The students are back on campus, intersession is in the books, and the pivotal second semester of the seasons is about to get into full swing for the Minutemen, on the ice and on the hardwood. Both teams have performed above preseason expectations (for the latter, significantly so), and now it’s time to see what both teams are truly made of, as pivotal conference matchups will determine the postseason fates of both sets of Minutemen. It all starts this weekend against some familiar foes who happen to be seasonal “favorites” of the boys of The Fight Mass Blog Starring Mike Marcou, if by “favorites” you mean we like them about as much as Tim Thomas likes big government. (TOPICAL ZING)
For hockey, it means two games against the Angry Birds of
UMass Lowell. I’ll skip the early-season reverse-jinx gimmick this time around and stick to the fact that Rowdy’s gang has wharrgarbled their way to a 9-6-0 start, a year after occupying the basement of Hockey East and occupying it hard. The University of Massachusetts ran off a five-game winning streak against its estranged crack whore sister coming into the year, then for some reason loaned their uniforms to the AIC Falcons and sent them on a bus to the Tsongas Tscenter in late November for a 4-0 loss that was never really that close. Even in the days of pro agents and scouts at ice level juggling flaming swords to distract Marcou, Irwin and Wellman, I’ve never seen a Minutemen team as disinterested in a game as they did back in November. Those were very bad times.
That, obviously, can’t happen this weekend. The Minutemen are 7-0-3 on their home ice coming into Friday’s showdown. They have a massive rest advantage, having played just twice since Frozen Fenway, while Lowell will be playing their fourth and fifth games in eight days. UMass stands four points back with equal games played in conference, and a sweep, unlikely as it may seem for a team that hasn’t had a four-point weekend in seemingly forever, would catapult the Minutemen past the River Hawks in the standings with the tiebreaker. And this is not the Lowell team that was crushing folks back in November. Lowell was blanked 1-0 by Alex Beaudry and the Friars tonight in Providence, and since edging BC 3-2 in December, they’re just 2-3-0 in the conference, all against teams in the lower half of the standings, and one of those wins was literally handed to them by Northeastern.
The River Hawks’ success has largely come thanks to the emergence of Doug Carr, who (contrary to what Beaudry’s and Rawlings’s mothers would like you to believe) is probably the conference’s best goaltender this year. They’ve also gotten unexpectedly strong contributions from upperclassmen like David Vallorani and Matt Ferreira, who have thrived in new head coach Norm Bazin’s system, and youngsters like Scott Wilson and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, who seems to be picking up where past Lowell defensive stars like Nick Schaus and Jeremy Dehner and Maury Edwards (when he was still good) left off.
Lowell, unbelievably, entered the night third in the pairwise, thought losing to Providence dropped them into a tie with – hey, lookit that – Boston College. The Minutemen are in 24th, which would be awesome if this was basketball RPI, but where only the top 16 make the tourney, there’s plenty of work to do. Still, UMass’s ability to take advantage of its few quality non-conference foes (Yale and Cornell) puts the team in a good spot. Almost every Hockey East game is good for the pairwise. As bad as the season started, the Minutemen are also just six points out of a home ice slot behind Maine, with three games in hand (and two more shots at the Black Bears on the schedule).
This weekend holds a world of importance for UMass, given the opportunity to improve their standings, improve in the pairwise, drop a hated rival, and get the student base fired up from the very first hockey weekend of the semester. If they can’t get fired up for at least the Friday game, it’s back to the “slightly bit concerned” mode for us. If they come out flying like they did against Vermont, though, and actually get some puck luck this time, and avoid penalties, I’m much more confident in this team’s ability to protect a lead. Lowell’s scored a grand total of three more goals than UMass this year in Hockey East play. Their edge, of course, is on the defensive end, which is why getting the lead early is key.
And would it hurt to win a fucking road game? Jeez. Anyway, the three of us will be there on Friday and Walsh and I will also make the tstrip to Tsongas on Tsaturday, so if you can’t make it to the games (for shame!) we’ll have some commentary for ya on @FightMass. Did I mention there’s no underscore anymore? There’s no underscore anymore, get used to it.
Now, ahem, basketball. The past week was down-and-up for the boys. Wednesday at Duquesne was one of those ugly, foul-plagued conference games that we’ve been so used to seeing over the last couple years under DK, and the Minutemen never got into any sort of rhythm in an 11-point loss to the Dukes. The team’s lack of depth with the Sampson and Cady injuries hurt them inside, forcing Sean and Putney to play soft, while Chaz had probably his worst game as a Minuteman, turning the ball over like it was going out of style. And worst of all, we had to endure the worst fucking commentary you’ll ever hear in a radio broadcast from the Dukes crew. And don’t give me that “well how can you complain about a pirated video stream” bullshit, I watched that game with my UMass All-Access Pass somehow, thank you very much. I pay like ten bucks a month for that shit.
And yet as much as I complain about the UMass broadcasts on Twitter and make fun of Maurer’s extra syllables and Hennessey combining hockey players’ first names into their last, at least both of UMass’s announcing crews call games in a fairly unbiased manner. I’ve always thought that, if you take Jack Edwards and Tom Heinsohn out of the equation, we Boston sports fans have some pretty fair announcing crews on both TV and radio, and even those two have Brickley and Gorman to temper their respective outrages. Duquesne, meanwhile, had this trifecta of failure mucking it up in the booth:
1) Old homer who clearly hasn’t left the Pittsburgh area in 60 years, seamlessly incorporating his own random thoughts into what is supposed to be straight play-by-play,
2) Token former player spouting random SportsCenter catch phrases without providing any actual useful observations,
3) “Stat boy” with a voice whinier than John Wallach’s (!) who has never touched a basketball in his life, doesn’t understand how travelling works, and shouts “CARRY!” every time Chaz touches the ball.
When these guys weren’t bemoaning the lack of calls in Duquesne’s favor (even though the fouls were going their way at like a 2-to-1 ratio for almost the entire game), the three of them decided by halftime – based on one bad performance – that Chaz must be the worst point guard of all time (you know, even though he’s 23rd in the nation in assists) and that “this is why Hofstra didn’t want him.” OMG that’s just classic, y’all are hilarious!!1 Hey, remember that last time you guys were in the NCAA tourney in 1977? No, and neither does anyone else. Shut up, dipshits.
…Ahem, but here’s the beauty of this season: the “bazkettaball” is the exception, no longer the rule. Case in point – UMass came out three days later and pulled off a good road win at Richmond in front of a surprisingly solid crowd (and I say this because basically everyone else in the A-10 has a solid home crowd by our standards). Chaz bounced back and carried the team down the stretch with some ridiculous passes, everyone played great defense in the second half, Carter had one of his better offensive games, and the team once again got enough offense from enough different sources to win.
No disrespect to Gurley, but part of last year’s struggles (besides the glaring hole at point guard) was that the Minutemen couldn’t develop a consistent second scorer to support AG, who took it upon himself to take too many shots trying too hard to carry the scoring load. Without him, the Minutemen have been forced to spread the wealth (and, again, having a real point guard who himself is a scoring threat has been a massive help in that regard). Rarely this year has one guy clearly been the lone offensive weapon, although Chaz himself is the team’s leading scorer. Some nights it’s Jesse, some nights it’s Putney, but for the most part, the scoring has been very evenly distributed when the team is playing well.
So let’s keep that ball rolling. The Minutemen are 15-5, 4-2 in conference play, and with the season 2/3 of the way down, can rack up 20 wins just by playing .500 ball down the stretch. That said, the competition gets fiercer, with seven of these games against teams in the RPI top 100. The Minutemen can – and kind of need to – win the other three, which are two against a hilariously-bad Rhode Island team and then a roadie against a not-good-at-all George Washington. Of the other seven, here’s what’s left:
Home: Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure, La Salle, Xavier
Road: St. Joe’s, Dayton, Temple
A 20-win season, provided they notch those three cupcake wins, means winning just TWO of these seven games. They can make this process a lot easier on Saturday when Fat Majerus and the Billikens come to town. Last year, the same Billikens got a white-hot three-point shooting performance at home to down the Minutemen. This year’s team has some quality-ish wins against low-level major conference teams like Villanova, Washington, and Oklahoma, but all either at home or neutral-site. They’ve hung around in some tough roadies against New Mexico and Dayton, but are overall unimpressive away from the Gateway Arch, which I should point out is nowhere near the Atlantic Ocean. (Really, the Billikens were trailblazers in this whole “play in a conference that makes zero geographic sense” trend.) This would be by far their most impressive road win. UMass is unbeaten at home. I say these trends should continue.
Saturday afternoon needs to be the biggest home crowd of the season. Needs to. The athletics department has been pimping this game out hardcore to students and locals alike. It’s the first home game after the long break, during which UMass actually won a televised game (albeit on a channel that nobody really gets). It’s a 2:00 start, which gives students zero excuse – you can part Friday, go to the game Saturday, and it’ll be over long before anything is going on again Saturday night (AND it gives the hardcore fans plenty of time to make the drive to Lowell with time to hit up Lowell Beer Works before the nightcap!). The midweek loss against Duquesne probably went unnoticed to much of the student body – in fact, let’s not talk about that game anymore, it never happened, don’t tell anybody. And the Billikens may not be the biggest draw on the schedule (that’d be Xavier, recent struggles notwithstanding) but Majerus is a big enough name and Saint Louis is at least more recognizable than, say, La Salle or St. Bonaventure. And the team is fucking 15-5. It’s time to stop with the negative stigma around this team. As Don Orsillo would say, they’re back and they’re back big.
Hockey fans who scoff at the basketball team ads on the jumbotron, I implore you – just go to the game. Unless you absolute despise the game of basketball, which means you’re not an American anyway so it’s cool. But otherwise, go. Yell your brains out. It’s a fucking Saturday afternoon, no excuses, you’ve got no other plans. Bring other people. This might not be an NCAA tournament team this year – not quite yet – but I think we’re finally, finally seeing the emergence of something special in this Kellogg era. Be part of it, or get left in the dust when the bandwagon takes off next year.
That’s all I got for ya. We’ll try to record another FightCast this weekend, maybe. Until then, enjoy the games. I know I will. It’s about time this program had two teams playing meaningful conference games in the second semester.
We’ve seen a little bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly since we last left you, our intrepid readers. The happenings for UMass’s big three programs (hockey, Chazketball, and football) have been a-happening. Reality bites, I’m afraid, as Matt and I have been hampered in our ability to keep the blog up-to-date by our full-time jobs, and Walsh continues to search for one for himself. So be a little understanding if free time, much like UMass power play goals, UNH fan teeth, or attractive Lowell residents, is at a premium.
That said, let’s check in and see how things are going for each of those teams.
Last night’s game against Yale was immensely encouraging in a lot of ways. UMass fought through a tough start (three penalties in the opening minutes) and put together a strong all-around effort for the rest of the game in a 3-1 win that wasn’t really even that close. It shows the team building off of its 4-4 tie with the Crimson of Hahhvahd, a game that itself served as a return to “actually trying” after the team pulled a Seguin and slept through its previous three.
Let’s take a moment here to address something mighty troubling. I got in some hot water a few games ago for taking some cheap shots at a few ditzy puck sl…err, scantily-clad female fans who came to cheer on their beloved Northeaste-wait, which one do we go to again? Where’s Kelly? But the Harvard game brought something much more harmful for UMass’s reputation than the most stereotypical Swestiest Swesties ever to set foot in the Bill. I’m talking, of course, about the dumb fucks who took it upon themselves to toss their chuck-a-pucks onto the ice during the game.
I feel like actions of this degree of stupid warrant a sternly-worded “fuck you” to the offending party (or parties…we’ll never know if it was the same kid, since from my vantage point, Mullins security did absolutely nothing to try and track the kid down, and it took until after the second offense for Goldstein to inform the audience that you’re, you know, not allowed to do that). Let’s forget for a moment that the stoppage of play that resulted from the second puck-chucking led to a UMass penalty that led to a game-tying Harvard goal, though there was, graciously, no actual penalty for the incident. Why the fuck would you do such a thing? How fucked up do you have to get before (okay, let’s be honest – during) the game to think this is a good idea? I’ve been to UMass games in some pretty intoxicated states. Lest you forget, I invented a version of the Jaegerbomb that has a higher alcohol percentage. But I know my limits, and I know the fine line between “rather” drunk and “fuck the consequences of all actions I might take” drunk. I might be giving the kid(s) the benefit of the doubt here, but I would hope that it would take a high blood alcohol level to make such a dumb fucking decision.
