Winning?! What is this winning you speak of?
It was a perfect weekend for the UMass athletics program. UMass hockey won two games in a single weekend, one pretty and one ugly. Basketball, after a shaky stretch in the first half, flexed its muscle down the stretch and took over against Elon, as the Chaz Williams era began with a bang. If you want to take it even further, women’s basketball even got a win to start the year, and UMass football lost, which, for those following at home, is a victory for the future of the program.
We won’t equivocate on this: the level of competition was not high this weekend. Holy Cross looked a far cry from the squad that upset BU on Comm Ave earlier this year. Northeastern has officially taken Lowell’s throne as unquestioned worst team in Hockey East this year. And Elon is, well, Elon. But wins are wins, and the first step to escaping the “rebuilding” label is winning the games you’re supposed to win. Both teams did that in spades this weekend.
Friday’s double-header was a thing of beauty, especially on the ice. I wrote on Friday morning about the very real possibility of a letdown against Holy Cross in a virtual exhibition game (given UMass’s slow start and their weak non-conference schedule, an at-large bid is a major long shot). But the Crusaders looked like anything but spoilers on Friday night, managing to play a game that was ugly enough to match those hideous purple uniforms. UMass had exactly one true “blowout” win last year (our trip to Gutterson!) and so it’s good to get one of those at home to improve the students’ opinion of this program, even if it did make the second half of the game almost a little boring. It was also pretty cool that after not seeing a hat trick at home my entire time at UMass, we (and all of the freshmen, incidentally) have now seen two at home this year. Of course, Allen didn’t get credit for his trick until one of Guzzo’s goals was changed to him later in the game, which is funny because we were cheering the entire third period for Guzzo to get what we thought would be his OWN hat trick. Still, Stephen and the rest of the Minutemen looked solid from beginning to end and took care of business early and often. As Matt pointed out after the game, you can tell that Toot didn’t even have to yell at his team too much given how intact his voice was during the postgame interview with Brock Hines.
Last night’s game was a lot uglier, but the result was another win and, more importantly, two conference points and a clinch of at least a tie of the season series against the Huskies. Both teams came out kind of flat and played surprisingly poorly through two periods given the importance of the game for each team. Yet the Minutemen took control of the game in the third after a late power play goal by Mike “The Franchise” Pereira tied the game late in the 2nd off a nice rebound on a King Phillips shot (good to have him back!) and Gracel put UMass ahead for good in the third. The Huskies, to their credit, turned up the intensity at the end, including a scary minute where Mikey almost gave us all a heart attack at least three times trying to clear the puck with NU on the 6-on-5, but Syner’s empty-netter from his own blue line was a thing of beauty, the kind of game-clinching goal that UMass is finally, finally starting to get. Has the worm turned on their inability to close out close games? Fingers crossed. We’ll see what this team is made of with a pair against disappointing Maine and upstart Lowell next weekend…more on that later this week.
(Sidebar: Speaking of ugly, those two puck sluts I relentlessly tweeted about all game long. We’re talking the most disgustingly spray-tanned skanks you’ll ever see, beyond trashed, so completely clueless that they cheered for Northeastern’s first goal of the night. I’m only half-joking when I say that the Mullins Center staff needs to wash and disinfect the boards in front of Section S that these two were grinding on. I’m all for team spirit, but come on now, show the slightest bit of class. I think I’m asking for too much here.)
Lastly, some thoughts on the Rage at the Cage Friday night. I’ll certainly take a comfortable 18-point win any day of the week, no matter who they’re playing, especially how last season finished. It was disheartening to be down by four at halftime to a Southern Conference team, but when you consider one of our key players (Putney) got hurt and missed most of the game (and the team looked visibly shaken for several minutes, and who can blame them given how scary the injury was), and Riley and Morgan were a combined 2-for-2351 (give or take) from the field, putting up 85 points regardless was something I’ll gladly take. The pressure defense was a mixed bag – sometimes it looked stifling, other times it led to easy looks in transition that the Phoenix simply failed to make, but the guys played with a refreshing amount of energy.
Looking at individual players – there was a lot to be pleased with. The biggest story, of course, is the debut of Chaz Williams, who looks like everything we could have possibly dreamed of at point guard. Shooting, court vision, great hands on defense, even some rebounding for a little guy. The spark when he’s on the court reminded me of the Daryl Traynham era, only his game is clearly a step ahead of Daryl’s, plus his defensive strategy isn’t as…ahem…aggressive as Daryl’s. You gotta remember that this team hasn’t had a true point guard for a whole season since C-Lowe (sorry, Gary), and DK’s sloppy implementation of the dribble-drive definitely did not fit Lowe’s game at all. Now we’re finally seeing the benefits of several years of putting together a team and a system that fits the team, and Chaz appears to be the perfect man to quarterback this offense. Aside from that, his game is electrifying – even when UMass was winning early last year, they’ve rarely been fun to watch in the Kellogg era. Chaz is the most exciting player this team’s had since Tony Gaffney, and that’s a BIG plus when it comes to getting the attendance numbers back up.
