Tagged: is it October yet?

Rally Around the Flag

Hey guys. Hey.

The FBS era for UMass football starts in East Hartford on August 30th. That’s this month. The hockey schedule was confirmed today. Basketball – yes, basketball, no longer bazkettaball, hopefully ever – is gearing up for a season of actual high expectations. The summer may be waning, but none of us at Fight Mass gives a shit. That coolness seeping back into the air in the mornings and evenings? It’s got our internal clocks going bonkers and it should be doing the same for you.

It’s certainly an odd feeling for us to be seeing some of you out there on your various social networks commenting on how school is so close for you. All three of us are now engaged in our full-time big-boy jobs, and for the first year since the inception of the blog, none of us will be living in Amherst this season (Matt will be in Springfield, but that hardly counts as “close.” Or “living”). So what, though? Old habits die hard, and we’ll still be making our pilgrimages whenever our work schedules permit us out to the valley full of pioneers. And really, as you may have noticed, we enjoy the hell out of our road trips, particuarly for hockey, and since most Hockey East venues are closer to me and Derek, our obnoxious selves will be invading rinks plenty this year. (Oh, hey Doghouse? Try to steal my jersey again this year. Steal my jersey one more goddamn time, I dare you, I DOUBLE dare you mothafuckas.)

The real world is rough and full of license exams and NIGO’d service request items and fail-to-earns. (Don’t ask.) I can’t promise that the amount of content we put out on here will be as prolific as it has been in the past, which as you well know wasn’t all that much to begin with. Derek’s contributions to the blog, sadly, have all but ceased, although he’s still a part of the gang in spirit. And Matt’s work schedule is the craziest of all of us so anything he adds outside of his normal Twitter hijinks would be a bonus. But I started this thing, and I have no intention of shutting it down now. (Incidentally, this is all the more reason why we’d love to see some of you fearless readers contribute more, in a genius move I like to call “outsourcing the shit out of our blog.” Hit me up on the Twitter or the Facebook and I promise not to pull a last-year-with-Jarod where I’d totally not even check my emails for weeks and then post things way too late.)

We do have plans for the blog this year, I swear. Things that didn’t get implemented last year like the FightCast, which Matt and I will do more of for sure, and other special features I’ve got up my sleeve. As you might have noticed, I’ve reset us to a prior format which, frankly, I think was superior to the one we used last season. I do have plans to rebuild the subsections of the blog and add a new banner, but I’ll save that for the official Fight Mass Season Four (TM) re-re-relaunch a little closer to hockey season. I’ll also try and write a lot more about each of the “big three” teams between now and the football opener. In the meantime, here are some quick hits:

Hockey:
The John Michael Higgins John Micheletto era in Amherst has begun. It’s been a real treat to see the players rally around the flag, proverbially speaking, and the response on Twitter and in the media seems to be all the right things. As of yet I haven’t heard of any key players seeking to transfer out. This team developed a lot of confidence down the stretch, and while Micheletto’s Vermont teams have struggled the last few years, they also have a couple of NCAA appearances since the last time Toot took us there. I can’t explain it, but I have a weirdly good feeling about this team. They retain a great core group, retain continuity in Len Quesnelle, and now from the looks of it on Twitter the guys have a “shock the world” mentality. If Micheletto has growing pains early on, it’ll be understandable. But if nobody important leaves, the talent is there for this group to be competitive in the final pre-Notre Dame season of Hockey East play.

Basketball:
Not much to report here other than CAN THE DAMN SEASON START ALREADY? Honestly, so many things have to go wrong for this team NOT to be an absolute joy to watch next season that I don’t even want to live on this planet anymore if they all happen. I already have taken the day off in November for that Harvard 10 AM game, and aside from a sort of weak non-conference home slate, the schedule looks outstanding, between the supersized new A-10 and the Puerto Rico tournament. I’m hopeful that Matt and I will be able to make a more successful trip to Kingston this season, and maybe even down to NYC to see them take on Fordham. And then, knock on wood, back to Brooklyn for the conference tournament…but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

By the way, check out incoming freshman Tyler Bergantino and transferring Western Kentucky star Derrick Gordon, who have started up a YouTube video feature called “The DG and TB Chronicles.” A few episodes in, they’re just goofing around having an understandably good time in the beautiful summer months in Amherst, but it sounds like they intend to continue this throughout the season with guests and it might turn out to be a great insight into the team’s attitude going forward – not to mention a way for you students out there to interact with the players. If nothing else, these guys seem like genuinely cool guys who are super-happy to be in Amherst, which is definitely a plus for the ongoing recruitment to the “brotherhood.”