But what really defecated on my (and all reasonable UMass fans’) parade was that this somehow managed to happen twice. Whether it was the same kid or not, the fact that there was no public shunning of the offending party – in fact, quite a bit of appeased laughter – is a painful reminder that this student section has a ways to go before it escapes its own reputation. I appreciate the efforts being made by those in Section S, which I will always consider the “true” student section regardless of how asinine it is that they sit by the goal that UMass only shoots on once and with a limited view of the corner on the other side of the UMass bench. For the first time since my freshman year, there are kids up here who are actually trying to lead this diverse, ragtag group of variously-dressed, variously-cheering, variously-informed hockey fans and/or casual observers and/or Puffton pregamers. I feel like this is going to be a losing proposition until the team achieves some actual success and generates a following for more than just the spectacle. Just look at UVM. They had a few good runs, sent St. Louis and Timmah to the NHL, and now they have a great student section for a team that’s even more god-awful this year than UMass, their last meeting notwithstanding.
I think I speak for the other two (even if they won’t admit it) that the efforts of the Militia and a few rows of kids who “get it” are a step in the right direction, but for the Bill to return to the levels of intimidation unmatched since the four-game sweep of Maine in ’06, it’s gonna take some stepping-up, a lot more creativity (like the “Do my homework” chant! The guy who started it is awesome) and a lot less “Fuck you Harvards.” And an “ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh SEE YA ASSHOLE” for the fuckhead who throws the pucks on the ice, as he gets dragged out, barely able to stand, after getting pointed out by the rest of his row. That’s what things are like at the other nine schools in Hockey East, guys. Even Lowell and even fucking Merrimack. (Okay, maybe not Providence, but they would if anyone showed up to games.) It’s not weird, it’s not tattling – it’s called being a fan and not wanting your team to get a fucking penalty and/or injury because of some douche in the stands. And that, folks, is your sternly-worded “fuck you.” Thanks for coming and let us never have to speak of this again. (I’m choosing to act as though the wave started by the student section never happened, since this bullshit also actually happened at a Bruins game the other night.)
Ahem. So yeah, the Yale game went well. Hope they can carry the positive momentum into the second half now. I’m putting the Kubbie Kounter on hold, by the way. In fact, maybe we’ll just do it for the second half. I feel like Guzzo would be running away with it by now though, as he and Gracel might be the only Minutemen who showed up for those three straight losses. Just sayin’.
So here’s where we discuss the titular 30 Rock reference. The Minutemen descended into the crevasse, alright. Tuesday’s game at East Carolina might be the ugliest display of bazkettaball that I’ve ever had to witness, right down to the horrific webstream with ECU’s overly excitable announcers and PA guy blasting on echo over an uber-low resolution video that constantly flashed things like “MAKE SOME NOISE” and “DEFENSE.” (You get what you pay for, unless it’s UMass All Access video, wakka wakka wakka!) UMass built a massive first-half lead almost effortlessly, then actually stopped giving effort for a disturbingly long period of time as ECU fought back valiantly before finally shooting itself in the foot one time too many. And I mean damn I’d hate to be the doctor who has to fix up that foot! I can’t say it’s the worst UMass win I’ve ever seen, since I’ve seen them trail AIC late into the first half and beat Fordham at home on a buzzer-beater, but it was a bit discouraging to think that ECU had to miss a flurry of 3’s and free throws for UMass to pull this one out.
But whatever – they did pull it out. A win is a win and this one came on the road, and after a horrific travel schedule the likes of which I haven’t seen this team have in my time following them. Three games in three nights in the Bahamas, a flight home, a flight back to Miami, another flight home, and another flight back down to Greenville? Brutal, especially for a team that runs a full-court press for most of every game. So let’s put this one in the rearview mirror and focus on a 7-3 record and a cupcake schedule between this team and the start of conference play. It looks like the A-10 will be a bitch this year, in a good way for the conference but maybe not for UMass. I figured the conference would be up-for-grabs, but clear front-runners have emerged in Xavier and the Fighting Majeruses (Majerusi? Whatever, they’re fat, and I refuse to acknowledge whatever a Billiken is) and we’ve seen teams like Dayton pull off some nice upsets. Hell, even Fordham has three wins somehow. Really, the only team that looks truly horrible in this conference is – wait for it – oh this is great – weeeeeeeeeee’re Rhode Island born, and we’re Rhode Island (in)bred and when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead! Yeah, URI is 1-8 with a home win over Chaz-less Hofstra. In a word, epic. (They’ll probably sweep us.) So yeah, any thought of competing for an at-large bid now depends upon running the rest of the non-conference table and making a big dent in the conference. It would’ve been nice to get at least one of the three that they’ve lost so far, but there are still high-RPI teams left on the schedule – all at home – in the form of Xavier, Saint Louis, and Davidson (?!). And really, I think this team is at least as any team in the conference outside of Cincinnati.
There are question marks, of course. For every great story (Esho and Cady being solid out of the gate Morgan coming out of his slump, Carter’s alley-oops, and of course Chaz) there are concerns. Sampson is out for the season, which blows because he was starting to create favorable memories in my head of Etienne Brower, with a combination of length, underrated D and a smooth shooting touch from the line and the arc. At least he gets to redshirt and won’t be leaving us with the rest of DK’s inaugural class. Freddie had been…let’s say not so great coming into last night’s game, then he lit it up for the first half aaaaaand inexplicably was benched by DK for the rest of the game. Not what you want to do to a player who’s….let’s say moody. Look, we criticize the shit out of Riley, and he and Matt’s Twitter spats were well-documented. But we do it out of love, man. We want Freddie to be the spot-up 3-point ace he seems capable of being, but we’re sports fans – we get frustrated when our players struggle, and unfortunately, his shooting numbers make him a magnet for the criticism. (The mess that was the offense the last two years didn’t help, but he’s undoubtedly slumped to start this year as well.) Now, he finally looked to be breaking out of it, and Kellogg sits him on a team that already is a guard short with Laguerre’s academic ineligibility. DK’s making strides from a coaching standpoint this year, no doubt, and the new system on both offense and defense is working much better than anything they were doing the last few years. But unless there’s more to this story (which is certainly possible), I find it highly perplexing. Here’s hoping the team irons out whatever was going on here for tomorrow’s Springfield Siena game. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m way more confident about it than I would have been a year ago.
Okay, this post is getting to “way tl;dr” territory. So I’ll keep it brief for now and probably try (ha) to follow-up soon. As a Notre Dame football fan (go ahead, toss the paper balls and boo) I’m pleased with the appointment of Charley Molner. I know, something about the combination of Charlie and offensive coordinator and Massachusetts and Notre Dame sounds like failure. And while both took over for a beleaguered and unpopular coach (I kinda liked Willingham, actually, but the results spoke for themselves), Weis was taking over his alma mater with extraordinary expectations and a storied history, a program that even I’ll admit was moving in the wrong direction on the prestige scale. (Though, fingers crossed, Kelly is slowly righting that ship.) The Minutemen have nowhere to go but up, and out of the crevasse that was (was! WAS! It’s SO good to say that!) the Morris era. Granted the bar may be low, but his rally cry – that UMass should be the best college football program in New England – is solid, and frankly, quite achievable given that BC is in a downward spiral and UConn’s rise to glory is fizzling. True, it’s premature to crown the guy when he’s yet to be a head coach in his career, and we haven’t seen how he recruits yet. But let’s be frank – we weren’t going to get a Mike Leach to come here just yet. The first year might be a little shaky, between the growing pains of an FBS schedule, a first-year head coach and a cupboard left pretty bare. And the pressure’s a little greater than it was for DK, who wasn’t replacing a coach UMass was still paying and who didn’t have a new conference and stadium to work with. If next season’s excitement is tempered by the lack of actual success, well, that’s the crevasse the Morris era has left us in. We may have to dig just a little deeper before we find the way out.
Friday: Bentley 3 – Massachusetts 5
The return of Danny Hobbs clearly sparked the first line in Friday night’s game as Hobbs, Pereira, and Syner combined for four goals and 10 points. Hobbs’s first goal of the season came after the Minutemen had given up an early goal to Bentley’s Aaron Stonacek. It came courtesy of a slick feed from linemate Franchise Pereira. UMass went down 2-1 on a powerplay goal scored by Alex Grieve and trailed to end the first period. The Mass Attack then scored three consecutive goals, two by the Franchise and one by Branden Gracel, before giving up another powerplay tally. The score stood at 4-3 until Pereira scored on an empty net to complete his hat trick.
The offense played well and the Mass Attack really controlled the flow of play from the second period on. After outshooting the Falcons 12-10 in the first period, the Minutemen went on to outshoot them by a much wider margin, 35-14, in the final two periods. The first line looked like gods and no one skater looked particularly bad, although The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou was on the ice for all three goals against. The penalty kill was somewhat suspect, but so was freshman goaltender Kevin Boyle, who allowed too many rebounds and didn’t recover quickly enough to challenge second shots.
Douglas F. Kublin Memorial Player of the Game
Derek: Danny Hobbs
Yes, yes, Pereira had a hat trick, but one of those three goals was an empty netter and the other two were set up by Hobbs, one fantastically so. Hobbs’s one goal of the night was a timely one, scored shortly after Bentley took an early 1-0 lead, and it was not a coincidence that the first line, as a whole, had a breakout game on the same night he returned to the lineup.
Saturday: Massachusetts 4 – Providence 6
If you were there, you would know that the real first star of Saturday night’s game was Don Cahoon. For the Providence Friars. Listen, I’m not gonna blame Kevin Boyle. He had an off night, and it happens to all goalies. But I most certainly will blame Toot for leaving Boyle in to give up five bad goals. The first two weren’t absolutely terrible, they were rebound goals, one on the powerplay, pretty standard Kevin Boyle M.O. goals. However, the final three goals were all softies, two of which were literally give-up shots that were lobbed at the goalie to get a line change. I cannot fathom why Toot would leave in a goalie, who by most accounts is currently the number two goalie on the team, who clearly didn’t have anything when the number one goalie is sitting on the bench just waiting to go. Teglia stopped all eight shots he faced once he was finally put in net late in the second period.
I cannot complain about the way any of the skaters played on Friday night. To a man, they played hard, they played smart, and they played with skill. They earned almost twice as many powerplays as they gave up (9-5). They scored twice on the powerplay and held the Friars off the board on four of their five PP chances. Other than the first half of the third period, where they had issues possessing the puck, they played just about as well as anyone could hope they would play. I can’t single out any skater for the Minutemen who played poorly, only some who played exceptionally well. Danny Hobbs scored twice, once on the powerplay. TJ Syner had three assists. Conor Sheary made good on my promise that he would score, delivering on the powerplay. Conor Allen looked good on the back end. The list goes on. It’s just a shame that these guys weren’t given a decent shot at winning.
Douglas F. Kublin Memorial Player of the Game
Derek: Danny Hobbs
For the second night in a row, Hobbs delivered. Two goals, one on the powerplay, four shots on goal, and he threw the body around like an absolute beast. He was the Mass Attack’s best scoring threat AND the Mass Attack’s best forechecker on Saturday night. Kid’s playing like his hair’s on fire right now.
Other Games/Top Performers
- Boston University 3 – Providence 5
- BU comes out flat against the Friars, who get goals from five first time goal scorers, including four freshmen, to pull off the huge upset.
- Providence – Stefan Demopoulos: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating, 5 Shots
- BU – Matt Nieto: 1 Goal, 3 Shots
- New Hampshire 0 –Northeastern 4
- The Wildcats are shutout again as Chris Rawlings rebounds from a tough start against Maine. Matt DiGirolamo’s slump continues.
- Northeastern – Chris Rawlings: Shutout, 27 Saves
- Northeastern – Luke Eibler: 2 Assists, +2 Rating
- Denver 4 – Boston College 2
- The top team in the nation falls as Denver takes advantage of less than stellar goaltending
- Denver – Jason Zucker: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +1 Rating, 5 Shots
- BC – Kevin Hayes: 1 Goal, 1 Assist (PP), 3 Shot
- Maine 1 – North Dakota 3
- Maine outshoots ND but Brad Eidsness stands tall in net for the Fighting Sioux.
