Worry no Moore. UMass procrastinated again, but the team handed in its year-long assignment the day before it was due this year.
Tonight, the pressure will be off up in North Andover, thanks to a 5-1 blowout that looked like it was destined to be another late-game classic between these two teams, who have played quite a few nailbiters over the last few seasons aside from the LAST time we saw “Moorsey” between the pipes. The last two trips to Mullins particularly for the Warriors have been decided by disappointing last-minute goals for the visitors, and when Shawn Bates tied the score early in the third last night, we looked back at the myriad almost-goals for the Minutemen – and the close calls they got away with – and couldn’t help but feel that more heartbreak was a-comin’.
But a funny thing happened. UMass didn’t fold, didn’t fret about what could have or should have been. Instead, they played possibly their finest period of hockey all season long, got monster goals from their senior offensive stars, and, with five minutes left to go and the Freeing of Moore imminent, Mark Dennehy pulled Cannata in desperation. Merrimack’s season, after all, was on the verge of slipping away, their tenuous hold on an at-large bid and home ice against the Black Bears very much at risk.
Two length-of-the-ice empty-netters later, we saw the most beautiful moment of the entire season.
I’ve only met Kevin Moore briefly, when he lived with the freshmen during my junior year in the same dorm. But by all accounts, the “Rudy” chants that were started last night were fitting. This kid’s worked his ass off the last few years, juggling all the same responsibilities his teammates do, with nowhere near the glory to show for it. Granted, if UMass was out of the playoff hunt, I’d have no doubt that Toot would’ve given Moore the start last night, because fuck it, why not. But this was a must-win game, something I don’t think all of the students quite understood when they booed Toot’s refusal to pull Boyle in a three-goal game with 2:30 left. But after the second empty-netter, there was no doubt in my mind that Toot would find a way to make it happen. And after a brief scare immediately following that goal, where Boyle was still out there, the first whistle inside of two minutes gave Moore his shot.
I know there’s that very small contingent of us who got to see Kevin Moore play last year in the infamous blowout game at Lawler, and the ovation he got from the 20-or-so UMass fans in attendance was a very cool moment indeed. But it’s hard to top last night. The team deserves props for putting themselves in a position to make it happen, and congrats to Moorsey for earning it. Unreal.
So here’s where things stand now. A loss tonight clinches 8th place, and a likely date with the white-hot Eagles, winners of 10 straight since their earlier malaise, unless they lose to Vermont and BU finishes a sweep of the now-eliminated Huskies. A win, however, sets up interesting scenarios. Lowell plays Providence tonight at Tsongas, and if they win as well, the Minutemen hop into 7th over the Friars. BC is most likely to win the division, though the aforementioned scenario could drop them to 2nd and they’d play UMass anyway. More likely is a BC win/tie and BU win/tie, setting up a date with the Huskies, a team UMass has held multiple-goal leads against three times this season, albeit only earning three points out of those three games. The Minutemen led 3-0 once at Agganis before a meltdown, and won their last trip there. And let’s not forget that the comeback in the first game was largely keyed by contributions from Trivino and Coyle, and the Terriers are also now without Max Nicastro on the blue line. And on top of all else, the Terriers would offer an opponent that isn’t, you know, BC again for the millionth year in a row.
But here’s the most intriguing scenario: UMass win, BC win or tie, BU loss, Lowell win. It’s not at all out of the question, with the Huskies having nothing to lose on senior night against their most hated rival, and with Lowell playing its own senior night against the lackluster Friars. Lowell, much like Merrimack before last night, is just 2-1-3 in their last six, and would also provide the least expensive travel option for yours truly. I have my reasons, obviously, but how sweet would it be after what’s happened this season if UMass ruined Lowell’s magical year? (Although, to be fair, playoff wins vs. ANYONE would be sweet, and if the alternative plotlines are “avenging the last few years against BC” or “beating the team that had the scumbag rapists,” you really can’t go wrong with any of ’em.)
Of course, any hope of getting not-the-Eagles rests on a win tonight, unless you think Vermont can beat BC tonight (in which case I presume you also think Newt Gingrich might be our next president). The last time UMass took the ice at Lawler was a 2-1 nailbiter that ended with a Merrimack player getting away with the most blatant delay-of-game ever, covering the puck behind the ‘Mack net with his glove for a good 15 seconds. Last night convinced me more than ever that these teams have gone in opposite directions since that game – maybe not as dramatically as we’d hoped, but the Minutemen, at least for the last four games, have outplayed their opponents and in some cases dramatically so, while the league seems to slowly be figuring out Dennehy’s magic.
I keep telling myself this. And then I remember that Lawler/Volpe/University of Sears is an awful awful place in which the Minutemen never ever escape with a win, no matter how good or bad the home team is in that particular season.
So, sigh, bring on the Eagles again, maybe this time will be different.
