Catching up on our intrepid heroes’ escapades over the past week or so…
Okay, seriously guys (0:09 mark):
Tonight’s 72-66 victory over Northeastern is somehow the most lopsided victory to date for the 4-3 Minutemen, who might well be off to the worst 4-3 start in the history of hyperbolic overreactions. You can really make a case that this team deserves to be 1-6 at this point, getting outplayed badly in their three actual losses and getting lucky against injured teams against Harvard and Providence. (The Siena game, ironically, UMass actually significantly outplayed their opponent and fell victim to awful luck on missing wide-open shots in the first half while the Saints banked in wild threes.) The Miami game was particularly disappointing, given the large (if late-arriving) crowd on hand and the RPI bump it could have provided. The Minutemen actually looked solid for the first 15 minutes or so in that one, but a series of missed opportunities and a few questionable calls pulled the wheels off quickly.
Now, the Minutemen also have the added burden of the Cady Lalanne situation. Not that Cady was looking 100% to begin with, but his absence (coupled with DK’s apparent lack of any sort of trust in Tyler Bergantino to do, err, anything yet) makes a thin lineup even thinner. I mean, for Chrissakes, Sampson Carter was our starting center tonight. The Minutemen gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Huskies. Absolutely mind-boggling. Luckily, Jesse Morgan finally seemed to come to life with some huge corner threes to spur the latest last-minute rally. UMass ended up shooting just shy of 48% for the game. At this point, we’ll absolutely take it.
11 days off now. The Season of Great Expectations (TM) is hanging together by a thread. The Minutemen’s at-large hopes are already in grave danger, and as cupcake as the rest of the non-conference schedule looks, this team doesn’t seem to have any interest in easy wins. It sucks to be so down on these guys, but the fact of the matter is that the fun and joy of Chazketball has given way to an all-too-familiar system of passing the ball around the perimeter, watching Chaz try to make everything happen, and chucking wild threes all day long. It looks an awful lot like the “bazkettaball” we lamented during the first few years of the DK era. If this team is going to go anywhere and beat anyone of note, it’s going to need to somehow pull back together, and quick. Here’s hoping Kellogg uses this week-and-a-half to refocus his guys before they take on Elon in Springfield.
Since the 8-2 debacle against Lowell, which occurred on a Sunday and starred Jeff Teglia (who has since turned up on numerous milk cartons) and therefore cannot really even be considered part of the official UMass canon, the hockey team has stabilized somewhat. They were able to grind out a pre-Thanksgiving win against seasonal foe Vermont, pulled a tie against a feisty Quinnipiac team, and now come off a home-away split with the Northeastern Huskies. The most recent weekend does seem a little maddening at first, with UMass dominating both games from start to finish, yet with drastically different results: on Friday at the Bill, they couldn’t buy a goal against Chris Rawlings and lost 1-0 on a fluke breakaway goal. On Saturday, where we and dozens of other maroon-and-white faithful got the last laugh on Teddy Bear Toss night, UMass put 45+ shots on the net and six of them went in, including one for HEA Rookie of the Week KJ Tiefenwerth, his first (finally!).
Looking at the standings, UMass is remarkably just one point out of a home ice slot. Are there legitimate concerns surrounding the Power/Rowe injury situation, the slow start of Mike Pereira, the dismal play of any goaltenders not named Boyle? Sure. But UMass still has one of the toughest strength-of-schedule rankings in the country, is still the only team in the nation to beat #1 UNH, and is in striking range in the Pairwise standings (currently 23rd). UMass closes the year with remaining non-conference games on the docket, and a strong showing could well propel this team into contention for an at-large bid. Colgate, the #24 team in the Pairwise, comes in for two this weekend (a chance to avenge last season’s first-round lacrosse disappointment!). UMass then heads to Yale next week, currently fourth in the Pairwise, and which is a team UMass has actually played well against in recent years. After a break, the Minutemen ring in the new year up in Hanover in the Dartmouth tourney, against dreadful Bemidji State and then a crack at either UNH (as a non-conference foe) or Dartmouth, who are 2 and 3 in the Pairwise respectively. If UMass can play well in this stretch – like 3-1-1 or 4-1-0 good – the second half schedule looks good for UMass. The two at UNH are daunting, and there’s still another trip to Chestnut Hill, but there’s only one more with BU (at Mullins), two cracks at Maine at home, a two-gamer up in Burlington, one more at Matthews, home-and-homes with Providence and Lowell, and of course all three games left with Merrimack. Again, while it’s more road-heavy than the first half, the fact that UMass has just one more each against BU and BC (and knows it’s capable of staying around with both teams) means that a vast majority of what’s left is against the rest of the “middle of the pack” teams that UMass is striving to differentiate itself from. I think now that Boyle’s the established starter, if he can continue to play at least as well as he did this weekend against NU, we could be in for a fun second half.
Remember: the two guys who carried this team last year, Sheary and Pereira, really haven’t even gotten going yet, nor has the expected biggest freshman contributor (Tiefenwerth). Did Saturday’s rout at Matthews mark a turning point? (Or was it when all of us passed through the inauspicious Stargate on the Northeastern campus?) Cautious optimism, people! CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM!
(P.S. Special thanks this weekend to: the Mullins Militia for accommodating me for the Miami game on my lonesome as Matt was working; Amy of the Bench Crew for hanging out with the gang and putting up with our shenanigans Saturday night, and also our good friend Roy for being the honorary Fourth Fight Mass Dude; and the Husky Hockey Blog fellows for crossing enemy lines to come meet us at the end of the game. And of course, congratulations to the Coogan family on their future addition! We suggest Douglas for the youngin if he’s a boy. Just sayin.)