- ND – Brad Eidsness: 30 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed
- ND – Ben Blood: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating
- UMass Lowell 4 – Minnesota State 2
- Lowell controls the flow of play and blasts 37 shots on net to become the only Hockey East team to win a non-conference game on Friday
- UML – Riley Wetmore: 2 Goals, +1 Rating, 3 Shots
- UML – Terrence Wallin: 1 Goal, 2 Assists, +3 Rating\
- Exhibition USA Under-18 2 – Vermont 1
- Lol, rly?
- Vermont – No one.
- Boston College 5 – New Hampshire 1
- UNH’s scoring offense and goaltending both continue to stink as BC rolls over the once vaunted Wildcats.
- BC – Parker Milner: 39 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed
- BC – Paul Carey: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating, 6 Shots
- Army 2 – Merrimack 3
- Merrimack’s offense almost doubles up Army’s shots on goal, but Cannata gives up two and the Warriors barely eek out a win at home.
- Merrimack – John Heffernan: 1 Goal, 1 Assist +2 Rating, 3 Shots
- Army – Rob Tadazak: 37 Saves, 3 Goals Allowed
- Denver 3 – Boston University 4
- Denver’s third period surge is not quite enough to complete the east coast sweep.
- BU – Matt Nieto: 1 Goal (SH), +1 Rating
- BU – Kieran Millan: 35 Saves, 3 Goals allowed
- Maine 3 – North Dakota 3
- Maine goes up 2-0 early but needs to score last to earn the 3-3 tie.
- ND – Danny Kristo: 2 Goals (2 PP), 1 Assist, 5 Shots
- Maine – Spencer Abbot: 3 Assists (2 PP), +1 Rating, 4 Shots
- UMass Lowell 4 – Minnesota State 1
- The River Hawks control the game from late in the first period on to sweep the weekend series with Minnesota State.
- UML – Derek Arnold: 2 Goals (1 PP), 1 Assist (PP), +1 Rating, 5 Shots
- UML – Doug Carr: 24 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed
Hockey East Awards
Hockey East has yet to post their weekly awards. I’m not sure if they’re waiting for the UConn-UML game to be played on Tuesday night to release them or if they’re just being slow. One way or another, there will be a supplement to this post once the weekly awards are up.
Hockey East Standings
|Rank||Team||HE Games Played (Record)||Points|
|3||Boston College||1 (1-0-0)||2|
|Boston University||2 (1-1-0)||2|
|New Hampshire||3 (0-3-0)||0|
Hockey East Teams in the USCHO.com Poll
Ranked: #2 Boston College, #7 Boston University, #13 Merrimack, #18 Maine
Receiving Votes: Providence (69), UMass Lowell (12), Northeastern (3)
Bentley Falcons (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Atlantic Hockey) vs. UMass Minutemen (0-0-1, 0-0-1 HE)
It is once again the most wonderful time of the year for the young students of the University of Massachusetts. The home opener is upon us again, bringing with it majesty, grandeur, and fresh hope. Although our beloved Mass Attack has already been tested in a fiery duel of aggressive offenses and spectacular goaltending, this Friday’s bout with the Falcons will be the first chance most of the UMass fan base will have to see the team play with their own eyes this year.
In their first game of the season, the aforementioned duel to the death… or tie, the Minutemen found heroes old and new. Senior co-captain TJ Syner scored and was instrumental on the powerplay, sophomore winger Conor Sheary started to make good on my prediction of a 20G/20A season by notching two brilliant assists, winger Emerson Auvenshire tallied his first career NCAA point by assisting on Branden Gracel’s goal, and, perhaps most importantly, goalie Kevin Boyle stood tall in net and made 29 instrumental saves in his very first collegiate start. Unfortunately, the team tired in the third period and Northeastern was hungry for a point. The Mass Attack failed to notch their first win of the year by less than three seconds, and honestly would have had the win if not for some really outrageously bad turnovers in their own zone throughout the entire game. BUT, you, noble reader, must keep in mind that the Minutemen were missing a couple key faces on the ice last Friday in Boston. These faces are, of course, those belonging to senior co-captain Danny Hobbs and sophomore netminder Jeff Teglia; they are once again healthy and ready to join the fray.
Looking at the team offensively, Hobbs can only add to an offense that was firing on all cylinders last week. The Minutemen scored three goals, blasted 39 shots on Chris Rawlings, took nine shots on net in five-plus (technically six, but one lasted only 13 seconds) powerplay opportunities (believe me, I’ve been watching UMass hockey for awhile now, this is a tad better than usual), and even scored a powerplay goal!!!!!!!!!!11 This was all done without last year’s leading scorer, Hobbs, who will certainly be a force to be reckoned with if he wants to improve on last season’s point total of 28.
Defensively, the team certainly will not be made worse by the return of Jeff Teglia. Boyle stopped 29 of the 32 pucks sent his way last week, for a very respectable .906 save percentage. If Teglia wants the full-time starting goalie job, he’ll have to do a lot better than that, and he certainly seems capable. Hopefully a little competition between the two (and, also, Steve Mastalerz) will bring out the best in both goalies and whoever starts Friday night should be looking to shut out an obviously inferior team.
But wait, are the 0-2 Falcons really that bad? Well, to be fair, we can’t really say that just yet. In two games this season, Bentley has scored two goals and given up nine. These numbers have, however, been posted against Michigan. The Michigan that’s ranked number four in the country. That Michigan. So Bentley’s numbers thus far this year are a little skewed. Let’s look at Bentley’s numbers from last year. They went 10-18-6, with nine of those wins coming against fellow Atlantic Hockey cupcakes. They scored 2.53 goals a game while giving up 3.44 and their 8.4% powerplay success rate made the Mass Attack’s mediocre man advantage (12.5%) look downright lethal. Bentley’s meager offense lost two of its top three scorers at the end of last season and only return one guy (sophomore forward Brett Gensler) who scored more than eight goals last year.
One can go on and on about Bentley’s offense, from their lack of true playmakers to the absolute dearth of scoring ability from the point, but what may give Bentley fans a glimmer of hope this year is what’s between the pipes. On back to back nights last weekend, Bentley’s skaters were dominated on the ice by a far superior team; however, their two netminders acquitted themselves quite nicely. Despite giving up five goals, senior Kyle Rank made 44 saves. A save percentage of .898 is not something most goalies aspire to, but it is certainly nothing to sneeze at when you post it against the fourth best team in the nation while they are blasting 49 shots at you. Compared to Rank, sophomore Branden Komm got off lightly, having to face only 42 shots. He saved 39 of those for a very tidy .929 save percentage. That, by the way, is the same percentage Chris Rawlings posted against the Mass Attack while he was standing on his head last Friday.
Okay, I’m just going to say it. Even if Bentley’s goalies play well again, we should win this game. This is a game Kevin Morris probably couldn’t lost. It’s embarrassing enough that I can actually remember the last time we played the Falcons. Because we lost. It was the middle of the beginning of the end for the 2009-2010 Minutemen, who proceeded to follow up the Bentley loss with the worst (by far) Cahoon swoon ever seen. But that’s all in the past, and this is the first half of the season. The Bentley Falcons are a team that managed to finish tenth out of twelve teams in the worst conference in D1 hockey last year. They are, frankly, a joke, and for guys like TJ Syner, Danny Hobbs, Kevin Czepiel, Darren Rowe, Rocco Carzo, Eddie Olczyk, and The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou (By the way, what the fuck was The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou doing out there last Friday night?! I mean, yeah, two assists, that’s nice, but where the fuck were you on the defensive end? Clear the fucking puck! For fuck’s sake, man! You are a fucking defenseman. Not offenseman, DEFENSEman. I’m so fucking sick of this. Just make the fucking simple fucking play and get the puck out of the fucking zone. Fuck, am I the only one who sees this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.) to lose twice to Bentley, in two tries, would be absurd. Come on guys, I know you remember that last loss, make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Really, all it’s gonna take to win this Friday is smart play. That’s it, simple, smart play. No bad penalties (I’m looking at you, Oleg), no dumb turnovers in the defensive zone, and just put plenty of rubber on goal. As long as whoever’s in net for Bentley doesn’t decide that last week was just a springboard for an even better performance this week, enough pucks will find their way to the back of the net to top the Falcons’ anemic offense. And, if not, well, I’ll eat Scoops Mazurek’s hat.
P.S. Check back for part two of this weekend preview, which will appear sometime late Saturday morning or early Saturday afternoon.
Hockey season is upon us once again and have we at Fight Mass worked long and hard on a season preview? No, fuck that. Well, kind of. But also kind of a game preview, too. Just read it, it will all make sense. Or not. Whatever.
Massachusetts Minutemen vs. Northeastern Huskies
The Minutemen enter this year without an exhibition test to “judge” the boys by. A spirited intra-squad public scrimmage highlighted by a penalty shot goal by Edzo “via Chicago” Olczyk , a near fight between Conor “Mr. Most Improved” Allen and a Himalayan mountain disguised as a freshman named Oleg Yevenko, and a game winning powerplay top corner snipe by the gunslinger himself, Conor Sheary.
Conversely, the Northeastern Huskies did play an exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier… and lost 8-5. (Oh man! This team must suck. I mean come on guys, 8-5 loss to St. Francis Xavier???) Yeah, well, six of the eight goals were given up by sophomore backup Clay Witt in the third period. And as Confucius once said, Clay Witt is not Chris Rawlings. Rawlings gave up one goal on 12 shots in his period of work. Junior forward Garrett Vermeersch had a goal and an assist and sophmore defenseman Anthony Bitetto (the team’s leading returning scorer) had three assists in the losing effort.
The Huskies and the Minutemen both suffered key losses in the offseason. The Mass Attack’s losses were primarily defensive. Superstar captain netminder Paul “I’m so nice I found a guy’s class ring from thirty years ago, looked him up, and returned it to him” Dainton and rock solid reliable defensive defenseman Douglas “I invented the Dougie and, therefore, my Dougie is better than your Dougie” “God” Kublin are gone. However, the Minutemen do return 10 of last year’s top 11 point scorers (in case I need to jog your memory, the top 11 point scorers for the Mass Attack last year were: Danny Hobbs, TJ Syner, Mike Pereira, Joel Hanely, Chase Langeraap, Adam Phillips, Conor Sheary, Brendan Gracel, The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou, Rocco Carzo, and Darren Rowe with Langeraap obviously being the one to go). And Sheary and Michael “the Franchise” Pereira look poised for breakout years after solid freshman campaigns. (I’m predicting a 20G/20A season for Sheary. You heard it here first, folks!)
Hopefully the back end will be able to cope with the loss of Kublin. Conor Allen, Joel Hanley, Adam Phillips, and Colin Shea are all a year into the league and, hopefully, a year wiser thanks to their experiences. Freshmen Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo will be competing for playing time. Maybe Darren Rowe will play some defense. Maybe he’ll play some forward. Maybe Toot will forget he exists again. It’s anyone’s guess. And then there’s The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou had another terrible season last year in terms of plus/minus rating. What’s frustrating is that he played really well at times. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou just needs to stop trying to do too much and play within himself; if he can do that, it’s very likely UMass will have one of the most solid defensive cores out there.
I doubt anyone can truly replace Dainton in our hearts and minds, but there are a few candidates who would have a good chance to make us think quite fondly of them, too. Sophomore Jeff Teglia had a freshman season that looked pretty bad on paper, but the truth is he didn’t give up many bad goals at all. He makes the stops he’s expected to, and if he’s improved just a little bit at controlling rebounds and making the truly great saves he could have quite the year. But he may not even have the chance to have a full year of work, if a tandem of exciting freshmen has their way. Kevin Boyle looked pretty good in the scrimmage, but he overcommitted on quite a few shots and relied a little too much on his defensemen to clear the puck from danger. We didn’t get a chance to see Steve Mastalerz play, as he was nursing an injury at the time, but according to some inside accounts he may be the best goalie of the three.
