Well, as usual, it’s gonna come down to Maine. Would we have it any other way?
Once again, in last night’s 2-1 heartbreaker at Conte Forum, UMass came frustratingly close to stealing a game and all-but locking up a playoff spot. The Mass Attack, who
in the course of one weekend lost to these two teams by a combined 16-2 score for some reason only played each team twice this year, finished their two weeks of hell against two top-5 teams by losing all four games by a single goal. For the third straight game, they trailed 2-0, then rallied but fell short in the end. And for seemingly the billionth year in a row, the season-ending pair of games against Maine will determine this team’s playoff fate.
Ironically, unlike last year, the Minutemen don’t need to sweep the two games to make the playoffs, although that would be lovely. UMass leads Providence by two games for the final playoff spot, and the Friars have a home-and-home with Merrimack coming up. And let’s face it, if you can’t beat Lowell when your playoff life is on the line, the Warriors aren’t who you want to see. Of course, UMass gets the Black Bears, who still have an outside shot at home ice if they sweep and Merrimack somehow gets swept. But the team with the most to play for next weekend is the Minutemen, because the embarrassment of being one of those two teams out of the playoffs is there for the taking.
After four straight heartbreakers in a rebuilding year, it’s natural to look at the games in the context of “what to build off of for next year.” There’s some optimism for next year, and of course there’s also some concern. The young defensemen – Phillips, Allen and Hanley in particular – have really been stepping up of late, the former on offense and the later two as defensive stalwarts who have stopped making nearly as many “freshman mistakes.” Syner and Hobbs are setting themselves up as the clear senior leaders offensively for next year’s squad. Even guys like Kiley and Power, not exactly major contributors this year, have shown some energy out there. On the other hand, we lose Kublin (!!!) and, of course, the main reason we’ve been in these games lately, Paul Dainton, whose ascent to the team saves record was accelerated by the massive shot totals he faced these past two weekends. Sure, he’s had his low points this year, and there’s plenty of young talent between Teglia and Boyle coming in, but losing a four-year starter at goal is an adjustment no matter how you spin it. It’s also a bit concerning that Mike Pereira’s production has tailed off so harshly, and we’re hopeful that he’s just hitting the rookie wall and not prematurely hitting a sophomore slump. We’ll obviously be analyzing the team’s prospects for next year at season’s end, but these are just a few of the storylines to watch.
No matter how painful these games are – especially for the seniors, both in the stands and on the team – just keep in mind that this team was picked by experts to finish 9th for a reason. They’re young as hell and they lost a key group of juniors and seniors, some unexpectedly, to the pros. They also just seem unlucky this year, ending up on the wrong end of some really closely fought games and not getting the bounces a young team needs to be successful. That said, a trip to Durham or back to Not-Boston to take on the Wildcats or Eagles, and hopefully continuing to compete as they have the past week weeks, would be an even bigger building block for the youngsters, and a point of pride for the seniors.
And while they could bank on backing into that 8th spot via Merrimack sweeping Providence, we DID see Lowell take 3 points this weekend. Let’s not leave anything to chance.
Beat Maine. Hell, sweep the two games. After all, it’s freaking tradition.
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
Well, for the second time in three tries, our beloved Mass Attack have pulled a dubious feat in front of ESPNU’s cameras and hockey demigod Barry Melrose, getting shut out for the first time all year, 3-0. UMass ends up with a weekend split against the Catamounts, after last night’s 3-1 triumph.
Honestly, though, unlike Melrose’s “60 minutes of ineptitude” jab, which came as UMass was allowing a season-high 7 goals at BU, this is an outcome we can live with. UMass dominated the shots on goal department, and the part of the team that wasn’t missing three regulars – the defense – was solid as usual, allowing just two goals plus an empty-netter. Since the back-to-back touchdowns-against debacle, UMass has allowed a stingy eight goals in five games, and accordingly has a 4-1 record in those games. On top of all that, UMass still has the tiebreaker in the season series against UVM, and 2-1 against a top-20 PWR team on the season is nothing to sneeze at.
It’s true that, considering the weekends Lowell and UNH had, the Minutemen could have used those extra points. But given the circumstances (no Coco, still no Langeraap or Lecomte, day game after night game, etc.), this 3-0 loss hurts a lot less. It’s up to the Minutemen to keep the defensive pressure up now, and hopefully the offense emerges from its slump against Hockey East’s worst defensive team, BU, next weekend – I’d rather them not be facing the prospects of another three-game losing streak if they can’t solve Alex Beaudry on Saturday.
So again, in the words of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn…we gotta stay positive.
Previews! And did we mention previews?