Aside from Chaz, Terrell Vinson had some great numbers coming off the bench – it’s early, but if this is going to be the year he finally breaks through, this was certainly a good start. The other new guys – Esho and Lalanne – got some minutes, and though both seem pretty raw, they both look like they’ll bring good size. Cady got a longer look than Maxie, and while his awareness needs work, there’s surely some potential going forward. Really, the only negatives you can take from this game were the play of Riley and Morgan. Not only did the offense struggle mightily whenever Chaz left the court, but two of them (Freddy in particular) took some atrocious shots (we’re talking “contested, several feet behind the line with 33 on the shot clock” atrocious). I did think both of them looked a little better on the defensive end, but, well, it’s Elon – these guys weren’t hitting the broad side of a barn. The thing is, we know that both Freddie and Jesse are actually capable of catching fire and hitting these shots, but that doesn’t make it less cringe-inducing when they launch ’em, particularly when everyone else is in a good rhythm. Moreover, if Chaz and Vinson (and to a lesser extent two guys who quietly had great games as well, Javorn Farrell and Sampson Carter) are going to fill the scoring void left by Gurley, the Minutemen can look at their 2-guards’ shooting as a bonus. Last year, UMass only rallied past Rider on opening night because Riley and Gurley caught fire on those kinds of shots. Friday proved that UMass can beat an inferior team without clicking on all cylinders, something that wasn’t necessarily the case the past few years. Hopefully the two of them can find their shot as the season goes on, because if they’re on, this offense looks pretty damn good.
Next up for the Minutemen – hey, how ’bout that – the Northeastern Huskies come to town tomorrow night. I don’t anticipate that the buzz of opening night will necessarily translate to a good Monday night turnout against an America East foe, but for now, I’m not concerned about attendance. I am a slightly bit concerned about Putney’s injury, and I doubt we’ll see him in this week’s games, but I’m actually confident that UMass can take care of business against NU and NJIT without him, and that he can be back as UMass goes for 4-0 at BC. Jinxes be damned – in Chaz we trust.
Kubbie Points for the weekend:
Max: DeAngelo (Friday), Phillips (Saturday)
The UMass Minutemen are undefeated on the 2011-2012 season!!!!!!
Okay, but f’real now, a frustrating way to start the season. For stretches, the Mass Attack looked like clearly the best team on the ice, something we saw very little of last year in Non-Lowell D1 (NLD1 for future reference) competition. The power play struck on the first try. Syner had some help from Pereira and Auvenshine in the “holy shit that kid can fly” department. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou looked like he’s at least fully back from the concussion and played well in his own zone. Kevin Boyle made a number of spectacular saves. The PK unit managed to kill off TWO 5-on-3 opportunities of about a minute and a half apiece in one period.
Alright, I want to leave some positives to end on a good note with. So here are the negatives:
1) The team falling asleep with the lead. Granted, they didn’t HAVE many leads last year, but when they did, a recurring theme of last year’s squad was the inability to keep those leads. One of the things I keep harping on about this season is that the team should be learning, from trial and (last year, mostly) failure, how to hold late leads. (Protip: It doesn’t include “suddenly forgetting how to do simple things like flip a puck out of the defensive zone when nobody is anywhere near you and you have clock to kill off.”) The team turned it on big-time in OT, but if they had just played like that in the 3rd period, there wouldn’t have BEEN an overtime.
2) With all apologies to Mr. Carzo…it’s hard to imagine anyone having a worse game in every single facet of the game than Rocco did. I don’t know if he was injured, or sick, or something, but he looked even more than last year like a distant shell of the impressive kid we saw at the start of his freshman year. I can’t possibly imagine him playing next weekend if Toot has other healthy bodies at his disposal. He looked lost from the first minute, and his failure to clear the puck in the final 20 seconds single-handedly cost UMass a point in the standings. It sucks because his aforementioned hot start as a freshman proves that he’s got potential. Whether he can realize it remains to be seen. I’d like to think he’s going to have to work to earn back playing time after this showing though.
3) Much like the Bruins on opening night, we were super-psyched that UMass cashed in its first power play after such an utterly abysmal season last year. (By the way, the football secondary has replaced the power play as this year’s “common weakness between UMass and its Boston sports counterpart that is going to drive Max insane all season long.”) And, like the Bruins, the rest of opening night was more of the same on the man advantage. Especially in the later stretches of the game, when UMass had a few chances to put the game away in the 3rd with a power play score, there was way too much passiveness and reluctance to shoot. I do think the power play looked improved early on, so hopefully there’s more of that and that the passiveness is just part of the “not closing games” problem. Fingers crossed.
But before we go writing this year off as “here we go again,” let’s get back to the plus side. Again, Kevin Boyle was quite impressive, going toe-to-toe in his D1 debut with Chris Rawlings (who, lest we forget, is one of the best in the conference and who had some stand-on-his-head moments of his own that are goals on other nights). Yes, Northeastern is a mediocre-at-best (and likely, pretty bad) team missing a few bodies (Quailer and Ferreiro served suspensions). But UMass was without one of its most important players (Hobbs), another guy who I think is going to play a key role this year (Power), and started a freshman goalie, on the road, on opening night. The Huskies elevated their game in the third period and played like they had something to prove (which, remember, they most certainly do). And UMass was one clear, and/or 2.8 seconds of not letting a fluke bounce go in, from winning in spite of that awful 3rd period. They also damn near won it in overtime a couple times.