Football:
It’s looking increasingly like Matt and I will be making the journey out to Ann Arbor this year to see UMass in the Big House (with a pit stop in Toronto to see the Hockey Hall of Fame along the way). Other than that, I actually do intend to make as many of the home games as possible, and maybe the UConn season opener as well. Coach Molnar’s recruiting is getting solid reviews around the NCAA ranks, but it is critical that we support the team by actually going to the games even throughout what can be expected to be a rough first season in the big show. We do defer to the Marc Bertrand-co-founded Maroon Musket for any and all things UMass football, but I do intend to actually write about my experiences this year. From the outsider perspective, I’m sure it seems quaint, but really – I never thought I’d be this excited for MAC football.

To wrap up, here are some promises I actually do intend to keep on this blog this year, feel free to refer back to them to mock me later.

1) Staying positive. I feel like things have gotten a little too heavy with this blog in recent years, although the struggles of the hockey and football teams kind of lend themselves to that brutal honesty. But when I founded the blog, I intended to levee the cynicism at other teams. We’ve been called out for not being “true fans” with our Twitter interactions, and while we’re still not super-thrilled with the way the hockey coaching search went down, and some other minor gripes (the marketing department’s late start on advertising football, the lack of hockey band, etc), we want to make this a year where we’re almost overly supportive of the folks actually wearing the maroon and white/black. Our ribbing on guys like Freddie Riley and Mike Marcou in the past, in retrospect, came off a lot more dickish than we ever intended, and that’s what I’m looking to avoid in the future. We’ll still be cynics, sure, but I can say that at least personally I will be aiming a lot more of that cynicism at the opposition. I’ll save the Statler-and-Waldorf routine for those who deserve it, like Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
Of course, I reserve the right to call someone out when it’s rightfully deserved…but that’s mostly going to refer to the students or the administration. As long as none of the players goes Tim Thomas-post-Stanley-Cup crazy on us, we’re golden.
2) More FightCasts. Matt and I really need to work on this one to make it happen, but damnit, we’re gonna find a way, even if we have to do them over the internet or whatever. If anyone has any feedback about the first one, by the way, do let us know.
3) An increased effort to support the You Can Play initiative. We’ve casually mentioned it on the Twitter, but Matt and I actually met Patrick Burke over the summer and we’re more fired-up than ever about the cause. You can read more on their site, but the initiative focuses on curbing homophobia and gay-bashing language in the sports world, particularly in hockey. UConn and Northeastern are already on board with the initiative, with BC and BU rumored to be interested in lending their support, and Pat seems to think UMass might be receptive to doing a PSA for them as well. This is awesome (if you disagree, seriously, go fuck yourself and stop reading my blog) and if it happens, I think it would be great to get the students involved in this the way that Northeastern’s Doghouse did for their video. We’ll talk later on about this and hopefully we can stay in touch with Pat if we can get more folks on board with this.

Alright, that’s all I got for ya. Enjoy what’s left of the summer, we’ll see you guys in a few weeks, please be mindful of falling metal beams as I do some renovation on the site, and above all else….IS IT OCTOBER YET?

-Max

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Speaking of tomorrow, how will it ever come?

Hockey season is upon us once again and have we at Fight Mass worked long and hard on a season preview? No, fuck that. Well, kind of. But also kind of a game preview, too. Just read it, it will all make sense. Or not. Whatever.

Massachusetts Minutemen vs. Northeastern Huskies

The Minutemen enter this year without an exhibition test to “judge” the boys by. A spirited intra-squad public scrimmage highlighted by a penalty shot goal by Edzo “via Chicago” Olczyk , a near fight between Conor “Mr. Most Improved” Allen  and a Himalayan mountain disguised as a freshman named  Oleg Yevenko, and a game winning powerplay top corner snipe by the gunslinger himself, Conor Sheary.