Alright, hold off on the “fire Toot” talk. At least for now.
The maddening inconsistency of the 2011-2012 Massachusetts Minutemen ice hockey team has reached a new level of what-the-fuckery. One does not simply march into Agganis and control the ice for almost the entire 60 minutes against that offense, yet UMass did just that – and proceeded to fall asleep, again, at home to Providence the next night. This weekend, UMass swapped days – they got pasted by the Black Bears on Friday, but held Maine off the board almost entirely last night in Orono save for a highlight-reel goal by noted doucheface Joey Diamond falling on his ass on a wraparound. God we hate Joey Diamond. Everyone knows Triangles are better than Diamonds anyway.
For seemingly the millionth year in a row, UMass has decided to fuck with our patience. Last weekend I was back in “can we move on from Toot yet?” mode. Now, as you can probably guess, I’ve migrated back into glass-half-full territory. UMass holds the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East at this point in time, and at least on paper, a very realistic opportunity to hold onto that seed or even move up (more on that in a sec). Call these last couple wins letdowns for BU and Maine all you want, but it’s become abundantly clear that the Minutemen have the ability to win these games – it’s a matter of putting it together on a nightly basis. For all the rumblings about discord between the team and its coach, about lines and playing time, and guys not being mentally tough enough to, oh, not take the first period off every other game, the most important takeaway is that the talent is there. Jack Parker even said so! And when is he ever wrong?
Look, Derek and I witnessed it with our own eyes (more on that later, too). UMass came out on fire in the first, scored on a bad Maine giveaway in the opening minute, and withstood two dangerous Maine power plays. From there, the Minutemen controlled play for the final 40 minutes in much the same way they controlled that BC game, or the pivotal stretches of both BC wins. They have it in them. Why why why why why can’t they do this on a regular basis though?
I kind of liken the Minutemen of the past five years or so to that student who’s smart enough to skirt by but procrastinates like a mofo. (I’m not not saying I’ve been that guy.) The thing is, you can pass exams and ace essays waiting til the last minute to study or write. But what good is it gonna do you if you’re not actually learning? And why put the unnecessary stress on yourself? UMass does the same damn thing. If they could get fired up to play teams like Providence and Northeastern and grab those points early, they could coast into the playoffs and even have a shot at moving up (which shouldn’t be the goal to begin with, but one step at a time here). Instead, yet again, it comes down to the last couple weekends if the Minutemen are gonna give themselves a chance to pull off an upset in the first round. Which, by the way, they’ve proven they could be capable of doing if they can even give themselves that chance.
Technically UMass could finish as high as 5th or as low as 9th. Friday night’s loss officially eliminated the Minutemen from home ice contention, as they now trail Maine by 10 points with 8 points up for grabs. Here’s the standings, and the teams’ remaining schedules:
5. Merrimack 26 pts @Lowell, vs. Lowell, @UMass, vs. UMass
6. PC 23 pts vs. BC, @ BC, vs. Lowell, @Lowell
7. UNH 22 pts @UMass x2, @Maine
8. UMass 18 pts vs. UNH x2, vs. Merrimack, at Merrimack
9. Northeastern 18 pts vs. Maine x2, @BU, vs. BU
UMass’s season series with Mack and UNH will be determined in these last two weekends. They’ve lost the breaker to PC and they split 1-1-1 with Northeastern. The second tiebreaker is conference wins, and each team has 7. The third tiebreaker is record vs. the top team in the conference. So UMass holds that if BC is #1, and Northeastern wins it if Lowell is first. UMass is 1-2 against BU and the Huskies lost their only meeting with the Terriers so far. There are three/four-way tie scenarios with 5-8, but they get messy and most of them don’t favor UMass.
Following so far?
So, obviously, the best of all possible timelines is 5th place, which entails UMass sweeping its remaining schedule and Merrimack losing all four. In that scenario, UMass would need PC to finish with less than 3 points in that four-game gauntlet (very possible). If NU and UMass each won out, that first place tiebreaker (Lowell/BC) would come into play again. Also in this scenario, ABC announces it’s pulling Modern Family in exchange for a seven-season run of Community, and Jack Parker and Jerry York are simultaneously trampled by a pack of magical unicorns. Actually, it’s not the most far-fetched thing of all time. Most of it would be in UMass’s hands in sweeping Merrimack, but the other prerequisite (sweeping UNH while Lowell sweeps Mack) could easily happen, and make for a fascinating final weekend.
If UMass sweeps UNH, they’re in good shape. The Minutemen would clinch the tiebreaker, and then all UMass needs is for UNH to lose in Orono on Maine’s senior night, OR take just one point against Merrimack. However, 3 points puts UMass behind the eight-ball still, since it means splitting the season series. UMass then enters the final weekend a point back, and at that point, UNH holds the second tiebreaker of conference wins. (Which sucks, because they’re 0-6 against BU and BC.) Also, please please sweep UNH.
A split and UMass can’t catch the Wildcats unless they sweep Merrimack, again a far less likely scenario. However, Northeastern is still within reach at that point. Maine and BU are both better (and hotter) teams than UNH and Merrimack. UMass and NU play the same number of home/away games (3/1). In this regard, by the way, a win/loss split is much better for UMass than a tie-tie split, thanks to that conference win tiebreaker. Oh, and 0 or 1 points this weekend? That’s gonna put the ball in Northeastern’s court. But it’s important to note that if both UMass AND NU lose all four remaining games, UMass gets in and the Huskies don’t.
Really, it boils down to this: these two games are fucking massive. Lose one or both, and you’re betting on the Minutemen to pull it out of the fire against a team that, while not exactly lighting it up recently, still seems to have their number (not to mention a trip to the Lawler house of horrors). Win both, and both UNH and NU have to step it up against their superior opponents in order to keep UMass out of the playoffs.