Frustrating? Of course. But here’s what it really boils down to: they got a point on the road. And last year, I guarantee you, they would have found a way to lose this game. It’s progress, it’s a point, it’s one game out of 27 in the conference and UMass is undefeated in league play. There’s work to be done, but there was enough to build on. Next weekend the Minutemen will face two opponents that they should beat. Let’s see what we’ve got after that.
Kubbie Kounter Player of the Game:
Max: Kevin Boyle
One of the new features of the year will be the Kubbie Kounter, where each of us will award the UMass player who most exemplified the Doug Kublin standard of consistency and excellence with a Kubbie point. We will keep a running tally throughout the season in the Kubbie Kounter feature. For me, you’ve got to give Boyle his due for stepping up in his first game and keeping UMass in the game on the road. He held off the Huskies on two extended 5-on-3 chances and generally looked comfortable in net. Only one of his goals against struck me as bad; the first goal is on a play that should have been blown dead and was poked in underneath him, and of course the game-tying goal was a defensive clusterfuck. The middle goal was a byproduct of coming out too far and giving up a lousy rebound, but in general, he gave a strong first effort and showed a lot of poise. I’m not saying he’s immediately my favorite to get the majority of the playing time, but he was undoubtedly a plus tonight.
Derek: Eddie Olczyk
It’s tough to argue with Kevin Boyle as a choice for Kublin Memorial Player of the Game. He stepped in for Teglia and stepped up big time. It’s also really tough to pass over Conor Sheary, who displayed phenomenal vision out there and racked up two assists, and TJ Syner, who had a goal and killed off some serious penalty time. So why would I pick Eddie Olczyk, a guy with zero points on the night, an even plus/minus rating, and a 0-5 faceoff record? The reason is his stellar penalty killing. Olczyk anchored the two 5-on-3 kills that kept UMass in the lead. Not only did Olczyk & Co. hold the Huskies off the board on those two kills, but they made sure the onus did not fall on Kevin Boyle to save the game; they allowed only one shot on goal during the two 5-on-3 kills. Props to the whole 5-on-3 unit for that and props to Eddie Olczyk for proving that a guy can make no statistical “contributions” whatsoever and still have one of the most important (if not THE most important) performances in a game.
Matt: Conor Sheary
Connor consistently looked like the best player on the ice, making some amazing jukes to keep the puck in the offensive zone, and he dropped two dimes to boot. I’m definitely on the Sheary Bandwagon.
Honorary Kubbie Point for Katie, Matt’s girlfriend, for running down the douchebag who snatched my jersey off my shoulder outside Matthews after the game and ran down the street, forcing us to pursue through a forest of dumb-as-trees Northeastern kids. (Really, “UMass sucks,” “losers,” and “state school!” are the best insults you’ve got? A lot of them legitimately thought they won the game. I thought they were supposed to be smart and that we were the classless ones?) Luckily, drunk kids have difficulty with distant sprints, and though I couldn’t even see where the kid was, Katie and her friend (a Northeastern girl!) tracked him down. In heels. So, props to her for that.
I’d be a lot more upset if, obviously, we didn’t get the jersey back, but whatever. It’s probably best for all parties involved that we didn’t manage to track the kid down afterward. I’m just saying – don’t throw stones in glass houses about our student fans when your kids are stealing $100 jerseys unprovoked. To their credit, we ran into quite a few Northeastern fans after the game in our barhopping who were much classier and I won’t let a few bad apples represent a whole school in my mind.
I forgot to have Derek and Matt make their selections
, so I will add their picks later. The Kubbie Kounter will be incorporated into the site redesign this week.
Oh yes, I did say site redesign. Between work and my pending move to greater Manchester NH, I’ve been a bit behind on this, but I fully intend to have a new logo and site design in place before the home opener. (The first step, as you may have noticed, is our move to become fightmass.com. Now you can’t use the “unwieldy WordPress URL” excuse for not spreading the word about our site to fellow UMass fans. NO EXCUSES.) Stay tuned, we’ll be, ehh, right back.
‘Twas an interesting weekend for the Big Two teams on campus this weekend.
As Matt so elegantly covered, it didn’t get off to the greatest start ever. That NESN Northeastern game was embarrassing, though maybe not quite the disgrace that I made it out to be on Twitter (notably, a half-pitcher of Sam Adams Winter from my favorite local hockey-themed bar may have had something to do with my reaction, or the fact that instead of TC’s commentary, I got to listen to something even worse the whole game: loud country music). I still think if they play that game ten times, nine out of those ten times Northeastern would have scored a LOT more goals than they did. Matthews is a tough place to play, though, and one relatively lopsided win there last year (with us present!) against their backup goalie should not obscure the fact that it’s a very tough place for visitors to play at.
