Well, for the second time in three tries, our beloved Mass Attack have pulled a dubious feat in front of ESPNU’s cameras and hockey demigod Barry Melrose, getting shut out for the first time all year, 3-0. UMass ends up with a weekend split against the Catamounts, after last night’s 3-1 triumph.
Honestly, though, unlike Melrose’s “60 minutes of ineptitude” jab, which came as UMass was allowing a season-high 7 goals at BU, this is an outcome we can live with. UMass dominated the shots on goal department, and the part of the team that wasn’t missing three regulars – the defense – was solid as usual, allowing just two goals plus an empty-netter. Since the back-to-back touchdowns-against debacle, UMass has allowed a stingy eight goals in five games, and accordingly has a 4-1 record in those games. On top of all that, UMass still has the tiebreaker in the season series against UVM, and 2-1 against a top-20 PWR team on the season is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s true that, considering the weekends Lowell and UNH had, the Minutemen could have used those extra points. But given the circumstances (no Coco, still no Langeraap or Lecomte, day game after night game, etc.), this 3-0 loss hurts a lot less. It’s up to the Minutemen to keep the defensive pressure up now, and hopefully the offense emerges from its slump against Hockey East’s worst defensive team, BU, next weekend – I’d rather them not be facing the prospects of another three-game losing streak if they can’t solve Alex Beaudry on Saturday.
So again, in the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn…we gotta stay positive.
Our somewhat-less-beloved UMass men’s basketball team lost tonight. At home. To St. Bonaventure.
…There are no words. I’ll try to sum it up for you: UMass played horrible defense against a horrible team in a slop-tacular game with horrible referees in front of a horrible crowd and came away with what must be the worst loss at home for the Minutemen in my four years of watching this team. It’s not Valentine’s Day Massacre-bad as far as repercussions, but that’s only because this team didn’t have realistic expectations of success before the game, and they certainly don’t now. The Minutemen, since the collective sploogefest of the upset win against Memphis in Boston (the thought of which, in retrospect, might be enough to get the team, coaches, and collective fanbase to want to drown themselves in barbecue sauce), have done the following:
- Lost a winnable game against our most hated opponent, in their arena but in front of a pro-UMass crowd, despite BC’s horrid shooting;
- Lost a winnable game at Davidson;
- “Defeated” one of the worst teams in all of college basketball by two, on a last-second shot;
- Lost a winnable game in Springfield to La Salle in which they held a sizable lead near halftime;
- Lost a winnable game at Richmond in which the Spiders couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, we had the last shot of regulation only for our best player to forget how much time was left, and in which a Spider set the conference record for blocks in a game;
- Got smoked by a good Temple team,
- …and now this.
This wasn’t a fall-from-ahead job like Fordham. UMass actually had to rally just to tie the game late in the second half after trailing by as many as 10 points. You read that correctly: 10 points. At home. Against St. Fucking Bonaventure. Bright spots? You want bright spots? Uhh, I guess…Ricky Harris and Anthony Gurley hit some awkward floaters. Big City hit a pair of free throws nothing but net (!). David Gibbs drove to the lane and scored, for perhaps the first time ever. The Minutemen even pulled off the “hey look, Riley is tying his shoe, everyone leave him alone and guard Ricky instead and OH WAIT JUST KIDDING OPEN 3” trick.
But in that same game, Freddy looked mortal, airballing a 3 at one point and missing treys on the final two possessions, both of which could have won the game. UMass actually got away with a few blatant hacks and still couldn’t win. Gibbs’s one drive to the hoop was just that: a one-time thing. Big Shitty (yeah, we’re going there) couldn’t have guarded James Marcou going to the basket in the last five minutes, let alone any of the Bonnies’ mediocre forwards. TV and Sean Carter were shockingly ineffective. Blah, blah, blah.
Matt and I are quickly reaching the ends of our ropes about this team. Like I said a few weeks ago, I’ll follow the UMass hockey team wherever it goes, in Toot we trust, oh captain my captain, and so on. I love DK and what he’s trying to do with this team (and with the fans), and I’m not foolhardy enough to expect too much from what is, at this point, most definitely a rebuilding year. But the point of a rebuilding year is to make progress, and at this point, I’m not really sure that’s what we’re seeing. I want to see this team grow and come together before our eyes. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the teams of old, back when we may have been underdogs to make the NCAAs, but where we at least expected UMass to beat St. Bonaventure by 30. But rebuilding year or not, this performance is just plain unacceptable. Our rope can only go so far before we, like (sadly) so many of the other die-hards, decide to do better things with our Wednesday nights and Saturday afternoons.
It’s like a decidedly less-expensive version of the Big Dig, where we’re still holding out hope that the end result will be beautiful – but maybe we should stop watching them build it, because the construction has been rather ugly.
That’s what Richmond’s Darrius Garrett recorded in Richmond’s 70-63 OT win tonight, a new Atlantic 10 record, a performance reminiscent of the good ol’ days when Stephane Lasme was swatting just about anything that came his way in the maroon-and-white.