It doesn’t need to be pretty. Just get there.
Derek and I checked the final Hockey East venue off our checklist with our long-awaited visit to Alfond. Of course, in a couple years we’ll have one or two new destinations tacked on as Notre Dame and possibly Mystery Team X (RPI?) enter the Hockey East ranks, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ve finally got enough data to put together a Fight Mass guide to the rinks in our fine conference, and you can look forward to that shortly. Spoilers – Alfond’s gonna rank pretty high on my list. What a fun place.
I’ll get to basketball soon, I swear. Despite the La Salle letdown, Tuesday’s a huge game against Xavier, you should all go, blah blah blah. Oh, and lacrosse is 2-0, and now that I live with someone who knows a little something about the game, I might actually provide some insight this year. Maybe.
Well, crap on a crap cracker.
The joy ride of a three-game win streak was halted quickly this weekend, as UMass managed just one of a possible four points over the course of two miserable, lifeless performances. Really, there’s not much to say about this weekend: the power play reverted to its evil ways Friday night against a team full of thugs that was all-too-eager to give away extra-man opportunities with dumb penalties, not to mention a bevy of hilarious turnovers. UMass did play well in the overtime period but Dan Sullivan stood on his head to save the day and force a tie. A point is a point, except when that point means a critical failed opportunity to gain two points on a conference rival, one who (stunningly) looks like it will be battling not for home ice but for a playoff spot.
Then there was last night. Hoo boy. My 12-0 prediction came a third of the way true as UMass truly didn’t look like they belonged on the same ice as the Reject Sonic-the-Hedgehogs. It really looked like the guys were assuming they were getting the awful River Hawks of a year ago and thought they could coast to a win, but a funny thing happened in Lowell this year – they decided to actually field a hockey team, and said hockey team – playing, no less, without its freshman sensation Wilson – thoroughly dominated every aspect of the game. There is literally nothing about this game that can be taken as a positive, other than that Mastalerz didn’t completely suck? It is an ugly loss to an ugly team that damnit I hate them all so very very much and…ahem. Yeah. This doesn’t sit well with us. Remember, until last night, UMass hadn’t lost to Lowell since we started the blog. It was a nice run, and it came to a crashing halt just like most good…cocaine…ah for crying out fuck, I don’t even feel like it anymore.
(Besides, if you exclude the actual game, Derek and I had a wonderful time in Lowell, one of the easiest and most fun roadtrips in Hockey East. Aside from the fact that it is now literally four times closer to where I live than Amherst is…parking is a breeze, the arena has improved significantly with recent renovations, Lowell Beer Works is right down the street, I can’t believe I’m typing these words, I can’t believe I’m saying these things, I’m gonna just go cry in the corner now. Oh also we met Monty of UML Hockey fame. Cool guy. Had the distinct pleasure of being directly adjacent to him for all four increasingly-awful goals UMass allowed. Yeah, we get it, sieve, we suck. Indeed.)
Anyway, Tuesday brings the last chance in a while for UMass to get back on track in Hockey East play before a stretch of five straight non-conference (read: basically exhibition at this point) games to get back on track (including a possible “non-conference” game against Maine, lol watch as UMass wins this time). UMass has played well in the Fieldhouse in recent years and this is possibly the worst Vermont team in a long-ass time. If those two points slip away…well, that’d be the worst of all possible timelines, wouldn’t it?
P.S. I don’t feel like awarding a Kubbie Point for this game, but if I have to, what the fuck, Mastalerz wasn’t terrible given that he had zero help in front of him the whole game. Also haha we will eventually get the Kubbie Kounter up and running. Maybe.
Until last night, I had never seen UMass beat BC in hockey.
Now, that’s not to say that it hasn’t happened in recent memory. I vividly remember seeing a raucous Mullins Center, behind then-freshman goaltender Jonathan Quick, shock top-ranked BC on a NESN game, back when I was still a wee lad deciding whether or not to put myself in mountains of debt to go to BU or Syracuse (both with elite programs in hockey and basketball, respectively) or to suck it up and “settle” for, ahem, state school. Flash forward to my freshman year at UMass – stupid, foolish me decided “hey, I’ve got plenty of time left here” and decided to forego what woulda been my first ever BC-UMass game and, instead, celebrate my 19th birthday with some friends up at Southern New Hampshire U. Sure, good times were had, but finding out about an epic 2-1 win over the Eagles via text message, while welcome news, made me regret leaving campus just a smidge.
UMass would notch a couple of wins at Conte over the course of the next season-and-a-half, but the road-ready hockey fanatic of today was nowhere to be found. (Indeed, I think my first road UMass experience came at Agganis during my junior year; I didn’t venture inside Conte until the HEA Playoffs a year later.) Again, it was awesome how competitive the two programs had become, but damnit, I wanted to see a win in person.
My junior year, the day before a highly-anticipated showdown with the then-#4 Eagles on campus, I was hanging out in front of Brett with a few friends when I got the phone call that my uncle Timmy had passed away down in New York. I was in the basement of a family member I barely know, listening on a choppy radio feed, when Casey Wellman netted the game-winner in OT in what is possibly the greatest hockey game ever played at the Bill. I was there for the similarly-epic last-second comeback win against UNH (the “Boehm goes the dynamite” game), which to this day is my favorite memory in that building. But with all due respect to the Wildcats, it just wasn’t the same as beating BC, the school I’d hated as long as I could remember, first as a fledgling college hockey fan introduced through BU and then as the school that arguably gets the coldest of snobby shoulders from the elitists on the Heights.
