…and, given the dire situation UMass found itself in coming into this weekend’s tilts in Middle-of-Nowherono, ME, it may yet be ongoing. But let’s not take anything away from the fact that the Minutemen sounded like a team on a mission tonight. They pounced all over freshman Shawn Sirman, to the point where we actually did get to see old friend Dave WIIIIIIILLLLLSSOOOOONNNN make a cameo (and, oddly enough, he didn’t give up any goals, which is decidedly un-Wilson-like).
Now, granted, we’re talking a UMass team with the season on the line against a Maine team that might not get home ice if they drop both games and the rest of the league action goes against them, not to mention playing in a not-so-hostile Spring Break edition of Alfond Arena. But the stakes for UMass’s last game were basically the same on both ends, and despite playing one of the best defensive games we’ve seen from the maroon-and-white all year long, against an Eagles team playing in front of a listless crowd and with 2nd-place (no more, no less) all but locked up, the Minutemen still weren’t able to capitalize on their chances.
Now, the three principal writers here at Fight Mass were sitting mere feet away at the Hangar on Tuesday for the RNX hockey show, and though we weren’t really able to hear most of Toot’s outburst about his team, we were able to piece together between the various web recap/transcripts and our visible impression of him that Mr. Cahoon was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore, regarding the behind-the-scenes behavioral stuff going on with this team. Clearly, his words finally got through tonight, and Hockey East was reminded that UMass is about as big a wildcard as one can imagine.
Could they still miss the playoffs? Easily. But the Minutemen have nonetheless put themselves into a position to climb as high as 6th, grab some positive momentum (which had slowwwwly been building during two straight frustrating L’s), and crash someone’s playoff party, like they came so very very close to doing to Northeastern last year.
Barring a disaster tomorrow, the Minutemen have, at the very least, shown us that they cared. The eulogy we were prepared to write for these guys a few weeks ago involved more of the same from the past couple years: lamenting the Cahoon Swoon, pondering what might have been had a key underrated defenseman not missed significant time down the stretch, wondering what exactly is going on with the discipline behind closed doors and the mentality of the players, even considering blaming ourselves and our friends for contributing to the players’ sense of celebrity and entitlement on this campus.
But why worry about the eulogy before we know when the funeral is?
P.S. Tomorrow afternoon. Senior night for men’s hoops at the Mullins Center, 4 PM. Free t-shirts, and a chance to honor one of the all-time greats to don the maroon-and-white, or at least one of the best pure scorers in school history, Lex Mongo Ricky Harris. Plus, it’s URI (sucks). So, uhh, go. And get your friends to go too. Did I mention free t-shirts?
Honestly, what words can we say at this point?
The odds are stacked against our boys, yes. But stranger things have happened than “a talented, underachieving team wakes up at the last minute and figures it out.”
Could the sun have already set on this year’s squad? Maybe. It’s certainly not a talent issue – right now there’s clearly something mentally off with this team, whether it’s Jimmy and Casey mailing it in knowing that there are NHL scouts who (in our opinion, wrongly) believe they’re ready to make the jump to the bigs right now, or if there’s some sort of locker room unrest/divide over the Boehm incident (and from what I’ve been told, I can’t imagine how that wouldn’t affect the team), or if the mono-plagued Kublin was really the glue keeping our tenuous defensive corps together (and our eyes tell us this was very much the case). Yeah, yeah, excuses, excuses. Champions can survive when their best players are distracted/struggling, because they have more than one line capable of scoring. Champions can survive locker room unrest through strong leadership (to be fair, we have no proof that there’s any discord, but this is the third straight year the rumor mill’s been buzzing about it). Champions don’t get mono. Yada yada yada.
They’re so friggin’ due, though, and in Hockey East this year, you can’t assume anything until it happens.
So if this ship has to go down, let’s go down with it. We have no expectations anymore; if we’re back here writing about an 8-0 loss (with Muse making 58 saves or something) later on tonight, I won’t be entirely shocked.
But sports are never that predictable.
P.S. Even if UMass makes the HEA tournament, WMUA probably isn’t ponying up to broadcast the games, so this’ll be my last hockey broadcast for WMUA – here’s the link to listen. EDIT: HAHA DISREGARD THAT, BC decided to give away our seats to the Globe, and didn’t call to tell us about it until today. Even their fucking media department apparently has a superiority complex. Throw that in the overflowing “reasons everyone hates BC” pile.
Personally, the UMass version of the Cardiac Kids is taking its toll on my heart this year, but a win is a win is a win. Especially when that win comes against a Union team that came into the game ranked 18th in the nation (and, far more importantly, 14th in the PWR rankings – tied with Yale and above Cornell, Maine, Vermont and Lowell) and which hadn’t lost since before Halloween.
Paul Dainton stood on his head in this one, and we needed it, because the Minutemen came out completely flat in the first two periods (save for a quick spurt in the middle of the second). Ortiz’s latest dumb penalty certainly didn’t help matters when he went off for 5 minutes for hitting the goalie from behind late in the 1st, but he played his ass off to redeem himself later on in the game, including the tying goal early in the 3rd. I also don’t like Toot taking the foot off the gas with what Hennessey and Hines referred to as a “passive forecheck” in the closing minutes, as it led to an extremely anxious final minute in which Dainton basically won the game for us. It was shades of Quinnipiac all over again.
Another concern for me were the lack of production outside the top line, something I thought was coming around with Ortiz’s good stretch to end the first semester, and he did contribute one of the four goals. But that’s still 75% of our offense generated by one line. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with having one of college hockey’s best lines (I like that a helluva lot more than Watson playing with Casey and Jimmy), but it would be great to take some of scoring pressure off of them. Hopefully Ortiz can continue to sizzle and Hobbs can get going again like he was early in the year.
But here’s the bottom line: this was a victory. UMass basically only showed up for one period, but fortunately, Dainton and the defense (and especially the PK) kept it close, and the offense found their rhythm at the end. I’d prefer a more complete effort like the game against Merrimack, but considering Union is a ranked (and likely underrated) squad and you never know what to expect coming off a two-week-plus layoff, you have to be happy with the outcome. Tomorrow’s still basically a must-win as far as getting a non-automatic tourney big is concerned, but hopefully the cobwebs have been shaken off and the boys don’t look past their foe, be it underachieving Bentley or an awful UConn team that would have the energy and momentum of an upset win over said Bentley team.
David Boehm’s also going to miss this tournament for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. Between injuries and disciplinary issues, it’s frustrating to see him sidelined, because he’s shown a lot of promise when he’s been able to contribute. Here’s hoping he bounces back quickly.
Tomorrow night will be a busy night for UMass, with hockey playing the championship game (EDIT: yep, predictably, it’s Bentley. Good, UConn would’ve killed our PWR even in the likely event that we won) and basketball visiting Davidson. I probably won’t be around to give my immediate reactions this time, but I’ll write about those games at some point. In the meantime, enjoy what’s left of 2009. The Winter Classic is just around the bend!