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.
Well, you can’t blame this weekend on lack of effort. Despite being down 5-1, UMass was able to get two goals in the third period in tonight’s game against Northeastern.
Northeastern’s Robbie Vrolyk got it going 5 minutes into the first period. With the puck behind the net, Drew Daniels threw it out front where it was shot in by Vrolyk. UMass was able to answer with Michael Marcou getting his seventh collegiate goal from Lecomte and Langeraap at 16:39.
Northeastern netted 2 goals in the second. The first came on a power play after Casey Wellman was called for Contact to the Head High Sticking. The second goal came in the middle of the frame on even strength.
James Marcou started the third with a tripping call, and Northeastern was able to capitalize with 0:02 left in the power play. Then, on a 4-on-4, NEU netted another one. UMass wasn’t done as James Marcou’s shot bounced off Rawlings and Danny Hobbs was able to put it home. Northeastern got a PP goal to get the 6-point touchdown (or two field goals). The final goal was scored by Will Ortiz from Casey Wellman on a shorthanded breakaway with 5 minutes left in the third.
As much as the effort was there, the discipline was not. UMass could not seem to stay out of the box with 11 penalties for 33 minutes. Northeastern had 9 penalties for 18 minutes, and was able to capitalize on 3/9 power plays.
UMass’ penalties ultimately cost them the game as they were constantly on the defensive. The minutes included some bad penalties (too many men on the ice in the first, a bench minor in the third, and fighting with a game disqualification, halfway through the third).
The bench minor came after a tripping call on James Marcou, followed by a hitting after the whistle call on Casey Wellman. Toot was upset with the calls and was trying to talk to the refs, who would not respond. He continued screaming, which drew the bench minor.
Despite all of this, I was able to leave the arena with my head held extremely high. UMass played a great game despite what the scoreboard might say. They came out and played with a lot of effort and kept working hard throughout the third period. It was a fun game to watch, and there was a lot of great playing by UMass.
Some other key points to the game were that the NEU pep band wasn’t there. The band gets quite annoying when they continue to play after the puck drops. Also, the plastic horn was missing in the student section. Maybe Northeastern got wind that they violate NCAA regulations? The horn arguably was replaced with a giant, hick-sized triangle that could bring the country redneck out of any Northeastern fan. (Also, I felt like it was callin’ ya’ll fans t’ dinnah!)
UMass currently sits in 4th place (tied with Boston University). However, BU has a game in hand, giving them the edge on UMass. At this time, we are sitting in 15th place in the USCHO Pairwise rankings.
What does that mean for us? Next weekend we’ve got to sweep Merrimack. They’re coming off a win against Vermont, and looking to get into the Hockey East playoffs. We’re also going to need other teams to help us get a good seed in the Hockey East playoffs. Right now, we would be traveling to Boston to play in the Agganis Arena, where we have lost at twice this year and seem to struggle every time.
Next week is senior night. Come out and support Justin Braun, Dan Meyers, Martin Nolet, Will Ortiz, and Brett Watson, and thank them for their hard work during their time at UMass.
Keep your heads held high, we aren’t out of it yet. Go UMass!
~Ben (Flag Guy)
Tonight the minutemen are heading into Boston to take on the Northeastern Huskies in the Matthews for the second time this season.
The first meeting between the teams had Paul Dainton vs. NEU backup goalie Mountain. UMass held a 4-0 lead into the 3rd period, where Northeastern was able to tally one on the board. It was quite an exciting game to be at for a UMass fan. UMass dominated play and held the Huskies to 13 shots on net.
Then, last night, the Huskies seemed to come back with a similar style play that gave UMass the edge during the first meeting. NEU dominated the play and forced turnovers. That, combined with great goaltending by freshman Rawlings, gave the Huskies the shutout. UMass played hard, but couldn’t find the back of the net. UMass outshot Northeastern 31-18, and Dan Meyers, despite playing well, gave up two goals.
Tonight, we finish off the series (tied 1-1-0) with Northeastern. The Matthews Arena proved too much for last year’s UMass team during the playoffs after losing in overtime in the third game of the series. This year started with a win, and UMass is in need of a win for sure tonight.
Some notes on the Matthews Arena: watch for falling food as the students, who sit above the general crowd, tend to get antsy. Also, watch for the horrible starts and stops by the pep band – they just don’t seem to cut off in time. The student section has a plastic horn, in direct violation of NCAA rules, which starts a “GO NU” cheer for them, it gets old fast. And there always seems to be a few megaphones in the student section.