After that, the well dried up. UMass played BC 12 consecutive times after that, including back-to-back Hockey East Quarterfinals, and almost every single game played out the same way: BC flexing its muscle, UMass sticking around, and the Eagles pulling out a 2 or 3 goal win without seeming to have tried. The exception, of course, was that infamous game at the Mullins a few years back where the Minutemen were ranked ahead of the Eagles, had the entire campus behind them, and came out and got positively waxed 7-1. It was the only time in that stretch where UMass clearly looked like the better team on paper coming in, and it was especially painful, but what hurt the most for this fan is that, after years of dominance, BC’s days of easy wins against this team finally looked to be over. But alas, 12-0-0.
Expectations yesterday were at an all-time low. Derek and I trekked over to Durham on Friday night to watch a miserable 60 minutes of hockey in which the Minutemen rotated in two different cardboard cutouts of goaltenders and couldn’t beat a dreadfully-shaky goaltender to save their lives. It was a fun trip to see Lake Whitt for the first time, and we (almost disappointingly) didn’t get shit from a single home fan, but then again, what would they say that we didn’t already know? UNH looked awful for long stretches of time, and they STILL managed to put up a touchdown. The offense scratched together three goals, but despite a “live free or die” approach from the officials (the first penalty came late in the 2nd period), there was no building of any kind of momentum except the negative for these guys. A nice pass here, a good move there, and then it was time to fire the puck directly into DiGirolomo’s chest and hope he somehow dropped it. Which he did, a few times, but the point was clear: after that falling-backwards goal by Henrion with 5 seconds in the period, the team basically signed out, just like it did last weekend when things started to go sour against what we now know (thanks, Lowell) to be an overrated BU squad. It made me question what all this Navy SEAL business in the offseason is actually accomplishing. The slightest bit of adversity, and this team falls apart at the seams – and remember, the point of that training, grueling as it looked, was to make the guys mentally tougher. They were anything but in the past two games.
(**Side note, because I don’t feel like talking about that UNH game ever again. Mastalerz started and looked pretty shaky. Then again, what the hell is Toot starting the kid in his first career game in one of the more intimidating venues in college hockey? Why not Tegs? And then what was with the goalie swapping? These are things I’m glad we don’t have to really talk about this week, but we can’t pretend they didn’t happen at all.)
Who could blame anyone for looking at Saturday night’s matchup and penciling – nay, penning – in an easy win for the Eagles? But hey, we’re masochists. You could even say UMassochists, although please don’t, what an awful pun I have made. It’s homecoming weekend, damnit, and we already had our tickets, and crazier things have happened, right? Though I wasn’t please to see Boyle starting in net, I had this funny feeling about this game, and I put myself in (ew) the shoes of a BC fan. “This is a reverse lock. This has ‘trap game’ written all over it.”
I was right.
The Minutemen played likely their finest game since the two-game sweep at Alfond Arena that temporarily rescued their season in ’09-10. The offense used its speed to mitigate those gigantic, skilled defensemen that BC has built their program around. The D, fueled by the spark of young Mike Busillo’s debut, the best game by far of Oleg Yevenko’s young career, and the continued strong play of guys like Hanley and Allen and Shea, smothered the BC offense, won battles for loose pucks, threw their bodies around and played the physical game I was hoping they’d play at Conte a few weeks back, and generally made life more difficult for the Eagles than it had been all season. And while I doubt we saw the best BC has to offer last night, I certainly don’t feel like they mailed it in at all either. The Minutemen legitimately outplayed them in key moments and did all the little things they’ve failed to do in weeks past.
The crowd had to be part of it, too. I’ve been effusive in my praise of the Mullins Maniacs this season, but it has to be said – they’re rounding in shape nicely. The fans are into the game all the way through, they generally know when to chant things, the guys at the front of the student section seem to be a rotating, rowdy bunch that is far more conducive to a loud student section than the typical “row of puck sluts that gets disinterested and leaves halfway through the 2nd” that we’re used to. I heard only one attempt at a “Fuck BC” that was quickly stifled. I’m cool with “I believe that we will win” just for its infectiousness and positive vibes, even if our Durham trip showed that we’re not even the only Hockey East school doing it. I’m psyched that Oleg finally played well enough to warrant singing “O-leg, O-leg-o-leg-o-leeeeg!” a la Martin Nolet, although he’s got a long way to go before he’s half the player Marty was. And hey, we didn’t get a Noise Meter until the very end, when everyone was loud anyway. I am sad that my strategy of singing a different White Stripes song (not “Seven Nation Army”) during BC power plays only worked for three successful rounds (“Apple Blossom” was the one that snapped the streak). And I’m just slightly concerned that a fellow alum (our good friend Matt, aka “Goggles”) was the catalyst for many of the chants (surely we can find some current students with loud voices, right?) But overall, the student section was the best I’ve seen it in some time, and they were rewarded. It was definitely surreal, and almost magical (yes damnit I said magical) that the Minutemen actually put a game away with an empty-netter, and the emotion in the air as Boyle was mobbed by his teammates is something I haven’t seen in a long time at the Bill. The last comparable moment for me as a UMass fan was Vinson beating Memphis a few years back at the Garden. That’s all well and good, but it’s creating endearing moments like this weekend that students will remember and will keep them coming back to games with positive attitudes. No matter how bad things may get, anything really is possible in sports. That’s why we’re fans.
