Tagged: Lowell sucks

I’ll send the weak ends down the drain, down the drain…

Hockey has lost five of six and is seeing its home ice chances slipping away. Basketball has put together consecutive wins and, in their latest endeavor, looked – dare I say – dominant at times, albeit against a fairly bad St. Joe’s team. In fact, they won on national TV (being CBS College Sports, but still)…on Valentine’s Day.

…What the hell is this, bizarro UMass?

It’s been a weekend nobody would have seen coming about a month ago. Hoops rallied from 16 down on the road to force overtime, then from 5 down early in the extra frame to knock off Duquesne, and now three days later they’re looking at a tie for the 8th seed in the A-10, with plenty of momentum going into the home stretch. Hockey, meanwhile, got flustered by a hot freshman goaltender at home, then watched the defense and their own ace goalie give up another six-spot to a Boston team.

As big fans of the Hold Steady here at Fight Mass (well, Matt and myself, anyway), we live by the mantra “stay positive” around here – to the extent that I’ve seriously considered getting the band’s infinity/plus-sign logo in tattoo form. So I’d like to talk about the bright spots first, and in greater detail. The Hold Steady don’t have a song that adequately reflects how I witnessed the basketball game first-hand (and called it on the radio) while I only heard the hockey game on RNX, and even then only intermittently; however, I should mention that this also factors into the equation.

Regardless, DK’s defense was suffocating at times. Phil Martelli’s Hawks went nearly 11 minutes without scoring to close the first half. That’s over a quarter of the game. Granted, that team’s a mess right now; their top two players (Williamson and Govens) are glorified role players, their big guys (Hilliard and O’Brien) are foul-prone and they have basically zero depth. I’m not sure what they were trying to do on offense, but it involved a whole lot of dribbling and passing around the perimeter until the shot clock was down to 10. Still, you have to give UMass credit for all the flustering they managed to do. No D-1 offense could possibly be that bad on its own, and guys like Farrell, Vinson, Sean Carter, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) even Correia were fiends on the defensive end.

The offense? Eh. ‘Twas sufficient. Another dazzling performance by Ricky, and Gurley once again decided to join us prior to the last couple minutes and knocked a few shots down. I thought Riley got a quick hook; he played sparingly in the second half so, baring an injury, it appears that he found his way into DK’s doghouse, which is surprising because now that City is finally there I’m surprised there’s any room….

Okay, sidebar time: Look, we (okay, I) feel really bad about this whole Big Shitty situation. It sucks to have to shit all over one of our own players. But really, if you haven’t seen a game yet (or if the only one you saw was Memphis), you have to watch him play to understand. He’ll play astronomically poorly for several minutes, making even the most routine rebound look like an ordeal, and then every so often he’ll dive for a loose ball or something and, because of how much better “making a fairly difficult play” looks than “botching a fairly easy one,” the crowd oohs and aahs. It’s like a Nickelback concert; their couple of I guess-they’re-serviceable hit singles sound like pure musical genius next to the rest of the shit they play. I’m sure he’s a great guy and all, and players have feelings too, but honestly – every time I watch him play I become less confident in his ability to play the game of basketball. DK finally appears to feel that way too, based on these last few games. It’s unfortunate, and I’m personally rooting for City to turn it around. Until he does, though, his minutes belong to Hov.

Ahem, as I was saying, Riley didn’t play much, and the same goes for Sampson, but the dribble drive looked refreshingly effective. It’s easy to get carried away with a couple wins when it’s literally been nearly two months since the last time they did it, but if – and I repeat, IF – they can put a nice little run together, and 3-2 is certainly doable in the last five games, then I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Minutemen hosting that new first-round campus site home game in the A-10 Tournament. Lord knows UMass can’t win in Atlantic City to save their lives, but if UMass can hold onto or even improve on that #8 seed, the Minutemen have a chance to do something Travi$ never did: win a goddamn conference tournament game.  In a rebuilding year, you can’t understate the importance of postseason experience, however fleeting it may be.