They just renovated the Matthews and it now has a screen in the middle of the ice, which is probably smaller than most flat panels at Best Buy. The seats are also miserable. I found myself needing to stand because if you sit, your knees hit the seat in front of you (even on shorter people). Parking is of course, Boston parking, and the garage next to the Arena is 20$. Find street parking and avoid the hour of traffic after the game gets out just leaving the parking garage.
Please check the UMass Hockey Facebook Page for game updates tonight and Go UMass!
~Ben (Flag Guy)
Wednesday afternoon, the University of Massachusetts closed its campus for the day in preparation for an anticipated nor’easter. At around 1 PM, we still didn’t have a flake of snow on the ground, but hey, we’re college kids. We’ll take a day off any way we can get one. (Actually, I don’t have classes scheduled on Wednesdays anyway, so it didn’t do much for me, but I’ve been told it was much-appreciated by most everyone else.)
Last night, UMass’s offensive performance was about as potent as the “snowstorm:” it looked poised to strike on paper, it certainly threatened, and there were flurries of offensive chances, but the goal tally matched the total snow accumulation in inches. (Rounded to the nearest whole number. You know what, shut up, it’s my metaphor and I’ll stretch it if I so please.)
Derek said it, and I’m starting to agree: this was almost worse in a lot of ways than losing 7-1, because at least then you know it’s over after one period and you don’t have your heart ripped out at the end. This one was 1-0 until the last five minutes, and UMass was > < this close to knotting it up and breaking the offense funk seemingly a million times. Like the other shutout game, against Madore and Vermont, the boys played well enough to win in basically every aspect of the game – the luck just wasn’t on their side. The defense was miles ahead of where it was against BC and BU the last few games, the offense got plenty of opportunities, but it comes down to finishing, and right now the Minutemen can’t do it. It didn’t help that the hottest goalie in Hockey East played out of his mind, but when your backup goalie holds the other team to one goal for the majority of the game, that’s a game you just have to win. (By the way, even though both of the goals Meyers have up were sort of weak, particularly the second one, you really can’t blame the goalie when you get shut out. Still, unless Dainton’s hurt, I would’ve preferred to see him in net and let Meyers start against Merrimack on senior night if you want to give him a start at all. Just my opinion.)
So, where do we go from here? Six games left, five on the road, and it starts tonight at Matthews. “Must-win” is sort of cliche, and we do play in a league where a team that is completely and totally dead in the water can dominate a team on an absolute roll. But realistically, if UMass gets swept by the Huskies tonight, they can say goodbye to home ice – if they haven’t already. Either way, this whole “Cahoon swoon” thing is getting more and more legitimate as the season continues.
…by the way, hockey aside, it was a pretty good start to the weekend for UMass sports. Softball won, lax opened their season with a win, and basketball actually pulled off one of their recent second-half comeback attempts to beat Duquesne in OT. (Big City’s stat line? 6 minutes. I think DK finally gets it.) The boys are back at home tomorrow afternoon at 4, hopefully they can see what a conference winning streak looks like. (Or any type of UMass winning streak. Sigh.)
Northeastern Huskies (13-12-1 (8-10-1 HEA)) vs. No. 18 UMass Minutemen (16-11-0 (11-9-0 HEA))
What can be said about the recent performance of our beloved Minutemen? It’s been bad. All-around poor performance. The Minutemen are 1-3-0 in their last four games and the only win came at Hockey East basement-dwelling Providence. The Minutemen have scored seven goals in this time and given up seventeen. This translates to 1.75 goals per game for and 4.25 goals per game against. These are both terrible numbers. How many games can you win with an offense scoring one or two goals? Not many. Even fewer when your defense is gives up four. Something really needs to improve for the Minutemen this weekend because they are going up against a goalie in Chris Rawlings who hasn’t allowed more than two goals in his last five games and has only allowed more than two goals twice since 2010 began.
Northeastern’s offense has been anemic this season. The Huskies have averaged only 2.65 goals per game. That’s second worst in the league, behind Providence. If you take away Northeastern’s last two games against Merrimack and Harvard, where they scored five and four goals, respectively, the Huskies haven’t put more than three on the board since a 6-5 overtime loss to UML on January 9th. It has been tough for NEU to find secondary scoring in conference play to back up Tyler McNeely (6-10-16), Wade MacLeod (8-7-15), and Kyle Kraemer (8-7-15). And those three haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire this season, either.
The Huskies aren’t fantastic on defense, either. The team lead in plus/minus is split by three players (Defensemen David Strathman and Jim Driscoll and Forward Robbie Vrolyk) at only +5. They are averaging 29.3 shots per game against in Hockey East play, while only getting 25.4 shots. While this defense isn’t great, its certainly good enough when combined with Chris Rawlings. The numbers don’t look fantastic for Rawlings (.901 save%, 3.03 GAA in Hockey East play), but he has played extremely well in the second half and the numbers are skewed by a loss to Vermont in which he gave up seven goals on only nineteen shots.