So where does this put UMass going forward? In the big picture, it’s a 2-point weekend. The Minutemen are still 1-4-2 in Hockey East with 20 league games to go. But it sure as fuck beats being 0-5-2. And the road ahead finally gets a lot easier, with a very winnable stretch of Hockey East games on the docket, starting with a second chance at Northeastern this weekend. The Huskies are a prime example of a team that, just a year ago, started off terribly and finished strong to make a nice late run. The Minutemen need to model themselves after that path. Now, we all know the flip side of “anything is possible,” namely that the boys let this success go to their heads and come out flat again next weekend. But we’d like to think that this, their first win in their last 32 games against Hockey East teams not named Lowell or Vermont, is the springboard they’ve desperately needed.
So far I’ve witnessed two things this season that I never saw in my four years at UMass: a hat trick, and now a win over BC. You know what I did see when I was a student? Year after year of strong starts and horrid finishes. Maybe this is the year that we see the opposite. Hey, the “Wait a second…we WON?!” tag is out of retirement, and Little Dude invited us to a house party. You never know.
This weekend, pinned against its back, a Hockey East team desperately in need of a turnaround got its act together when it mattered the most and got three big points against a reeling opponent.
That opening sentence should have referred to the Minutemen, making a giant statement about its chances in Hockey East this year, about its vast improvement over last year’s debacle. Instead, Jack Parker’s Terriers laughed in the face of certain doom and found themselves back on track after rallying from a combined five-goal deficit over the course of two games. Both teams needed these points. BU needed them that much more.
Now, for those interesting in silver linings, UMass was arguably the better team on the ice for the entire weekend save for overtime of game one and the fateful second period Saturday. Particularly on Friday night, they dominated play for large stretches and seemed to have put their awful performance at Conte in the rear-view mirror. But we’ve seen this show before. The past few years, especially last season, this team accelerates quickly in the wrong direction when things start to get bad. We see this air of inevitability as fans, and I’m beginning to wonder if the sense of dread is shared by the team and the coaching staff. It was especially clear Saturday from our vantage point two rows behind the UMass bench at Agganis. You could almost feel the helplessness set in after the abortion of a 5 on 3. I’m fairly sure BU controlled the puck for 99% of the period from that point on, and then it was only a matter of time. Honestly, it was a shooting gallery on Tegs for the last few minutes of the period, and that UMass actually still had the lead in the intermission is a minor miracle. It easily could have been 7-3 BU going into the 3rd, and I’m actually being generous. And this isn’t just a Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou problem (he wasn’t any better than the rest of the gang, but I won’t pin the ending on him because the call was weak-sauce, and shame on the BU radio guys for, as Derek who was listening put it, “acting like Mike killed a guy” even after the replay showed it was clearly a weak call). True, Mikey’s actually-pretty-good performance Friday night will go forgotten after Saturday. But really, none of the guys Toot put on the ice seemed capable of even coming close to controlling the puck, let alone clearing it, once BU got going.
Major props, by the way, to Teglia for even keeping it close despite his defense literally giving up for the entire second half of the game. I mean, completely giving up. They couldn’t clear the puck to save their lives. The entire. Second. Half. I know BU has a high-octane offense, but they’re not that good. There just looked to be nothing left in the tank, and it’s way too early to be saying that. But I can’t stress enough how ugly this was. Consider the phrase “Teg Stand” coined and minted after that performance. He gets my Kubbie Point for the game despite allowing five goals, because I don’t think there was a single one you couldn’t pin on the defense.
Honestly, I don’t feel like sitting here and bitching and moaning about how bad this game was. I witnessed it with my own two eyes, and that was enough. I would be happier talking about Friday, which ended in an unfortunate tie but in which UMass played three complete periods and just couldn’t bounce in that third, clinching goal, taking a point from a top-15 team and positioning well for the road ahead. But after this loss, pessimism is the only logical course of action. The offense was sharp early and, to its credit, fought back to tie the game when all seemed lost. Alas, it was just delaying the inevitable. The Minutemen have their hands full with another daunting weekend against UNH (which seems to have righted the ship somewhat) and then another bout with BC at the Bill.
Let’s face facts. Since the end of the Jimmy/Casey era, UMass has played 32 Hockey East games and won five of them. And those five are against Vermont and Lowell. While it’s great that UMass has hung around in every game since the 11-2 disaster at Lawler last year, they still have yet to take that “next step” of, you know, actually winning some of those games. Something needs to change with the attitude of this team. It’s a tired story to hear but we’re going to keep harping on it until the worm turns: this team does NOT hold leads as presently constituted, and until that changes, the “coulda been” games will keep ending up in the loss and tie columns. This team SHOULD be 3-2-0 in Hockey East, and COULD easily be 4-1-0 (with a goaltender in Providence instead of a cardboard cutout of Kevin Boyle). They’ve been definitively outplayed once this year, at Chestnut Hill, by the #1 team in the land. What a shame, then, that they’ve played themselves out of their potential when it’s counted.
The road gets less bumpy after next weekend. But anything less than 2 points is going to make that road a hell of a lot longer.
– Attendance: great turnout by the students, but WHERE THE HELL were the locals? Y’all are lettin’ me down this year so far. Although I’d rather the side that’s near-full be loud and into the game. It was like a bizarro basketball crowd.
– Speaking of which, this nugget from Matt on Twitter: “Sluts have a postman-like ability to ignore weather.” Snowtober Presented by Amway did not keep Halloween any classier. I have to say, Josh Brown as the Ghostbuster won the night for me.
– One criticism of the home crowd: this weekend showed us just how big the divide is between UMass and BU in terms of fan awareness. Scores of BU kids brought signs referencing Mike Pereira’s “snob” comments earlier in the week. Virtually nobody in the UMass crowd had any idea about this controversy. Then again, half of them probably don’t even know who Mike Pereira is. Baby steps. To the crowd’s credit, there was only a smattering of attempts at “Fuck BU” (and a “Fuck Boston?!” lol wut?). We’re getting there, guys. Forward progress.
