Tagged: Jimmy for Hobey

The game we’ve all (shitty part-time fans included) been waiting for

No. 14 Boston College Eagles (14-8-2 (10-6-2 HEA)) vs. No. 15 UMass Minutemen (16-10-0 (11-8-0 HEA))

Well it is upon us again. Everyone’s favorite game of the year. I just love having to get to The Bill an hour earlier than the early time I already get there just to get the same seats I usually do. Okay bandwagon fans, I suppose I’ll grudginly allow you to come to this game (only because I can’t stop you) ability to see this game, but please don’t embarrass the rest of us who are there screaming just as loud when this team plays Merrimack and Niagara. That means you don’t chant “Fuck BC” every ten seconds (Yes, we know it’s fun, but after a while you sound retarded). That means you stay in sync during the chants and follow the clever ones that the regulars know and love (HINT: pay attention to that kid with the goggles). That means please, for the love of that crazy guy up in the sky with the beard that people who go to BC believe in, no swesties painting “zoomass” across their stomachs. Painting the name of our college is fantastic, painting a term that makes all other New England colleges look down on us is not. Thank you.

It has been said by many that only two types of people go to Boston College, rich Catholic snobs and great hockey players. This year’s edition of the BC Eagles once again proves the latter true. The Minutemen will face tonight the most statistically dominating team in Hockey East. The Eagles are the top-scoring team in Hockey East (3.67 GPG), have allowed the second fewest goals per game (2.62), and have the second best special teams scoring differential (+13). UMass ranks fifth (3.19), fifth (2.96), and fourth (+7) in these categories, respectively.

The Eagles have spread the scoring around this year, and they have eight double-digit point scorers in Hockey East games (Brian Gibbons (6-17-23), Cam Atkinson (13-8-21), Joe Whitney (6-10-16), Ben Smith (9-5-14), Carl Sneep {Sneep’s a pussy… you know the rest} (5-9-14), Jimmy Hayes (4-10-14), Pat Mullane (4-7-11), and Paul Carey (3-7-10)). UMass can counter such prolific double-digit Hockey East scorers as James Marcou (6-20-26), Casey Wellman (12-10-22), Will Ortiz (9-8-17), Justin Braun (2-15-17), Matt Irwin (4-9-13), and T.J. Syner (4-6-10). I might add that this is the first time since writing this blog that the Minutemen have actually had less double-digit scorers than their opponent. The Boston College offense averages over 32 shots on goal per game in conference and features a solid power play that scores on 20.4% of its Hockey East opportunities.

Boston College does a good job denying the opposition opportunities to score, as well. With shutdown defensemen like Brian Dumoulin, who has a +14 plus/minus (really, fucking +14! He’s +13 in conference too; what the fuck?) and good all around team defense (their top two scorers are both +8 in Hockey East play), it’s easy to see why BC has only been letting up goals at a rate of just over two and a half a game. What’s more, the Eagles have made their goalies face fewer than 26 shots a game in conference. With these numbers, its easy to see why the less than outstanding John Muse (.911 save % in conference) and that scrub Parker Milner (.887) are only allowing 2.37 and 2.60 goals a game, respectively.

Numbers, however, can be deceiving. BC has had a veritable cakewalk of a schedule so far this year. The Eagles have only had to play the other four teams in the top five of Hockey East (UNH, UMass, Maine, UML) in six of its eighteen Hockey East tilts this season. Since the start of the new year, BC has struggled. They are 4-5-0 in games played in 2010, although they are 4-2-0 in their last five. The key variable during this stretch has been shots on goal. In the four wins since the Jan 1, BC has put up 45, 39, 36, and 43 shots on goal. In the five losses, they have only topped 31 shots on goal once, and that was in an overtime game. So the key to this game would seem to be to limit BC’s shots on goal…

…Which brings us to the part of the Minutemen that makes me shudder, the defense. Our beloved team’s defense is, eh, not great. Giving up an average of 30.4 shots against in conference play not great. Having only five players on the team with positive plus/minus ratings not great. Having a plus/minus leader (Brett Watson) whose rating is only +4 not great. And missing an oft-overlooked but key defenseman in Doug Kublin for the last four games not great. (I’m holding out hope that Kubbie will play tonight, he has endeared himself to me BY KNOWING HOW TO FOLLOW HIS MAN TO THE GODDAMN POST ON A 2-ON-2 , knowledge that seems to elude our other defensemen.)

Still, I hold out hope. Paul Dainton will obviously be back in net tonight (Defense: Please, please, please give him a chance to win, just 31 shots or less, I’m begging.), and hopefully the breather given him by Dan Meyers (who performed very well in the 4-1 victory over Providence) will mean the end to the troubles he had in the two previous losses. The Minutemen are 3-2-0 in their last five and both Jimmy and Casey are due. Neither have scored a goal and they have only combined for three points in the last three games. SIDE NOTE: James Marcou has 32 assists on the year, one more will break the UMass record he set last year. I’m sure he would love to get that in a big way against a big rival.

This game is also on NESN, by the way. (They advertise it as Boston College versus UMass Amherst. Amherst, what the fuck man? This is UMass, that other college is UMass Lowell, get your shit straight NESN.) Usually a televised game would be enough to get me nervous, but there’s something else this year. There hasn’t been that January slide I’ve suffered through every year I’ve been here (please don’t come in February. Or March. Or Ever.), we don’t play down to our opposition, and I find myself really believing in this team.

The Rundown:

Offense: BC (sucks.)
Defense: BC (sucks.)
Goaltending: UMass
Special Teams: BC (sucks.)
Other Factors: UMass

Prediction:

Boston College 2 – 4 Massachusetts
(Against everything my brain tells me, my heart says we can and will win this.)

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Weekend Preview: I swear to god I’m going to pistol whip the next guy who says, “shenanigans.”