Now, going from the light at the end of one tunnel to the trainwreck on the side of the tracks, the Mass Attack Express got derailed pretty hard this weekend against the red-hot Chris Rawlingses N’Eastern Huskies. Having not been there, I’ll have to defer you to Ben’s wrap-up, but let’s just say that the last thing the struggling Minutemen needed was a game dictated by horrendous officiating (though it’s tough to say whether Toot’s bench minor-worthy outburst was fueled by the blue-balls-inducing tease of UMass’s offense the last few games).

But the fact of the matter is this: UMass has now given up 6 or 7 goals a remarkable five times in the second half of the season. To say that the defense lost it completely with Lecomte and Kublin sidelined is an understatement, and even with Lecomte and Langeraap back to bolster the size, experience, and physicality up front, the blue line is still in disarray. Kublin’s not a game-changer the likes of, say, Jeremy Dehner for Lowell (quick side note: UMass’s own struggles, aside from pissing us off as UMass fans, have severely limited the amount of enjoyment we’ve been able to draw from the ugly sister’s epic collapse). Just the same, though, his absence has had a trickle-down effect on his fellow blue liners. Mikey Marcou, while continuing to surprise on offense, has been a disaster the last few games defensively, which is a huge regression for someone who had been playing well earlier in the year. Bronco had a good game Friday night, but has been maddeningly inconsistent. Younger guys like Irwin and Rowe are, like Mikey, good offensive d-men who have struggled on D at times. Kessler’s a mixed bag, and Donnellan hasn’t gotten enough playing time to make a name for himself yet. The only constant has been Nolet, and you simply can’t get by with just one consistent defenseman. Not in this league.

So here we are with five games left, one at home, two being against a suddenly-hot Merrimack team, a game in Chestnut Hill against a BC team that might not be quite as amped up about it, and then two more up in Maine, whose freshmen want revenge for the Wilson series and whose hick fans want “revenge” for She-Man-Gate.

As UMass fans, we’re used to this script: the Cahoon Swoon, the fade to black at the end, the whimper and then, nothing.

That’s the beauty of sports, though…you never know when the script will get flipped. Here’s hoping that this Bizarro Weekend is a harbinger of said script-flipping.

-Max

Weekend wrap-up: I’m not even mad; in fact, that’s amazing

Well, to call this the worst sporting weekend in my nearly four years at UMass is probably an understatement. First, UMass hockey fell flat on its face in front of the entire New England area on NESN and 8,000+ at the Mullins Center, doing virtually nothing right in a 7-1 bloodbath at the hands of the team everyone loves to hate. Not really much to say about this one: UMass got outplayed in literally every aspect of the hockey game. Goaltending? Dainton didn’t have it, Meyers wasn’t much better, Muse was rarely tested. Offense? Eagles. Defense? Eagles, by a LOT. Special teams? UMass got all the first-period power play time, including over a minute of 5-on-3, and looked completely inept.

Honestly, there were no silver linings other than the fact that it only counts as one game, and that aggregate goals are meaningless in the NCAA. The troubling thing is that, after going through the entire first half without getting blown out – staying close in literally every game – the Minutemen have now suffered losses of 7-3 (BU), 7-2 (UNH), 6-2 (BU…again) and now this mess. They’re a mind-numbing six goals under .500 in Hockey East and down to even overall. What does it mean? Well, this percentage of the way through an NHL season, you’d have to start worrying; in a 27-game season, it just means UMass has gotten thrashed, absolutely thrashed, four times (this the first one at home). Their overall record, which is still solid in spite of everything, tells you that when things are bad for this team, they’re REALLY bad. For some reason, games spiral out of hand for these guys, which tells me there’s a tendency to give up (whether it’s late in the game, as it was in the two BU debacles, or early in the game, like up at Lake Whitt and now this shitshow).

So that means there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that this team, I still believe, has the talent to make a run in Hockey East. The bad news is that there are still effort and character issues. You simply cannot give up early in a sport; anything can happen in a game that’s 2-0 in the first (which is the point where it felt like the wheels really came off), hell, a comeback is still possible even after it’s 4-0 after one period, but a 7-0 deficit is insurmountable. (By the way, this applies to the fans, too, but Ben covered that already in his post.)