– And NO MATTY G. I like how his replacement (let’s call him “some guy with an actual PA announcing voice”) deadpanned the cheesy Matty G staples he was forced to do. It’s almost as if he knows that it is never, in fact, time for a noise meter. Sadly, it’ll be back to the groan-worthy stylings of Mr. Goldstein next weekend. It was a good run, other guy.
– Scoops Mazurik: Not a bad fellow, as it turns out. Fight Mass: Making Friends In Hockey East Wherever We Go! (TM) Seriously, though, classiest group of visiting BU fans I’ve encountered yet. Too bad the older home fans in our section at Agganis were so obnoxious on Saturday. (To be fair, I figure rooting for a Jack Parker team probably would skew your opinion on what is and isn’t a penalty in the game of hockey.)
– As sucky as Saturday’s game was, those new road uniforms are fucking awesome. I want to see them more, in spite of the outcome. Although I’m not as enthused about the white helmets, either at home or on the road.
– Baz-kett-a-ball starts in just 11 days! I know, I can’t believe it either. Rumor has it the Minutemen may or may not have beaten Drexel in a controlled scrimmage! Matt and I said hi to Coach Kellogg at ABC after the hockey game on Friday. He is very tall and very politician-like, but I was honest when I said I believe this team is gonna surprise some people this year. I might have more on that later this week…
– …but probably not. Merrimack, NH is still without power for the most part, and my office just got power back so it’s back to work tomorrow. I’ll try to get something up before the season opener, but I make no promises. NONE.
Massachusetts Minutemen (1-0-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East)
Providence Friars (1-0-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
Last night, the eighth-ranked Boston University Terriers discovered that the Providence Friars are no joke. Or at least they weren’t for one game. Yes those lowly basement dwellers, that team that was so bad it inspired this to be written about it near the end of the 2009-2010 season, the pushovers of yesteryear (pretty much every yesteryear) proved they could play some puck last night. Much to my amusement, Kieran Millan was forced to fish the biscuit out of the back of his own net five times. The Terriers were outshot in every period, except the third where both teams recorded 11 shots on net. The most impressive part of last night’s Friar win was that it was a full team effort. The five goals were put in by five different guys (Drew Brown, Matt Montesano, Stefan Demopoulos, Myles Harvey, and Ross Mauermann) and eleven skaters picked up points. Only three Friars were on the wrong side of the plus/minus rating for the night. Even when the team’s former best player, goalie Alex Beaudry, tried to blow the game by letting a 3-0 advantage slip away, the Friars found away to recompose themselves and put two more behind Millan to earn the W.
If last night’s game is any indicator, this is a much stronger squad under new head coach Nate Leaman than it was under Tim Army. We do, however, have to consider the possibility that this game was an aberration. Last year’s team went 4-16-7 in Hockey East play earning it ninth place (one point behind your beloved Minutemen). The Friars have not reached the postseason since my freshman year, the 2007-08 season. Last year’s top three scorers, who were not exactly setting the hockey world on fire anyway, have graduated. The team’s top returning point scorer, Tim Schaller, had all of five goals last season. Providence’s most remarkable returning freshman is Derek Army, son of the former coach. He managed to put up six goals and 13 points last year. Last year’s Friars scored just 1.96 goals per game in conference, and netminder Beaudry’s .901 save% was nowhere near good enough to carry the team.
In fact, if we’re talking about the Friars, we might as well forget about the upper class altogether. It’s all about the youth movement now in Providence. Four of last night’s five Friar goals were scored by freshmen. The exception was Myles Harvey’s powerplay game-winner. Harvey is a junior defenseman. It was his first career goal. That means that Providence had five first-time goal scorers last night. Pretty nifty feat there. Still, one game is a very small sample size and the Minutemen are unlikely to overlook the Friars as the Huskies may have. The Friars are a bit of an enigma right now. If nor overlooked, can the freshmen really continue to carry this team? And will Alex Beaudry return to his sophomore form (he posted a solid .914 save% that year without much help from the rest of the team) or will he be the reason the Friar’s lose games instead of the reason they eek out wins?
Okay, so let’s not forget this is Providence, the college whose only notable accomplishment is having Death as an alumnus. They grabbed a win last night but so did the Minutemen. The top line looked PHENOMENAL out there and Danny Hobbs, Franchise Pereira, and TJ Syner managed to rack up 10 points between themselves. The Mass Attack blasted 46 shots on Bentley goalie Branden Komm, plus one on an empty net. What was a slightly bit concerning was that such a high percentage of the production came from the top. Other than a goal scored by Brendan Gracel on a fantastical feed from Troy Power, the goals came exclusively from the top line. Also concerning was the penalty kill, which let in two goals on five chances. Although, to be fair, one of those goals came on a five minute opportunity after Adam Phillips received a five-and-game for contact to the head midway through the third period. (Thankfully, no further discipline will be imposed on Phillips for the hit.) Freshman Kevin Boyle… did not have his best night in net. Although Boyle is good on the first shot, it is becoming apparent that his rebound control and recovery are not up to par, at least not yet. I expect to see Jeff Teglia make his first start of the year in net tonight, but, honestly, he was probably already penciled into the lineup anyway.