No. 17 Vermont Catamounts (11-7-2 (5-6-2 HEA)) vs. YOUR No. 15 UMass Minutemen (14-8-0 (9-6-0 HEA))

The Mass Attack have two games this weekend (Sat. 7PM, Sun. 3PM) against a tough Hockey East foe. Vermont has won games this year against Denver and Minnesota Duluth and have taken two out of three from Boston College. The Catamounts’ strength lies in their defense. Their 28.4 shots on goal against per game average in Hockey East play is second lowest only to BC and of the nineteen skaters who have played in ten or more games, ten have positive plus/minus ratings (Brayden Irwin is tied for best plus/minus rating in Hockey East at +13).

While Vermont excels at team defense, where they fail is pretty much everywhere else. Their offense ranks sixth in Hockey East with 3.20 goals per game. This is a team lacking any bona fide scorers. It boasts only three skaters with double-digit points in Hockey East play (Brayden Irwin 6-6-12, Justin Milo 6-6-12, Colin Vock 3-7-10). Compare this to a UMass team with five players whose point totals meet or exceed 12 in Hockey East action (James Marcou 5-18-23, Casey Wellman 10-7-17, Justin Braun 2-14-16, Will Ortiz 8-7-15, Matt Irwin 4-8-12). Not to mention that Marcou leads the nation in scoring and Wellman is tied for the lead in goals.

Take your pick between the two Vermont goaltenders, neither have a save percentage above .900 in Hockey East play. The starter, Rob Madore, has played poorly (.896 save%, 2.84 GAA in Hockey East play) while their second goalie, Mike Spillane, has been abysmal (.871 save%, 3.96 GAA in Hockey East). Madore’s relatively low GAA is attributed to his facing only 250 shots on goal in his 10 Hockey East games. Vermont’s special teams are lacking, as well. UVM has killed penalties at a rather unimpressive clip of 79.4% in Hockey East while their power play is scoring on ONLY 13.0% of its chances in conference. UMass meanwhile has killed 81.0% of its penalties and scored on a robust 25.4% of its power play chances in conference play.

Vermont comes into this weekend riding a pretty hot streak. They have been 4-1-0 in their last five games including a win against No. 4 Minnesota Duluth. BUT, the other three wins were against sub-.500 teams including lowly Dartmouth (4-13-0) and Alabama-Huntsville (5-13-2), and they lost a game to the Northeastern Huskies, who have struggled mightily with the lose of Brad Thiessen this season. UMass comes in riding a three game win-streak, including a sweep of last weekend’s game with rival Lowell. Special teams have been strong in this stretch with the power play netting five goals in nineteen opportunities (26.3%) and the penalty kill a perfect 16-for-16.

In the previous meeting of these two teams this year, the Minutemen came away with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Catamounts at Gutterson Fieldhouse behind the performances of Casey Wellman, who had a hat trick and four total points and James Marcou, who had five, count ’em, five assists in the tilt. UMass also received multi-point efforts from Will Ortiz and Justin Braun while David Pecan and Brian Roloff chipped in goals for the Catamounts.

All the Mass Attack have to do against the Catamounts this weekend is play solid, fundamental hockey. We all know this is an offense that loves to pass and look for the perfect plays that will beat great goaltenders, but Vermont has a defense that can pick off passes and turn them into offense. Vermont’s goalies, meanwhile, are certainly not the greatest we (as fans, as well as the players) have seen this season. Throw a lot of rubber on whoever’s in net for Vermont. Make high percentage plays, use screens, and look to score ugly goals. On the other end, simply don’t make anything easy for UVM. No odd-man rushes and no dumb penalties. The Catamounts do not have the offensive skills to beat the UMass defense and Paul Dainton on even terms.

This is a series that UMass could come away from four points richer, and I would love to make that prediction. However, there is one thing that concerns me. The Sunday game is an afternoon game, with the puck set to drop at just past 3:00. This means both that two games will be played on the same ice within twenty hours and the outside temperature will likely be in the high-30s for this entire game and, let’s face it folks, the ice at the Bill has a tendency to get very sloppy anyway. The poor ice will better suit the Catamounts’ defensive game while taking something away from the skating game the Minutemen like to play.

The Rundown:
Offense: UMass
Defense: Vermont
Goaltending: UMass
Special Teams: UMass
Other Factors: Draw

Prediction:
Saturday: Vermont 1 – 3 UMass
Sunday: Vermont 1 – 1 UMass
(and I will gladly take three points out of this matchup if I can get ’em)

Interesting games around Hockey East:

No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA)) vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell (12-9-2 (6-6-2 HEA))

Saturday, 7:00 PM, Tsongas Arena
Boston College comes into this game as the number two team in Hockey East and is currently riding a two-game winning streak. We all know UML struggled last weekend against UMass. However, BC’s last two victories came against a Scott Darling-less Maine and lowly Providence, and they lost their last three games prior. Meanwhile, Lowell is a team that scares me when its backed into a corner. I know first-hand since UML soundly beat UMass after coming off a three-game losing streak earlier this season then went on to win their next game. I doubt head coach Blaise MacDonald has taken it easy on his team this week given their complete lack of discipline in last weekend’s games against UMass. UML also has a tune-up against Merrimack on Friday that they should win easily, giving them some positive momentum. Boston College will also be coming off what will probably be an emotional game against BU on Friday night.

Prediction: Boston College 1 – 2 UMass Lowell
(Carter Hutton stands on his head and his teammates give him just enough help to down the Eagles)

Boston University (7-10-3 (5-8-2 HEA)) vs. No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA))
Friday, 7:00 PM, Agganis Arena
BU has played poorly this year, mainly due to the loss of several top players to the NHL, but they always play BC hard and Boston College will be looking to avenge their loss at Fenway Park. It should be an exciting game.