Jesus, I’ve said all this positive shit and I’ve barely even touched on the freshmen. In fact, I’ve neglected to mention the freshman forwards at all. We will possibly get our first chance to see how highly touted freshmen Zack LaRue and Andrew Tegeler fare in Hockey East play this Friday. And I’m pretty confident we’ll finally get to see Steven Guzzo, who sat out his entire freshman year due to a horrendous knee injury. The knee looked healthy last Saturday and Guzzo looked very fast on his skates in the scrimmage. I, for one, am excited to see the new faces get their shots.
Northeastern faces the opposite problem coming into the year. They need to find where their scoring is going to come from. They need to replace the scoring proficiency of a Wade MacLeod, a Tyler McNeely, a Steve Silva, and a Brodie Reid. That’s 138 points to find! In total, Northeastern lost players who produced 167 of the 288 points the roster scored last year. Almost 58% of last year’s production just gone. Wiped off the roster. And, yes, Bitetto, Vermeersch, and Mike McLaughlin are very talented players. And, yes, they have some promising young kids. But, come on, replacing 58% of your production? That’s just an absurdly difficult thing to do. It’s especially disheartening for the Huskies that Brodie Reid signed with the San Jose Sharks after just his freshman season (And you thought Casey Wellman was bad!) and that Jamie Oleksiak, the team’s leading plus/minus player and a guy who looked poised to become a force in this league, up and went to the OHL after his freshman year.
Northeastern’s defense is still passable thanks to a rock solid young core of Bitetto, Luke Eibler, and Drew Ellement, but depth certainly may become an issue at the defenseman position for the Huskies. Chris Rawlings is a phenom and one of the best goalies in Hockey East, but the Huskies may be asking too much of him if they can’t find a way to put pucks in the back of the net. They only had a +0.11 goal differential last year. It’s a pretty safe bet that that number will go into the negatives this season unless Rawlings has an ungodly year.
This is certainly not a game to take the safe route in. There will be quite a few fresh faces out there for the Huskies, and the Minutemen should look to test them early and often. This does not, however, mean the Mass Attack should open the throttle all the way and get sloppy. Despite the loss of offensive power, the Huskies did score four powerplay goals in their exhibition game. It would be wise to not test if this was just because they were playing St. Francis Xavier.
So, IT IS OCTOBER, but I still do want to know… is it Friday yet?
Okay, no more fucking around, I’ve been officially blackmailed into writing this piece that I’d been procrastinating for so long. Much like Duke Nukem Forever, Daikatana, GnR’s Chinese Democracy, Marco Scutaro’s throws across the diamond, and the 2010 New York Jets, this piece was long-delayed, had to be re-done several times, and will almost assuredly disappoint in the end. Deal with it.
So here we stand in a bizarre time for New England sports. This is a hawwkey taaawn, for the first time in a long time. The Bruins are the hottest ticket in town, hoisting a Stanley Cup, running shirtless around town and running up million-dollar bar tabs. Hell, even Dreamboat Ellsbury can’t get enough action to keep up with Marshmont, Seguin, and the boys. The Swesties this fall will be trading in their pink Red Sox caps for pink Bruins caps. And with the NBA on a one-way ticket to Lockoutsville (the NFL having cancelled its reservations in the city’s town’s skeezy motel, thankfully heeding the advice of a psychopath), hockey seems destined to be ready to fully captivate everyone’s sports eyes, save for one and a half days a week this winter. You know what that means, right? I would be shocked – SHOCKED I say! – if attendance doesn’t skyrocket around Hockey East this year. That would include our beloved Minutemen, as our freshly-minted Bruins fans invade the Mullins Center eager to see some good ol-fashioned HAWWWWKEY in person, without the possible distraction of, say, the Celtics playing the Bulls or Heat or Lakers at the same time. (Of course, there’s always the off chance that more people will stay home to watch the Bruins now, but shut up, let me continue pontificating for a bit, geez.)
I’ll be totally honest – I was rooting for the NFL lockout too. Why, you ask? Well, aside from my not-so-secret sentiment that the NFL receives a disproportionate amount of coverage from the sports media compared with equally-if-not-more-deserving sports like hockey, hoops, and baseball (nothing pisses me off more than random offseason notes in the NFL like Brett Favre’s latest unretirement distracting from oh I don’t know A FUCKING PENNANT RACE MAYBE), I was also kind of really excited for the potential benefits this might have toward a little thing called UMass football. Yes, our boys are finally graduating to the “big show,” and technicalities aside, I guarantee I’m not alone in suddenly caring a hell of a lot more about what this team does now that it “matters.” Yes, it’s just the MAC, and yes, the CAA was actually a slightly stronger conference last year despite its higher “status.” Whatever. UMass was not bowl-eligible, and now they can be.
…Well, except for the fact that they’re stuck in CAA purgatory this year. It’s hard to imagine that won’t impact the players, who really have nothing but pride to play for. But it will mean everything that the fans come out and show their support, because it’s gonna depend on us, and on you, for this to work. The Kraft family has provided the stage, but the difference between this being “the big step up the UMass program’s been waiting for” and “another mistake that the Globe can flaunt around as ‘proof’ of the state school’s inferiority to their darling private schools, while ignoring anything positive UMass does” is whether or not the fans show. If the fans don’t show, this doesn’t succeed, and it sets the whole athletics program back big-time. If it succeeds, UMass is a name brand, the only (likeable) D1 FBS college football program in Massachusetts, and all of a sudden things get a little easier on the recruiting and ticket-selling fronts for the other sports, all of a sudden Dick’s Sporting Goods is putting Sam the Minutemen next to Baldwin the Eagle, all of a sudden the Big East is knocking again…alright wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. That’s all way down the road. Like, you can’t see it from atop Du Bois far. (That’s good, hopefully I can afford season tickets by then.) But it has to start somewhere, and it’s starting in Foxborough of all places.
It starts with 5-6 Saturdays a year, against schools that (UNH aside) are about as interesting to UMass fans as the William and Maryses of the world. In this economic climate, taking the family to a Pats game on a Sunday for $500+ (and that’s just the tickets) is out of the question. The chance to see FBS college football, however technically that description is, is going to draw casual interest in New England, I’m convinced. It’s going to be whether the team gets the diehards, the lifers, the young alumni still not ready to leave UMass behind (ahem, the founders of this blog say hi) and – of course – the students.
Therein lies part of the problem. Frankly, the quality of the UMass student section in all sports has gone decidedly downhill in my five-plus years of being associated with this school. (THERE. I SAID IT.) When I was a freshman, the diehards were standing in the preseason game at the Practice Rink teaching newbies the chants and singing Fight Mass with the full left-right diagonal clap dealie. Now? There’s seriously kids who think it goes “Hey…you suck…fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass!” Nobody aside from us three has asked Matty G how much time is left in the period for a couple years now. Clever chants, fun twists on old ones (“Your mom called! She said you suck! Your dog called! He said you suck!”), even dumb guilty pleasures like Noleeeeeet-Nolet-Nolet-Noleeeeeeeeeet” have been supplanted with – yup – “fuck (name of school).” And the occasional “let’s go UMass!” And that’s fucking it. All the things that make college sports fun – all the shit that got me hooked in the first place, besides the hockey of course – have gone by the wayside, and though the gate numbers have been solid despite the team’s less-than-stellar record, the atmosphere has suffered. We’ve gone from “notoriously profane fans who yell mean-spirited things and get really loud when they need to” to “notoriously profane fans who yell really fucking stupid things and have to be told when to get loud by a NOOOOOOOOOISSSSSSSEEEEEEEEEMEEEEEEEEEEEETERRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!1” I don’t need S&P to tell me that’s a downgrade. (hurrr he made a political funny)
See, here’s what I loved about the Bruins this season – there were no pink hats yet. It was like watching the Red Sox back in ’04. The bandwagoners always seem to watch on the edge until the very end. I was at games 3 and 4 of the Flyers series. That place was loud. People were actually into the game, people knew what was happening. Maybe that’s just the difference between hockey and baseball, or maybe it’s because cell phones are exponentially more powerful these days, but I feel like the atmosphere at Fenway ain’t what it used to be. It’s not about the team anymore – it’s about being seen. I have a horrible sinking feeling that this is the Bruins’ impending fate, actually. Actually, the Bruins’ run has put the UMass students into perspective for me. For so long, I felt like the sudden surge of Tourette’s-like stupidity was a sign that our students really were the neanderthals the Globe and the rest of the eastern-MA media stereotypes them as. Then I watched kids from all over the Commonwealth erupt from the North Station area after game 7 with, not “let’s go Bruins” but “fuck Vancouver” – and after every chant for a Bruin was something like “Luongo sucks! Luongo sucks!” It actually distracted me from celebrating that emotional moment (which, by the way, I wrote about over here, shameless plug). For a moment I was disgusted, but in a way, it was also a relief – these are BC kids, and BU kids, and Northeastern kids, and they’re no classier than our guys. At the same time, though, it’s a bit discouraging to think that, as a whole, these are Massachusetts kids.
That’s what this boils down to, methinks. Boston kids are spoiled sports fans. I mean, no shit we are. No fanbase has been this lucky over a decade, and with three teams at least in the conversation to win their sport’s next championship (and the other, well, not playing for a while). That’s why apathy about the sports teams makes so much sense. We have an NFL team that contends for a Super Bowl literally every year, so why care about a D1-AA football team aside from some tailgating? The Celts have the big three, so it’s no big deal if Derek Kellogg’s boys aren’t winning. (Just wake us up when BC or URI is in town.) And the hockey team? It’s a great pregaming event, but let’s try to get out before the third period so we can drink some more before we head to the frats/Hobart and banging/being drunk Swestie sluts. I mean, even the group of friends me, Matt, and Walsh partied with my senior year after games in North…most of them were there as a pre-pregaming event.
Ah, but I think I’ve argued this before – hockey’s a special case. It’s become the thing to do on campus that the University doesn’t discourage. The other big two either a) don’t play in “real” D1, or b) play on weeknights. Friday and Saturday nights can’t be overslept, nor can studying get in the way. This works heavily in hockey’s favor – they can draw a crowd without playing particularly well, due to the perfect timing of most of their schedule. Ironically, though, this has been a huge negative for the quality of the student section.
See, the team hasn’t played particularly well over the past three semesters. Alright, “dismal” might be a better word. They never had a stretch that bad for that long in the few years prior, when the fanbase was breaking attendance records and riding the momentum of the ’04-05 Hockey East and ’06-07 NCAA runs that finally put the program on the map. Anyone who started following the team starting midseason of ’09-10, though, has seen nothing but failure. We still have the upperclassmen who were freshmen and sophomores when the school was still buzzing about those then-recent playoff runs, so hockey’s status as a popular weekend event lives on through them. The enthusiasm and hockey know-how just didn’t carry on to this generation, though, because the teams they witnessed were mediocre. We now, however, have another batch of freshmen and sophomores who have seen three semesters of low-quality play (half a year of the Jimmy/Casey fiasco, and a whole year of rebuilding) and who are getting bad habits from the start.
Look, I can’t just stand here on this soapbox and say I want every student to do this when this happens and say that when this happens. But I’m not horribly enthused about where this is going. I guess I’d rather the Mullins be full of students for hockey games than the barren wasteland it’s become for basketball, but the fact of the matter is that we don’t have a Hockey East-caliber student section as it stands today. And we totally did for a couple years there. Now? Like I said…one big pregame party, where the douche yelling “fuck BC!” in between looking at the Smokeshow of the Day on fucking Barstool and talking about that one time he played JV in high school to the girls in Marchand shirts reigns supreme, until he leaves midway through the second. Oh, and we’re probably playing BU that night.
