Alright, hold off on the “fire Toot” talk. At least for now.
The maddening inconsistency of the 2011-2012 Massachusetts Minutemen ice hockey team has reached a new level of what-the-fuckery. One does not simply march into Agganis and control the ice for almost the entire 60 minutes against that offense, yet UMass did just that – and proceeded to fall asleep, again, at home to Providence the next night. This weekend, UMass swapped days – they got pasted by the Black Bears on Friday, but held Maine off the board almost entirely last night in Orono save for a highlight-reel goal by noted doucheface Joey Diamond falling on his ass on a wraparound. God we hate Joey Diamond. Everyone knows Triangles are better than Diamonds anyway.
For seemingly the millionth year in a row, UMass has decided to fuck with our patience. Last weekend I was back in “can we move on from Toot yet?” mode. Now, as you can probably guess, I’ve migrated back into glass-half-full territory. UMass holds the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East at this point in time, and at least on paper, a very realistic opportunity to hold onto that seed or even move up (more on that in a sec). Call these last couple wins letdowns for BU and Maine all you want, but it’s become abundantly clear that the Minutemen have the ability to win these games – it’s a matter of putting it together on a nightly basis. For all the rumblings about discord between the team and its coach, about lines and playing time, and guys not being mentally tough enough to, oh, not take the first period off every other game, the most important takeaway is that the talent is there. Jack Parker even said so! And when is he ever wrong?
Look, Derek and I witnessed it with our own eyes (more on that later, too). UMass came out on fire in the first, scored on a bad Maine giveaway in the opening minute, and withstood two dangerous Maine power plays. From there, the Minutemen controlled play for the final 40 minutes in much the same way they controlled that BC game, or the pivotal stretches of both BC wins. They have it in them. Why why why why why can’t they do this on a regular basis though?
I kind of liken the Minutemen of the past five years or so to that student who’s smart enough to skirt by but procrastinates like a mofo. (I’m not not saying I’ve been that guy.) The thing is, you can pass exams and ace essays waiting til the last minute to study or write. But what good is it gonna do you if you’re not actually learning? And why put the unnecessary stress on yourself? UMass does the same damn thing. If they could get fired up to play teams like Providence and Northeastern and grab those points early, they could coast into the playoffs and even have a shot at moving up (which shouldn’t be the goal to begin with, but one step at a time here). Instead, yet again, it comes down to the last couple weekends if the Minutemen are gonna give themselves a chance to pull off an upset in the first round. Which, by the way, they’ve proven they could be capable of doing if they can even give themselves that chance.
Technically UMass could finish as high as 5th or as low as 9th. Friday night’s loss officially eliminated the Minutemen from home ice contention, as they now trail Maine by 10 points with 8 points up for grabs. Here’s the standings, and the teams’ remaining schedules:
5. Merrimack 26 pts @Lowell, vs. Lowell, @UMass, vs. UMass
6. PC 23 pts vs. BC, @ BC, vs. Lowell, @Lowell
7. UNH 22 pts @UMass x2, @Maine
8. UMass 18 pts vs. UNH x2, vs. Merrimack, at Merrimack
9. Northeastern 18 pts vs. Maine x2, @BU, vs. BU
UMass’s season series with Mack and UNH will be determined in these last two weekends. They’ve lost the breaker to PC and they split 1-1-1 with Northeastern. The second tiebreaker is conference wins, and each team has 7. The third tiebreaker is record vs. the top team in the conference. So UMass holds that if BC is #1, and Northeastern wins it if Lowell is first. UMass is 1-2 against BU and the Huskies lost their only meeting with the Terriers so far. There are three/four-way tie scenarios with 5-8, but they get messy and most of them don’t favor UMass.
Following so far?
So, obviously, the best of all possible timelines is 5th place, which entails UMass sweeping its remaining schedule and Merrimack losing all four. In that scenario, UMass would need PC to finish with less than 3 points in that four-game gauntlet (very possible). If NU and UMass each won out, that first place tiebreaker (Lowell/BC) would come into play again. Also in this scenario, ABC announces it’s pulling Modern Family in exchange for a seven-season run of Community, and Jack Parker and Jerry York are simultaneously trampled by a pack of magical unicorns. Actually, it’s not the most far-fetched thing of all time. Most of it would be in UMass’s hands in sweeping Merrimack, but the other prerequisite (sweeping UNH while Lowell sweeps Mack) could easily happen, and make for a fascinating final weekend.