We all know the problem with UMass. Ineffective offense and incredibly horrendous defense. When this is combined with a lack of heart, a lack of discipline, and a lack of knowledge of where to be on the ice, the results can be deadly to a season. The Minutemen have the talent to play with anyone in this league, but they tend to give up on games when they get behind and the result has been a record of 0-7-0 when trailing after one period in Hockey East play. They need to keep their heads in all situations and not give up dumb goals. In last week’s game against BC, at least four goals were the fault of the defense. If you give Paul Dainton a chance, he can win games for you. This game is shaping up to be a low scoring one so the Minutemen better play a smart, disciplined game or they will probably lose.
UMass won the previous meeting of these two teams 4-1, but that was against backup goaltender Bryan Mountain and both these teams are too schizophrenic right now for me to even venture a prediction.
Scores UMass Fans Should Keep an Eye On
(For the remainder of the season, this will replace the usual “Interesting Hockey East Games” segment.)
No. 12 Maine (#3 in Hockey East, 24 Points) vs. Boston University (#5 in Hockey East, 18 Points)
No. 12 Maine (#3 in Hockey East, 24 Points) vs. Boston University (#5 in Hockey East, 18 Points)
Other Hockey East Action
No. 20 UMass Lowell vs. No. 10 Boston College
Providence vs. No. 15 New Hampshire
Merrimack vs. No. 17 Vermont
No. 10 Boston College vs. No. 20 UMass Lowell
Merrimack vs. No. 17 Vermont
Also, big ups to the UMass basketball team for a big 84-80 win in OT at Duquesne.
So… is it Friday yet?
Those of you who follow UMass hockey may have noticed that the Minutemen are currently holding on to fourth place in Hockey East. You may also know that fourth place is the last slot for home ice in the Hockey East tournament. Given the precarious position that the Minutemen are in, I decided to review all the other teams in Hockey East whose slots are up in the air. I’ve omitted BC and UNH because they will, almost definitely, finish in the top two spots. I’ve also omitted Merrimack and Providence because, well, they’re bad and should feel bad. I’ll wait until next week to make my predictions, as I’m still not sure of how good some of the more schizophrenic Hockey East teams (UMass, BU, Northeastern) are.
3. Maine Black Bears 14-9-3 (11-6-2 HEA) 24 Points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 @ Boston University
2/13 @ Boston University
2/19 vs. Lowell
2/20 vs. Lowell
2/26 @ Merrimack
2/27 @ Merrimack
3/5 vs. UMass
3/6 vs. UMass
Since the return of Scott Darling, the Black Bears have been terrific. They have gone 3-0-1 in these four games including a sweep of Hockey East leader UNH last weekend. They have a high-powered offense that has averaged 3.73 GPG in Hockey East play this season, and when you combine this with the play of Scott Darling (.916 save%, 2.40 GAA in conference), the Black Bears are a team to be reckoned with. Their remaining schedule may be the most balanced of any team’s in Hockey East. They go to play the schizophrenic Terriers next weekend, who have played very well lately. They then go to play the impotent Jeremy Dehner-less River Hawks and the Merrimack Warriors (who play like a NCAA-tournament team when at home). Their season comes down to a final weekend with our Minutemen. By this time, they may have a spot locked up, but the Minutemen will probably still be fighting for home ice.