That’s where we stand now. There are a number of directions it can go in, but you – yes motherfucker, YOU – have a lot to do with it. I really want Fight Mass to get bigger this year. I’m not looking for personal gain from it – I’m happy with my software support job in Manchester for now, and am more than happy to delay pursuing my dreams in sports journalism until my financial situation is more clear. And I’ll be damned if this thing ever makes any money. No, I really want this to be a rallying point for those of you diehards who, like me, have bigger and better things in mind for our alma mater. For a while, you see, this dream was just that – a pleasant thought, like “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had even half a section of kids wearing our school colors, let alone a jersey or something to indicate they know they’re at a sporting event?” But now, with this football thing (oh hey look I tied it all together, go me!), shit’s for reals. Integrating the fanbases is something I’ve preached before, but now I mean it. The students who go to hockey and the students who go to football and the students who go to basketball…it’s never seemed as uniform as when I was a freshman. Granted, those were the best of times for me, it turned out. Lasme and Freeman were around, the hockey team had Jon Quick, football had its epic playoff game against UNH…the future seemed so bright, and everyone knew it. Moreover, Maroon Platoon was present at every game. There was some kind of school-sanctioned unity going on. I’ve seen the rise of Mullins Militia presence last semester when I came back from Florida. This has GOT to continue next year. Get kids hooked early, spend whatever budget there is to keep these kids devoted. Sell big on the future for this program, and get the kids who care to spread the word.
And it IS a bright future! Football may be spinning its wheels for a year, but building momentum for the first year in the “big show” is important. Hockey is returning a very promising young class, keeping almost everyone who did any scoring last year, and adding some more talented freshmen, all in a year where the rest of Hockey East figures to be down. Basketball…Kellogg finally has “his” guys in there and seems devoted to simplifying that offense to fine-tune it to the players he actually has. The Big Three programs on campus seemingly have nowhere to go but up after last year, and this is a perfect time to get freshmen excited about the team. Push hockey to the kids who are hooked on the sport after the double-whammy of Olympics last year and Bruins this year. Push basketball to those who need something to fill the Celtics void. And push football, because as much as I love hockey, I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that the success or failure of football’s FBS jump is vital for the entire program going forward. That’s why, for the first time, I’ll actually be including some football coverage on the site this year (though rest assured, it’s still a hawwwkey taaaahwn.)
I haven’t lost faith completely in the classes of ’12 and ’13. There’s some very passionate sports fans there who are waiting for something to cheer for. The teams have to do their part, of course, to make the games count for more than just an amusing diversion from books or a place to be seen before the parties. But, silly as it sounds, I want this incoming freshman class to learn the traditions the right way, before “fuck fuck fuck fuck Go UMass” becomes part of the lexicon. It might come in the form of a basic rookie guide, which sounds lame when you picture a school-sanctioned “appropriate” one, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I’d much rather prefer a more natural approach, and that means you – the student readers and fellow recent alumni – to band together and make an example. Speaking of bands, this would be so much easier if we had a hockey band, and it looks like this might finally almost be a possibility at some point, but until then, it’s in our hands. I have no problem with the douche in the Howitzer t-shirt, aside from his taste in sports websites and his inability to at least use the word “fuck” in a more clever manner/chant. But in order to get him to care about what’s actually happening on the ice, or to get him and the Swesties and everyone else to realize there’s (gasp) a THIRD period, it’s up to those of us who do know and care to start showing it a little more. So let’s give last year a mulligan with the rebuilding effort, and actually build something ourselves this winter, shall we?
So there you have it – yet another meandering rant-turned-pep-talk from yours truly. Hope it thoroughly fell short of your expectations, which I imagine were massive at this point. Now for some more teasing – I have some fairly big plans for this blog in its third year, as part of my strategy for FM to become a rallying point for my fellow devoted UMass student fans and/or a place where I can bitch and moan about the power play for several paragraphs. You’ll have to stay tuned for that. In the meantime, for your concrete hockey news based on things like numbers and journalism, stay tuned to everyone’s favorite craft beer enthusiast/hockey fan, Fear the Triangle, and keep asking yourself: is it October yet?
That’s really the only way to describe a year where your absolute favorite sports team finishes 6-23-6. That’s a bafflingly ugly number, ain’t it? In perspective, UMass finished just six points ahead of Lowell, which had one of the worst seasons any D1 athletics program has ever had in any sport ever. The difference there was UMass’s 3-0 record against its vastly inferior little sister school. The Minutemen would win three other games all season – two against a pretty-bad Vermont program, and a lonely nonconference rout of Quinnipiac (hardly adequate revenge for last year’s heartbreaking loss which sent the Minutemen into a season-collapsing tailspin).
We all saw this coming, although some of us (i.e. this blog) saw a slightly less hopeless season ahead. While most critics rightfully saw an already-overrated Lowell squad losing pretty much every relevant player to graduation as a recipe for disaster, most were equally skeptical of a UMass team losing its five leading scorers to either graduation or the professional ranks, and UMass was thus picked to barely finish ahead of Lowell in many preseason rankings. Indeed, in many years, 16 points would be enough to doom UMass to miss the postseason, and only yet another awful Providence season allowed UMass the chance for a hard-fought two-game sweep against BC (again). The Minutemen managed not to win any of its final 14 games down the stretch. Their last win? Paul Dainton’s only career shutout victory, which we attended, the 6-0 thomping of Vermont that led the three of us to some misguided optimism about how far this primarily-freshman team had come in just over half a season.
Yet, for once, the long stretch of winless games down the stretch actually showed signs of improvement, believe it or not. As the schedule turned from the dregs of Hockey East, from the Lowells and Vermonts and Providences of the world, we saw the Minutemen jack up the caliber of play to match the opposition. With the notable exception of one weekend, during which the UMass men’s club hockey team apparently suited up and wore the varsity team’s numbers in a 17-2 combined clubbing at the hands of BC and ‘Mack, UMass played a long series of down-to-the-wire heartbreakers against the class of Hockey East – Merrimack, BC, Maine. Five straight one-goal losses followed by an easily-winnable tie.
In fact, making that weekend more inexplicable, the Minutemen played the class of Hockey East pretty damn close all season long. Even in that BC game, the Eagles were kept mostly in check until they broke it open in the waning minutes. In the three-game series against UNH and BU, the Minutemen pulled off two ties (again, both winnable games, but I digress), and kept the other games close enough considering the considerable blue line youth on display back early in the year. UMass blew leads against the Huskies twice at home (though their visit to Matthews was a pretty poor showing) too. All of these woulda-shoulda-coulda moments can come to a couple conclusions, not any of which are mutually exclusive:
1) These guys were young, like REAL young, and has yet to learn how to close games out.
There was a severe lack of experience at pretty much every key position this year for UMass. Doug Kublin led the blue line corps, but everyone else of note was a freshman or sophomore. Adam Phillips and Joel Hanley saw a huge chunk of minutes. Anthony Raiola was forced into a lot of action. Conor Allen and Colin Shea logged a lot of ice time. See a pattern? Outside of Kubbie, who really had any significant experience coming in? Darren Rowe played a bit, as did Mikey Marcou. The latter had a pretty awful season, but he’s also going on just one year of regular playing time, and missed a number of games this year to injury. The young D-corps got better as the season went on, but can we really expect/trust these guys to be able to know how to shut down bigger, more experienced forwards when the game’s on the line? Not yet, my friends. Not yet.
Likewise, the forwards, outside of Hobbs, Syner, Concannon, and Langeraap, were a rotating group of youngsters. The offense performed admirably in the absence of Jimmy and Casey and the like, but even those guys took until their sophomore years to develop into offensive leaders. Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, Branden Gracel – all of them look poised to have great careers for this squad. I’m also high on the prospects for guys like Troy Power and Adam Phillips (as I’ve said in the past, I’m a big proponent of having a blue-line scoring threat like Irwin showed flashes of being) contributing in big ways offensively next year. Syner and Hobbs, while not as dominant as Marcou and Wellman were, are a dynamic scoring duo who I think will have a lot better support around them than their predecessors had (no offense to Syner and Hobbs themselves, who were part of that support). This unit will nonetheless require a bit more time playing together to really find their groove. The offense unfortunately did struggle at times this year, but again – it’s hard to imagine such a young team succeeding against bigger, more experience teams, when the Minutemen are already at such a recruiting disadvantage to the more established powers of Hockey East. The program is making strides, but it’s not there yet, and it’ll take a lot more sustained success if and when it wants to get up to that level.
On the flip side…
2) The results would have been even worse – a lot worse – without #31 between the pipes.
The Minutemen, as I noted in last year’s postseason recap, did have one important crutch coming back – a senior goaltender, one who has always been at least above-average in Hockey East, and one who’s had a penchant for stealing games on occasion. Dainton was true to form this year, posting solid numbers and seemingly playing his best hockey down the stretch run, including another strong showing in the playoffs at Chestnut Hill. Obviously, next year the training wheels come off, and UMass will be relying on Jeff Teglia an awful lot.
There are some bright spots to this. Jeff Teglia may have struggled a bit in his initial appearances for the Minutemen, but he nonetheless got some experience under his belt. When Dainton took over following Jon Quick’s sudden departure in ’07, he was a pure freshman with no collegiate experience, handed the starting job with only sophomore Dan Meyers behind him. Granted, Teglia’s “experienced” backup next year is Kevin Moore, similar to Meyers in clubhouse presence and leadership but slightly less legitimate as a “backup.” On the other hand, Dainton also didn’t have a young buck behind him competing for playing time. Tegs will have two freshman recruits, Boyle and Mastalerz, and the competition for the starting job can only help as a motivating factor.
Beyond that, though, it’s pretty well-established in the local media that Dainton was the prototypical “good clubhouse guy,” earning that “C” on his uniform in his leadership of the young Minutemen. Here’s hoping that this means he taught Tegs everything he knows (minus the whole “wandering around outside the crease to play the puck” thing? Please? My heart can’t handle three more years of this!) and maybe even offered some advice to Boyle and/or Mastalerz, too.
And who knows? Not to belittle the accomplishments of the program’s all-time saves leader, but couldn’t it be within the realm of possibility that one of these recruits (who, for what I can recall, all seem more highly-touted than Dainton was when he was recruited) could emerge as being better than Pauly D was? Is that blasphemy? This is a program that produced a top-5 NHL goalie right now in Quick. Sure, that was back when Dennehy was pulling in quality recruits, but goalie coach Mike Buckley is still here. While I think that the students’ chants of “Teg-li-a!” in that last weekend against Maine were frankly pretty moronic (that student article is coming in the offseason, I swear!), I still have a good feeling that the goalie situation with resolve itself sooner than later. (As in, before the bulk of the conference schedule starts next year. Fingers crossed.)
So, yeah. The walk through hell is over. It was one of the worst seasons in program history on paper, yet, unlike the baskettaball team’s season, the trend was upward nonetheless. Aside from Dainton, what is this team losing next year? Chase Langeraap finally started to put it together at the end of his career, and everyone knows that we’re heartbroken to be losing Kubbie, but Saunders was a frequent healthy scratch, Concannon and Lecomte are what-could-have-been stories thanks to lingering injuries, and Keane never really lived up to expectations.
Next year, we’ll see another couple blue-line prospects in Mike Busillo and the towering Oleg Yevenko. Between Yevenko and Phillips, the blue-line will finally have something we haven’t really seen much of in this program: size. Meanwhile, while losing Kublin, UMass will bring back a solid young corps who have improved throughout the year, with Phillips, Hanley, Rowe, Raiola, Allen, and Shea. With all those guys coming in, Donnellan hopefully returning from injury, and Mikey hopefully using his rough year as motivation to come back much-improved (being healthy from the get-go would help), hopefully the team can cover up the loss of one of the most consistent defensemen the team’s ever seen.
Likewise, offensively, unless someone unexpectedly bolts to the NHL like last year (highly unlikely), there are a lot fewer question marks. Again, Pereira, Hobbs, Syner, Gracel, and Sheary form the basis of a highly effective offensive corps. Rocco Carzo will hopefully use his strong finish to the season as a springboard to becoming a contributor offensively. Czepiel, Olcyzk, Filiou, DeAngelo, Power, and Kiley all saw playing time this year and have potential to be a strong supporting cast with another year under their belts. Shane Walsh and Zack LaRue will come in as freshmen with solid juniors numbers and a chance to contribute without the pressure this year’s freshman class had of carrying the team. Last-minute update: And you can add Joseph Manno to that list, too. He and LaRue both have some pretty impressive scouting reports going for them. And really, for Derek’s sake, it would be sick to have a guy named Walsh AND a guy from his hometown of Melrose (Sheary) on the same team, both doing well.