If UMass sweeps UNH, they’re in good shape. The Minutemen would clinch the tiebreaker, and then all UMass needs is for UNH to lose in Orono on Maine’s senior night, OR take just one point against Merrimack. However, 3 points puts UMass behind the eight-ball still, since it means splitting the season series. UMass then enters the final weekend a point back, and at that point, UNH holds the second tiebreaker of conference wins. (Which sucks, because they’re 0-6 against BU and BC.) Also, please please sweep UNH.
A split and UMass can’t catch the Wildcats unless they sweep Merrimack, again a far less likely scenario. However, Northeastern is still within reach at that point. Maine and BU are both better (and hotter) teams than UNH and Merrimack. UMass and NU play the same number of home/away games (3/1). In this regard, by the way, a win/loss split is much better for UMass than a tie-tie split, thanks to that conference win tiebreaker. Oh, and 0 or 1 points this weekend? That’s gonna put the ball in Northeastern’s court. But it’s important to note that if both UMass AND NU lose all four remaining games, UMass gets in and the Huskies don’t.
Really, it boils down to this: these two games are fucking massive. Lose one or both, and you’re betting on the Minutemen to pull it out of the fire against a team that, while not exactly lighting it up recently, still seems to have their number (not to mention a trip to the Lawler house of horrors). Win both, and both UNH and NU have to step it up against their superior opponents in order to keep UMass out of the playoffs.
It doesn’t need to be pretty. Just get there.
Derek and I checked the final Hockey East venue off our checklist with our long-awaited visit to Alfond. Of course, in a couple years we’ll have one or two new destinations tacked on as Notre Dame and possibly Mystery Team X (RPI?) enter the Hockey East ranks, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, we’ve finally got enough data to put together a Fight Mass guide to the rinks in our fine conference, and you can look forward to that shortly. Spoilers – Alfond’s gonna rank pretty high on my list. What a fun place.
I’ll get to basketball soon, I swear. Despite the La Salle letdown, Tuesday’s a huge game against Xavier, you should all go, blah blah blah. Oh, and lacrosse is 2-0, and now that I live with someone who knows a little something about the game, I might actually provide some insight this year. Maybe.
I was on the phone last night with the pregame ceremonies streaming on UMassAthletics on mute when I noticed Steve Mastalerz being focused on by the camera. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Must’ve missed starting lineups. They must all be on the ice right now.” Then the game started, and with an overwhelming sense of dread, I (and everyone else watching at home and in the Bill) realized oh no, Toot’s starting our third-string goalie against BC. You know, the guy who got shelled in his first collegiate appearance by a dreadful UNH team. The guy whose last name neither his play-by-play announcer nor his own head coach seemingly can agree on a consistent way to pronounce.
Well, talk about “being like Mike.” Kid went out last night and proved everyone wrong.
The Minutemen blanked Boston College, 4-0, shutting out the Eagles for the first time ever. Yes, ever. BC outshot UMass 35-19, but a good chunk of that came during a third period that UMass spent killing penalties and generally just trying to turtle with that big lead – after all, they’ve blown a lead in seemingly every loss this season. And yeah, you have to think BC was looking ahead to Saturday’s Fenway game against Northeastern, which is, in fact, happening (despite the fact that even NESN isn’t showing it on TV, thanks to their boneheaded move of securing broadcasting rights to a basketball conference that contains only one New England team, which happens to be the consensus worst team in said conference). And yeah, the holes in that BC team are beginning to show (they lost too much on offense and in net, and even the best blue line in the nation can only carry you for so long).
So, all downplaying aside, Mastalerz stopped 35 shots, and while many of them were of the half-hearted variety, he did make a few that would make even Timmy Thomas tip his cap (okay, specifically I’m talking about the one 24 seconds into the highlight reel). And regardless of all the belittling I tried to do in that last paragraph, no UMass goalie had ever shut out BC before. Not Gabe Winer. Not Jon Quick. Not Paul Dainton. But Mastalerz did it in his third collegiate start, and he looked damn good doing it.
Really, the story of last name’s game is that the defense continues to play well, up and down the lineup. Much like the last game against the Eagles, UMass played a smart, opportunistic game, got a quick shot from Allen past Billett, caught a couple breaks off of turnovers leading to two-on-ones, and after squandering a few giveaway chances in the first, took advantage of the same opportunities in the second. Peter “Peterangelo” DeAngelo got the first UMass shortie since the season before last. TJ Syner put a couple of non-empty net goals in the net for a change, and continued to look like a flash of lightning out there from time to time. The key was to get an early lead and really force BC to start thinking toward tomorrow. UMass almost didn’t do that, committing some dumb penalties in the late first period that nearly led to an Eagles lead, but to their credit, the PK continued its recent solid stretch, and UMass converted on that momentum with a second period that has to rank among their finest all season.