I will say this: BC, as Derek pointed out in his preview, is a damn good hockey team, and you must give coach York and crew credit for making them into serious contenders earlier than anyone outside Chestnut Hill could have predicted. They’re scary-deep, they don’t make stupid mistakes, and yeah, it’s safe to say that their January slump is behind them. Meanwhile, I have to take back anything I said before the game about BC’s fanbase being apathetic; their little cheering section was easily the most impressive of its kind in the Mullins Center all year, and they were certainly rewarded for their efforts and creativity. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hate most people from BC with a fiery passion, but you can’t say they don’t care when they send over 100 kids to a place they supposedly wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. (Then again, we’ll see how many of them come out in their own arena in a couple weeks.)

Coupled with tonight’s results, I think you have to look at Hockey East like this: three home-ice locks (UNH, Maine, and BC), and one spot open for the taking, with UMass, BU, and Vermont as the front-runners in a jumble, along with Lowell, although they’re on their way out as their offensive struggles (and now the loss of Dehner) have them on a rather Cahoon Swoon-esque slide. Northeastern, meanwhile, could jump into the conversation, but it would require a sweep of next weekend’s home-and-home with the Minutemen. Once again, we have to hope that playing the Huskies gives UMass a spark, and that this time, they sustain it. More on that later in the week.

Meanwhile, Matt and I made the annual (third time for me, first for him) bus trip down to URI to watch our men’s basketball team against our favorite A-10 rival. We’ll point out that we were among maybe five or six students on our bus and the group was heavily alumni-centric, so it wasn’t quite as fun as the last two trips. The outcome was also pretty depressing: once again, UMass started alright, then the wheel came off and before you knew it they were down 17 at half. I don’t even feel like talking about Big Shitty anymore, because honestly, there was nothing nice to say; I cringed every moment he stepped out on the floor, and this time he never managed to prove me wrong. The Gurley Show was also teetering on the brink of cancellation for me; his inconsistency is simply maddening at times.

Now, you have to give URI credit; they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn to start the game (0 for their first 8 or 9 threes I think), and yet they were able to keep UMass from getting any sort of sustained run thanks to a devastatingly effective press that forced UMass turnovers seemingly at will. You gotta love their fan base, too — granted, there’s really nothing else to root for in Kingston, but just the same, they’ve packed that place all three times I’ve been there, their student section(s) put(s) ours to shame, and it’s freaking LOUD in there (not to mention a fantastic place to watch a game, even from the balcony corner that they always stick us in). I honestly love the Ryan Center, although I must admit that I’d love it a lot less if it weren’t for the last two trips. This one…eh.

UMass did put something together to start the second half again, and we had visions of another 17-point rally followed by actually holding the narrow lead, but then the Rams and their fans woke up again and put a quick stop to it with a bevy of dunks, not to mention their shooters finally heated up. Our guys made it respectable in the closing minutes, as Gurley suddenly realize there was a basketball game going on and started knocking down shot after shot, but it was in vain. This was a superior team with a lot more experience, especially in the coaching department, and it showed. Still, I liked what I saw out of the freshmen, and Sean Carter continues to be solid if not spectacular. And hey, at least they didn’t embarrass themselves on NESN. *sigh*

-Max

Not so much.

Well, once again, a visit to Agganis Arena resulted in a blowout loss for the Minutemen, almost as if to mock my pregame predictions of a much closer game.

To be fair, from all accounts, the Minutemen played a hell of a lot better than in their previous four-goal defeat at BU, dominating the first period but trailing 1-0 as the Terriers got the first of many timely goals. Alas, regardless of the Jack Parker influence on this game (i.e. whenever something didn’t go BU’s way, it was argued extensively to the point where a makeup call was a foregone conclusion), the Minutemen simply didn’t capitalize on their early chances, and, as in games like the 4-2 home loss to UNH and the Bentley loss in the UConn tournament, appeared to let their frustrations derail their play down the stretch.