But the defining play of this game was when Ricky Harris got the ball on the inbounds play, tie game, 13 seconds to go, chance to be the hero again. And he took the inbound with his back to midcourt. And he dribbled, slowly, across the timeline. And dribbled. And dribbled. Aaaaaaaaaand with about half a second left went up for a desperation shot and got the ball stripped by his defender. Horn. Overtime.
This even followed a timeout, where Derek Kellogg hopefully drew up something that didn’t remotely resemble what happened. Earlier in the game, DK felt the need to rip off his sportscoat and tie in a hissy fit at the officials, although I’m not going to start the whole “we would’ve won if he hadn’t cost us 2 points!!!!” thing, because that’s not how continuity works. But even if the atrocious play wasn’t Kellogg’s fault, you have to wonder how in the world Ricky could watch DK draw up a play for the last 13 seconds, even if that play basically amounts to “get Ricky the ball and let him try to win this himself” a la Fordham, and have Ricky bring the ball up as casually as he did. He obviously had zero idea how much time was left, as if there were 30 seconds left, but it simply makes no sense to me how they screwed it up that badly. DK looked pissed after the horn sounded, and hopefully this never ever happens again, but it was pretty embarassing nonetheless.
Otherwise, it was an admirable performance by UMass on the road in a hostile venue; Riley’s shot is looking really good lately and he’s an explosive scorer, and the overall defensive effort is much-improved (although Richmond helped out by shooting way too many wild 3’s). Gurley’s recent vanishing act sure is troublesome, though, and Vinson has been okay, but hardly the future superstar he showed flashes of in the Memphis game (which now seems like forever ago).
Overall, the team competed, and in a rebuilding year, that’s all you can ask for on a nightly basis. Let’s just hope that these struggles are just growing pains for an extremely-young team, rather than lasting issues that will plague the team even as it develops.
Charles Barkley is hosting tonight’s Saturday Night Live. I’m not sure if “turrible” quite covers what’s going on with our beloved Mass Attack these days.
UMass put together yet another “60 minutes of ineptitude” tonight in a 7-2 trouncing up at Lake Whittemore tonight, dropping to 5-5 in conference play and 2-6 in their last 8 contests overall. Dan Meyers got the start in net, but even Jon Quick (hell, even Tim Thomas) wouldn’t have been enough to stem the tide tonight. The truth of the matter is, the Minutemen played like shit in front of Meyers’s net, starting about five minutes in on the first power play and continuing for the remaining 55 painful minutes. UMass had spurts of offense here and there, but once again, their opponent was able to keep the Marcou line in check, and with Lecomte and Langeraap (injuries) and Boehm (mysterious suspension) still sidelined, the other lines could get nothing going. Defensively, the Minutemen were once again listless, granting effortless penetration into the zone nearly every possession.
Having called the BU game, I could empathize with UMass play-by-play announcer John Hennessey. The Minutemen are playing so poorly that it’s hard to call the action; every intended pass goes to the wrong man, every offensive break gets broken up, and the other team is able to glide so smoothly up and down the ice that it’s hard to keep up. At least in Boston last weekend, UMass kept the game fairly close for the first 40 minutes. Here, after coming out with some energy in the first five minutes, the boys seemingly gave up as soon as that first power play shot got tipped in. The Wildcats had scored a power-play, even-strength, and short-handed goal before UMass knew what hit ’em, and tagged on a first-career goal by McCarey at the end of the period on a play where the defense apparently just let him waltz in.
How a team in such desperate need of a W could come out so flat against the league’s first-place team, after a much-needed week of rest, boggles the mind. Those two early games in Amherst demonstrated a pair of evenly-matched teams talent-wise. UNH didn’t demonstrate a noticeable talent advantage in this game, nor did they have to, because UMass didn’t bother to play.
So what’s wrong with this team? This is the second straight Meyers start in which the team has fallen apart from the beginning. Both tonight and down at Quinnipiac, it’d be a stretch to blame Meyers himself for the loss. But the Minutemen seem to have trouble getting fired up to play well when Pauly D isn’t in net. (Side note: Yes, we are going to refer to the UMass #1 goalie by a “Jersey Shore”-inspired nickname for the remainder of the season, and frankly, we’re kicking ourselves for not thinking of it sooner. More on that next week.) Now, granted, that doesn’t excuse the BU game, but as we’ve discussed, UMass was playing their 3rd game in 5 days, with Dainton in net for all of them. It’s a real conundrum when you have one goalie for whom the team doesn’t feel like playing, especially when your other goalie is in dire need of rest.
It’s no secret that chemistry and leadership issues have been a factor in the Minutemen’s collapses of years past. We were assured that the old blood was out and that the team was gelling like never before this year. Has that positive energy disappeared following a string of winnable games (1 minute from pulling off the comeback win in QU, down just a goal against BC late in the 3rd, up 2-0 in the 2nd in Lowell, dominating play against Bentley but having nothing to show for it)? Whether it’s the chemistry or the motivation, this team is clearly not even close to living up to its potential lately, and it’s cliche but true: that falls on the coaching staff.