Oh, also, baskettaball tonight. Walsh will be on-hand at Lawler for the whole game, along obviously with El Triangle (pronounced “tree ON glay”). Matt and I will be live-tweeting on @FightMass from the Rhody Rematch, and if the game’s a blowout we’ll leave at halftime to catch puck drop; otherwise we’re shooting to get up to Merrimack for period 2. Either way, EVERYONE GO TO THE FUCKING BASKETBALL GAME TODAY IT’S THE LAST ONE EVEN THOUGH REALLY IT’S ALMOST ASSURED THAT THERE WILL BE A PLAYOFF GAME HERE TUESDAY. WHICH YOU SHOULD ALSO ATTEND. Either way, this is the real “senior night” so let’s send Big Sean and Daddy Hill off with a 20-win season.
P.S. Let’s go ahead and jump on the “props to the Bench Crew” bandwagon for making #FreeMoore a success. Frankly, Toot doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, but also frankly, there was no chance Moore wasn’t going to play last night if the opportunity arose. But more importantly is that it’s social media outlets like the Bench Crew that get kids excited about games and, gasp, knowledgeable about what’s actually going on, like the student fans at the other nine schools in Hockey East. THIS IS WHAT WE NEED MORE OF.
Happy non-denominational winter holiday to all of you loyal Fight Mass readers. The hockey season is about to resume with what amounts to an exhibition down in Florida against Cornell and then a rematch with one of UMass’s foes from the 2006-07 NCAA Tournament, Clarkson (who surrendered the first-ever Minutemen tourney win) and Maine (who, after losing four games in two weekends to UMass, got its ace goalie back and stopped UMass from making the Frozen Four). Basketball is riding another win streak and has a rematch with Central Connecticut State, they of the inexplicable blowout road loss last season, coming up on Thursday. Here’s a few of the things we are excited about here at FM, and which things give us the old “bah, humbug” feeling.
A few of our favorite things:
– Hockey, as we established when last we left you, is coming off of a pretty impressive showing, a win and a tie against two Ivy League teams that have been performing reasonably well this season. Of course, even that fucking zoo movie probably looks pretty entertaining compared to the disaster of the previous three games for UMass, but it was good to see signs of life. Anything we say in terms of a full midseason recap is going to pale in comparison to the absolutely wonderful mid-season recap posted by Awesome Triangle Dude, but needless to say, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the play of guys like Guzzo and Sheary, and the recent improvements of Yevenko and Boyle. And hell, Fredo Marcou hasn’t been a disaster this year, though he still provides a bit too much high blood pressure in some defensive situations disproportionate to the amount of offense he supposedly generates. But hey, if you told us a few months ago that he was gonna put up 8 points and a +1 at the break after what happened last year, and we’d launch a federal investigation into what you’re smoking. And I even gave him the coveted “player I’m betting will have a breakout season” tag that I gave to Chase Langeraap last year with positive results.
– Basketball. As with last year, the awesome start has tapered off somewhat. At first glance, this year might look a lot like last year in the first 10-15 games. Last year they rushed to a quick start against mediocre teams, many of which experienced some less-than-advantageous travel conditions. This year they played some bad teams playing on more reasonable rest, and then embarked on a rough stretch of three games in three games (two against some pretty good competition in FSU and CoC, both losses), followed by travel home for a game, travel back to play a decent Miami team in a close loss, back home, and back down to ECU again for a nailbiter of a win against a team they should paste. Since that stretch (which is unlike anything they had to deal with last year), they’ve seemed to recover nicely, and are steadily adapting to not having Sampson Carter out there. I’ll say this – Esho and Lalanne are working their way into more and more playing game every night they’re out there. After a few lackluster showings, grinding out a win against a good Davidson team should boost everyone’s confidence going forward. Just gotta avoid the old-fashioned let-down.
– Charley Fucking Molnar. Oh, so THAT’s what a head coach looks like. I forgot after Brown left. Have you seen the press conference? Go to UMassAthletics and watch it. No, fuck you, porn or CoD can wait, do it now. I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week and I get why the big-wigs are so enamored of this guy now. Holy shit can this guy orate. I’m actually reminded a bit of Obama when he was campaigning. And while Obama’s approval ratings are sort of Morris-esque right about now, something tells me that running a football team might be a little less difficult than being, oh, I dunno, the leader of the free world.
Let’s pump the brakes for juuust a second and point out that he’s never been a head coach at any level before. And the guy he’s learning from right now, Brian Kelly, isn’t exactly a Calipari-level mentor like Cal was to DK. But Molnar does have a lot of experience in the conference UMass is going into, having worked at all three directional Michigans. He’s already brought in a big recruit in local kid AJ Doyle, a recruit I’m so excited about that I don’t mind that a) he went to CM, and b) that I just linked to the Herald. And believe me, both of those things would normally bother me.