Prediction: Boston University 2 – 4 Boston College

Other Hockey East action:

Friday
Merrimack vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Providence

Saturday
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Boston University
Providence vs. Merrimack

-Derek

“This is what you get, when you mess with us…”

Ah, Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” A true classic of 90’s rock off of one of the best albums of the 90’s (OK Computer), a song that feels like it’s been around for ages (though it was, in fact, released in 1997, which is the year after the Lowell River Hawks hockey program last made the NCAA Tournament, or so we’ve been most elegantly told). And though the dreamy croon of Thom Yorke’s voice actually tells a story of raging against the corporate machine (or something – who the hell really knows what Thom Yorke is thinking at any given time), the message of “what goes around comes around” is expressed as well as I’ve heard in any song, Justin Timberlake be damned.

“This is what you get / When you mess with us” is probably the most memorable portion of the song, and it describes pretty succinctly this past weekend’s much-anticipated two game set between the University of Massachusetts and its sister program to the east, a battle between teams that once climbed to #9 and #3 respectively in the national polls, two teams with distinctly different expectations coming into the season yet finding themselves in a virtual deadlock coming in. This was a UMass team, trying to avoid a third consecutive year of building something out of nothing (expectations-wise) then watching that something collapse. This was a Lowell team, crumbling under the weight of colossal expectations, pressured to continue to provide Lowell’s one avenue of superiority over its bigger and, in our unbiased opinion, prettier sister.

On Friday night, UMass got sick and tired of watching the little sister come into the Bill and throw its weight around. They dominated the first period, survived a shaky second period, and capitalized on Lowell’s now-characteristic lack of discipline at key points to earn a hard-fought 3-2 win in front of a student section that was low on numbers but high on spirit. Both teams had spectacular chances, both goalies made spectacular saves. It was as evenly-played a game as I’ve seen all year, and probably the most entertaining (yes, more fun than the Maine slugfest or last weekend’s road domination of Northeastern). If you weren’t on the edge of your seat the entire game, you probably don’t have a pulse.

Last night, Matt and myself, as well as his girlfriend and a few of our other friends, made our first road-trip out to Tsongas Arena to see the conclusion of the two-game set. After all, we were understandably curious to see what makes this place such a superior venue for hockey than our beloved Bill, an assertion made by no shortage of obnoxious Facebook kids, passionate forum posters and, yes, even a certain other hockey blog you might have heard of.

***We’re happy to hear that they’re still alive and well over at TIIL, by the way; after the grim “Googling a noose” tweet following their Princeton loss we were especially concerned that two losses to “lowly” “Amherst” would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. We thoroughly enjoyed reading their analysis of our blog aloud before Friday’s game in various Family Guy voices such as Brian Griffin’s screwy clone and Mort Goldman, and we’re taking a lot of their advice to heart – besides, we owe them a shout out after all the free publicity they unwittingly gave us. I will not, however, be going by “E.M. Bitter” anytime soon, though I appreciate the suggestion. And by the way, yes, Weezer’s albums have mostly sucked since Pinkerton, but they’re still great live, since they only play the good stuff. At least they did when I saw them last year in – oddly enough – the Tsongas Arena.

But really, to put this to bed, we understand your rule #10, that you’re “just havin’ some fun.” So are we. We’re glad that we’re not the only ones who think hockey’s the greatest sport in the world, as much as it pains us to admit it, we appreciate your contributions to the hockey blogging world. We apologize for taking things too seriously, and all future trash talk will contain 92% less glaring factual errors.)***

Anyway, here are the many fun things we learned during the Tsongas Experience (TM).

  • Tsongas Arena has the world’s greatest scoreboard over center ice. No, really. It displays text images in a whopping three, count ’em, three wonderful colors: off-orange, something vaguely resembling blue, and something even more vaguely resembling red. Simply remarkable.
  • Additionally, Tsongas has installed lovely ribbon-scoreboards along the sides of the arena. These marvels of visual technology are as close to a real videoboard that they offer here, and following a Lowell goal you get to see – we shit you not – the eyes of the goal-scorer. And let me be the first to tell you, Patrick Cey’s are positively dreamy.
  • We’ve heard our beloved Bill referred to as “dim.” We’ve always found it rather bright in there, especially after experiencing minor-league hockey in venues like Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena and the good ol’ Worcester IceCats at the DCU Center Centrum. But now it all makes sense, because relatively speaking, the Mullins Center is the goddamn Batcave, and Tsongas is the Flanders’ house in the very first Simpsons Christmas episode. This seems ironic for an arena without a videoboard, but the Mullins, despite all the silly things about it, manages not to abuse said videoboard too much. Meanwhile, Lowell does all it can to take the focus off the action on the ice and put it on the antics of their mascot and that insufferable woman hostess who would periodically mumble announcements across the PA system, presumably offering “prizes” of Lowell memorabilia to contest winners. Yeah, yeah, we get it, entertain the kids too, etc, but Mullins does a much better job, in our completely biased opinion, of balancing that shit with the game presentation and not just making us feel like we’re at an AHL game. In Tsongas’s defense, we missed the starting lineups and pre-game stuff, so we will have to give that a pass. For now.
  • The arena sound person does a good job playing “every fucking song from Rock Band” between action, which, in all honesty, seemed unnecessary in an arena with a live pep band present. He or she also seems to be a big fan of Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” so much so that they just had to hear a few seconds of it in the middle of game action in the 2nd period. I mean, damn, it is catchy, but come on.
  • The PA announcer is equally inept; twice he forgot to announce the one-minute remaining mark (leading to some very entertaining “thirty seconds left in the period” announcements). He also referred to Wellman’s 10-minute misconduct for slashing the goalie after the whistle as “shooting after the whistle,” which understandably made us pretty angry until we found out what really happened after the game. (Not that we agree with the actual call anyway, but we’ll address that momentarily.)
  • Their chuck-a-puck contest, rather than a traditional one (like ours, or the one at most places) or a fun unique one (like Northeastern’s “throw the puck into the dog bowl” game), their hawk mascot goes around the arena with – again, we can’t even make this shit up – a shopping cart that you toss pucks into. Apparently even he would rather be a homeless bum than call this place home.
  • It’s an absolutely wonderful place to watch a game with children, because unlike the UMass students, their student section never uses any profanity. Oh, wait, they do! Y’see, in Lowell, it’s offensive and in poor taste to yell “fuck ’em up” as part of your goal-scoring song, but when the f-bombs and middle fingers are directing toward our fans and players for two whole hours. Practice what you preach, or stop criticizing our behavior. (Frankly, we like the atmosphere, little kids be damned. Go see a Lowell Devils game, kids.)
  • Speaking of little kids, we unfortunately were late to the game and couldn’t join our student section, so we started our own row in the corner adjacent to them. This led to a row of 13-year-old boys who sat behind us and talked shit about UMass as if a) they even went to college and b) their college was winning the game. (This was in between several completely-serious conversations about the Twilight films, I might add.) At one point one of them said “Be respectful, keep it clean – that makes sense,” referring to the back of my t-shirt. So at least Lowell kids know how to read. Fortunately their dad came to get them right after the Minutemen scored the winning goal – crying about the so-called Hockey East conspiracy as one would expect (more on that in a second) – and we got our chance to remind the kids that trash-talk is reserved for those who have actually gone through puberty.
  • The pep band is pretty cool – I would absolutely love to hear our nationally-renowned marching band playing the “you suck” goal-scoring song, because it sounds soooo much better played by a college band. Their rendition of Lowell’s fight song was also pretty awesome. …Wait, what’s that you say? They don’t…have a fight song like “Fight Mass” or, you know, most colleges? (Or if they do, they certainly didn’t bother playing it, and it’s nowhere to be found on their band’s website.) Well at least we know now why our blog title would be deemed “unimaginative” by someone from Lowell.
  • Yep. They have “beer.” But hell if we’re going to spend $5.25 on anything with “Bud” in the name.