Do I think these guys will suddenly become the class of Hockey East next year? Of course not. Unless eeerrryone gets up and leaves, BC’s current crop of stars has one more year together, although I’m far less sold on Parker Milner than I am with John Muse. BU and Maine also have a significant amount of talent returning next year, and Northeastern could be frisky if their young stars can fill the McNeely/MacLeod void right away. UNH loses a massive percentage of its scoring and should be on the decline next year, and, while Merrimack’s days in the basement appear over for a while, they do lose some key seniors, including goalie stalwart Joe Cannata, and I just don’t see Da Costa turning down the limelight of the NHL as well. In the bottom ranks, I don’t see Vermont getting significantly better anytime soon, and who knows what to make of Providence or Lowell given their coaching situations. In other words, the middle of the pack is, honestly, a pretty reasonable expectation. I could see this team finishing anywhere from 3rd to 7th next year. There’s a lot of factors at stake. Given everything, though, improvement is the only logical scenario. The question is how much this team improves, and we will have to wait through another long summer and fall until we get to find out.
So that’s the year and the outlook in a nutshell. Now, as for the blog. This was my first year following the team as an alum. Half the year I was limited to watching choppy streaming video online from my apartment in Disney World, and the other half I got to experience the game from the student section a few more times (albeit at 12-16 bucks a game) with Derek and Matt and the gang. We also made a number of roadtrips, one successful (Vermont!) and a few less so (to Merrimack, as well as Matt and Derek’s trip to UNH, which I still need to visit). We will continue to follow the team next year, both from a blog standpoint and literally, as we look to cross Orono and Providence off our to-do list. We also want to make trips to Quinnipiac and any other New England venues the team gets scheduled to visit (Harvard? Cornell?).
That said, I founded Fight Mass to create a venue for the student section to band together, something I haven’t quite seen yet. I love that some of you have approached us about the blog, and your continued readership has been tremendous. Really, I could write about this all day regardless of who reads it, but at the same time, I’d love for those of you who do read it to continue to get involved and spread Fight Mass to your friends. I’ll get into it further when I write my student section piece (I swear, offseason, it’ll happen soon – I figure it’s the perfect thing to fill the offseason void), but I think part of the problem with UMass from a student fanbase perspective is a lack of organization. Without organization, a student section cannot build tradition, aside from “one random drunk guy yells ‘fuck BU’ and everyone else joins in, derp!” It was an organized, albeit small, group of fans that built the limited tradition UMass has (i.e. its chants, many of which are cribbed from other Hockey East schools, by the way), and even these traditions are falling apart (i.e. we don’t even say “how much time’s left?” anymore, people think the goal chant is “fuck fuck fuck fuck go UMass,” and other various fails one would expect from a Lowell but certainly not from a school of this caliber). I don’t want to just tell people what to do, because a) that will never work, and b) no one man should have all that pooowah. Instead, I want the students who know what’s going on to have a place to gather, and tell themselves what to do, together.
More on that later. For now, what you need to know is that myself, Matt, and Derek will continue to write for the blog, observers that we are. (Ben is welcome to continue contributing as well, if he so desires.) We have a few interested undergraduates who have contacted us about contributing. I’ve talked to all of them and gotten a writing sample from one, and I like the cut of all of their very different but interesting jibs. None of us is comfortable about “handing the reins” off to anyone, of course. I’m not entirely sure if that will ever really happen, because if someone with a 9-to-5 “real” job like Coogan can find the time to maintain a blog at a high level of involvement, we should be able to do so between the three of us with whatever employment we post-graduate scrubs can scrounge up.
How the blog will continue remains to be seen, but I envision the three founders contributing more the way we have so far: myself as the “big picture” guy, Walsh with the nitty-gritty hockey knowledge, Matt with his sharp wit and fury of a thousand suns fueling his various rants. Alongside that we see contributors as a chance for us to stay in touch with the student section, as we almost surely will be limited in our ability to all three of us commute all the fucking way to Amherst from wherever we happen to be when next season rolls around. For all we know, we might all end up closer to Boston (the other two already do live near there and I live slightly closer to there than to Amherst) and we’d catch the Minutemen in person more often in their road games out here. This is where the contributors would be useful. Again, it’s all up in the air. For now, if you’re a reader and interested in contributing, hit us up on the Facebook group and send us a message. And keep telling your friends, goddamnit! “Like” the Facebook group. It takes like 10 seconds. Really.
One more thing I’d like to say before the sun sets on our season recap is that the highlight of the year, for me anyway, was the chance to befriend Mark of Fear the Triangle. I’ve made it no secret that FtT is my most prominent inspiration for starting Fight Mass, and I’m pleased to announce that he’s also a great guy outside of his Internet persona, too. His blogging advice has been priceless and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone with a more genuine love for this program and dedication for what he does. And on top of all that, he’s provided us with some tremendous beer recommendations to boot – even Toot gave him a shout out on senior night at the press conference. (Seriously. Read the “Road Trip” section on FtT if you’re going to a UMass road game ever.) We here at Fight Mass are proud to call him a friend and the UMass hockey community is lucky to have him.
So that’s it for the 2010-2011 season. Like I said, I’ll be offering my take on what’s wrong with the student section soon, and maybe the occasional update on our nationally-ranked men’s lacrosse team or the hopefully-imminent move of UMass football to the FBS, but otherwise, there’s not a ton to talk about in the offseason. I would like to take this opportunity to mention my forthcoming secondary blog, Six Lengths Ahead (tentative title, which will probably stick since I already started it and such) in which I will be publishing various musings, from Boston’s pro sports teams and other non-UMass happenings, to other pop culture things. Yeah, it sounds kinda Simmons-y, but hopefully with all the wit and none of the continuous references to the same three or four 80’s movies. Anyway, I haven’t written anything yet (I’ll probably start with a roundup of this week’s returns of Community, 30 Rock and Parks & Rec, or a look at the soon-to-be-done-for-the-season U.S. adaptation of the brilliant British show Skins) but rest assured that content is coming. Oh yes, it’ll be coming, hard and long (maybe not 3,000+ words long, but you know) all summer long and beyond.
As for the hockey team, the future is always brighter than the surface of a freshly zambonied ice surface. For all we know, Hobbs will head off to the Rangers early, all the goalies will suck, and the team will struggle along yet again. Or they’ll bolt out of the gate to a 10-2-2 record, then Cahoon Swoon their way to another low seed and early exit.
But maybe, just maybe, they won’t. And so goes the life of a UMass hockey fan. Call it masochism, call it madness, call it blind loyalty to an alma mater. We call it devotion. And one of these years, damnit, we’re bound to be right.
And so the question begs to be asked…
Is it October yet?
The UMass men’s baskettaball season has finally, graciously, come to an abrupt end. And not a moment too soon.
Oh, sure, the CBI and CIT will come a-calling for up-and-coming mid-majors who want to pay the $35G entry fee to play in a meaningless post-season tournament. But newsflash: this is not an up-and-coming mid-major. The Atlantic 10 is not a mid-major. It’s a major, albeit not one of the “power six,” but not a joke of a conference where the Arkansas-Little Rocks of the world can line up to be 15 and 16 seeds year after year. This is what pisses me off the most about the “look how many teams have made the NCAA tournament since UMass last did it!” Yeah. Look how many teams play in bullshit conferences. UMass plays in the Atlantic 10. It ain’t spectacular, but it’s prestigious enough that you need to actually be good to win the conference. That’s why Xavier and Temple win it year after year. That’s why Dayton, certainly a proud enough program, is a yearly contender. With great power comes great responsibility, of course. UMass could drop down to one of the aforementioned bullshit conferences, and be a perennial power in, say, the Northeast Conference. (Actually, based on their performance against Central Connecticut…you know, let’s not go there right now.) But they don’t. They play in the Atlantic 10. And so we will continue to suffer as fans, missing the tournament year after year, until they build a team capable of competing at this level.
This was not such a team this year.
That 7-0 start (no, seriously! They started 7-0!) was a facade, and we all knew it. Rallying against a Rider team that fell asleep at the wheel, and only after Gurley and Riley caught absolute fire behind the arc. Barely squeezing by teams like Sacred Heart and Holy Cross. (Unless it’s Notre Dame, you generally want to blow out schools with adjective-noun religious names.) Those blowout wins against not-so-great TCU and New Mexico State looked nice until you factor in their hellish travel schedules. The real warning sign should have been AIC hanging around in the first half. AIC! Basically a community college! I mean, for chrissakes, even Travis Ford’s tournament-missing teams were able to blow out middling A-10 squads at home. No matter who UMass played, a 20-point win just seemed to be too much to ask for. And yeah, margin of victory shouldn’t matter if you’re winning, but face it – it does matter. If you’re not significantly better than shitty competition, then something is severely wrong with either your focus, your style of play, your talent, your coaching…something. And in some combination, all of these factors undermined the Minutemen’s season, until their most embarrassing two-game span in recent memory: snapping Fordham’s 41-game conference losing streak, and then a “nationally”-televised (which is to say, even less-“nationally” than Versus’s “nationally”-televised NHL games) playoff game against a middling Dayton team which saw the second-worst loss in Mullins history. Moreover, the student endzone was actually full for the first time since, ohh, I dunno, probably the last time BC was in town (my 21st birthday, incidentally), and once again, a poorly-timed stinkbomb of a performance likely made the marketing department’s job that much harder for next year.
So where do we go from here? Turn all the lights down now. I’m NOT feeling this. (With apologies to blink-182.)
Seriously. There is nothing to be gained from spending thousands of dollars to play in a mediocre tournament. This team has regressed drastically as the season has gone on. And yeah, part of it was that the Minutemen started playing against teams who didn’t have to travel thousands of miles and/or the third day in a row. The fact of the matter is, the offense made nil progress as the year went on, while Anthony Gurley (who pretty much was the offense at the start of the year) started getting contained and shut down. There was no plan B. This team had one way of winning: grind the game down, hang around and make the other team play “baskettaball,” and hope that the opponent goes just as cold from the field. In a few games – the first game against Dayton, both games against Rhody, and almost that Temple game – it worked. More often than not? The offense sputtered hilariously.
Enough is enough with this “dribble drive” crap. The halfcourt offense had almost no chance of scoring unless Freddie/Gurley/Morgan happened to hit a jacked-up 3. Gurley had a streaky year, true, but I’d take “streaky” over the shitshow of outside shooting from the rest of the team. Riley’s shot selection was atrocious. Morgan still looks like he’s figuring out the rhythm of D1 hoops and it’s hard to get a grasp on whether he can be the dominant scorer he’s shown flashes of. But look at the rest of the squad – Correia’s not really an outside shooter, Putney’s outside shooting was awful, and even Sampson and Vinson(!) jacked up the trey from time to time. Has anyone ever heard of midrange shooting? It felt like watching the Jim O’Brien Celtics from time to time, with Gurley as Pierce, only not nearly as good. Worse still, when the team actually DID drive to the hoop, nobody seemed capable of finishing. I mean nobody. Sean Carter was lobbed awful alley-oop passes all season long (most of the time not his fault), Farrell and Gurley occasionally slashed to the hoop with mixed results, and Bailey managed to become an alright defender and rebounder with absolutely no inside scoring game whatsoever, sort of a homeless man’s Kendrick Perkins. It looks a million times worse after years of watching Travis Ford’s teams run up and down the court, scoring seemingly at will at times, defense-optional. I appreciate that these guys recognize the importance of defense, but you can’t win basketball games without a consistent offense. You just can’t.
To his credit, Kellogg seems to recognize this. In the postgame interviews after the Dayton game, he dismissed the idea of competing in a low-level tournament and stressed that it would be much more productive for the team to get into the gym, and prepare for next year by being bigger and stronger. He said he wants to run more, saying the team “did what they could with what they had” this year. So he knew all along that the team didn’t have it, but didn’t want to mention any of this until after the season. Okay, so that kind of sucks with regards to this year, but I’d be rather concerned, frankly, if he came out and said something like “well, that’s too bad, but the more we run this offense, the better it will be.” He hinted that the team wants to run more. It all sounds pretty apologetic, but how much of it is posturing? Whatever. It’s a step in the right direction for now, and that’s all we can hope for. What it actually means for this program is another monster entirely.