4. Massachusetts 16-11-0 (11-9-0) 22 Points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Northeastern
2/13 @ Northeastern
2/19 @ Merrimack
2/20 vs. Merrimack
2/26 @ Boston College
3/5 @ Maine
3/6 @ Maine
Here we go again. After going 11-6-0 (6-4-0 in Hockey East) in the first half of the season with a goal differential 0.70 goals per game, the Minutemen have begun their patented Cahoon Swoon. They have gone 5-5-0 since the mid-season mark (all Hockey East games) and are actually losing the goal differential by 1.71 goals per game. (I’d say these results were skewed by some massive losses, but let’s face it, when you lose a lot of games by a lot of goals, the results are not being skewed, that’s just how bad you are.) The offense has been bad, the goaltending has been questionable (although Dainton has certainly not played as poorly as the numbers would seem to indicate), and the defense has been beyond horrendous. The team also misses savvy defense-oriented role players Mike Lecomte and Doug Kublin. The next four games are key for the Minutemen. They have a two-game series this weekend with a Northeastern team that is getting healthier and better, but these are two games the Minutemen should take. The Mass Attack then faces lowly Merrimack. Merrimack has been very good at home, but UMass cannot afford a split if it is to stay in home ice contention. UMass then goes to BC (I’m not even gonna touch this one). The fate of their playoff run could hinge on the final series of the season in Maine
5. Boston University Terriers 11-12-3 (8-9-2) 18 Points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Maine
2/13 vs. Maine
2/19 @ Providence
2/20 vs. Providence
2/26 @ Vermont
2/28 @ Vermont
3/5 vs. Northeastern
3/6 @ Northeastern
Jack Parker owns Hockey East. Apparently, he decided he wanted a little more drama in his tournament run this year. After going a horrid 4-9-3 (2-7-2 in Hockey East) in the first half, the
Jack Parkers Terriers have gone 7-3-0 in their last ten games, including a record of 6-2-0 in Hockey East. They have an offense that spreads the puck around, with no single superstar, but eleven skaters who have double-digit point totals. Kieran Millan is steadily improving. He is by no means a top-flight goaltender, but he is no longer the reason the Jack Parkers Terriers lose games. After Maine, BU does not have to face a legitimately good opponent this season, meaning they could make a serious run at home ice if they continue to improve.
6. Lowell River Hawks 14-12-2 (8-9-2 HEA) 18 Points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Boston College
2/13 @ Boston College
2/19 @ Maine
2/20 @ Maine
2/26 vs. Providence
2/27 @ Providence
3/5 vs. Vermont
3/6 vs. Vermont
At this point, the River Hawks appear to have played themselves out of home ice contention. After appearing to right the ship with wins over Boston College and Merrimack, Lowell was dealt a crushing blow. Their elite defenseman Jeremy Dehner (a +16 on the season) was diagnosed with a broken hand. Since this massive loss, the River Hawks have gone on to drop their last three games, including losses to Northeastern and Merrimack. Things don’t get better for UML this weekend; they will play the BC Eagles who have been rolling of late, and look unbeatable. Next weekend they’ll have to go to Maine for two games to play a team in the Black Bears who look to have a strong grasp on the no. 3 spot. Even a home-and-home with Providence is doubtful to save UML’s season now.
7. Vermont Catamounts 13-9-4 (7-8-4 HEA), 18 points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/12 vs. Merrimack
2/13 vs. Merrimack
2/19 @ New Hampshire
2/20 @ New Hampshire
2/26 vs. Boston University
2/28 vs. Boston University
3/5 @ Lowell
3/6 @ Lowell
Don’t let the good out of conference record fool you, Vermont is a bad team. The only thing that holds this team together is its defense. The offense is mediocre, at best. Their goaltending is very poor. Rob Madore is the better of the two Catamount netminders and he only has a .902 save% in conference! Their out of conference record has been boosted by wins against the like of Dartmouth and Alabama-Huntsville. The team’s results have been consistently mediocre, and i can not imagine them making a run at home ice. They should get a temporary boost against Merrimack this weekend (although, they couldn’t get four points against lowly Providence last weekend), but I’m not sure this team can muster even a single point over their next four games.
8. Northeastern Huskies 13-12-1 (8-10-1 HEA) 17 Points
Remaining Hockey East Games:
2/13 @ UMass
2/14 vs. UMass
2/19 vs. Boston College
2/21 @ Boston College
2/26 vs. New Hampshire
2/27 @ New Hampshire
3/5 @ Boston University
3/6 vs. Boston University
I thought I’d put Northeastern on this list because they were improving. Chris Rawlings has played really well down the stretch. In fact, he has only given up more than two goals once (to Vermont on January 29th) since he gave up six in an overtime to Lowell on January 9th. He’s boosted his save percentage to over .900 in conference play. This is a team that could get itself together and move up the standings, I thought. Then I saw their remaining schedule. Two against BC, two against UNH, two against BU. No chance.
…Is it Friday yet?
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*
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.
Charles Barkley is hosting tonight’s Saturday Night Live. I’m not sure if “turrible” quite covers what’s going on with our beloved Mass Attack these days.
UMass put together yet another “60 minutes of ineptitude” tonight in a 7-2 trouncing up at Lake Whittemore tonight, dropping to 5-5 in conference play and 2-6 in their last 8 contests overall. Dan Meyers got the start in net, but even Jon Quick (hell, even Tim Thomas) wouldn’t have been enough to stem the tide tonight. The truth of the matter is, the Minutemen played like shit in front of Meyers’s net, starting about five minutes in on the first power play and continuing for the remaining 55 painful minutes. UMass had spurts of offense here and there, but once again, their opponent was able to keep the Marcou line in check, and with Lecomte and Langeraap (injuries) and Boehm (mysterious suspension) still sidelined, the other lines could get nothing going. Defensively, the Minutemen were once again listless, granting effortless penetration into the zone nearly every possession.