Are we calling the Mullins Center perfect? Course not. We lack a pep band (not necessarily the team or arena’s fault, of course), there are stupid dancing games between periods, the recording of “Fight Mass” used to skip (thankfully they appear to have fixed that), and it lacks the closeness of a smaller arena like, well, the rest of the arenas in Hockey East. And, yes, a scoreboard over center ice would be pretty sweet, provided it didn’t look like it was borrowed from 1974. But between our much more coherent student section and vastly superior mascot, not to mention our arena’s treating its inhabitants more like college hockey fans and less like a glorified AHL team (right down to the goddamned blimp!), we gotta say – we’re feeling pretty good about the Bill right now.

On the plus side from the River Hawk perspective, the Lowell student section was pretty into the game, intersession and all. Likewise, our own student section was disappointingly tame. I wasn’t over there but I’d imagine we got an Agganis-esque “only our kids are allowed to swear” ultimatum. Plus, it’s obnoxious for our “Let’s go UMass” chant to be followed by “…Lowell!” as if to simultaneously a) destroy any notion that their students actually do resent the UMass name as they so claim, and b) remind us that they are not the flagship of our university system. The university itself may insist that we be “UMass Amherst” to siphon the positive connotations associated with the “best college town in America” and the name-value of Amherst College. We know that “UMass” by itself means only one thing.

Alright, alright, so all the prerequisite “fun-at-Lowell’s-expense” smack talk that follows a two-game sweep is out of the way. After all, we didn’t want to disappoint anyone by going too easy on them. It’s time to actually talk hockey. As I said, we were late, and so completely missed the disallowed Lowell goal at the start of the game, though we later read online that even the immortal Bob Ellis admitted to overreacting after a Lowell player was clearly in the crease for the goal. Still, Lowell came out and played balls-to-the-wall hockey, performing like a team with its season on the line, at home. UMass’s first period wasn’t quite as one-sided as the shots total would indicate, but it was clear they were doing all they could just to keep up with Lowell’s desperation and intensity. Dainton played yet another brilliant game in net, and, like Hamilton on Friday night, lucked out on a couple occasions in the first period when Lowell had him beat. The much-vaunted Lowell defense was at its finest, blocking shots left and right and making life really difficult for the Minutemen power-play. Mark Concannon (Coco!!!) finally struck for his first goal of the season, but unlike the first period Friday where the 1-0 lead felt like it should have been much greater, we were counting our blessings.

Then the second period reared its ugly head, in which the following things happened:

  1. Lowell seemingly decided, as a team, to come at James Marcou and take him out however possible. This began with Maury Edwards delivering a vicious slash to the face, which I’ll admit I didn’t see the beginning of but which drew a “Jimmy’s done” from a cringing Matt next to me. Edwards went to the box for a 5-minute “high-sticking” major, as the Lowell faithful lamented the Hockey East officials’ perpetual hatred for their beloved program.
  2. This vast conspiracy was further proven by UMass’s Casey Wellman being whistled for a two-minute minor and ten-minute misconduct for “shooting after the whistle” when he crossed the blue line, went to fire a shot, and had the whistle blow in mid-shot. Again, this was later officially listed as “slashing the goalie after the whistle,” an infraction which pretty clearly never transpired either. But whatever. Between the Hawks opening Marcou head-hunting season, Steve Silva style (because we all saw how well that worked out for Northeastern), and the mysterious banishment of Wellman to the bench for a sixth of the game, the refs were clearly trying to help UMass win by any means necessary, even if it means imposing Bill Simmons’s Ewing Theory on the Minutemen mid-game.