As usual, tonight’s game will come down to who plays harder and smarter. The Friars were playing a nationally-ranked team (who probably was overlooking them) last night and it was their home and opener with a brand new coach. Plenty of motivation there to start off on the right foot and Providence clearly outworked the Huskies in pretty much every facet of the game. It’s unlikely that UMass will come out tonight expecting the Friars to just roll over for them. The top line has the firepower back at full force. Brendan Gracel is playing out of his mind right now. And pretty soon teams are going to start playing Conor Sheary as a pass-only guy. They will be making a mistake when they do cuz that kid’s got a wicked wrister. In fact, I think two games without a goal is quite enough for Sheary. I expect him to net one tonight. And, yes, I do think the Minutemen will pull off the win. But, I will admit that I’m A LOT more worried about this matchup than I was yesterday. It just goes to show you, there are no easy games in Hockey East.
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
Saturday Recap – UMass 6 – 0 Vermont
It was quite the road trip for us here at Fight Mass (helped by the fact that we only went to the Saturday game). As a quick aside from the hockey action, our pregame spot needs mentioning. Per the advice of Rocks over at Fear the Triangle, we had to check out The Alchemist in Waterbury. Gotta say, he was right on in his assessment; it was fantastic. Two of the beers I had there were definitely in the top 5 of beers I’ve had all time. Also before I start this recap in earnest, I have to give a big thanks to the staff at the Gut, who actually came up to us before the game and explained their policies and then actually enforced the policies on their own students (also, thank you to the Vermont State Trooper who stood at the end of our row for the entire game making sure we didn’t get killed). We also got to meet Brendan Gracel’s mom Christine (it’s pronounced gray-CELL, btw), who is a very nice person and a great supporter of our team and Conor Sheary’s dad Kevin who is a great guy (which I knew before last night anyway because it turns out I used to work with him). He had just made it back from Northeastern where Sheary’s sister was playing for the UNH women’s hockey team.
To sum up this game in a nutshell, I would call it a fantastic 50 minute effort. Our boys scored 5 even-strength goals and one on the powerplay (the 6 goals came from 5 different skaters), aaaaaand successfully killed off 5 penalties. The majority of the first period was a fierce battle. It even looked like the Catamounts would score first as Paul Dainton was forced to make two incredible glove saves against Drew MacKenzie while lying on his stomach at around the 9 minute mark of the first. At 15:27, when Danny Hobbs scored off of T.J. Syner’s rebound on the rush, the Minutemen never looked back. Less than two minutes later, Syner took a puck in the neutral zone, skated right into the slot, and shelved a picture perfect wrister past Madore. Syner would add a second goal just 37 seconds into the second period on a snapshot from the low slot off a nifty pass from Doug Kublin.
Then came one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen (at least from the Mass Attack). So pretty, in fact, that it gets its own paragraph. Pereira stripped Funky A (see last post) at the defensive blue line and skated through the neutral zone. As he crossed the Vermont blue line, he slid the puck over to Conor Sheary, who then delayed and made a cross-ice pass to Eric Filiou. Filiou rushed the net, forcing Madore to commit, and then neatly slid the puck across the crease to Pereira, who tapped the puck into the vacant net. It was technically executed perfection.
14:06 into the second, Kevin “Holyoke” Czepiel potted the fifth UMass goal off a rebound from Chase Langeraap’s backhander. Patrick Kiley also figured into this goal; the assist was his first NCAA point. At this point, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon decided he had had enough of Rob Madore, and benched him in favor of freshman Alex Vazzano. Vazzano played well, holding the Mass Attack off the board for more than a period. The final goal was scored with about a minute left in the game when Chase Langeraap’s powerplay backhander beat Vazzano (I believe it went 5-hole, but I’m not positive. The play was at the other end of the ice).
Paul Dainton played spectacularly, but definitely not perfectly. He was even more eager to play the puck than usual; Matt even was moved to ask, “Who gave Paul Dainton a Red Bull?” At one point, Dainton went to play the puck, and immediately gave it away, giving Vermont a brief opportunity at an open net… which they missed. Yes, Vermont’s offense is THAT bad (full disclosure: it was a tough angle, but still, no goalie!). Also bad was the play at the beginning of the third period. There was a lot of prevent defense being played by UMass. The whole let UVM have offensive possession for a minute and a half, clear the puck, change lines, rinse, repeat thing was going on. Granted, the defense was doing a pretty good job of not allowing a ton of great shots during these possessions, but it’s still not a good way to play hockey (I know we were up 5-0 at that point, but I really think Toot should be pressing 60 minutes of good hockey, no matter what the score is).
There were plenty of guys who had good nights other than Dainton, three were particularly noteworthy. Danny Hobbs started the scoring and tacked on two assists for a tidy 3 points on the score sheet. T.J. Syner had two goals (including that beautiful wrister) and an assist on the first three goals of the night, and he really got a fire lit under the offense. Also of note was Doug Kublin, if for no other reason than for the fact that HE WAS A +5 FOR THE GAME. That’s right, a +5. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that before. Shoutouts for solid all-around play should go to guys like Gracel, Langeraap (who had 2 points), Sheary, and Hanley, as well.
For anyone who’d like to watch some highlights, I’ll just leave these here:
Aaaaaaand since we weren’t there for the Friday game, I’ll just post a vid of some of the high(low)lights.
Last Week: 2GP/2A/+4/3SOG/0PIM
Season Totals: 21GP/3G/3A/6Pts/+7/18SOG/18PIM
UMass Minutemen (5-11-3(4-6-3HEA)) vs. Vermont Catamounts (4-12-4(2-8-3HEA))
Coming off of a home-and-home sweep of Lowell last weekend, the Minutemen hope to keep the moment this weekend as they head to Burlington for a two game set with UVM. After their almost-collapse on Friday, the Mass Attack rebounded with one of their finest efforts of the year for a decisive 4-1 victory on Saturday.