Not a good sign, and not a good showing by the defense (which, we must add, continues to miss Doug Kublin, who was so good in those Lowell games and the “turning point” Northeastern game), but a loss is still a loss, even if it throws UMass into the negative as far as their Hockey East pythagorean is concerned. If it’s any consolation, UNH got edged at Lawler by Merrimack, which basically just never wins on the road and never loses at home this season. Also, Lowell got the smug wiped off their faces with another 2-1 loss to Northeastern, this time one which counts in Hockey East play (and, it must be said, where the Huskies had a significant shots-on-goal advantage for the entire game – Carton Hutton continues to stand on his head in vain for the Eastern Mass. State-Lowell River Rats). The “consolation from elsewhere in HEA” parade ends with Maine throttling Vermont (we love seeing Lowell drop out of home ice, but we’re not particularly fond of Maine jumping back into it either) and BC making PC their bitch tonight as well, grabbing sole possession of 2nd place back.

So, umm, yeah, as long as the games are being played at Agganis Arena, we’d love to not see the Terriers again this year, though if the season ended today Jackie and his crew would be in Amherst for the quarterfinals. Even in that first game at the Bill, where the Minutemen severely outplayed BU for most of the game, the final was a narrow win for UMass. This is a team that simply matches up well with the Mass Attack, unfortunately. That said, shots on goal were 41-37 in favor of UMass, and if Millan doesn’t stand on his head for the first period, this game would have taken a different direction. UMass didn’t play nearly as bad as they did a month ago, and so let’s hope that tomorrow night we draw the same Alex Beaudry who let up 5 first-period goals to the previously-floundering BC Eagles tonight.

-Max

“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.)

Previews previews previews!

Previews! And did we mention previews?

First, UMass hoops, fresh off of a nondescript six-point loss at “home” (actually, Springfield, much like Boston, looked from the highlights to be a greater home-court advantage for UMass than their own arena) to La Salle, takes on a very good Richmond team tonight. Tri Corner Blog has a very good overview of what to look for in the game tonight, which we would tell you to watch on ChannelSurfing if we weren’t so damn scrupulous. (Of course you can also hear it on the normal radio networks as called by Josh Maurer.) This is one of those games where there’s not much history between these two teams per se, but, as TCB’s Matt points out, the behavior of Richmond hicks fans at these two teams’ A-10 field hockey tournament game recently deserves to be avenged. Basically, these grown adults (which, by the standards of the south, leaves them with the intelligence and maturity of 12-year-old boys from civilized America) spent the game calling our players lesbians, one of them ordered pizza and said that the guy who took his order “sounded like a fag – but then again, aren’t they all up here?”, etc. Southern stereotypes are fun, especially when they all turn out to be accurate! But I’ll digress on the politics here…let’s just say it’d be real fun to get revenge on the court.

We don’t have much to say about the La Salle game because, well, neither of us really heard much of it between watching our beloved Patriots die a horrendous death at home and our preparations for the Northeastern roadtrip. But from what I did hear, it was a good game for Big City, TV and Freddie Riley, until foul trouble caught up to the guys at the end and nobody else could hit a big shot when they needed to.

So after two games, UMass is 1-1 in the A-10, the one winning being that squeaker against a god-awful team at home, followed by a second-half collapse against a mediocre team at “home.” I’ve said all along that the most important thing for UMass to do this season is to show improvement as the year goes on and maybe, just maybe make a splash in the conference tournament. They’ve got a long ways to go but my hopes of them coming strong out of the gate in A-10 play have been for naught so far. I may have more to say after the Richmond game, depending on how it goes.

Secondly, and (with all due respect to the ballers) a thousand times more importantly, we are now two days away from the massive clash between the University of Massachusetts and, uhh, that other state school, Eastern Mass. State College-Lowell or whatever they fancy themselves. Now, for those who have been reading from the beginning here, I’m sure you’re aware of, ahem, personal reasons why we here at Fight Mass would like nothing more than to defecate all over their parade this weekend. I’m personally looking forward to finally reading the “bulletin board material” during our pregame festivities Friday evening, although at this point it will be more for comedic purposes than anything else.

Selfish grudges aside, the River Rats and Minutemen enter this weekend in a deadlock for the 4th spot in Hockey East, and UMass’s lead over Lowell in the Pairwise and other predictive rankings, for what it’s worth at this fairly-early point in the year, is tenuous. UMass and Lowell come off a weekend where each team played at UNH and NU, with very different results: UMass got blasted by UNH while Lowell played them to a tie, while UMass dominated NU and Lowell ran out to an early lead before undisciplined play almost cost them an easy win which they eventually pulled out in OT.

