream of a sweep and sliding up a spot in the standings. But, if we cannot sweep, two points is absolutely essential for anyone to take this team seriously. Providence is playing UNH this weekend, so losing position in the standings is doubtful, but a backslide is definitely not what we want to see out of this team right now.
Aside: Harpoon’s current release of its acclaimed 100 barrell series is entitled Catamount Maple Wheat. Let’s hope the beer tastes better than their hockey team plays.
Aside pt. 2: Apparently, we have a Facebook page. If we don’t get 100 likes by Tuesday, Matt’s going to light Outlaw Pete from Minuteman Nation on fire. So, yeah, unless you want Outlaw Pete to get extra crispy, you should probably like that shit.