Conversely, the Northeastern Huskies did play an exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier… and lost 8-5. (Oh man! This team must suck. I mean come on guys, 8-5 loss to St. Francis Xavier???) Yeah, well, six of the eight goals were given up by sophomore backup Clay Witt in the third period. And as Confucius once said, Clay Witt is not Chris Rawlings. Rawlings gave up one goal on 12 shots in his period of work. Junior forward Garrett Vermeersch had a goal and an assist and sophmore defenseman Anthony Bitetto (the team’s leading returning scorer) had three assists in the losing effort.

The Huskies and the Minutemen both suffered key losses in the offseason. The Mass Attack’s losses were primarily defensive. Superstar captain netminder Paul “I’m so nice I found a guy’s class ring from thirty years ago, looked him up, and returned it to him” Dainton and rock solid reliable defensive defenseman Douglas “I invented the Dougie and, therefore, my Dougie is better than your Dougie” “God” Kublin are gone. However, the Minutemen do return 10 of last year’s top 11 point scorers (in case I need to jog your memory, the top 11 point scorers for the Mass Attack last year were: Danny Hobbs, TJ Syner, Mike Pereira, Joel Hanely, Chase Langeraap, Adam Phillips, Conor Sheary, Brendan Gracel, The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou, Rocco Carzo, and Darren Rowe with Langeraap obviously being the one to go). And Sheary and Michael “the Franchise” Pereira look poised for breakout years after solid freshman campaigns. (I’m predicting a 20G/20A season for Sheary. You heard it here first, folks!)

Hopefully the back end will be able to cope with the loss of Kublin. Conor Allen, Joel Hanley, Adam Phillips, and Colin Shea are all a year into the league and, hopefully, a year wiser thanks to their experiences. Freshmen Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo will be competing for playing time. Maybe Darren Rowe will play some defense. Maybe he’ll play some forward. Maybe Toot will forget he exists again. It’s anyone’s guess. And then there’s The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou had another terrible season last year in terms of plus/minus rating. What’s frustrating is that he played really well at times. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou just needs to stop trying to do too much and play within himself; if he can do that, it’s very likely UMass will have one of the most solid defensive cores out there.

I doubt anyone can truly replace Dainton in our hearts and minds, but there are a few candidates who would have a good chance to make us think quite fondly of them, too. Sophomore Jeff Teglia had a freshman season that looked pretty bad on paper, but the truth is he didn’t give up many bad goals at all. He makes the stops he’s expected to, and if he’s improved just a little bit at controlling rebounds and making the truly great saves he could have quite the year. But he may not even have the chance to have a full year of work, if a tandem of exciting freshmen has their way. Kevin Boyle looked pretty good in the scrimmage, but he overcommitted on quite a few shots and relied a little too much on his defensemen to clear the puck from danger. We didn’t get a chance to see Steve Mastalerz play, as he was nursing an injury at the time, but according to some inside accounts he may be the best goalie of the three.

Jesus, I’ve said all this positive shit and I’ve barely even touched on the freshmen. In fact, I’ve neglected to mention the freshman forwards at all. We will possibly get our first chance to see how highly touted freshmen Zack LaRue and Andrew Tegeler fare in Hockey East play this Friday. And I’m pretty confident we’ll finally get to see Steven Guzzo, who sat out his entire freshman year due to a horrendous knee injury. The knee looked healthy last Saturday and Guzzo looked very fast on his skates in the scrimmage. I, for one, am excited to see the new faces get their shots.

Northeastern faces the opposite problem coming into the year. They need to find where their scoring is going to come from. They need to replace the scoring proficiency of a Wade MacLeod, a Tyler McNeely, a Steve Silva, and a Brodie Reid. That’s 138 points to find! In total, Northeastern lost players who produced 167 of the 288 points the roster scored last year. Almost 58% of last year’s production just gone. Wiped off the roster. And, yes, Bitetto, Vermeersch, and Mike McLaughlin are very talented players. And, yes, they have some promising young kids. But, come on, replacing 58% of your production? That’s just an absurdly difficult thing to do. It’s especially disheartening for the Huskies that Brodie Reid signed with the San Jose Sharks after just his freshman season (And you thought Casey Wellman was bad!) and that Jamie Oleksiak, the team’s leading plus/minus player and a guy who looked poised to become a force in this league, up and went to the OHL after his freshman year.