Now, Kellogg himself ain’t goin’ nowhere, for anyone who hasn’t yet grasped that UMass cannot afford to buy him out right now. He’s here for two (or three, depending who you ask) more years, because that’s what he’s signed for. That’s absolutely fine with me for a few reasons; first of all, a surefire, instant upgrade does not seem readily available, nor does one seem interested. Al Skinner’s still out there, but eh, I’ve never been horribly impressed with what he’s done with considerably more resources at BC. Outside of that, the powers-that-be seem to be, at least publicly, dead-set on keeping a coach here long-term, a la Majerus at Saint Louis or Baron at Rhody. Never you mind that neither coach has been horribly successful of late. We want no part of being a stepping stone for anyone. There’s no denying that DK being successful would be a godsend, a feel-good story, and most importantly, a way for this team to keep it rolling because of his undying loyalty to his alma mater. So he’s here, for better or for worse, and instead of debating whether he should stay or not NOW, the debate for us now becomes whether he can figure it out by the end of his contract.
So how can he do this? Well, call me crazy, but I’m optimistic that next year CAN be a huge improvement. Yeah, I’m the same guy who just spent 1300 words telling you what went wrong this year. But what makes me optimistic is that a) the turnover in players is going to make it easy to rectify all the failure, and b) the coach has indicated that he sees what went wrong and is, for the first time in his tenure as head coach, openly discussing an overhaul of the way this team plays. Let’s take a look.
Next year, the roster loses Gurley, Correia, and CDP (and maybe Hill, but – with all due respect to the new father – whatevs). One of the biggest problems with Kellogg’s tenure has been his inability to get HIS point guard. Chris Lowe was a fantastic talent, but his talents in the uptempo game were wasted between DK’s first-year adjustments and the fledgling offense. Wiggins, Traynham…different guys, different stories, same fates. Gibbs? Might have been better in Ford’s system but more likely just one of those guys who, for whatever reason, can’t put it together at this level. (Good as Ford’s offensive system was…Gibbs was the best recruit he could land? Really?) And Correia, the guy whose entrance made us cringe even in Chris Lowe’s worst games of his senior year, who was only our point guard this year because of what happened with the previous three guys I mentioned. That’s something people are so quick to forget with regards to this team. Look, I don’t want to pile on GC, but it was clear from his freshman year that this guy was a backup point guard at this level, and instead we were left with him, having no legitimate PG backup, running a convoluted offense all year long. The point guard is the quarterback of your team, and UMass’s was a backup, plain and simple.
As Gurley went through the year, putting up big numbers for a team on which he emerged as basically the only scoring option on many nights, the question arose from UMass nation: “Who’s gonna replace this guy next year? Where will we get his scoring from?” That’s fan-ese for “I don’t understand how stats work in basketball.” That’s like the people who think that wins and losses are meaningful statistics in baseball. Here’s the answer: “Well, other people are going to shoot more, in a system that will be designed so that they get scoring opportunities rather than Gurley, and – voila! – points may or may not result.” And honestly, Gurley’s season wasn’t that impressive. He’s not Jimmer Fredette. He’s not even freaking Gary Forbes. He really wasn’t that much better than he was back when Ricky and Gaffney et al were on the team, and he was not exempt from criticism then. On a team that struggled this much offensively, that shot in the bottom 1/7th of the nation from the field, it’s not “how do we replace this guy’s scoring.” It’s “how can we overhaul the offense so that the other guys actually take quality shots?”
Back in the – ahem – “glory days” for UMass, sure, we had outside shooters. Yeah, there was Forbes slashing to the hoop, and Ricky to an extent in his absence. But you also had guys like Freeman and Gaffney and Milligan who could occasionally do things down in the post, offensive rebound, etc. CDP is gone, so his offensive woes are irrelevant. But Vinson and Sampson and Sean have, thus far, underwhelmed with their offensive games. Of that triumvirate, Sean had a pretty good season, but he could stand to attack the basket even more. Maybe it’s the number, but I keep thinking of Etienne Brower when I see Sampson out there, only with a better inside game and without as much shooting prowess. And Vinson…boy, what a mystery he’s been. There was just so much potential for him that first year, but his offense out of the halfcourt is virtually nonexistent. He might just be better suited as a finisher in a run-and-gun type of offense. I don’t know, maybe not. But something has to change for him, because it just feels like such a waste of talent.
There were a few bright spots this year. Much has been made of the emergence of Putney and Morgan. Putney, in particular, has been very exciting to watch, with his phenomenal reach, aggressiveness, and, well, he’s just so goofy-looking! Seriously, though, if he continues to eat more sammiches this off-season (someone hook this guy up with some extreme mass-building supplements, f’real now) and gets even stronger, he could be an inside-outside threat as his basketball smarts continue to progress. He’s gotta shoot better than 20% from 3, though, or maybe just not shoot them at all. I personally think he might be better-suited shooting those KG-esque midrange jumpers; if only such shots weren’t discouraged by the coaching staff. The guy I do want shooting more 3’s is Jesse Morgan. He was streaky as hell down the stretch, but I like his quickness and aggressiveness, and I think he did a damn good job for someone with so little experience and time to adjust to the system. He’s a curious case, for sure, but one to keep an eye on next year. I’d like to see him do more than just shoot from the outside, but I think he could certainly have a Ricky-before-his-senior-year type role for a team that needs all the shooting help they can get.
Speaking of curious cases…I don’t know how this whole Riley stuff is going to play out. There’s plenty of speculation and rumors that he’s any combination of a headcase, unhappy here, and/or starving for the opportunity to prove himself. Thus, I see this as a turning point for Freddie – either he packs up and leaves, or he gets his head on straight and comes out next year with the same level of determination that we saw in the waning minutes of the Dayton disaster. Both outcomes would be more constructive than the season he had this year, in which he was undoubtedly the team’s most controversial Tweeter, openly criticizing the fans (and even responding to our own Matt at one point, which I’m pretty sure is why head coaches despise Twitter), opining about not getting to play, etc. No player on this team was more divisive for fans. But when you have a guy with the potential to be a prolific scorer and shooter (provided his shot selection and/or the offensive system improves), maybe you have to give him a chance, and ignore the baggage – or, even better, hope he’s able to overcome it.
Next year, the team will welcome the biggest name Kellogg has recruited in his time with the program. Jordan Laguerre projects as a dynamic scorer, an immediate impact-guy, someone who can score off the dribble (lol wut?), hit the outside shot, dunk the ball, cure cancer, and slot right in on the top line next year alongside Hobbs and Syner. Nah, but seriously, we’ve heard this shit before – Gibbs was supposed to be a combo guard who would score seemingly at will, and that’s not even close to what we ended up seeing. Still, he’s the most exciting prospect ON PAPER that this team has brought in since Gibbs, and since he’s a DK guy and not a Ford guy, you have to be at least somewhat thrilled for his arrival. The good news is that he plays a position that we have a few existing guys at – the aforementioned Morgan, Riley (unless he leaves), and even Farrell if needed (although I think JYD’s second half struggles this year had a lot to do with him playing too much 1/2 and not enough 3, for which he seems better suited). The bad news is that the pickings are considerably slimmer at positions where we most need improvement.
Okay, that’s being awfully harsh to Chaz Williams. But really, the last few transfers we’ve had have struggled in their first years with the team. Brower, Gaffney and Gurley took until their senior years to truly make an impact. Bailey and Bonner were busts. Sean Carter’s first year here wasn’t so hot. But I suppose we have no choice. In Williams we trust. The good news is that this guy seems to have his head on straight, relative to our last few point guard projects (Wiggins/Traynham). Still, point guard is one place you never want to have question marks – we just saw that for three straight years. Here’s hoping Chaz is the real deal.
Also of note are redshirt Maxie Esho and Cady Lalanne, who sat out the year becoming academically eligible. Both are big forwards (6’8″ and 6’9″ respectively). Both are highly-touted prospects (sound familiar?) who could step in and succeed where Bailey failed and Vinson has yet to succeed. These guys have flown under the radar, but both have scouting reports rife with words like “athletic” and “good scoring touch” that, while perhaps indicative of hyperbolic scouting report lingo, could just as easily indicate that the answer to what ails this program might already lie within. We shall see. I’m looking forward to learning more about these guys’ role as the offseason moves on and Kellogg figures out what this team will look like next year.
And how will that team play? Ultimately, it comes back to the dribble-drive. Is it time to get Walberg out of town? Honestly, I haven’t been following the DK-Walberg rumors as closely as some have, particularly this year (where I was present for a grand total of one game in person). Some fans insinuate on the forums that Walberg is running the show. If that’s the case…it’s time for him to not run the show anymore. This will be year four for Kellogg. For three years, the so-called architect of the DDM hasn’t been able to get it to work effectively. It’s time for DK to figure out what he’s got and build a system that will make it work. This isn’t Memphis; Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans aren’t walking through that door. (And why would they, we don’t have a coach to pay them off, HEY-O!!! Kidding, of course.) If that means wrestling control of the team away from his assistant coach, then so be it. If it turns out that it’s nothing but idle fan speculation, well, cool, whatever. I just can’t believe that a program at this level could run the same failed offense over and over again.
This program can succeed at the A-10 level. The students – and now, I suspect, many of the local fans – are done with the honeymoon phase, and they ain’t coming back until DK starts putting out a winning product. Now it’s up to him to salvage his own legacy and the respect of the fanbase that once made the Bill one of college basketball’s finest venues. For the fans who have been calling for his head, listen to his words. He knows this season was unacceptable, but I think that maybe – just maybe – he gets what needs to be done, and next year he’ll have the pieces to do it.
This team got what it needed – a year that was spiraling out of control has ended. Josh Maurer’s pronunciation will likely be the same next year, but the era of “baskettaball” has come to an end.
Or at least, for this program’s – and my sanity’s – sake, it better have.
P.S. Oh, and thank you to the graduating class of 2011. Anthony Gurley, Hashim Bailey, Gary Correia, and possibly Matt Hill. My uneducated criticisms and those of all the other fans do not change the fact that these players put their hearts and souls into the training and practice and sacrifice that goes into playing collegiate sports at the highest level.
P.P.S. Thanks for calling me out, Matt, but I’ve decided that my long-promised “state of the students” article will be coming after the hockey season is over. Whenever that may be, hopelessly optimistic exclamation point!
Oh, the University of Rhode Island. No matter how bad things get for the UMass Minute-a-men baskettaball team (note: we’ve taken to the Josh Maurer pronunciations of the words “Minutemen” and “basketball” in case you haven’t noticed), you’re always there to brighten our spirits.
For whatever reason, since I became a part of the UMass community by enrolling in 2006, the Minutemen have not lost its season series to URI. Not once. As a freshman, when Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman were walking through that door, UMass lost a nail-biter in Kingston, but routed the Rams in the Bill. The Minutemen ended up settling for the NIT that year, but we dragged the Rams kicking and screaming with us. Sign of things to come.
The following year, UMass squeaked by at home, then, in a game typical of the Travis Ford era, rallied from a late seven-point deficit to pull out a 98-91 win in Rhode Island. That was my (and Derek’s) first visit to the Ryan Center, during which I served as the “space” in a row of shirtless fans spelling out “Go UMass!” on our chests. Yes, Derek was at a basketball game, and there were UMass students present – and it was on the ROAD! (Seriously, there were about 40 students on that bus. It was epic. You’re hard-pressed to find that many students at a home game now, if you don’t count the band.) We countered the “U! R! I!” chant with “N! I! T!,” which didn’t go over well with the angry Rhode Islanders, who, again, would probably have been in the big dance had it not been for two losses to UMass on their resume. The Minutemen had two of the most painful losses in recent memory that year (the infamous Valentine’s Day Massacre vs. Fordham, then a bunch of wins including the Rhody game to get our hopes back up, followed of course by the collapse against Charlotte in Atlantic City), but beating URI made it all worthwhile. I’ll never forget standing outside the Ryan Center in late February – still inexplicably shirtless – waiting for the players to board the team bus. I hugged Travis Ford that night. We all did. It’s one of the reasons we’re still so bitter about his betrayal, logical as it was. UMass went to the NIT finals that year, beating Florida before losing to a young Ohio State squad led by much younger versions of the David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale, etc. core of seniors that is now among the nation’s best teams. Rhody? Bounced in the first round of the NIT. Hah.