Saturday night was a much better effort, plain and simple, and a game UMass easily could have won had Rawlings not stood on his head. That he was not named one of the three stars is truly a testament to how worthless the star-naming ceremony really is. He is singlehandedly the reason Northeastern was able to escape with a point, severely denting UMass’s chances of ascending to the sixth seed. Yeah, UMass’s power play unit, for the most part, was a pretty epic fail, almost dribble-drive-esque in its pure ineffectiveness. But the fervor with which the Minutemen attacked the Huskies net in overtime shows that, even with all the injuries, there’s still a lot of heart and energy with this bunch. Whether the youngsters’ skills are developing with all the experience of playing such close games week after week is the obvious question mark facing this team as the well-documented gauntlet of February and March (only one unranked opponent!) approaches. The good news is that John Muse and Joe Cannata are good, but they’re not Chris Rawlings. The bad news is that their respective teams score like nobody’s business, so here’s hoping the defense continues to play well, as they have since the near-collapse in Lowell.
Sunday, I got to take in my first basketball game of the season in person, with Matt and his dad. We sat near the center of general admission, rather than in the student section, marking the first time I’ve done that since my freshman year, an era where Stephane Lasme was blocking thirty shots a game, James Life was getting flown into games in three helicopters, and the NIT was a letdown, not a target. And I’ve got to say, we got pretty much what I expect from this team at this point against the rest of the middle-of-the-pack A-10 teams: a grind-out, ugly game, entertaining in spurts, which the Minutemen ultimately finished with a barely-double-digit victory.
And while I did indeed tweet that this game “set basketball back 30 years” during the stretch where UMass went some ten minutes without scoring and still managed to not trail in the first half, I can’t deny that I saw things that I liked. Gurley, Farrell, and the Carters grabbing rebounds almost at will at times. Vinson’s mobility getting better by the game. Hell, even CDP stealing the ball and getting perhaps the world’s ugliest “fast-“break basket of all time, one where it felt like he might not even beat the 35-second clock. And yes, I loved that the guys managed to get Martell and Malesevic in foul trouble within approximately five minutes, although that was more a product of URI playing too aggressively with an already-thin rotation as well as some overzealous refs on both sides. Most of all, the development of Gurley into a fringe NBA prospect – something absolutely unthinkable last year – has been really fun to watch. The Gurley Show taking over in the second half of games is becoming more and more common every week.
On the flip side, there’s that whole “setting basketball back 30 years” thing, so let’s get to the gripes. Like all the wide-open 3s that Rhody continued to get, particularly to Richmond, who was the closest thing they had to a hot hand the whole game. Like our team’s insistence on missing one or two alley-oop attempts to Hova and/or Big Skinny per game (even when they actually caught them this time, they had to come down with the ball first), and missing like three straight dunks in the second half when Rhody took its short-lived only lead of the game. Like the mind-numbing stretch where I felt like eight straight possessions consisted of “pass the ball around for 20 seconds, then have Riley chuck a contested three.”
Look, I knew without seeing a game in person that the relationship between him and the fans wasn’t great, but honestly – people were groaning every time he even touched the ball. And that’s before he missed that set of all three free throws. I don’t know how much of that is Freddie trying to shoot his way out of a slump, and how much is DK telling Freddie to shoot his way out of a slump. Right now, Riley is what he is – a knock-down shooter who can be absolutely dominating when he gets into his rhythm. What the coaches need to figure out is a way for this offense to be effective even with the point guards (Farrell included) in foul trouble, as was the case when the Riley chuck-a-thon began. Unfortunately, since it seems Traynham isn’t walking through that door, this is a problem that might not be fully resolved until next year, when Morgan is ready to play, Chaz is eligible and Laguerre arrives. But we’ll see. Riley was certainly more effective in his more traditional role in the second half, for what it’s worth.
All-in-all, though, these are pretty good times. UMass has won 4 out of 5, which ESPNBoston thought highly enough of to call “rolling!” Kind of like my eyes right now! Nah, I’ve got to say I’m fairly pleased with the squad as a whole. They’re beating who they should beat, an upgrade over last year for sure, and they’re able to even win games like this one in spite of the kinks. For the most part, the defense is doing a real nice job. The energy level of the team? That’s there, too. Dunking, free throw shooting, and shot selection…those are things DK can draw from this game as fodder for what needs to get fixed.
Next up on the docket: at Saint Louis, at Saint Joes, home vs. George Washington. Two roadies against bad teams, then a home game against that oft-mentioned middle tier. This is the warmup for the Next Huge Home Game (TM), a visit from the unbeaten-in-conference Duquesne Dukes. If, if if if if if if if if if, UMass continues to play like they’ve been doing lately, they can be 7-2 in league play when the Dukes come a-calling.
P.S. I have a lot of observations – not all of them are negative! – about the student sections, marketing department, and the game presentation in the Mullins Center in general, but since this is already a TL;DR kind of post, I’ll save that for a bit later in the week. Probably Tuesday-Wednesday when this incoming snowpocalpyse hits.
Well, it can only go up from here.
Last night’s 3-0 loss against the Huskies of Northeastern was not as bad as the score may indicate. Make no mistake, UMass was beaten soundly and in no way deserved to win last night, but it was in no way a colossal failure on par with the now infamous “3 goals in 38 seconds” game.
In the begining, prospects looked bleak. UMass was outplayed soundly in the first period, giving up 13 shots, all of which had a chance to find the back of the net. Dainton stood on his head this period, and despite the loss, deserves alot of credit for keeping the game in reach for the minutemen. On offence, it was slim pickings. Unable to create a sustained offensive oppertunity, the minutemen got a few cheap shots on the rush, but never made me feel like they had a legitimate scoring chance. Things were bleak heading into the second period, although the game was still tied.