Between three additional penalties on UMass in the period, Jimmy playing hurt (he later left the ice for stitches), and Lowell now truly feeling the pressure, the River Hawks took complete control of the period, though again, this is all somehow in spite of a conspiracy against them. UMass’s defense, to their credit, continued to play tough, even as the offense began playing like the joke of a Minutemen team that showed up in those blowouts against BU and UNH, which is to say, about as well as a drunk Southwest girl trying to fly a passenger jet. And when the Minutemen finally did get a couple opportunities, Carton Hutton was up to the challenge, including a ridiculous lunging save from his back on a late rebound. Ultimately, it was Patrick Cey with 8 minutes to go in the period who knotted the game up, and by that point, it was basically inevitable. Still, the Minutemen were able to slink away in a 1-1 tie, setting up the biggest period of the season for either team thus far.

Four seconds into period 3, Michael Budd set off a string of Lowell penalties with a seemingly harmless hooking infraction. Here, dear readers, is where the River Hawks fell into the rut that has plagued them for a good while now: lack of discipline where it counts. This is an all-too-familiar story for the Minutemen, as you’ll remember the way UMass let their frustrations get the best of them in late-game meltdowns against BC and Bentley. Here, it was Lowell, at the worst possible time, who, instead of continuing their solid and, really, at-times dominant play of the earlier periods, got fed up with their efforts being unrewarded, and took out their frustrations with dumb penalties and stupid mistakes. Even when Jimmy got absolutely leveled from behind on an open-ice tackle by Scott Campbell, resulting – naturally – in matching penalties on embellishment (but hey, you know, conspiracy against Lowell and such), the overall penalty time did indeed favorite Massachusetts down the stretch. Lowell, to their credit, revved up their penalty-kill game, doing the thing they do best – defense – all the while looking for the opportunity to get their 2nd-period momentum back.

The River Hawks were playing well enough to win without resorting to goon hockey and going after Jimmy. Alas, after failing to capitalize on their chances throughout the first two periods, not to mention ten whole minutes in the critical second period where UMass was without its second-best player and a sizable two-way presence in Wellman, and all the dubious calls of the second period, the third period brought UMass and its overpowering power play too many sterling opportunities, and say what you will about the calls, but neither of those last two penalties looked “ticky-tack” the way this game had been called. Add that to Lowell’s recent track record of late-game lack of discipline, and you have a team that was begging to give this game away, and that’s what they did, after Matty Irwin stuffed home a long-overdue-for-him 5×3 goal with just over a minute to go, with Jimmy getting an assist in a turn of poetic justice. Lowell gave the final minute a valiant try, much to the dismay of our already-overworked hearts, but when we opened our eyes, the horn had sounded and our “cute” aspirations of a UMass sweep and the Alumni Cup – and the tiebreaker it entails – became reality. Huzzah.

Now, let’s get things straight here: from a purely hockey perspective, Lowell deserved to win Saturday. But that wasn’t enough, they had to go after Jimmy, and that’s where the karma police came calling. Lowell assumed it would get the calls, assumed there was no way they could lose a season series to UMass given the recent history, and played a reckless third period, and the karma police struck again. The end result: UMass is sitting in 3rd place and just a couple points out of first; Lowell is swimming in the pool of mediocrity on the wrong side of the home-ice line.

All the trash-talk about the arena and students and the school itself aside, we here at Fight Mass will freely admit that, for the second period of Friday’s game and the entirety of Saturday’s duel, we were absolutely terrified of the River Hawks – dare I say, even respectful (for the first and probably only time ever, we’ve chosen not to refer to either Lowell or the River Hawks by any of our colorful array of nicknames). Entertainment value be damned, I do NOT want to see these guys in March, regardless of the venue, because if we do, it will involve a disciplinary turnaround on their part. And we shudder to think of this team pulling together and outperforming their talent level. Not that we’re taking back what we said earlier this year about UMass being underrated and Lowell overrated – I think the results speak for themselves so far – but we never explicitly said Lowell was a bad team, either.

Just to butter up the karma police, though, I will say it again – Patrick Cey’s eyes? Daaa-yumn.

-Max

One down…

…and 3.6, tomorrow and I’m out of here… (/Ben Folds)

Ahem. The Minutemen put together one of their finest performances of the season tonight (technically last night) and downed the River Hawks 3-2 at the Bill, making all of us at Fight Mass thoroughly happy. It was a bizarre game in which UMass thoroughly dominated for bursts, and fell back on their heels for stretches, but the defense was tough-as-nails throughout, and the Minutemen overcame a thoroughly impressive performance by Nevin Hamilton in net for Lowell. I’ll be honest, when Lowell tied the game late in the 3rd on Auger’s goal, then went on a power play with four minutes to go, it was one of the scariest moments of the season, but Lowell continued their pattern of untimely penalties and undisciplined play late in games and I believe it was Worthington whose penalty negated the man-advantage and led to Mikey’s game-winner.

So now it comes down to tomorrow night, at Tsongas, for the Alumni Cup. The Minutemen have shown what can happen when they play to their potential, especially on the defensive end. Regardless, nothing seems to come easy for these guys, and with Lowell’s collective back against the wall, this showdown in Coketown will undoubtedly be a key moment in their season going forward. UMass already blew one chance earlier this year to kick the Sewer Rats when they were down and out. With a potentially-huge student turnout from the Minutemen faithful across eastern Mass, and the suddenly-existent Lowell student section still on break, Tsongas should lose at least some of its intimidating edge. Toot and the boys may be able to afford to squander this opportunity, but it would behoove them not to.

-E.M. Bitter

(Yup. Finally read it. But more on that later; first, hockey.)

Matthews Arena: a successful endeavor by all accounts

Well that was more like it. Whatever Toot did or didn’t do after the UNH embarrassment, the team came out last night against the Huskies and played much like they did against Merrimack last month, which is to say utter and complete domination for the first two and a half periods, followed by a final 10 minutes of solid defense and clock-killing when Northeastern went into desperation mode.