Northeastern’s defense is still passable thanks to a rock solid young core of Bitetto, Luke Eibler, and Drew Ellement, but depth certainly may become an issue at the defenseman position for the Huskies. Chris Rawlings is a phenom and one of the best goalies in Hockey East, but the Huskies may be asking too much of him if they can’t find a way to put pucks in the back of the net. They only had a +0.11 goal differential last year. It’s a pretty safe bet that that number will go into the negatives this season unless Rawlings has an ungodly year.

This is certainly not a game to take the safe route in. There will be quite a few fresh faces out there for the Huskies, and the Minutemen should look to test them early and often. This does not, however, mean the Mass Attack should open the throttle all the way and get sloppy. Despite the loss of offensive power, the Huskies did score four powerplay goals in their exhibition game. It would be wise to not test if this was just because they were playing St. Francis Xavier.

So, IT IS OCTOBER, but I still do want to know… is it Friday yet?

-Derek

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?

-Max

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

(Weekend Preview)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Derek

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

Is it October yet? Well, actually…

Hockey season is just about upon us! While our boys on the gridiron were busy eking out a win at Stony Brook (in a surefire trap/letdown style game), the hockey team is conducting scrimmages. Fear the Triangle and MassLive’s Dick Baker have been the top sources for the latest info from a hockey standpoint as the season nears, and I advise y’all to keep following those news sources. Baker pretty much reports any tiny little thing he learns about the team, from Danny Hobbs looking like he’s added muscle (a scary prospect for anyone who’s seen the guy in person; he was already pretty big) to Chase Langeraap looking to be this year’s Will Ortiz and escape the underperformance and injury woes.

Meanwhile, as I battle the notorious swarms of lovebugs down here in still-sunny Florida, my cohorts up north are getting ready for the annual preseason tilt in the practice rink. Matt and Derek will be the eyes and ears of the blog for the first semester this season, and I’m relying on them to offer first-hand commentary on the team and the student fanbase. Now, let’s be realists, kids. This team isn’t going to compete for the Hockey East title. Hell, being in the discussion for home ice in the playoffs would require a miracle. That being said, there are enough x-factors on this team that simply writing them off would be foolish. A senior goaltender with stand-on-his-head capability as Dainton showed at times last year cannot be ignored. There are players like Keane, Hobbs, and Langeraap who have underperformed as sideshows to the Jimmy & Casey show and have yet to live up to the potential we heard about when they first arrived. The defense is the biggest question mark. Some would say that an already-weak defense lost some of its only good pieces. My counter is that our defense was never good to begin with, and that fresh blood might be a good thing.

In fact, that, to me, is the ultimate theme of this year from the optimist’s perspective: fresh blood, a fresh start for a team that started with so much promise last year and ultimately fell victim to the success of its key pieces. That is to say, the talent level may have dropped, but I really think lack of talent wasn’t what doomed the 09-10 Minutemen. It was lack of preparedness to handle success, something Toot Cahoon is still learning — understandably, for a program that, in all honesty, is still getting used to the idea of competing for a Hockey East title on a regular basis. It was the inability to handle the pressure of being nationally-ranked and on TV, or, far more detrimentally, the constant distraction of having NHL scouts preying on Wellman, Marcou, and Irwin. Let’s be frank: UMass’s program, and Cahoon’s staff, weren’t able to ward off the scouts the way a York or a Parker or a Umile have been doing for years. That’s part of building a program, I think: dealing with success. Unfortunately, because UMass isn’t at that level, success isn’t going to come as frequently, and so the opportunity to learn how, as a school, to avoid these distractions comes less frequently as well.

That’s not to excuse the piss-poor play of the team last year, of course. These guys, especially the ones who aren’t being tempted with six- and seven-digit salaries, have to be able to carry their end of the bargain. Now that the scouts and agents will (presumably) be absent, it’s put-up or shut-up time for these guys. If that whole “too many distractions” excuse turned out to be erroneous (and/or the injury woes of guys like Langeraap persist), then yeah, it’s probably gonna be a long-ass year. But, to take a quick detour through Simmons-ville, this team just might have Ewing Theory potential, contingent, of course, on Dainton being strong in net, the defense taking a big step forward, aforementioned underperformers performing, and freshmen breaking out the way Marcou and Wellman did a few short years ago. A lot to ask for? Sure. But this is sports, and we watch because these are the kinds of things that happen in sports to keep them from being predictable. Toot’s recruiting core of Teglia, Pereira, Gracel, Power has a bright future, I’m fairly confident. But honestly, if there was ever a season where the youngsters were gonna get a chance to shine sooner than later, it’s this year.