Coming out of intermision, the minutemen continued to play uninspired, lazy hockey. Early in the 2nd they gave up the inevitable goal off an absolutely horid attempt at a clear by Kublin (et tu Kubby?). However, coming off that goal, UMass controled most of the period, generating good opertunities but always being an inch or two away from a much needed goal. And that, my friends, is the problem with the team last night. Close was never close enough. Every pass that would have led to an easy goal was a few inches off, every rebound was barely blocked by Rawlings (who played out of his mind yesterday) and every break was broken up by some small mistake. Terrible execution.
It was over when the second NU goal went in top shelf against Dainton (no thanks to the defence which gave up the uncontested shot off the rush) which the fans at home wern’t able to see because of a NESN comercial break. After that, it was more “almost’s” that never made me feel like we had a chance. It was hopeless, and by the time we gave up the empty netter, we were defeated and depressed (as oposed to when we arived, when we were ripping high)
That being said, I still remain optimistic about tonight’s game at the Bill. UMass could have (and should have) easily won the first meeting against the Huskies, and if we play as well as we did last night, with a few easy bounces we could easily leave victors. The key too this team has long been limit the mental mistakes, and tonight will be no different. Don’t turn over the puck in your own zones, don’t give away easy breakaways, and for the love of god, stay in the net Dainton. I expect a goal or two, but its not going to be a high scoring game by any means. We need to beat Rawlings when he gives us the oppertunity (which he did last night). If we can make the most of these, and have Dainton keep on playing as well as he has, we should win.
Not that it hasn’t been said before, but this weekend is extremely important for the minutemen. There are no easy games ahead (Providence is not going to be easy this year, if the haloween weekend was any indication) and we desperately need points in order to make the playoffs in a respectable seed. At this point, standings wise, tonights game isn’t that important. Its only one game against a team I realisticly don’t expect to catch up to. However, if the minutemen want to be respectable in this conference, they need a win tonight. I think they can do it, but this team has consistantly proved my optimism wrong. Lets hope they turn it around
- NESN didn’t have a scorebar up for the first 15 minutes of the game. Good job NESN. Collosal fail.
- We didn’t give up a PP goal last night. Silver lining?
- Tonight is 80’s night at the Mullins Center, which brings up a mixture of emotions. Does this mean that Northeastern will be relevant in Hockey East and UMass won’t exist? Will the swesties be out in full skankish force? Will free neon sunglasses (Ugggggg) draw T shirt like crowds? Will anyone who actively dresses for 80’s night actually be born in the 80’s?
- Note: because of the glasses, 2 goals by any UMass player will herein be refered to as a “glass trick” where we all throw our terrible glasses on the ice. If it happens, you must do it. Matt commands you.
- Saturday Night game+morning shift at work=more time to pregame=hammered bloggers. With that in mind, please understand if my tweets tonight are misspelt nonsense
- If basketball is the only team with a win this weekend I’ll be sad. Thats more of a statement about my love for hockey than disenfranchisement with Basketball, but still
- I hope we win tonight, sunglasses are hard to drunkienly set on fire on the walk home
- I wrote this at work, so apoligized for the terrible wording/spelling/opinions
See you at the Bill kids!
Check out our liveblog of tonight’s UMass Hockey game at Northeastern. If you don’t, you’ll be stuck paying attention to Tom Caron’s awful commentary. Live blog starts at 7. Do it.
P.S. See Mark, we can rip off things that other college hockey blogs do/used to do.
Northeastern Huskies (7-10-5(6-7-4HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-12-3(5-7-3HEA))
This weekend’s home-and-home scrap with Northeastern could be a crucial one in the Hockey East race. Our Minutemen are coming off of two of their most successful games. With a four-point weekend, the Mass Attack could actually move ahead of Northeastern in the standings, even though the Huskies have played two more Hockey East games than the Minutemen. As noted in a fantastic post by our fellow bloggers at The Gut, Northeastern has the toughest remaining Hockey East schedule. If the Minutemen could get ahead of the Huskies this weekend, there could be no looking back. Equally important is the fact that UMass has a very difficult remaining schedule, as well. All but one of the Mass Attack’s remaining games after this weekend are against BC, BU, Maine, and Merrimack. Any way you look at it, this is a very important weekend for UMass Hockey.
Northeastern is a team with a good combination of size and shiftiness. Two of the smaller players on the team, seniors Wade MacLeod (11G/11A/22Pts) and Tyler McNeely (7G/10A/17Pts), are their two top scorers. On the other hand, their defensive corps (although small in number) is quite large in terms of physical stature; only one defenseman under 6 feet has played for the Huskies this year. This size is backed by sophomore standout goalie Chris Rawlings (6-8-5, 2.27GAA, .928 save%). As NESN is quite fond of noting, Rawlings has never lost to UMass. On the off chance Rawlings doesn’t start both games, their backup, Clay Witt (1-2-0, 1.57GAA, .938save%), is no slouch either.
