Worry no Moore. UMass procrastinated again, but the team handed in its year-long assignment the day before it was due this year.
Tonight, the pressure will be off up in North Andover, thanks to a 5-1 blowout that looked like it was destined to be another late-game classic between these two teams, who have played quite a few nailbiters over the last few seasons aside from the LAST time we saw “Moorsey” between the pipes. The last two trips to Mullins particularly for the Warriors have been decided by disappointing last-minute goals for the visitors, and when Shawn Bates tied the score early in the third last night, we looked back at the myriad almost-goals for the Minutemen – and the close calls they got away with – and couldn’t help but feel that more heartbreak was a-comin’.
But a funny thing happened. UMass didn’t fold, didn’t fret about what could have or should have been. Instead, they played possibly their finest period of hockey all season long, got monster goals from their senior offensive stars, and, with five minutes left to go and the Freeing of Moore imminent, Mark Dennehy pulled Cannata in desperation. Merrimack’s season, after all, was on the verge of slipping away, their tenuous hold on an at-large bid and home ice against the Black Bears very much at risk.
Two length-of-the-ice empty-netters later, we saw the most beautiful moment of the entire season.
I’ve only met Kevin Moore briefly, when he lived with the freshmen during my junior year in the same dorm. But by all accounts, the “Rudy” chants that were started last night were fitting. This kid’s worked his ass off the last few years, juggling all the same responsibilities his teammates do, with nowhere near the glory to show for it. Granted, if UMass was out of the playoff hunt, I’d have no doubt that Toot would’ve given Moore the start last night, because fuck it, why not. But this was a must-win game, something I don’t think all of the students quite understood when they booed Toot’s refusal to pull Boyle in a three-goal game with 2:30 left. But after the second empty-netter, there was no doubt in my mind that Toot would find a way to make it happen. And after a brief scare immediately following that goal, where Boyle was still out there, the first whistle inside of two minutes gave Moore his shot.
I know there’s that very small contingent of us who got to see Kevin Moore play last year in the infamous blowout game at Lawler, and the ovation he got from the 20-or-so UMass fans in attendance was a very cool moment indeed. But it’s hard to top last night. The team deserves props for putting themselves in a position to make it happen, and congrats to Moorsey for earning it. Unreal.
So here’s where things stand now. A loss tonight clinches 8th place, and a likely date with the white-hot Eagles, winners of 10 straight since their earlier malaise, unless they lose to Vermont and BU finishes a sweep of the now-eliminated Huskies. A win, however, sets up interesting scenarios. Lowell plays Providence tonight at Tsongas, and if they win as well, the Minutemen hop into 7th over the Friars. BC is most likely to win the division, though the aforementioned scenario could drop them to 2nd and they’d play UMass anyway. More likely is a BC win/tie and BU win/tie, setting up a date with the Huskies, a team UMass has held multiple-goal leads against three times this season, albeit only earning three points out of those three games. The Minutemen led 3-0 once at Agganis before a meltdown, and won their last trip there. And let’s not forget that the comeback in the first game was largely keyed by contributions from Trivino and Coyle, and the Terriers are also now without Max Nicastro on the blue line. And on top of all else, the Terriers would offer an opponent that isn’t, you know, BC again for the millionth year in a row.
But here’s the most intriguing scenario: UMass win, BC win or tie, BU loss, Lowell win. It’s not at all out of the question, with the Huskies having nothing to lose on senior night against their most hated rival, and with Lowell playing its own senior night against the lackluster Friars. Lowell, much like Merrimack before last night, is just 2-1-3 in their last six, and would also provide the least expensive travel option for yours truly. I have my reasons, obviously, but how sweet would it be after what’s happened this season if UMass ruined Lowell’s magical year? (Although, to be fair, playoff wins vs. ANYONE would be sweet, and if the alternative plotlines are “avenging the last few years against BC” or “beating the team that had the scumbag rapists,” you really can’t go wrong with any of ’em.)
Of course, any hope of getting not-the-Eagles rests on a win tonight, unless you think Vermont can beat BC tonight (in which case I presume you also think Newt Gingrich might be our next president). The last time UMass took the ice at Lawler was a 2-1 nailbiter that ended with a Merrimack player getting away with the most blatant delay-of-game ever, covering the puck behind the ‘Mack net with his glove for a good 15 seconds. Last night convinced me more than ever that these teams have gone in opposite directions since that game – maybe not as dramatically as we’d hoped, but the Minutemen, at least for the last four games, have outplayed their opponents and in some cases dramatically so, while the league seems to slowly be figuring out Dennehy’s magic.
I keep telling myself this. And then I remember that Lawler/Volpe/University of Sears is an awful awful place in which the Minutemen never ever escape with a win, no matter how good or bad the home team is in that particular season.
So, sigh, bring on the Eagles again, maybe this time will be different.
Oh, also, baskettaball tonight. Walsh will be on-hand at Lawler for the whole game, along obviously with El Triangle (pronounced “tree ON glay”). Matt and I will be live-tweeting on @FightMass from the Rhody Rematch, and if the game’s a blowout we’ll leave at halftime to catch puck drop; otherwise we’re shooting to get up to Merrimack for period 2. Either way, EVERYONE GO TO THE FUCKING BASKETBALL GAME TODAY IT’S THE LAST ONE EVEN THOUGH REALLY IT’S ALMOST ASSURED THAT THERE WILL BE A PLAYOFF GAME HERE TUESDAY. WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO ATTEND. Either way, this is the real “senior night” so let’s send Big Sean and Daddy Hill off with a 20-win season.