Every aspect of the game was leaps and bounds ahead of what I saw in Boston and heard in New Hampshire the last two games. The offense was relentless, the puck control impeccable. UMass could pass, UMass could penetrate the NU defense, UMass could block passes and shots defensively, and, most impressively, UMass didn’t just kill off Northeastern’s power plays – they dominated on the PK. The Minutemen played, for the most part, with discipline, letting the frustrated Huskies take the dumb penalties (particularly the game misconduct on Silva; it was nice to see an opposing player take a deserving misconduct for once).

Now, let’s step back and look at this objectively. Despite their valiant performances the last couple games against Lowell, the Huskies aren’t that good a hockey team. I’m fairly confident that BU, despite the rougher first half, is a better team than NU and will finish with a better record. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced NU will even make the Hockey East tournament. They simply lost too much talent between last year and now, and, with all due respect to Rawlings and Mountain, the drop-off from Theissen in net is pretty tough to overcome (and let us not forget, they were starting the lesser of those two goalies in this one, although Mountain certainly wasn’t the difference-maker). On top of all that, the Huskies were coming off a deflating overtime loss to Lowell, a game where they had all the momentum in the world but got burned on a defensive collapse in the final 30 seconds of OT.

Other things that worry me: the Minutemen continue to rely heavily on a) the same couple guys (Jimmy, Ortiz, Syner, and Wellman) and b) the power play, although even the man-advantage game scuffled badly during the 3-game skid. The Minutemen showed themselves to be adept at using their speed to draw penalties and, at least for this game, capitalizing on the power play chances. But this was a rare Hockey East contest where the refs appeared to call a pretty even game – UMass’s even-strength game needs to be better for the vast majority of the games in which they don’t get the calls. This is especially true with so many road games left on the schedule.

Overall, though, this game was a joy to watch, and it’s absolutely key that the Minutemen got some positive momentum going into the massive Lowell series next weekend. Matthews Arena, the fourth Hockey East facility I’ve gotten to see a game in (along with Agganis, Walter Brown and of course the Bill), lived up to my expectations and then some. It has a real high-school rink charm to it, reminiscent of my high school’s hockey rink, Fitchburg’s Wallace Civic Center (now owned by Fitchburg State College), only obviously a hell of a lot nicer. The Dog House didn’t have much to cheer about, but they remained into the game and even unleashed a sarcastic, 10-minute goal-scoring chant for McNeely’s goal in the 3rd.

Our seats weren’t great – when Walsh ordered “the closest you can get to the UMass bench”, they apparently took him literally and gave us the row directly behind the Minutemen, which offered a couple challenges. First off, since we’re not 14-year-old girls or under 5’6″, we were too tall to comfortably fit our seats without banging our knees into the guardrail directly in front of us. Also, our seats offered a limited view of the corners of the rink, which we attempted to remedy by standing, but we were promptly chastised by the senior-citizens visiting section behind us to our right, who did not appreciate our blocking their view of those aforementioned corners that nobody could see in the first place. Luckily, we were able to stand in the empty seats directly behind us (with our backs to the newly-built press box wall) without further complaint, and ended up with a great view of the action.

Still, next time we visit Matthews we’ll avoid the same mistakes and ask for the visiting student section instead, which was off to our left and quite impressive for an intersession road game. (We did start the U! Mass! U! Mass! back-and-forth chant with them, which was a highlight of our night; we also enjoyed when our own row made it up on the scoreboard and prompted a hearty round of boos from the Dog House. Admittedly, we love us.)

So here we go, Lowell for two next weekend, I’ll write about it as it approaches. We’re gonna know a little more about the fate of the University of Massachusetts and its ugly sister a week from now, and we’re glad to be along for the ride.

-Max

Season blow-by-blow

Merry Christmas, everyone! (Don’t complain to me about political correctness. It’s Christmas. I’m not even religious. It’s basically a secular holiday now anyway. Get over it.)

Alright, so the other night’s loss to the Superfrauds, where, according to everything I hear, it was as predicted a pro-UMass crowd, puts the boys back in their place a little bit. However, they did have an awful shooting performance, like, beyond-awful; embarassing. And the aforementioned STUD Terrell Vinson was in foul trouble (I think) and didn’t play most of the game. So there’s that.

I still think the boys can bounce back. They’re 1-1 on this three-game trip, though I figured the two outcomes would be reversed. Let’s see how they respond at Davidson and we’ll have an idea of where they’re at as A-10 play begins.

ANYWAY…with this little basketball interlude out of the way, it’s time to get back to the ice, my focus on the game having been renewed by the Bruins’ 6-4 win against Atlanta that I had the pleasure of witnessing a few hours ago. The UConn tournament is fast approaching, but before it does, it’s time for some 20-20 hindsight analysis of the road they’ve traveled thus far.

10/3 vs. New Brunswick (exhibition)

Never happened.

(No, seriously, we all thought the team was doomed after that painful experience of a preseason hockey game. Definitely woke them up a bit methinks. Maybe a blessing in disguise. Still embarassing.)

10/8 vs. RPI

A 5-2 win for our boys which felt a lot more excruciating, mostly because of what happened five days prior. Irwin’s two goals seem like a distant memory now, but Jimmy’s four assists were just the opening act of a masterful first-half performance. The slow start to this game was worrisome, as was getting outshot by the Engineers; conversely, the team showed it could grind out ugly wins.

10/16 vs. BU

Kinda funny how beating the #2 team in the country and the defending national champs is now our least impressive win, but the truth is, the 3-2 score didn’t even really reflect how badly we outplayed the Terriers. I called this one for WMUA and I remember how many close calls there were, and it’s fortunate, because Chiasson damn near won this game by himself for BU in his first collegiate game.  It’s funny how completely the tables have turned as these teams get set to meet on Comm Ave on Jan. 2nd, and hopefully, BU doesn’t return the favor.