With this size and these backstops, one would expect Northeastern to play a solid defense-first game. And one would be correct; Northeastern’s 2.29GA/G in conference play is the third lowest in Hockey East. Only Boston College (2.28GA/G) and New Hampshire (1.73GA/G; Matt DiGirolamo is, notably, ridiculously good) have allowed less goals per game in Hockey East play. For comparison, UMass is giving up 2.67GA/G against Hockey East foes. And only one Huskie defenseman (Drew Ellement (-4)) has a negative plus/minus rating. What the Huskies sacrifice for this defensive prowess is some offensive firepower. Other than MacLeod and McNeely, only Mike McLaughlin (7G/3A/10Pts) has more than 4 goals on the year. They also don’t get much offense from their defensemen. Only 2 Husky d-men have multiple goals (Anthony Bitetto (2G/11A/13Pts and Jamie Oleksiak 2G/4A/6Pts). For comparison, UMass has 4 in Phillips, Rowe, Marcou, and Kublin. (Even though Phillips and Marcou are possibly injured, the point is that the system the Minutemen play in allows for offensive contributions from everywhere on the ice.) The result of all these numbers is that Northeastern only scores 2.47 goals a game in Hockey East play. Only UML (2.22GPG), Providence (2.20GPG), and Vermont (1.73GPG) score fewer goals in conference play. UMass scores on Hockey East opponents at a clip of 2.87 goals per game.
The Mass Attack comes into the game hot. They have won 3 of their last 4 while riding a hot goaltender in Paul Dainton (6-7-2, 2.63GAA, .919save%). However, these four games were against Lowell and Vermont. Prior to those four games, UMass had lost five straight. The last team UMass beat before beating UML and UVM? UVM. In fact, ALL FIVE UMASS WINS IN HOCKEY EAST PLAY ARE AGAINST UML AND UVM. If this team wants to be taken seriously, it needs to beat a Hockey East opponent who is not a colossal joke. This could be the weekend to do it, given the positive momentum from the wins against aforementioned shells of teams. Northeastern also comes in riding a hot streak. They have gone 4-1-1 in their last 6 games, including beating UMass thanks to a third period collapse by the Minutemen. Rawlings had two shutouts in this period, but also gave up an inexplicable three goals to Vermont in the one loss.
One more note: as mentioned to me by Matt, the Bill will be hosting a [shitty] concert on Friday night. The mercury is supposed to get down to 11 that night/Saturday morning, so hopefully the ice will recover. If it doesn’t, it could be bad news. A slow, sloppy ice surface would fit the Huskies style of play far too nicely. I believe the key to the game is to be extremely aggressive. I mean, on-the-verge-of-recklessness-offensive-aggression. Why do I say this? Well, it’s because Northeastern usually dresses only 5 defensemen. If the Mass Attack can wear out the Husky defense, Northeastern’s defensive edge will disappear. On the defensive side of the ice, MacLeod and McNeely need to be taken away as offensive options. To me, this means playing Kublin and Shea whenever possible against Northeastern’s top line. This might be difficult during Friday’s game, but when UMass has home ice and last change on Saturday, there will be no excuse for not matching Kublin and Shea against MacLeod and McNeely.
If all goes well, we may dare to dream of a sweep and sliding up a spot in the standings. But, if we cannot sweep, two points is absolutely essential for anyone to take this team seriously. Providence is playing UNH this weekend, so losing position in the standings is doubtful, but a backslide is definitely not what we want to see out of this team right now.
Aside: Harpoon’s current release of its acclaimed 100 barrell series is entitled Catamount Maple Wheat. Let’s hope the beer tastes better than their hockey team plays.
Aside pt. 2: Apparently, we have a Facebook page. If we don’t get 100 likes by Tuesday, Matt’s going to light Outlaw Pete from Minuteman Nation on fire. So, yeah, unless you want Outlaw Pete to get extra crispy, you should probably like that shit.
Paul Dainton was named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Dainton stopped 52 of 54 shots over the weekend (.963 save%) en route to a split with Vermont. UML forward Patrick Cey was named Hockey East Player of the Week for his two goal, one assist weekend. Northeastern defenseman Anthony Bitetto was Hockey East’s Rookie of the Week. Bitetto had a goal and an assist on Saturday against Maine.
Danny Hobbs and Conor Sheary were named Hockey East Top Performers for the week. As noted implicitly in this humble blog, and more explicitly here, Hobbs has had a couple of disappointing years here at UMass and his performance is key to the team this year. Fortunately for us, Hobbs has been heating up of late, and the Hockey East press release noted that he has had 6 goals and 9 assists in his last 11 games.
We’ll have a [much wordier] post tomorrow previewing this weekend’s crucial home-and-home with the Northeastern Huskies, who are within reach in the standings and come into this weekend’s series with one of the better young goaltenders in Hockey East. NESN is already predicting that Rawlings will dominate the Mass Attack. We’ll offer our take on that and more tomorrow.
With all due apologies to The Gurley Show, Census-Designated Place (our new nickname for the downsized Big City Bailey), Coach Kellogg’s hair, and the rest of our slightly-improved basketball team, it is time to take hockey coverage into full gear. (Frankly, I have no desire to talk about that Richmond game anyway.)