The next year, with Kellogg as head coach, the tandem of Chris Lowe and Tony Gaffney and an inexplicable win at Kansas couldn’t mitigate the difficulty of transition. UMass was bound to miss the postseason, with an abysmal record, and the NIT run’s fan dwindling by season’s end. Indeed, DK lost his first game against Rhody, a 12-point defeat in Amherst that had Rhody once again poised to go dancing. All they had to do was beat us again, on their home floor, on senior night (well, afternoon). A much smaller contingent of UMass faithful made this trip, including a few of us holdovers from the year before. What we witnessed? Matt Glass setting a vicious, and probably illegal, pick. Chris Lowe driving coast-to-coast in the final seconds. And a near-sellout Rhody crowd, Lou Merloni and all, silenced once again, as they watched the Minutemen clinch yet another NIT berth for the Rams. And the 30 or so UMass fans in attendance were positively giddy.
Last year? Same story in reverse. Another transition year for Kellogg, another expected return to the dance for Rhody. The road trip was first, as Matt accompanied me to his first UMass road hoops game, and my last as a student. Only a few other students showed, a real testament to just how far the student support of this team has plummeted, and where it needs to return. Rhody dominated this game in the first half, but Anthony Gurley went off in the closing minutes to narrow the score to respectability and plant the seeds of momentum for the rematch. It was UMass’s senior day, the last game of the regular season, Rhody’s tenuous bubble hopes on the line yet again. You know what happens next. (Here’s a little trip down memory lane, complete with a Lost reference in the title and discussion of hockey’s playoff hopes to add to the 2010 nostalgia!)
So here we are, 2011, Kellogg’s boys have climbed up to respectability, if still wildly inconsistent and not-quite-there-yet. Rhody seemed particularly vulnerable this year, its fans much less optimistic about the team’s tournament dreams, with the likes of Delroy James and Will Martell thrust into leadership roles, with few exciting players on the horizon (let the Nikola Malesevic era begin!), with Jim Baron’s job security in question now that his son (who, at best, struck me as a homeless man’s Mike Bibby) having graduated and moved on, and, most importantly, with Rhody Nation aware that no matter how much they try, URI cannot get those two wins over UMass that it will probably take for this program to ever make the big dance again. Granted, UMass will probably need to prove it can beat the likes of Saint Louis and St. Joe’s before the Minutemen break their tournament drought, but just the same. The Rams dropped their first game against UMass this year, and even though we hadn’t seen a win since then, you just had to figure the Rams are the cure for what ails the Minutemen. Always.
God, I love it when I’m right.
True, the first half felt like more of the same baskettaball for UMass. Notably, we’ve decided here at Fight Mass that Josh Maurer isn’t crazy when he pronounces it “baskettaball” instead of “basketball.” Indeed, he’s actually onto something. The horrific style of play that the Minutemen play, which is the end result of the DDM offense not being executed properly, is not basketball. It’s baskettaball. It entails a lot of passing the ball around the perimeter, taking awful 3-point shots, missing open layups and dunks, turning the ball over in the paint and just in general, standing around, and attempting at least one failed alley-oop (usually Correia to Sean Carter) per game, then hoping that somehow Farrell and Gurley will bail you out in the end. UMass played a lot of quality basketball during its 7-0 season-opening run, with only a few glimpses of the baskettaball of the past two years. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the four-game losing streak to the likes of Saint Louis, St. Joe’s, and George Washington, all teams UMass should be able to beat at this point, regardless of venue, was a return to baskettaball, which is unwinnable for UMass when the other team can shut down Gurley and Farrell. And that sucks to watch, because it would seem to indicate a regression. Besides, this team needs to be able to win without Gurley going forward.
Luckily for UMass, Rhody also seems to play a lot of baskettaball. They heave up awful 3’s, they commit silly turnovers, and their offense is just plain boring to watch much of the time. Also luckily for UMass, DK has finally turned Jesse “The Takeover” Morgan loose, in the absence of the injured Riley, as well as giving Raphiael Putney a lot more minutes. We saw them both on the floor for much of the second-half run, opening things up for Gurley to get his game going again, covering for Farrell who seems to be pressing things lately (he’s at his best when he’s left to do the little things well, hence the “Junkyard Dog” nickname), and just making better overall choices with the ball. Maybe watching the team’s recent malaise from the bench has been a boon for these guys, because they’re seeing what not to do. I know Matt and I have gotten some heat for being overly critical of Riley (even from Riley himself), but the fact is, if Riley used his abilities the way Jesse Morgan has in these last two games, he’d be a much better player. We don’t question Riley’s shooting ability, but Morgan seems to have a better grasp for when to fire his shots. He’s always in rhythm and he gets his role in the offense. If these two can build off of what the other is doing, we could have two absolutely deadly scoring threats from the outside next year, which in turn would make everyone else’s game more effective. The offense was a lot smoother for UMass in the second half (from what I heard – no video, sadly) and would have won by a lot more had it not been for the atrocious foul discrepancy coupled with some uncharacteristically-poor free throw shooting.
Really, as frustrating as those last four games were to watch, it’s been exciting to see Putney and Morgan starting to live up to some of the hype. Hopefully they continue to improve and the rest of the team follows their lead as the regular season winds down. UMass is just sitting outside that 5-8 range, and I think getting a home A-10 game would be a good step this year. I could still see this team making it back to the NIT as well if they finish 3-1 down the stretch and win a game or two(!) in the conference tourney. Just as easily, of course, I could see a 1-3 finish and a first-round exit in an A-10 road game. Either way, there’s obviously a lot of room for this team to grow, and the rest of the season affords them a fairly low-pressure opportunity to prepare for next year. They’ve shown that they’re clearly not ready to compete with the upper crust of the conference just yet, although the Temple game gives them one last opportunity to disprove that (and if they manage to somehow win that game, my expectations for the conference tournament will be a bit higher). If they have some momentum going into the offseason, with most of the core group returning and with Kellogg’s own guys finally comprising the entire team, I’ll feel a lot better about next year being the year all this rebuilding finally pays off.
And even if it doesn’t? At least we’ll have two games against Rhody on the schedule.
After a weekend so devastating that I didn’t even write a recap (even though I drove the 2 fucking hours to see an 11-2 loss in a fucking home depot (ok, maybe I will shit on lawler in the random observations)) the outlook was bleak for our young minutemen. Made worse was the fact that the greatest hockey player to ever grace us with his presence, Sir Douglas Kublin was scratched due to injury and our friday opponent, BU, was coming off a tough loss against the inexplicably less loathsome BC in a meaningless tournament game in Boston. However, on friday night, despite being outscored 16-2 in the previous weekend, the Minutemen went out and showed (probably) their strongest effort of the year against a good, not great BU team. Despite the lack of points in friday’s 4-3 overtime loss (oh why can’t you be like the NHL and give a point for overtime losses) there were alot of positives. UMass dominated the flow of the game for large stretches last night, resulting in a beautiful 2nd period (historically the worst period for this team) where they showed the potential of this team. If the team can continue to grow, where the effort shown last night becomes consistent, this team will be a force.
The saddest part of last night is that we should have won last night. Of the 4 goals scored by BU, 2 were preventable lapses. Goal 2, coming in the last 10 seconds of the 1st, was one that falls into the every growing category of “UMass not finishing the period strong”. It was a tick tack goal that seemed to come out of nowhere. I remember distinctly saying during the intermission “If we tie or lose by one, that goal will hurt”. Well it did and it does. So there.
In related news, the first goal was deserved by BU, but still grinds my gears. Coming 70 seconds into the game, it was an uncontested wrist shot in the slot, thats going in 80% of the time. I’m far too lazy to look it up, but it seems like this team gives up the first goal far too often, and of late its been coming early. Playing from behind is never a good idea, and the results have shown what such tendencies do to you.
Also a hearbreaker was the 3rd goal, a dribbler that slipped by Dainton. This came a minute or so after a Syner shot that looked in and in the very least deserved a review. It was a huge shift of momentum, a goal that would have put us up by 2, ending up going the other way and tieing the game. After that, despite flashes, the minutemen were on their heels. Because of some dumb penalties, UMass played alot of the final moments of the 3rd on the PK. While they ended up killing them all, even a long 5 on 3, the team looked exhausted and defeated by the time it was OT. Unlike the NU game a few weeks ago, victory never seemed imminent. Everyone in attendance seemed to be praying for a tie, and unfortunately we couldn’t get so lucky.
So here we are playing a game tonight against perpetual cellar dwellers Providence, that is now a must win if we want to make the playoffs. Maybe a point will do tonight, but a win is needed for both moral and practical reasons. We need the win to keep this team confident, because I can only imagine how deflating a loss like last night’s would be for a team. Loosing 11-2 is an embarrassment, loosing 4-3 in a winnable game is sad. As for practical purposes, 2 points tonight would be huge for a playoff spot. As it turns out, winning 5 of 6 against VT and Lowell most likely won’t be enough, and honestly, if going into the playoffs on a loosing streak of such sad proportions is our destiny, I’m not even sure its worth making it and causing me to spend $50 to go to 2 lashings by the best teams in Hockey East.
What do I expect tonight? Sadly I expect a 5-3 loss. Yup, after last night I fully expect this team to underperform and let the Providence team steal a win and leave the UMass community defeated and depressed. I don’t trust this team. They are the cheating trollop of a girlfriend who the day after reminding you why you love them, will get drunk and flash the bar. Its not easy to love this team. Lets hope they prove me wrong.
- Ok, Lawler. What a dump of an arena. First off, I honestly thought Merrimack was a sears. Merrimack will now be refered to as the university of sears – North andover for a long as I live. Plus, Lawler is a high school rink. HOW CAN YOU BE IN HOCKEY EAST AND NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS AT YOUR BOX OFFICE???? Plus, the arena itself is a glorified Home Depot (given the ceiling). The sightlines: Bad. The fans: apathetic. The penalty boxes: without doors or glass (I’m not joking, the players have to climb over to get in and out and can just lean over the boards while in the sin bin). The PA announcer: continuously making mistakes (he kept on referring to goals as penalties. He isn’t even a JV announcer, he got cut from the freshman team). The puck band: the reason I’m weary about having a UMass puck band. Pathetic in size, fidelity and execution. I’ve been to elementary school band recitals that sounded better. I really wish I was joking. Speaking of jokes, everything about that shithole of an arena. Yes your team is good, but you in no way deserve it. I hate you so much Merrimack, you have no idea.
- The OT goal last night happened while the lowest common denominator (lol, t shirt night) started a “Fuck BU” chant. It made the loss a little more acceptable, because it withheld joy from those idiots. Karma my friends. Its all your fault everyone that chanted fuck BU last night. I also hate you so much.
- The Beer summit with Papa triangle ended up happening last night. Good times all around. Two quick stories. First, my beer selection progressively got less manly last night. I started out with a Brooklyn cuvee noire (so, so good). Then I had an Alagash White (good, but bitches love Belgian whites) and then ended with an origional sin hard cider (also good, but don’t think Walsh wasn’t mocking me openly). Secondly, and far more hilariously, Triangle almost got cut off last night. So, around last call, triangle asks for a last drink. He is in no way visibly drunk (I dare not guess his actual BAC, but hell, he seemed fine). So the bartender asks if he’s driving tonight (in stereotypical hipster fashion). He is confused. She backs off slightly with the “its just a simple straightforward question”. I point out that “BU 4 UMass 3” is the reason this man needs an extra beer, She says she does not know what that means, and as justification, points out her mormon faith. Triangle ends up getting his beer (you damn right he does!) and still tips (classy, classy man). I (who may be a little drunk) continues to think about making a magic underwear joke the rest of the night. I do not. Moral of the story: beer is fun.
- Drunkenly yelling at people cutting the student line is alot more fun than I could have ever imagined. Walsh got tripped by some dude! I envy him. I was in a punching mood. Wearing a hockey jersey does that.
- I will reiterate that I hate T shirt games so much. So, so, so much
- Mike Pereira’s mom is a really nice lady, however she can’t hold a candle to the heavenly grace that is Mrs Christine Gracel. Lady’s a saint.
- apparently the basketball team came out during the 2nd intermission to ask people to come to the game on sunday. I didn’t see it (intermissions are for cigarettes and makers mark) but I imagine it was violently awkward.
As usual for most saturday morning recaps, this was written at work, so apologies for all inevitable spelling errors.
See you at the Bill tonight