P.S. Let’s go ahead and jump on the “props to the Bench Crew” bandwagon for making #FreeMoore a success. Frankly, Toot doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, but also frankly, there was no chance Moore wasn’t going to play last night if the opportunity arose. But more importantly is that it’s social media outlets like the Bench Crew that get kids excited about games and, gasp, knowledgeable about what’s actually going on, like the student fans at the other nine schools in Hockey East. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED MORE OF.
Oh, Craig Finn, is there anything you haven’t already written a great lyric for?
UMass hockey fought valiantly this past weekend against BU, but fell exasperatingly short once again against the Warsofsky-less Terriers in front of a large, but (once again) fairly disinterested crowd. I’ll weigh in eventually (pinky swear!) with that long-promised overview of where I feel the student section is going – the wrong direction, by the way – and the factors that have led to the discontent of the Fight Mass writing staff and my fellow alumni who were present for better days. In the meantime, let’s see where UMass stands as the final three weeks of the regular season approach.
At this point, I think we can divide the rest of the conference into subgroups: the contenders (BC, UNH, and – gasp – Merrimack), the pretenders? (BU and Maine), the plucky upstarts (Northeastern), the scrappers-to-make-the-playoffs (us, Providence, and Vermont), and Lowell (Lowell). The skeptical question mark for the pretenders is where the biggest grey area is for me. There’s no question that the top 3 teams have differentiated themselves as the class of Hockey East. You could argue that BU or Maine can still play their way back into that discussion, but with Maine falling ever-closer to the middle of the pack hurts their legitimacy, and I don’t trust either of their goalies anyway. BU barely squeaking by us doesn’t change the fact that they just finished fourth in their own four-team tournament, one that their home PA announcer is the PA announcer of. I’ve seen Merrimack in person and watched BC and UNH on TV several times. BU is just not as good as those teams, regardless of the fact that they’re only 2 points behind the Warriors. Northeastern, meanwhile, damn near won the Beanpot, are looking better by the week – and, of course, have 4 games left against BC and UNH while BU gets to feast on UVM and Providence. With 6 points to overcome, it’s gonna take recent trends for the two Boston dog teams to escalate if those last two games between them are going to matter. Still, you have to admire Cronin’s team and how far they’ve come, even if they do rely waaaay too heavily on that McNeely-MacCloud tandem and Rawlings occasionally standing on his head. And they have a guy named Dongara. Hehe.
So then you’ve got the bottom of the standings, with a rebuilding team (us), a hard-to-figure-out and probably underachieving Vermont team, and, well, Providence, who does nothing particularly well but isn’t awful enough to mitigate the fact that on any given night, their goaltender can steal a game. (See: last Saturday or 50% of the fucking games Beaudry has against us.) Lowell, of course, is historically, hysterically bad, but our lead over the rest of Hockey East is tenuous at best. There’s two playoff spots left for these three teams, and someone’s gonna get left out in the cold. Here’s where they stand:
7. UMass – 15 points
Remaining: 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A), 2 vs. BC (H/A), 2 vs. Maine (H/H)
8. Vermont – 14 points
Remaining: 2 vs. UNH (H/H), 2 vs. BU (A/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/H)
9. Providence – 12 points
Remaining: 2 vs. BU (H/A), 2 vs. Lowell (H/A)), 2 vs. Merrimack (H/A)
For tiebreakers, UMass holds the breaker on Vermont, Vermont holds the breaker on PC, and PC holds the breaker on UMass. Think of it as the worst game of rock-paper-scissors ever. Or for the nostalgic nerds out there, think of UMass as fire, Vermont as grass, and PC as water. And Lowell as Magikarp. Except nobody’s super-effective.
So obviously, the Minutemen have the toughest task ahead. If UVM and PC both sweep Lowell, as one can reasonably expect, that would put each of them ahead of UMass if the Minutemen fail to gain a point for the rest of the year. And that’s even if they lose the other four games apiece (which is also quite reasonable). UMass has definitely played better at home of late – relatively speaking – and I give them a fighting chance to pull off an upset over a Da Costa-less Merrimack team or a coasting BC team. But as usual, those last two games of the season against Maine are probably going to decide our fate. Last year’s team went up to Alfond against a pretty similar Maine team and stole two wins. This year, they’re at home, and Maine is in a bit of a nosedive since an impressive win over BC on January 16th. They’ve since been swept by UNH, earned just 1 point against BU in two games at home, tied Northeastern, and got walloped by Vermont at home before edging by the other night. Maine has two with Lowell that will likely get them back on track, but they follow that with two against Merrimack. One would expect Maine won’t have nearly as much to play for in that final weekend, if BU beats up on the rest of their schedule and locks down the final home ice slot.
Here’s hoping UMass can pounce on the Black Bears like they have in years past in that last weekend. Otherwise, our playoff hopes might mean – wait for it – rooting for Lowell. Eww.
Note: I’ve got plenty to say about the basketball team’s recent slide as well, but I’ll wait on that, maybe until after the Rhody game. I can only hope that things will be much more fun to talk about by then.