10/23 vs. Maine

Two words: ug-ly. After Adam SHE-MANsky’s Oscar-worthy performance, sustaining what looked like a season- (and perhaps career-) ending injury on what was admittedly a cheap shot by Nolet, and settting off a slugfest. It’s funny that the guy was completely fine and played in the next game. Then again, what do you expect from Maine?

Anyway, in spite of Maine using “defending their ‘fallen’ teammate” as an excuse to take cheap shots at our guys the rest of the game, UMass prevailed 5-3, and we saw Mikey break out offensively, scoring his first collegiate goal on a beautiful feed from his brother. It didn’t look like much at the time, but now that we’re looking up at Maine in the standings (though, with games in hand, we could pass them), this becomes a standout win. I’m not sold on the Black Bears yet, though, not if their game is goon hockey.

Shemansky is lucky the remaining two games are up in the middle of nowhere, because he’s never going to stop hearing it from UMass fans after that one. (Then again, he’s no Dave Wilson.) But I still circle those two games as somehow being “revenge games” for Maine, as if that acting job was a noble cause to avenge.

10/30 at PC, 10/31 vs. PC

Mixed bag here. The 5-3 win at Schneider was a sign of what I think differentiates this team from the one we’ve seen the last few years – instead of falling apart when things went south, the boys rallied in the third period and took over the game down the stretch. I know, the Friars aren’t exactly world-beaters, but the Minutemen have had a reputation for playing to the competition and I think they shook that off with this game. Halloween sucked, but let’s be frank, nobody was going to beat Alex Beaudry that night. He’s the one goalie in Hockey East this year who can single-handedly steal a game like this. To be fair, UMass didn’t exactly come out gangbusters right away, but the extent to which they dominated the 3rd period (we outshot PC 21-0. That’s not a typo. TWENTY ONE TO ZERO) would have been enough to overcome a greater deficit than 2-0 on most nights. Not this one. Sucks when this kinda game happens in league play, but that’s life.

11/06 vs. Niagara, 11/08 at Niagara

A 4-1 home win and a 4-2 road win in one weekend, where again, the boys started slow and finished strong. Honestly, I prefer that to the “score early and pray that Dainton and the D can make it stand” strategy of the last couple years. Meyers finally got a start and looked (well, sounded) good in the road game. Niagara came in a snakebitten team and they certainly haven’t gotten much better since (they’re 51st out of 58 in the KRACH rankings), so these aren’t really resume-building games, but wins are wins.

11/13 and 11/14 vs. UNH

Figures that I got to call the second game for WMUA, right? Funny thing is, UMass got outplayed (perhaps as badly as they have all season) in the first game and still pulled out a win, then controlled play for most of the second game and managed to lose. Hate to bring out the old excuses, but as they’ve discussed to death over on the UMassHoops forums, the ice SUCKS at the Mullins Center when it’s warm, as it was for this weekend series. You could say that we got the appropriate outcome from the series, but we’re really lucky that Wellman knocked home that equalizer (and that Foster fell asleep on Boehm’s game-winner). That said, this looked like a bad weekend for UMass against a supposedly mediocre Wildcats team, but 1-1 against these guys doesn’t look so bad considering how they’ve done against the rest of Hockey East so far. I fully anticipate a tie when we go to Whittemore next month, because it just seems fitting after those first two games.

And I’m done with Bobby Butler. Done. He was a Blue Devil nemesis when he played for Marlboro High, and he’s absolutely TORCHED the Minutemen for four years. Please graduate, and whatever you do, do not somehow end up on the Montreal Canadiens someday.

11/19 at Yale

Just a huge non-conference road win. Once again the boys rallied in the third period, and I just don’t remember the last two years having ANY confidence in the team being able to make such a comeback. I was working security and in the middle of signing someone in up in Sylvan when Jimmy scored the goal, and I remember not really hearing what happened for a moment, but it was undoubtedly the greatest moment of the season that I wasn’t present for.

11/24 at Vermont

I was one of the few scattered souls at the basketball game vs. St. Francis (NY), and let me tell you, the collective groan when we heard “Vermont 1 UMass 0” and “Vermont 2 UMass 1”, followed by the outburst when they announced “UMass 4 Vermont 2” shortly afterward, were the loudest moments of the game. (Not saying much.) I think this game put to bed any notion that Jimmy’s season is a fluke. Vermont is one of those scary places we never seem to win at, and so this was sort of cathartic I think. Plus, Vermont is still #15 in the KRACH, and though I think the Catamounts are gonna have a rough 2nd half if they don’t figure out how to score, right now these two HEA points double as a very nice resume-building road win.

11/28 at Quinnipiac

Ugh. Terrible loss, and avoidable at that. Dan Meyers is an alright backup, but why start him on the road against the hottest team/offense in college hockey? There’s no doubt in my mind the Bobcats are overrated as all hell; they’ve definitely come back to Earth a little since this game and I see them doing more of that in the second half. But even if that’s true, they WERE ranked above us. You start your ace in that case. I know, at least two of those goals would have probably gone in against Paulie. But that’s not how hindsight works. Dainton in goal would almost definitely not have given up that horrendous rebound on the first goal, and the whole complexion of the game would’ve changed. Cahoon agreed after the game that this game was lost in the first period, and who was our goaltender for that period? Exactly.

That said, we still easily could have won this game, if not for a questionable interference call on Braun-co that led to the game-tying 6-on-4 goal. The defensive breakdowns on both that penalty kill and the Wong game-winner cannot be overlooked. The defense has been up-and-down this year, no question, and this was a low. Just painful all-around, especially if QU’s smoke-and-mirrors show falls apart in the second half. At least it wasn’t a league game.