The Minutemen come in at 12-8, while Lowell is 12-7-2. In the conference, the teams each have 12 points, but Lowell holds the tiebreaker (after that gut-wrenching first defeat in Coketown) and has one game in hand on us. In a conference where every single game can have a dramatic impact on the standings, these games, while they might not necessarily make or break the season, can go a long way in setting the tone for the home stretch of HEA play.

We mentioned it before, we’ll say it again: with the exception of that Hockey East Tournament sweep several years ago, Lowell has had our number for quite some time now, regardless of the way the season is going for either team. When they’re good, they outplay us; when they’re bad, we play down to their level. They come in remarkably even; Lowell getting off to a solid start before sputtering a bit, UMass getting off to a great start before sputtering a lot, but the overall bodies of work are quite similar. Going deeper into the numbers, the River Rats are badly underperforming their Pythagorean, as Lowell is +20 for the year (70-50), while UMass is overperforming at +6 (69-63). The problem with those numbers is that, unlike baseball (where Pythagorean can be somewhat indicative over such a long season), college hockey plays such a short season that the small sample size leads to easy skews. UMass’s two recent debacles against BU and UNH count as two losses, but they kill the Pythagorean at a combined -9.

Still, the supposed offensive edge UMass would have with its two superstar forwards is negated by Lowell’s edge defensively (led surprisingly not by last year’s standout Maury Edwards, but by Nick Schaus and Jeremy Dehner, an eye-popping +25 combined for the year) and offensive balance (10 double-digit scorers, compared to 6 for UMass who has two guys, Lecomte and Carzo, with 9). Add that to their well-publicized goalie tandem of seniors Hutton and Hamilton, compared to Pauly D’s one career win in 7 tries against Lowell (Meyers has yet to play them), and Lowell has the edge on paper.

But that’s the thing: the games don’t get played on paper. Despite all the expectations for Lowell and the lack thereof for UMass, these teams are in virtually the exact same position coming into this weekend, and both are coming off win-droughts with victories at Matthews, both big in their own unique ways. And so the Minutemen and their ugly sisters have a chance to make a statement: for UMass, the opportunity to flip both the “Cahoon swoon” script and the “can’t beat Lowell” script. For Lowell, the expectations, both from the preseason hype and their tradition of beating big brother, have to be tremendous. And while even a sweep by either team guarantees nothing in this season of unreal parity in the Hockey East Association, we’re gonna know a lot more about these two teams in a couple days.

…Unless, of course, they play to ties on both nights, and then we’re back at square one.

-Max

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

*facepalm*

It’s come to my attention that a certain Lowell blog recently wasted several hours writing a dissertation about, well, me. I’m not personally going to respond to its direct claims at the moment cause, quite honestly, I haven’t read it yet. I’m going to try and not read it until the 14th, where it’ll serve as amusing pre-game material for Lowell vs. UMass (Matt suggested “drink for every contrived argument” but added “wait, I don’t want to die”). I’ll probably respond to it then, in my writeup of the game.

It’s certainly adorable to see full-grown adults writing personal attack pieces, and I’m amused that my little rant got such a wild overreaction, but I’ve done some thinking lately and realized that I don’t have as much against Lowell as a whole as I thought. The people I know personally who go to the school are, for the most part, quality people. Furthermore, let’s be honest here, it’s a few (admittedly rather vocal) apples on a blog and some message boards who are skewing my perception of Lowell’s fan base. The ones I know personally (who actually attended the school recently or currently) have a more humble opinion of their program. After all, they have one freakin’ D1 program in the whole school, who am I to deprive them of their fun? Hell, I would have outright rooted for Lowell last year had they been playing anyone other than BU.

Based on Matt’s reaction to the attack thesis (his thoughts are forthcoming), I have a feeling that, in a few weeks when I do read it, I’m gonna be a lot less amicable about the subject. But for now, I’ll just say thanks for the extra site traffic (likely an extra 4-5 visitors!) and good luck to your team the rest of the way. And now, back to your regularly scheduled hockey blog.

-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