So let’s look at the grand scheme of things for a moment. Lowell lost in hilarious fall-from-ahead fashion to Vermont, and suddenly the Minutemen, as “miserable” a season as they’re supposedly having, are just two points behind the supposed River Rat powerhouse, albeit with Lowell holding two more games in hand, but there’s no question which direction these two teams are trending. We could take a defeatist attitude and talk about the race for 8th place, where UMass has a comfy seven-point lead on Vermont for the basement, and thanks to last night’s results, a point up on UNH and two up on Northeastern. In fact, UMass is just three points behind Maine for home ice with a game in hand on the Black Bears. The best part of all of this? UMass has a home-and-home with Lowell, two at Maine, and two at the Bill against the Wildcats, plus another Matthews visit. And there’s still time to catch Merrimack, with that season series waiting to begin. Sure, the Warriors are #3 in the conference, but you have to like that the Minutemen have five of their six meetings with BC and BU out of the way already – and a respectable 2-2-1 record in those games to boot. (Even if it should be 4-1-0 with those two BU collapses. No, damnit, POSITIVE THOUGHTS)
Okay, getting-carried-away aside, Vermont comes in next weekend. Bury them.
P.S. Hey, oh by the way, UMass plays St. Joe’s at 4 in hoops, in a battle of two top-70 RPI teams. UMass is a bit short-handed with some injuries and needs all the crowd noise/energy help it can get. I won’t be able to make it, but I saw plenty of students in the student section watching on TV last night, so I know y’all are there. You know you don’t give a shit about the Saints-Niners game, and you’ll be home in plenty of time to watch Tebow-Brady II. Go, and be loud. Please?
Until last night, I had never seen UMass beat BC in hockey.
Now, that’s not to say that it hasn’t happened in recent memory. I vividly remember seeing a raucous Mullins Center, behind then-freshman goaltender Jonathan Quick, shock top-ranked BC on a NESN game, back when I was still a wee lad deciding whether or not to put myself in mountains of debt to go to BU or Syracuse (both with elite programs in hockey and basketball, respectively) or to suck it up and “settle” for, ahem, state school. Flash forward to my freshman year at UMass – stupid, foolish me decided “hey, I’ve got plenty of time left here” and decided to forego what woulda been my first ever BC-UMass game and, instead, celebrate my 19th birthday with some friends up at Southern New Hampshire U. Sure, good times were had, but finding out about an epic 2-1 win over the Eagles via text message, while welcome news, made me regret leaving campus just a smidge.
UMass would notch a couple of wins at Conte over the course of the next season-and-a-half, but the road-ready hockey fanatic of today was nowhere to be found. (Indeed, I think my first road UMass experience came at Agganis during my junior year; I didn’t venture inside Conte until the HEA Playoffs a year later.) Again, it was awesome how competitive the two programs had become, but damnit, I wanted to see a win in person.
My junior year, the day before a highly-anticipated showdown with the then-#4 Eagles on campus, I was hanging out in front of Brett with a few friends when I got the phone call that my uncle Timmy had passed away down in New York. I was in the basement of a family member I barely know, listening on a choppy radio feed, when Casey Wellman netted the game-winner in OT in what is possibly the greatest hockey game ever played at the Bill. I was there for the similarly-epic last-second comeback win against UNH (the “Boehm goes the dynamite” game), which to this day is my favorite memory in that building. But with all due respect to the Wildcats, it just wasn’t the same as beating BC, the school I’d hated as long as I could remember, first as a fledgling college hockey fan introduced through BU and then as the school that arguably gets the coldest of snobby shoulders from the elitists on the Heights.
After that, the well dried up. UMass played BC 12 consecutive times after that, including back-to-back Hockey East Quarterfinals, and almost every single game played out the same way: BC flexing its muscle, UMass sticking around, and the Eagles pulling out a 2 or 3 goal win without seeming to have tried. The exception, of course, was that infamous game at the Mullins a few years back where the Minutemen were ranked ahead of the Eagles, had the entire campus behind them, and came out and got positively waxed 7-1. It was the only time in that stretch where UMass clearly looked like the better team on paper coming in, and it was especially painful, but what hurt the most for this fan is that, after years of dominance, BC’s days of easy wins against this team finally looked to be over. But alas, 12-0-0.