Most importantly, Molnar sounds like he has exactly the right mindset for this job. Unlike Morris, who came in with “hey, let’s build a team that might occasionally be competitive in the CAA” as his mentality, Molnar, with admittedly-higher stakes and with way more resources at his disposal, knows what we really want. With all due respect to the Akrons and Bowling Greens of the world, this move, to be truly successful, is about the future, about using the MAC as a stepping stone to greater things for the entire athletics program. In the greatest of all possible timelines, that future is probably at least 6-8 years down the road, when UMass plays in the NBC Presents “Community: The Movie” Bowl on the network that inherits the void left behind when FOX goes out of business. Meanwhile, back in real life, we’re looking at more like a decade-plus, and Molnar seems to understand that. It’s not gonna happen overnight, especially having to build an FBS roster from slightly-below-scratch. But the good thing about next year, honestly, is that the team’s not eligible for bowls yet. They have a year to assess just how much catching-up this program needs to get into position, and they have a couple of holdover QBs that Doyle can understudy. I hope the fans have the patience to stick it out if the going is tough early, although I think the big edge Molnar has over Kellogg here is that, while DK was taking over a team that was on the brink of capturing the fans’ excitement with Ford’s NIT run, Molnar is taking over for a lame duck who certainly coached like a lame duck for his entire tenure. We’d be crazy to expect results right away – what we’ll be looking for is progress. I got a good feeling about this one.
– The new banner. Sweet and simple. Figured it was time to change it up. Lemme know what you think.
– Laughing at other peoples’ expense. Look, rape is never okay, but while we have tons of sympathy for Trivino’s RA, we will shed not a single tear for the dismantling of that Terriers team over the past couple weeks, with both Coyle and Trivino leaving the squad. Merrimack’s return to earth? Yeah, #1 might have been a bit of a stretch – hopefully we’re seeing the start of some sort of Dennehy Downfall in the same vein as the infamous Cahoon Swoon. And on the hardwood? Nobody’s feeling bad for Xavier for losing games due to suspensions stemming from that trainwreck of a brawl in Cincy. Getting the heartiest laughs, though, are your 1-11 Rhode Island Rams, who have a 12-point home win against Hofstra (RPI #270) to their credit. Yikes. The Jim Baron era might be dwindling down to its ugly, ugly face- I mean, conclusion. The only downside is the RPI hit our conference is taking, but it’s worth it to see those yokels suffer. Fight Mass mid-week Rhody Road Trip this year? Probably not…but it would be fun.
– Fenway Park. Less than 2 weeks. Joy. 😀
– You know what? I’m still feeling jolly, so I’ll keep the negativity brief. But let’s be honest: ninth place in Hockey East this year, in what is really kind of a down year for the conference, isn’t gonna cut it. Yeah, the boys are keeping a lot of these games close, and there’s some shoulda-couldas in there (opening night, the BU series, etc.) but the results are what matter, and this year we were expecting a bit more growth. There’s a lot of season ahead, and plenty of games against the teams immediately within striking range in the standings, so no need to panic just yet, but if they drop the first two to PC and – gasp – the Fenway game vs. UVM, then it may be worrying time. Gotta win at least one of these…two puts them right back in the thick of things. Remember, we still have ‘Mack three times…it’s not getting any easier.
– Student turnout at hoops. It’s, eh, still on the lacking side. The good news is that the home schedule is actually pretty solid. Xavier, St. Louis, St. Joe’s, and Charlotte are all teams that are at the very least in the “receiving votes” conversation. URI at home for senior day is always a good proposition. And La Salle and St. Bona’s aren’t awful this year. Really, the only sucky scheduling quirk this year is that the Davidson game was during intersession. The next two are not big draws, but the students are out of town anyway. If the team can actually keep the wins coming, word of mouth has to eventually spread. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be helping, dear readers. Talk up UMass hoops. Those of you who don’t really care for hoops? At least you can hold your damn tongues when they show the promos at the Bill instead of groaning about how much the team sucks. I groan when they advertise the women’s game not because they’re women, but because the team actually is legitimately terrible and has been for a long time. Men’s hoops has a chance to actually make something of this season. If you’re not gonna support them, stay out of the way.
To be honest, I think it’s gonna take cracking the top 25 for the student interest to be revitalized. I’d love to be proven wrong this year. At least we have the hard-working efforts of the Mullins Militia out there. Keep up the good work, boys…it’s at least looking better than the last few years. Progress!
– Our posting. Hopefully now that Matt has a new wireless keyboard thinger for his iPad, he’ll be contributing to more than just the Twitter. And Walsh? Where’d you go bro?
Honestly, having a full-time job makes it pretty damn hard to keep up with this thing. I dunno how the Triangular one does it, but our hats are off to him.
Alright, a couple days and we’ll be back to chat about the Florida tournament and the CCSU game. Enjoy the last few days of 2011 and try not to drink too much eggnog. And remember, if years were Christmas then this December would be the December of our December.