Having called the BU game, I could empathize with UMass play-by-play announcer John Hennessey. The Minutemen are playing so poorly that it’s hard to call the action; every intended pass goes to the wrong man, every offensive break gets broken up, and the other team is able to glide so smoothly up and down the ice that it’s hard to keep up. At least in Boston last weekend, UMass kept the game fairly close for the first 40 minutes. Here, after coming out with some energy in the first five minutes, the boys seemingly gave up as soon as that first power play shot got tipped in. The Wildcats had scored a power-play, even-strength, and short-handed goal before UMass knew what hit ’em, and tagged on a first-career goal by McCarey at the end of the period on a play where the defense apparently just let him waltz in.
How a team in such desperate need of a W could come out so flat against the league’s first-place team, after a much-needed week of rest, boggles the mind. Those two early games in Amherst demonstrated a pair of evenly-matched teams talent-wise. UNH didn’t demonstrate a noticeable talent advantage in this game, nor did they have to, because UMass didn’t bother to play.
So what’s wrong with this team? This is the second straight Meyers start in which the team has fallen apart from the beginning. Both tonight and down at Quinnipiac, it’d be a stretch to blame Meyers himself for the loss. But the Minutemen seem to have trouble getting fired up to play well when Pauly D isn’t in net. (Side note: Yes, we are going to refer to the UMass #1 goalie by a “Jersey Shore”-inspired nickname for the remainder of the season, and frankly, we’re kicking ourselves for not thinking of it sooner. More on that next week.) Now, granted, that doesn’t excuse the BU game, but as we’ve discussed, UMass was playing their 3rd game in 5 days, with Dainton in net for all of them. It’s a real conundrum when you have one goalie for whom the team doesn’t feel like playing, especially when your other goalie is in dire need of rest.
It’s no secret that chemistry and leadership issues have been a factor in the Minutemen’s collapses of years past. We were assured that the old blood was out and that the team was gelling like never before this year. Has that positive energy disappeared following a string of winnable games (1 minute from pulling off the comeback win in QU, down just a goal against BC late in the 3rd, up 2-0 in the 2nd in Lowell, dominating play against Bentley but having nothing to show for it)? Whether it’s the chemistry or the motivation, this team is clearly not even close to living up to its potential lately, and it’s cliche but true: that falls on the coaching staff.
Now, we’re not your typical Chicken Little, stereotypical Boston sports fans here at Fight Mass. We’re keeping an even keel about this; you’ll need to see a bunch more losses before we begin the “Fire Toot” debate. So here’s some “well hey nows” for you, but be warned, there’s caveats to all of them. First, the Wildcats are a damn good hockey team. Besides a less-than-stellar showing last night in which they needed a questionable game misconduct penalty to spark a power play goal earning a tie with Lowell, they’ve been gangbusters against the rest of the conference, and the Whitt is always a tough place to play, regardless of the crowd, with its gargantuan ice surface. Our problem isn’t that the Minutemen lost to these guys on their home ice…it’s the effort, not the result, that is worrisome.
Also, there’s plenty of time to go in the season to flip this script before it carries on any further. The Minutemen, despite all of their recent struggles, remain in the thick of the home ice race in Hockey East, in a conference where a couple of wins strung together can drastically affect your standing. There’s enough time left that I won’t even call tomorrow’s game at Matthews a must-win, although it would be nice to see the Minutemen vent their frustrations against a Huskies team that might be deflated after their heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the River Rats tonight (if you didn’t watch it, Lowell blew a multitude of 3- and 2-goal leads but proceeded to dominate the overtime). A loss tonight puts all the pressure in the world on that two-game set next weekend against the ugly sister, as if they weren’t big enough games to begin with.
There’s a lot of hockey to be played, but something needs to be done, and the team needs to wake up and at the very fucking least compete against NU tomorrow. That involves a “whatever it takes” approach to wake these guys up. Maybe give Leary a chance? Bring Donnellan back? Suck it up and let Boehm play again? Again, I’m not calling for his head just yet, but Toot and company had better have a new approach tomorrow, because this just ain’t working.
One of my favorite sayings in the physical fitness community is the classic Einstein quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” When it comes to lifting routines, it means you gotta introduce some entropy to get your body to avoid plateauing. Well, when it comes to their play on the ice, UMass has, in the last 3 games, hit rock bottom and proceeded to plateau, making the same dumb mistakes and having the same general lifelessness. If they keep this up, it won’t be long before even yours truly is reaching for the panic button.