Now, we’re not your typical Chicken Little, stereotypical Boston sports fans here at Fight Mass. We’re keeping an even keel about this; you’ll need to see a bunch more losses before we begin the “Fire Toot” debate. So here’s some “well hey nows” for you, but be warned, there’s caveats to all of them. First, the Wildcats are a damn good hockey team. Besides a less-than-stellar showing last night in which they needed a questionable game misconduct penalty to spark a power play goal earning a tie with Lowell, they’ve been gangbusters against the rest of the conference, and the Whitt is always a tough place to play, regardless of the crowd, with its gargantuan ice surface. Our problem isn’t that the Minutemen lost to these guys on their home ice…it’s the effort, not the result, that is worrisome.
Also, there’s plenty of time to go in the season to flip this script before it carries on any further. The Minutemen, despite all of their recent struggles, remain in the thick of the home ice race in Hockey East, in a conference where a couple of wins strung together can drastically affect your standing. There’s enough time left that I won’t even call tomorrow’s game at Matthews a must-win, although it would be nice to see the Minutemen vent their frustrations against a Huskies team that might be deflated after their heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the River Rats tonight (if you didn’t watch it, Lowell blew a multitude of 3- and 2-goal leads but proceeded to dominate the overtime). A loss tonight puts all the pressure in the world on that two-game set next weekend against the ugly sister, as if they weren’t big enough games to begin with.
There’s a lot of hockey to be played, but something needs to be done, and the team needs to wake up and at the very fucking least compete against NU tomorrow. That involves a “whatever it takes” approach to wake these guys up. Maybe give Leary a chance? Bring Donnellan back? Suck it up and let Boehm play again? Again, I’m not calling for his head just yet, but Toot and company had better have a new approach tomorrow, because this just ain’t working.
One of my favorite sayings in the physical fitness community is the classic Einstein quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” When it comes to lifting routines, it means you gotta introduce some entropy to get your body to avoid plateauing. Well, when it comes to their play on the ice, UMass has, in the last 3 games, hit rock bottom and proceeded to plateau, making the same dumb mistakes and having the same general lifelessness. If they keep this up, it won’t be long before even yours truly is reaching for the panic button.
Personally, the UMass version of the Cardiac Kids is taking its toll on my heart this year, but a win is a win is a win. Especially when that win comes against a Union team that came into the game ranked 18th in the nation (and, far more importantly, 14th in the PWR rankings – tied with Yale and above Cornell, Maine, Vermont and Lowell) and which hadn’t lost since before Halloween.
Paul Dainton stood on his head in this one, and we needed it, because the Minutemen came out completely flat in the first two periods (save for a quick spurt in the middle of the second). Ortiz’s latest dumb penalty certainly didn’t help matters when he went off for 5 minutes for hitting the goalie from behind late in the 1st, but he played his ass off to redeem himself later on in the game, including the tying goal early in the 3rd. I also don’t like Toot taking the foot off the gas with what Hennessey and Hines referred to as a “passive forecheck” in the closing minutes, as it led to an extremely anxious final minute in which Dainton basically won the game for us. It was shades of Quinnipiac all over again.
Another concern for me were the lack of production outside the top line, something I thought was coming around with Ortiz’s good stretch to end the first semester, and he did contribute one of the four goals. But that’s still 75% of our offense generated by one line. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having one of college hockey’s best lines (I like that a helluva lot more than Watson playing with Casey and Jimmy), but it would be great to take some of scoring pressure off of them. Hopefully Ortiz can continue to sizzle and Hobbs can get going again like he was early in the year.
But here’s the bottom line: this was a victory. UMass basically only showed up for one period, but fortunately, Dainton and the defense (and especially the PK) kept it close, and the offense found their rhythm at the end. I’d prefer a more complete effort like the game against Merrimack, but considering Union is a ranked (and likely underrated) squad and you never know what to expect coming off a two-week-plus layoff, you have to be happy with the outcome. Tomorrow’s still basically a must-win as far as getting a non-automatic tourney big is concerned, but hopefully the cobwebs have been shaken off and the boys don’t look past their foe, be it underachieving Bentley or an awful UConn team that would have the energy and momentum of an upset win over said Bentley team.
David Boehm’s also going to miss this tournament for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Between injuries and disciplinary issues, it’s frustrating to see him sidelined, because he’s shown a lot of promise when he’s been able to contribute. Here’s hoping he bounces back quickly.
Tomorrow night will be a busy night for UMass, with hockey playing the championship game (EDIT: yep, predictably, it’s Bentley. Good, UConn would’ve killed our PWR even in the likely event that we won) and basketball visiting Davidson. I probably won’t be around to give my immediate reactions this time, but I’ll write about those games at some point. In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of 2009. The Winter Classic is just around the bend!