First, UMass hoops, fresh off of a nondescript six-point loss at “home” (actually, Springfield, much like Boston, looked from the highlights to be a greater home-court advantage for UMass than their own arena) to La Salle, takes on a very good Richmond team tonight. Tri Corner Blog has a very good overview of what to look for in the game tonight, which we would tell you to watch on ChannelSurfing if we weren’t so damn scrupulous. (Of course you can also hear it on the normal radio networks as called by Josh Maurer.) This is one of those games where there’s not much history between these two teams per se, but, as TCB’s Matt points out, the behavior of Richmond hicks fans at these two teams’ A-10 field hockey tournament game recently deserves to be avenged. Basically, these grown adults (which, by the standards of the south, leaves them with the intelligence and maturity of 12-year-old boys from civilized America) spent the game calling our players lesbians, one of them ordered pizza and said that the guy who took his order “sounded like a fag – but then again, aren’t they all up here?”, etc. Southern stereotypes are fun, especially when they all turn out to be accurate! But I’ll digress on the politics here…let’s just say it’d be real fun to get revenge on the court.
We don’t have much to say about the La Salle game because, well, neither of us really heard much of it between watching our beloved Patriots die a horrendous death at home and our preparations for the Northeastern roadtrip. But from what I did hear, it was a good game for Big City, TV and Freddie Riley, until foul trouble caught up to the guys at the end and nobody else could hit a big shot when they needed to.
So after two games, UMass is 1-1 in the A-10, the one winning being that squeaker against a god-awful team at home, followed by a second-half collapse against a mediocre team at “home.” I’ve said all along that the most important thing for UMass to do this season is to show improvement as the year goes on and maybe, just maybe make a splash in the conference tournament. They’ve got a long ways to go but my hopes of them coming strong out of the gate in A-10 play have been for naught so far. I may have more to say after the Richmond game, depending on how it goes.
Secondly, and (with all due respect to the ballers) a thousand times more importantly, we are now two days away from the massive clash between the University of Massachusetts and, uhh, that other state school, Eastern Mass. State College-Lowell or whatever they fancy themselves. Now, for those who have been reading from the beginning here, I’m sure you’re aware of, ahem, personal reasons why we here at Fight Mass would like nothing more than to defecate all over their parade this weekend. I’m personally looking forward to finally reading the “bulletin board material” during our pregame festivities Friday evening, although at this point it will be more for comedic purposes than anything else.
Selfish grudges aside, the River Rats and Minutemen enter this weekend in a deadlock for the 4th spot in Hockey East, and UMass’s lead over Lowell in the Pairwise and other predictive rankings, for what it’s worth at this fairly-early point in the year, is tenuous. UMass and Lowell come off a weekend where each team played at UNH and NU, with very different results: UMass got blasted by UNH while Lowell played them to a tie, while UMass dominated NU and Lowell ran out to an early lead before undisciplined play almost cost them an easy win which they eventually pulled out in OT.
The Minutemen come in at 12-8, while Lowell is 12-7-2. In the conference, the teams each have 12 points, but Lowell holds the tiebreaker (after that gut-wrenching first defeat in Coketown) and has one game in hand on us. In a conference where every single game can have a dramatic impact on the standings, these games, while they might not necessarily make or break the season, can go a long way in setting the tone for the home stretch of HEA play.
We mentioned it before, we’ll say it again: with the exception of that Hockey East Tournament sweep several years ago, Lowell has had our number for quite some time now, regardless of the way the season is going for either team. When they’re good, they outplay us; when they’re bad, we play down to their level. They come in remarkably even; Lowell getting off to a solid start before sputtering a bit, UMass getting off to a great start before sputtering a lot, but the overall bodies of work are quite similar. Going deeper into the numbers, the River Rats are badly underperforming their Pythagorean, as Lowell is +20 for the year (70-50), while UMass is overperforming at +6 (69-63). The problem with those numbers is that, unlike baseball (where Pythagorean can be somewhat indicative over such a long season), college hockey plays such a short season that the small sample size leads to easy skews. UMass’s two recent debacles against BU and UNH count as two losses, but they kill the Pythagorean at a combined -9.
Still, the supposed offensive edge UMass would have with its two superstar forwards is negated by Lowell’s edge defensively (led surprisingly not by last year’s standout Maury Edwards, but by Nick Schaus and Jeremy Dehner, an eye-popping +25 combined for the year) and offensive balance (10 double-digit scorers, compared to 6 for UMass who has two guys, Lecomte and Carzo, with 9). Add that to their well-publicized goalie tandem of seniors Hutton and Hamilton, compared to Pauly D’s one career win in 7 tries against Lowell (Meyers has yet to play them), and Lowell has the edge on paper.
But that’s the thing: the games don’t get played on paper. Despite all the expectations for Lowell and the lack thereof for UMass, these teams are in virtually the exact same position coming into this weekend, and both are coming off win-droughts with victories at Matthews, both big in their own unique ways. And so the Minutemen and their ugly sisters have a chance to make a statement: for UMass, the opportunity to flip both the “Cahoon swoon” script and the “can’t beat Lowell” script. For Lowell, the expectations, both from the preseason hype and their tradition of beating big brother, have to be tremendous. And while even a sweep by either team guarantees nothing in this season of unreal parity in the Hockey East Association, we’re gonna know a lot more about these two teams in a couple days.
…Unless, of course, they play to ties on both nights, and then we’re back at square one.
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.