Hey, let’s start with the good news! Lacrosse downed Providence 17-3. Now for something a little darker…
Dick Baker reports (it’s too depressing of a story, so I won’t even worry you with a link) that Jimmy’s going pro, too, although where has yet to be determined.
You heard that right: he gone. (Or as good as gone. But you know how agent-speak works, since I presume you are a Red Sox fan. By the way, you should be a Red Sox fan if you’re a UMass fan. I make no exceptions to that rule unless your weird cross-dressing uncle happens to be A-Rod.)
I’ll get this all out of the way now: James Marcou is the best hockey player I’ve had the privilege of watching (aside from the two Bruins games I’ve attended). His creativity, passing skills, and heart have been unmatched, and he’s been a joy to watch since my second-favorite player, Quick, left early after my freshman year at UMass.
So where do we go from here? Well, I hate to say it, and I will have a lot more to say in the near future, but the words “rebuilding year” keep popping into my head right now. It’s one thing to lose a pure scorer like Wellman, but he was the beneficiary of so, so many of the brilliant setups of Jimmy’s. That is a hell of a lot harder to replace.
From the “glass-half-full-but-still-sort-of-empty” department: where, exactly, did James Marcou get the team? In Jon Quick’s triumphant year (sans-Marcou/Wellman), UMass went to the Elite Eight. In Jimmy’s three years? Three straight second-half collapses, three straight first-round exits in the HEA tournament.
Simply put, the offense last year was far too reliant on Jimmy and Casey, to the extent that, at one point, someone (Lecomte I believe) said in the Collegian that they were just waiting for the top line to get it going. Did anyone else notice a recurring theme for the teams that are playing at the Garden right now? They don’t rely on one line for all their offense. Even with two of NCAA’s leading scorers, the Minutemen were 8th in Hockey East in goals scored. That’s not getting it done. (Don’t even get me started on the defense, because damnit, I’m tryin’ to be optimistic here!)
Now, in no way am I saying I expect the Minutemen to be better at the start of next season. They just lost their top 5 scorers…duh. But I could see a team with a lot of young talent and some promising freshmen that will improve as the year goes on, and maybe surprise people in the Hockey East Tournament while setting up for a run the following year. And yes, it has been extraordinarily painful to write that last sentence, especially considering that it reminds me of the basketball situation. (So, basically,
I don’t mean to cut-and-run, but I’m not exactly devastated that this is all happening after my final season as a UMass student. Rebuilding sucks, especially if your head coach isn’t named Jack Parker, Jerry York or Dick Umile. Just remember, when Marcou and Wellman came in, like any touted recruits, nobody knew they’d immediately become contributors. Now it’s up to this year’s freshman class to step up and fill the void. Could it get ugly? That’s always a possibility, especially if the injury bug bites what’s left of the team, or a good number of the prospects don’t pan out. But this team’s still got plenty of unsung talent and guys who underperformed or battled injuries last year.
It might not be immediate, but life moves on without #7 and #19. We could wallow in self-pity…but optimism’s a lot more fun. Now I don’t know about you, but I intend to get out there today and let Guinness and Irish car bombs wash away the sting.
Oh, and godspeed, Mr. Marcou. As with Wellman, we will support you wherever you go. (Hopefully, if you DO make it in the NHL, you and Casey will end up with Boston somewhere down the line. …Please?)
Looks like it’s official, according to the local Minnesota beat writer: Wellman to Minnesota is almost definitely a done deal. Honestly, I think they’re overpaying for such a raw prospect, but if you’re Casey Wellman and someone’s handing you $2 mil, you gotta do it. Like I said earlier today, this is probably for the best for UMass, considering how much of a distraction it was having the scouts around, and now that playing time can go to guys who have a lot motivation to prove themselves. Still, a small part of me was holding out hope that Casey would both a) return next year and b) have the experience to know how to block out the mental distractions. No such luck.
Thanks for everything, Casey, and make UMass proud in the NHL. How much of his success came from playing alongside the best passer/play creator UMass has ever seen? We’ll never know, but it was a fun ride either way. I certainly won’t soon forget that game-tying buzzer-beater against UNH, which set up another departed Minuteman, Boehm, for the game-winner. And for all the hubbub about him being arrogant and not caring, his final gesture – a raise of the stick to salute those of us who made Conte Forum our home-away-from-home this past weekend – was nothing if not classy. I have no ill will toward the guy.
Now we cross our fingers on Marcou.