Whether this team is out of contention by New Years’ or surprising everyone in March, though, one thing’s for sure: today, hockey is fuckin’ back, and we couldn’t possibly be happier. 😀

– Max

P.S. Consider this a “soft preview.” We’ll have more on UMass, and on the rest of Hockey East, between the preseason game and the official season-opener, of course.

2010-2011 Roster (or, “wait, who are these guys?!”)

Greetings from sunny Orlando, Florida! (yeah, it’s pouring rain right now.) The offseason is thankfully more than halfway over, and though I won’t be experiencing the utter joy of Minutemen hockey in person until January (I’ve got that home-and-home with Blowell marked on my calendar), I’ve been able to follow the offseason online here and there. Of course many rightful thanks go to Rocks and his fabulous work at Fear the Triangle,  but we’re finally getting some official information out of the UMassAthletics camp; specifically, the 2010-2011 roster, which is now available for your viewing pleasure.

Now, as one might expect, there are a lot of unfamiliar names on that roster. A LOT. If you haven’t been keeping up with FtT’s offseason coverage of the newcomers, now’s your chance to take a look at the last month or two’s worth of reporting he’s done, which includes seeing some of the guys in person. We can’t claim to offer anywhere near that level of in-depth analysis of these players yet, but obviously a big theme of the season will be Matt and Derek’s (and, eventually, my) first impressions of the freshman class. I see a lot of potential with this freshman class, especially with a solid, veteran backstop in Dainton to anchor the team, but a lot is going to ride on a) how NCAA-ready the new guys are (and how many can break out the way Jimmy and Casey did their freshman year), and b) whether the remaining old guys, like Langeraap, Concannon and Keane among others, can finally realize their potential, much like Will Ortiz did last year.

I’m not as worried as many people are about the defense; I think Kublin-Mikey will be better than people realize, I like Donnellan and I think Rowe played well down the stretch last year, and I like (at least on paper) the incoming guys like Phillips and Hanley. But the offense has a ton of question marks, although I do like that these incoming freshmen, like Gracel and Power, are being described with words like “scrappy” and “gritty,” things the trying-to-get-way-too-fancy-too-often UMass offense has lacked in recent years.

Realistically, we should have expectations of a season much like last year’s men’s basketball team, minus the coaching problems but also with the senior leadership and scoring of Harris replaced by the goaltending of Dainton. Both can keep a team in the game by themselves, but both need more than just potential around them if the season will be a success. A big help to the Minutemen is that, unlike the bball team last year, the coach is certainly not still learning his craft. Toot, in the final year of his contract, has his work cut out for him, but if the immediate success of the team rests on the coach’s ability to get the best out of freshmen, I’d put way more stock in Toot than in DK.

Having said that, it’s impossible to overlook the amount of sheer talent this team has lost since the end of last season. It would take a great number of these freshmen reaching their potential right away, the upperclassmen significantly improving, and a little bit of luck for this team to contend for a Hockey East title this year. A little bit of luck and we might be talking home ice, but I’d be satisfied with a 5th or 6th place finish with momentum going forward and with a handful of the new guys establishing themselves in the league. I also think missing the HEA playoffs would be a huge disappointment this year, given a senior goaltender and how bad teams like Providence (because they’re Providence) and Lowell (whose “best team ever” lost about a jillion players, including their two goalies, to graduation, and also because we hate them with a fiery passion) figure to be. Is it possible? Sure. But our motto is “stay positive” for a reason.

And as I type that, the sun’s coming back out down here in Orlando, so I’ll leave you with that for now. No matter what happens with this team, we’ll be there for the ride and we’re delighted to have you with us. Help us out and spread the word on campus, and let’s make Fight Mass truly by-the-students, for-the-students this year. Until then, continue to enjoy your summer, and…is it October yet?