UMass has won 3 out of 4, they’ve returned to respectability in conference play after that god-awful start, and the bandwagon is looking as inviting as ever. Could this be the year they pull a reversal, and have a monster second half after an awful first half instead of vice versa? …Okay, even our glasses aren’t that maroon. But a glance at the standings will show that our boys have slowly been creepin’ on up the ladder the last few weeks:
(EDIT: formatting sucks. Just go here. Yes, I’m lazy, but so are you if you can’t click a link.)
As you’ll notice, the Minutemen, thanks to a 5-1-0 record against the Lowells and Vermonts of the world, are actually above the 8th place position they so calamitously backed into last year(EDIT: we ended up 7th last year, Max is a JV blogger -Matt). Notably, we were picked to miss the playoffs, along with Lowell, by seemingly every season preview. Instead, the team could find themselves as high as 5th (!) depending on the outcome of this coming weekend, with two games against Northeastern (and Merrimack getting Vermont twice).
Now, objectively, we know that we can’t expect UMass to take these two games against Northeastern, and that hoping for a split is the most rational thing. But we’re optimists, damnit, and we also just watched UMass unleash an epic ass-whooping on Vermont sans two players (Lecomte and Phillips) who had been playing quite well offensively in past weeks. We see guys like Syner and Pereira emerging as offensive forces, while Hobbs and Langeraap are finally starting to show live up to their recruiting hype as scoring threats. It hurt to watch highlights of last year’s similar shellacking at Gutterson and seeing just how fun Jimmy and Casey were to watch when they were playing well, but with the mix of young and old, this team makes up for its pure star power with a much more balanced attack. Different guys are stepping up on different nights. Last year, it was the SWARM line, or Will Ortiz, or nothing.
We’ll have more specifics later in the week on the Huskies. But UMass, save for the Jekyll-Hyde act of Rob Madore shutting them down on Friday night, has seemed to make big strides since the debacle a few weeks ago at the Mullins Center, where they let a seemingly easy win slip away in a snap. You know the boys are gonna want revenge. They have had some recent success at Matthews in past years, and they’ve got a hopefully raucous crowd awaiting them for the first home game of the semester Saturday night. Go out and do your part as always to FTFB (fill the fuckin’ Bill! I’m coining it) and hell, if you live in the Boston area, or even if you don’t, round up a posse and make the roadtrip. Matthews is a great arena to visit, and there’ll always be plenty of UMass fans in a Boston-area game. We certainly are considering it depending on how things shake out schedule- and money-wise. UMass has a real opportunity here, just 3 points back. A sweep would not only secure a season series tiebreaker and likely put more distance between UMass and the dreaded playoff spot cutoff, but remember – UMass has two games in hand on Northeastern, and obviously still will after this series. Again, it won’t be a cakewalk against a hot goalie like Rawlings, but the defense and Dainton have been mighty impressive the last 3 games after that near-meltdown in Lowell.
Looking further down the line, UMass admittedly has its work cut out for it. 3 games against BC are gonna be a chore, but we’re due for at least one win against them after the last few years. One more big home game against a very beatable BU looms as well. We can beat NEU and PC at home. It’s the three games left against Merrimack (the next foe in the way, provided this weekend goes well) that loom the biggest, I think. Two of those are at Lawler Arena, a historic house of horrors for the Minutemen, and the Warriors are legit…but again, sometimes, you just gotta believe. The last two of the season are at home against Maine, and if things continue to go well for UMass, well, who knows? I’ve seen that scenario determine home ice between these teams before. Current students, I guarantee you – you’ve never seen the Bill rock like it did that weekend.
All of this being said…it’s my job to get ahead of myself. It’s UMass’s job to do just the opposite, or all of this speculation will be for naught. Personally, I think there’s a bright future ahead for this core of young players, and if nothing else, it’s been fun watching them improve and mature as the year’s gone on. But my co-writers are seniors, and thus not around for the magic of the NCAA run in 06-07. I just hope they – not to mention Langeraap, Kublin, Dainton, and the rest of the seniors – somehow get the opportunity to see this team do something special before they graduate. (D’awwwwww.)
P.S. The title is a reference to this. Note to self: somehow get the other writers to watch Parks and Rec so that Ron Swanson can become our official mascot. #impossibleisnothing
Like the city of Lowell itself, last night was an ugly clusterfuck of a night. UMass comes away with a lucky as hell 5-4 win, but its a real shame that points have to be given out after a game like last night’s. Our defense was out of position and slow (highlighted by several players simply falling over with provocation, leading flag guy to comment “maybe they aren’t used to playing on good ice”) and scared the ever living shit out of me all game. Perhaps by simply watching this team all year I expect every shot on net to be a goal, but every time Lowell got the puck into our end I was in a perpetual Bob Dylan “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh” (the official sound of Fight Mass). I have zero confidence in our defense, and just looking at them execute simple hockey things like limit angles on a 2 on 2 is terrifying.
Lets be completely honest with each other here: If we were playing any team without “Lowell” on their sweaters we would have lost by 8. Too many good shots given up, far too much standing around. And that is whats scary, if we can only eek out a win against one of the worst hockey east teams in recent memory, what does that mean for the next 3 months where we are not playing the crack capital of Massachusetts?