Vermont is ranked 9th in Hockey East right now and could be considered a bizarro-Lowell. By this, I mean that UVM has pretty decent goaltending and defense coupled with an anemic offense (the worst in Hockey East). It’s an offense that can only muster 1.85GPG in conference play and has a powerplay success rate of under 13%. Then came the news that Wahsontiio Stacey (and probably his mom) is leaving the Catamounts. Stacey has been UVM’s leading goal- and point-scorer this year (9G/6A/15Pts). UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said that Stacey’s departure probably wouldn’t affect the team’s play very much. Well, he’s probably right; Stacey hasn’t scored a goal in Hockey East play since a 3-2 loss to BC in early November, so we shouldn’t expect his loss to turn the Catamounts into complete pushovers. But still, with Stacey gone, the UMass defense will have one less “threat” to worry about this weekend. Without Stacey, UVM will probably rely more on such goal-scoring luminaries as: Sebastian “Funky A” Stålberg (5G/9A/14Pts), Jack Downing (5G/3A/8Pts), and Chris McCarthy (5G/3A/8Pts). I might add that only 2 of Funky A’s 5 goals and 5 of his 9 assists came against Hockey East foes.
It’s been a different story for the Minutemen of late, whose 9 goals in their last 2 games (take it with a grain of salt people, these two games were against “the worst team in the history of Hockey East) have bumped the season average to 2.77GPG in Hockey East play. This isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but when considered that Dainton’s GAA in Hockey East play is the same 2.77, it gives you at least a 50/50 shot of winning (which might explain why Dainton is 4-4-2 in Hockey East action this season). The offense has received contributions from everywhere, and has 5 players with double-digit point totals: Michael Pereira (8G/9A/17Pts), Danny Hobbs (5G/11A/16Pts), T.J. Syner (5G/10A/15Pts), Branden Gracel (3G/7A/10Pts), and Joel Hanley (1G/9A/10Pts). Also of note is Adam Phillips, a freshman defenseman who has potted 6 goals (4 on the powerplay) so far this season. Speaking of the Mass Attack powerplay, it sits at a respectable 16.4% against Hockey East opponents.
The Minuteman problems have been the same for most of the season. Defense. At best, it’s average; at worst, it’s atrocious. Conor Allen and Michael Marcou (Marcou, yes a junior with 71 games experience) both have dreadful –9 plus/minus ratings. How Toot ever decided Mike Marcou was worthy of an A on the sweater is beyond me. The penalty kill sits at an awful 78.9% success rate and I swear to god at times it seems like some of the PK guys are playing with themselves out on the ice. The Mass Attack allows 34.8 SOG a game to Hockey East opponents and many of these shots come from prime scoring real estate. The lazy and undisciplined defense let a garbage UML team back in the game last Saturday and almost blew it. The only guys doing a consistently good job on the back end are Doug Kublin and (somewhat surprisingly) freshman Colin Shea. Both are +3s and we all know that Kubbie is a solid, fundamental, lockdown D-man. Shea, on the other hand, can strike a bit of fear at times as he is a still-learning freshman, but he is certainly learning very quickly.
Vermont’s defense, on the other hand, is allowing less than 32 shots against in Hockey East play, but, they are even worse on the PK, with a 78.3% kill rate in conference play. They play in front of a serviceable junior netminder in Rob Madore (4-12-4, 2.95GAA, .904save%). Madore has been known to stand on his head at times (especially last year against UMass), but he is usually a fairly average backstop. Given the numbers, you’d have to give the goaltending edge to Paul Dainton (5-6-2, 2.86GAA, .914save%).
The key to this weekend is to play 6 periods of good hockey. In all honesty, Vermont is a bad team. If the boys in maroon don’t allow this series to be two trap games, they should come out with at least 3 points. Better offense, better goaltending, and about equal defense can hopefully lead to some wins for UMass this weekend and will hopefully lead to some angry fifty-year-old from Vermont hilariously challenging myself, Matt, and Max after Saturday’s game.
Last Week: 0Pts/2SOG/+1/0PIM
Season Totals: 3G/1A/4Pts/15SOG/+3/18PIM
It seems fitting that I write this on the day that Zdeno Chara has his first career hat trick, as the key to Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of our ugly sister was the continued amazing shooting of an tall, oafish defenseman. Adam Phillips , King Phillips for those listening to my drunken yelling, has been the highlight of UMass’s offense when they decide to actually set up shots. His slap shot from the top of the point is the greatest weapon our power-play has right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing it for many years to come.
In general. this is the game I was looking for from our minutemen, playing strongly against an admittedly weak opponent, but putting a solid effort up nevertheless. While UMass did let off the gas in the 3rd, they didn’t fall asleep at the wheel like on friday night and have to be bailed out by some last second heroics. I would like to think of this game as a turning point, giving this team enough confidence to play strongly in hostile territory this weekend in an extremely important tilt with UVM.
I hate to put so much importance on one series, but this weekend will tell us alot about the rest of the season. If we can go to UVM and take 3 or 4 points, we can almost guarantee at least an 8-spot in hockey east, with room to grow against some tougher opponents later in the season. This team seems to be gaining an identity. I have been extremely impressed with the upperclassmen as of late. TJ Syner continues to be a thrill to watch (so much speed, too much speed), Hobbs has stepped up as of late, Langeraap has had a point in 5 of the last 7 games, and Kublin has continued to be Kubtastic (which is to say more important than meaningless stats). Its good to see some leadership be established, especially given how young this team is.
Well, we can only hope this is a sign of a turn around. We (ie, me) also hopes that Derek will continue preview duties with the start of a new semester (because I sure as shit ain’t doing it). Also, welcome back Max, who will be joining myself and Walsh for the first out of state complete triangular fight mass road trip.
Happy new semester, we’ll be seeing you in the land of cheese (and Bernie Sanders)