-Max

Thoughts on Casey/Jimmy, and other HEA playoff musings

I posted this just now in a discussion on UMassHoops’s forums, which, for the uninitiated, are not just for basketball, as the name suggests. Of course, the basketball discourse over there is probably the best you’ll find for UMass on the web (and their chat room is a ton of fun to peruse while watching/listening to road games). Nevertheless, to save myself the trouble of rewriting all of these thoughts and rewording it to sound like I did twice as much work, here’s some thoughts on Jimmy and Casey:

Here’s the thing about Casey, though. DO we want him back? I mean, sure, we want the Casey Wellman back who was one of Hockey East’s most feared weapons all throughout the first half. But even if he returns, he’s going to have the scouts and distractions hanging over him again, and I’m in the party that believes that this is why his second half fell apart. Anyone doubt that his improvement in the BC series was because he suddenly had something to prove again? Now, I really thought that scouts would see his getting-distracted as a sign that he’s not ready for the big show. Clearly, teams like the Wild, who (in my opinion, wrongly) believe he can play in the NHL right now, see it differently. Much as I hate to say it, Casey probably SHOULD take advantage of their poor judgment while he still can.

Jimmy’s a fantastic college player, but I really feel that we’re overrating his NHL potential. He’s a fantastic passer, but NHL teams need a pure goal-scorer with size like Casey right now. How many 5’9″ guys have success at that level? Martin St. Louis is the only one who immediately comes to mind…and he went undrafted after four years in a great Hockey East program. Jimmy can come in next year, play one more season with his brother, graduate with a degree (in case his game doesn’t translate to the pros) and leave a legacy as the best player ever to wear the maroon-and-white. Honestly, it makes more sense for him to stay, and it makes more sense for Casey to leave.

So, to recap: I think Casey goes, and Jimmy stays. If Jimmy’s here, I’m pretty confident that between Pereira, Syner, Hobbs, Carzo, a healthy Lecomte/Langeraap (knock on wood), et al. this team can put up some goals, and they return a senior goaltender with some promising freshmen waiting to back him up. It’s the defense, which already struggled WITH Marty and Bronco here, that worries me a heck of a lot more. There’s a LOT of stepping up that needs to happen in that corps of youngsters.

(That said, if I’m wrong, and Jimmy goes too…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

As our older, wiser counterpart Fear the Triangle relayed this morning, the Minnesota Wild are already offering Casey Wellman a contract. Not in their minor leagues, mind you, but, like, actually signing him to their NHL club. As I said, if he doesn’t go now, he might be even more of a distraction next year. Still, he’s probably the best pure goal-scorer I got to see in my four years in Amherst, and you can’t blame a guy for taking the money and running (especially when it entails taking advantage of the desperation of the 11th-place team in the Western Conference). I’d love to see him come back with a sense of purpose next year, but realistically, I think this is goodbye for #7. Until anything’s made official, though, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Elsewhere in Hockey East, Vermont shocked the Jekyll-and-Hyde UNH Wildcats, 1-0 in overtime. BU cut the cord on Merrimack’s Cinderella act at Agganis with a 3-0 win. Lastly, Maine rallied twice and ousted Lowell in overtime, 3-2.

We’re torn on that last outcome…now, don’t get me wrong, there’s something satisfying about seeing our state-school rival fall flat on its face in the wake of the greatest expectations in school history, to see the appropriate karma exacted on certain Lowell trolls (or Trowells, if you will — credit Walsh with this portmanteau) who have stalkerishly harassed certain writers of this blog via Facebook message, with their embarrassing “Lowell is a better academic school than Amherst” and “we made it further in the tournament!” wharrgarbl. (Oh, and by the way, that’s as close as we’re going to come to acknowledging you. Honestly, I’ve probably said too much already, so consider this your 15 seconds of fame.) Not to mention, their collapse was completed against a horrendous defensive team playing its backup goalie (the immortal WIIIIIIIIILLLLLSSSSOONNNNN, of all people!), missing two key defensemen, and with its best player playing on one leg. So yeah, for a variety of reasons, that was pretty enjoyable.

That being said…when all of that comes at the expense of seeing another hated rival, the impossible-to-love hicks up in Maine, take an undeserved spot in the Garden…our revelry is a little harder to swallow. It’s even less fun when you realize that a direct consequence will, in all likelihood, be yet another BC-BU final in the Garden. Yawnzo. (Plus, we’ll miss out having the hilarious musings of a certain Lowell blog for the remainder of the playoffs. We’re pretty sure there aren’t any similarly enjoyable Maine blogs to read, namely because literacy is a prerequisite for using the Internet.)

Nonetheless, the NCAA tournament itself figures to be an exciting venture. When that bracket comes out, Fight Mass will be there with our picks. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Wellman/Marcou situations and have the latest news as it breaks.

-Max