12/4 vs. Boston College

For all the hype and for everything that went into this game – my visitors from home who came up to see the game (my cousin’s first ever UMass game, in fact), the huge crowd, etc; this was probably the most boring game of the year. I walked down to Parking Services that afternoon to pick up some tickets for my sister and her friends, and I remember thinking, “It’s 50 degrees out. I can feel the Mullins ice melting. We’re going to lose.”

Briefly, I thought I would be wrong when Jimmy wrapped around that goal in the opening minutes, but it quickly became apparent that nobody could fucking skate on this ice, and the speed and finesse game UMass relies so heavily upon just does not work on bad ice. Again, it’s been talked to death on UMassHoops, but for those who don’t read it, the Mullins Center has one compressor which it shares with the practice rink (which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, has an open-skate/shoot session during UMass hockey games). This is not true about any other rink in Hockey East. As a result, the ice is a huge slushy mess whenever it’s unseasonably warm in Amherst. I swear this is not a conspiracy theory.

Other excuses? What the hell was Watson doing on the top line with Jimmy and Casey? I really hope this decision was more “let’s give Syner just a bit more time recovering from that injury before we stick him on the first line again” but I fear it was Toot trying to overmanage this team. Whatever it was, it didn’t work, and I never want to see it again.

That being said, I really wasn’t all that impressed with BC. UMass was able to get myriad chances, and on another night, they might have gotten a little luckier. Those freshman defenders are pretty good, but again, the game slowed down for them quite a bit. Thankfully, this won’t be a problem for the next two meetings, and since BC has gone from middle-of-the-pack to national championship contenders in a matter of weeks, the two remaining meetings have become that much bigger. The NESN game in February will be massive. Mark my words.

12/5 at Lowell

Warning: Lowell rant forthcoming.

My 22nd birthday was the Monday following this game. Now, the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was Rivers Cuomo getting in a bus accident and getting my birthday Weezer/Motion City Soundtrack concert in Boston cancelled. But this was 2nd – yes, even worse than losing to BC.

Now, last year, it would’ve been different. I liked Lowell, I really did. They were a scrappy bunch of kids that gave BU all it could handle in the HEA championship game (I still rooted for the Terriers, of course, but that’s just personal bias). “UMass Jr.” was an affectionate little name for these guys. It was good to see someone else from the middle of the HEA pack succeed. It gave us hope.

This year, something happened to these guys. They fell in love with themselves. Mostly because, with so many big names in HEA graduating or fleeing to the NHL, everyone looked at the team who had the most coming back. (This involved overlooking UMass, due to their seven graduating seniors; completely ignoring the fact that a bunch of those guys were dead weight at this point, and that all the guys who carried UMass to being a goal away from knocking off Northeastern last year were coming back a year older and wiser.) Certainly, Lowell had a lot coming back as well, but people seemed to conveniently forget that these guys didn’t actually win anything last year. They rode a hot streak into the playoffs, and came one pretty horrible officiating decision short of stealing the Hockey East title.

But the expectations and swagger displayed by their rabid fanbase far overstretch what most people look at as “reasonable,” to the point where not being picked to win Hockey East, something they’ve never ever done, was seen as outrageous disrespect. Umm, okay. Whatever.

What grinds my gears more than anything, though, is this notion that Lowell is somehow a far superior hockey program to UMass. Yes, Lowell has had far more success in the season series. They’ve had our number, in good years and bad. For whatever reason, we don’t match up well with the Loch Monsters (or is it River Hawks? They both sound like AHL teams). But we’ve been to one HEA championship game. They’ve been to two. Neither of us have won it all yet. Meanwhile, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament once, and even pulled an upset in it. They…haven’t. Ever. EDIT: Just kidding, further research shows that they actually have made it on 3 occasions, with a grand total of 2 wins in those trips, making it further in the tournament than UMass exactly zero times. Yeah, yeah, they were a successful D2 program back in the day. Good for them. Doesn’t count.

Look, I’m not trying to say the Minutemen are in the BC-BU-UNH-Maine level of Hockey East prestige. We’re not. At all. But neither is Lowell, not even close. Of late, we’re both middle-of-the-pack teams, with an opportunity to break out of that rut this year. They’re on the same level as we are. Which, I guess, is all you can ask for when you’re Lowell, because that would be the ONLY thing Lowell Community College has that is on the same level as the University of Massachusetts. (That goes back to my hatred for the question “Which one?” but that’s a whole other rant which I’ll get to someday soon.)

Which is why this loss hurts so much more. We had them on the ropes, they lost 3 straight before this game, and proceeded to suffer maybe the worst loss in Hockey East this year (3-2 at home to Princeton, which had been winless on the road) the very next weekend. “Tailspin” doesn’t begin to describe it. We grabbed a 2-0 lead, everything was looking up, and then we blow a long 5-on-3, Ortiz takes a dumb penalty, and it was downhill from there. After we fell down 3-2, there was even hope when Syner found Mikey to tie it up early in the 3rd, but for the first time I think all season, we got badly outplayed in the 3rd period.

Whatever. Lowell desperately needed this win, and it showed. But the battle of the state schools in mid-January will probably be two of the biggest games of the year. A sweep for us would bury their season. A sweep for them would put them right back in it, and we’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll be there for both games so we damn well better win one. I’m still owed a birthday present.

12/12 vs. Merrimack

Ahh. Much better. 4-1 doesn’t even really tell the story; the boys came out guns a-blazin’ in the first two periods and put this one away early. The early-season hype for the Warriors looked pretty silly; these guys didn’t look like a D1 hockey team (save for Da Costa, who is the real deal). But hey, HEA points are HEA points and we’ll take ’em. Good exclamation point for a dynamite first half for Ortiz, too.

…Phew. So that’s what’s happened so far. The wait ends in just three days. Last few years, we’re used to looking back at the first half as the “glory days” of the season. Not this time.

-Max