Our ceiling this year is 6th in Hockey East, which after watching this team regress over the last month (something that should not be happening for such a young team) I have little faith we can do. If we are going to put ourself into position for making the playoffs, its going to be done in the next few weeks. First off, we need 2 points tonight, and as a personal preference, maybe we can earn them tonight. No falling asleep at the wheel and giving up 3 unanswered goals. No offensive complacency. NO SHORTHAND GOALS! Beat Lowell, show me something, anything, and then we can think about the future. Next week its a pointable weekend (thats my new phrase, remember that) against Vermont who is somehow worse than us in the HE standings (I refuse to believe that there are 2 worse teams than big brother UMass and ugly sister). Yes its on the road, but we need some points against the basement of Hockey East. After that, its a home and home with Northeastern, who is beatable (I watched 59 minutes of the last time we met and it went pretty well) and then a whole bunch of games I would be stupid to expect points from.
If there was ever a time for UMass to not suck this year, its these next few weeks. Maybe, despite the absolute shit play on the ice, last night’s win will wake up our beloved minutemen and turn this stretch around. An ugly win, yes, but maybe, just maybe, a win to stop the losing streak is all our boys need to start playing with some confidence (dear god I hope so). Get some points over the next few weekends, solidify a spot in the playoffs, and maybe give a BC or BU a scare for one game in the quarterfinals (is it too much to ask for a single playoff win in my UMass career?). We are not hard to please, UMass hockey, our expectations were low this year, but we only ask for a few things. Show us flashes of something to come, be entertaining, and for the love of god don’t be Lowell.
- I’m really disappointed Tsongas doesn’t suck anymore. The concourses may be planned out worse than Lowell’s recruiting strategy, but its still one of the better barns in Hockey East right now. The scoreboard is amazing, they finally got the lighting right, and there is no more dumb blimp. Good job Lowell (too bad we had to pay for it (lol taxpayer joke (no but seriously we’re pissed (does this mean we can have a nice football stadium?)))
- Does anyone remember when Darren Rowe was alive? That was fun.
- The sheer lack of shooting after the whistle and embellishment calls is disgraceful this year. Why can’t new Casey Wellman do that for me?
- Lowell has consistently been the best away game to be a loud asshole at. There is the perfect balance of hatred for you and knowledge that they won’t do anything that makes yelling at Lowell rewarding. Also, being a fan of the away team when they win in the last 15 seconds is a feeling that I hope everyone (except Lowell fans) gets to experience. The mix between the deflated quiet of the home crowd and our sheer jubilation was amazing
- I would like to send an official apology to the ice is life (RIP). I was an oversensitive asshole hellbent on trolling and you are hilarious. Also, misery loves company.
- On that note, Lowell has banners to remind us of all the years where weezer was still relevant and Lowell made the NCAAs
Apologies in advance for all the spelling errors and terrible writing. I’m a terrible blogger, get over it.
See you at the Bill kids,
To quell the vicious attacks I have been going through at every home game from other writers *cough Derek*, I have decided to update the fans on where the Mass Attack sits in their season so far.
Here are the current standings:
With the least amount of in-conference games, the minutemen are actually in a good place considering the shaky start. We sit within the playoff bracket, one win behind Northeastern, with 4 games in hand. Now I think that the term “must-win” gets thrown around a little too much since in Hockey East, every game is a must-win to do well, but here I go anyways.
We have at least one game in hand against every other team and in some cases, 5 games in hand. This leverage could easily skyrocket us in the rankings. The way I see it, winning against Maine is going to be a crucial step in setting ourselves up for the post season.
Now, let’s look at who is likely to lead us to our post season. It starts with Michael Pereira who is +9 on the season and leads the team in scoring with 7 goals and 6 assists. Another key player is Adam Phillips, who despite only having 8 shots on goal, has 3 Goals and two of them are game winning. Paul Dainton has also been playing well of late and his stats have started to come back up from their lows earlier this season. He is now at a .915 save % and has a GAA of 2.87.
We really need to see more results from Brian Keane in the next few Hockey East games. He has played in 11 games this season, has an assist to his name, but also a -4 rating. This might have been acceptable when almost everyone on the team had a negative +/-, but now that the team has started to put the puck in the net on a more consistent basis, we need our seniors to start pulling their weight a little more.
Another player who is completely slacking of late is Michael Marcou. Marcou wears an A on his sweater, but also carries a -5 rating as a defenseman. He does have 7 points, 2 of those goals, but some of his shots of late have been very wild and maybe he should continue the family tradition of being the playmaker, rather than the goal scorer.
All in all we finally have a team that we do not have to cringe thinking about. As fans, it looks like we can move past the loss to Army and move on to bigger and more important games that will actually count for us. We sit at 45 in the RPI (http://siouxsports.com/hockey/rankings/rpi/), which is much better than the 54 we were in not too long ago.
Here are the upcoming games as we look into the break:
At Maine 12/12 4:00
At Wisconsin 12/30, 12/31 7:00 Central
vs. Northeastern 1/7 7:00
vs. New Hampshire 1/8 7:00
We could count the two at Wisconsin’s as throwaways, practice, or momentum games, since our chances of getting an NCAA bid this season without winning Hockey East is slim to none. But the upcoming games against Maine, Northeastern and New Hampshire will be very important to finishing the season strong.
I also don’t think we can have a second half meltdown since there isn’t all that much to melt….
~Ben (Flag Guy)