I posted this just now in a discussion on UMassHoops’s forums, which, for the uninitiated, are not just for basketball, as the name suggests. Of course, the basketball discourse over there is probably the best you’ll find for UMass on the web (and their chat room is a ton of fun to peruse while watching/listening to road games). Nevertheless, to save myself the trouble of rewriting all of these thoughts and rewording it to sound like I did twice as much work, here’s some thoughts on Jimmy and Casey:
Here’s the thing about Casey, though. DO we want him back? I mean, sure, we want the Casey Wellman back who was one of Hockey East’s most feared weapons all throughout the first half. But even if he returns, he’s going to have the scouts and distractions hanging over him again, and I’m in the party that believes that this is why his second half fell apart. Anyone doubt that his improvement in the BC series was because he suddenly had something to prove again? Now, I really thought that scouts would see his getting-distracted as a sign that he’s not ready for the big show. Clearly, teams like the Wild, who (in my opinion, wrongly) believe he can play in the NHL right now, see it differently. Much as I hate to say it, Casey probably SHOULD take advantage of their poor judgment while he still can.
Jimmy’s a fantastic college player, but I really feel that we’re overrating his NHL potential. He’s a fantastic passer, but NHL teams need a pure goal-scorer with size like Casey right now. How many 5’9″ guys have success at that level? Martin St. Louis is the only one who immediately comes to mind…and he went undrafted after four years in a great Hockey East program. Jimmy can come in next year, play one more season with his brother, graduate with a degree (in case his game doesn’t translate to the pros) and leave a legacy as the best player ever to wear the maroon-and-white. Honestly, it makes more sense for him to stay, and it makes more sense for Casey to leave.
So, to recap: I think Casey goes, and Jimmy stays. If Jimmy’s here, I’m pretty confident that between Pereira, Syner, Hobbs, Carzo, a healthy Lecomte/Langeraap (knock on wood), et al. this team can put up some goals, and they return a senior goaltender with some promising freshmen waiting to back him up. It’s the defense, which already struggled WITH Marty and Bronco here, that worries me a heck of a lot more. There’s a LOT of stepping up that needs to happen in that corps of youngsters.
(That said, if I’m wrong, and Jimmy goes too…well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
As our older, wiser counterpart Fear the Triangle relayed this morning, the Minnesota Wild are already offering Casey Wellman a contract. Not in their minor leagues, mind you, but, like, actually signing him to their NHL club. As I said, if he doesn’t go now, he might be even more of a distraction next year. Still, he’s probably the best pure goal-scorer I got to see in my four years in Amherst, and you can’t blame a guy for taking the money and running (especially when it entails taking advantage of the desperation of the 11th-place team in the Western Conference). I’d love to see him come back with a sense of purpose next year, but realistically, I think this is goodbye for #7. Until anything’s made official, though, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Elsewhere in Hockey East, Vermont shocked the Jekyll-and-Hyde UNH Wildcats, 1-0 in overtime. BU cut the cord on Merrimack’s Cinderella act at Agganis with a 3-0 win. Lastly, Maine rallied twice and ousted Lowell in overtime, 3-2.
We’re torn on that last outcome…now, don’t get me wrong, there’s something satisfying about seeing our state-school rival fall flat on its face in the wake of the greatest expectations in school history, to see the appropriate karma exacted on certain Lowell trolls (or Trowells, if you will — credit Walsh with this portmanteau) who have stalkerishly harassed certain writers of this blog via Facebook message, with their embarrassing “Lowell is a better academic school than Amherst” and “we made it further in the tournament!” wharrgarbl. (Oh, and by the way, that’s as close as we’re going to come to acknowledging you. Honestly, I’ve probably said too much already, so consider this your 15 seconds of fame.) Not to mention, their collapse was completed against a horrendous defensive team playing its backup goalie (the immortal WIIIIIIIIILLLLLSSSSOONNNNN, of all people!), missing two key defensemen, and with its best player playing on one leg. So yeah, for a variety of reasons, that was pretty enjoyable.
That being said…when all of that comes at the expense of seeing another hated rival, the impossible-to-love hicks up in Maine, take an undeserved spot in the Garden…our revelry is a little harder to swallow. It’s even less fun when you realize that a direct consequence will, in all likelihood, be yet another BC-BU final in the Garden. Yawnzo. (Plus, we’ll miss out having the hilarious musings of a certain Lowell blog for the remainder of the playoffs. We’re pretty sure there aren’t any similarly enjoyable Maine blogs to read, namely because literacy is a prerequisite for using the Internet.)
Nonetheless, the NCAA tournament itself figures to be an exciting venture. When that bracket comes out, Fight Mass will be there with our picks. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on the Wellman/Marcou situations and have the latest news as it breaks.