Expectations yesterday were at an all-time low. Derek and I trekked over to Durham on Friday night to watch a miserable 60 minutes of hockey in which the Minutemen rotated in two different cardboard cutouts of goaltenders and couldn’t beat a dreadfully-shaky goaltender to save their lives. It was a fun trip to see Lake Whitt for the first time, and we (almost disappointingly) didn’t get shit from a single home fan, but then again, what would they say that we didn’t already know? UNH looked awful for long stretches of time, and they STILL managed to put up a touchdown. The offense scratched together three goals, but despite a “live free or die” approach from the officials (the first penalty came late in the 2nd period), there was no building of any kind of momentum except the negative for these guys. A nice pass here, a good move there, and then it was time to fire the puck directly into DiGirolomo’s chest and hope he somehow dropped it. Which he did, a few times, but the point was clear: after that falling-backwards goal by Henrion with 5 seconds in the period, the team basically signed out, just like it did last weekend when things started to go sour against what we now know (thanks, Lowell) to be an overrated BU squad. It made me question what all this Navy SEAL business in the offseason is actually accomplishing. The slightest bit of adversity, and this team falls apart at the seams – and remember, the point of that training, grueling as it looked, was to make the guys mentally tougher. They were anything but in the past two games.
(**Side note, because I don’t feel like talking about that UNH game ever again. Mastalerz started and looked pretty shaky. Then again, what the hell is Toot starting the kid in his first career game in one of the more intimidating venues in college hockey? Why not Tegs? And then what was with the goalie swapping? These are things I’m glad we don’t have to really talk about this week, but we can’t pretend they didn’t happen at all.)
Who could blame anyone for looking at Saturday night’s matchup and penciling – nay, penning – in an easy win for the Eagles? But hey, we’re masochists. You could even say UMassochists, although please don’t, what an awful pun I have made. It’s homecoming weekend, damnit, and we already had our tickets, and crazier things have happened, right? Though I wasn’t please to see Boyle starting in net, I had this funny feeling about this game, and I put myself in (ew) the shoes of a BC fan. “This is a reverse lock. This has ‘trap game’ written all over it.”
I was right.
The Minutemen played likely their finest game since the two-game sweep at Alfond Arena that temporarily rescued their season in ’09-10. The offense used its speed to mitigate those gigantic, skilled defensemen that BC has built their program around. The D, fueled by the spark of young Mike Busillo’s debut, the best game by far of Oleg Yevenko’s young career, and the continued strong play of guys like Hanley and Allen and Shea, smothered the BC offense, won battles for loose pucks, threw their bodies around and played the physical game I was hoping they’d play at Conte a few weeks back, and generally made life more difficult for the Eagles than it had been all season. And while I doubt we saw the best BC has to offer last night, I certainly don’t feel like they mailed it in at all either. The Minutemen legitimately outplayed them in key moments and did all the little things they’ve failed to do in weeks past.
The crowd had to be part of it, too. I’ve been effusive in my praise of the Mullins Maniacs this season, but it has to be said – they’re rounding in shape nicely. The fans are into the game all the way through, they generally know when to chant things, the guys at the front of the student section seem to be a rotating, rowdy bunch that is far more conducive to a loud student section than the typical “row of puck sluts that gets disinterested and leaves halfway through the 2nd” that we’re used to. I heard only one attempt at a “Fuck BC” that was quickly stifled. I’m cool with “I believe that we will win” just for its infectiousness and positive vibes, even if our Durham trip showed that we’re not even the only Hockey East school doing it. I’m psyched that Oleg finally played well enough to warrant singing “O-leg, O-leg-o-leg-o-leeeeg!” a la Martin Nolet, although he’s got a long way to go before he’s half the player Marty was. And hey, we didn’t get a Noise Meter until the very end, when everyone was loud anyway. I am sad that my strategy of singing a different White Stripes song (not “Seven Nation Army”) during BC power plays only worked for three successful rounds (“Apple Blossom” was the one that snapped the streak). And I’m just slightly concerned that a fellow alum (our good friend Matt, aka “Goggles”) was the catalyst for many of the chants (surely we can find some current students with loud voices, right?) But overall, the student section was the best I’ve seen it in some time, and they were rewarded. It was definitely surreal, and almost magical (yes damnit I said magical) that the Minutemen actually put a game away with an empty-netter, and the emotion in the air as Boyle was mobbed by his teammates is something I haven’t seen in a long time at the Bill. The last comparable moment for me as a UMass fan was Vinson beating Memphis a few years back at the Garden. That’s all well and good, but it’s creating endearing moments like this weekend that students will remember and will keep them coming back to games with positive attitudes. No matter how bad things may get, anything really is possible in sports. That’s why we’re fans.
So where does this put UMass going forward? In the big picture, it’s a 2-point weekend. The Minutemen are still 1-4-2 in Hockey East with 20 league games to go. But it sure as fuck beats being 0-5-2. And the road ahead finally gets a lot easier, with a very winnable stretch of Hockey East games on the docket, starting with a second chance at Northeastern this weekend. The Huskies are a prime example of a team that, just a year ago, started off terribly and finished strong to make a nice late run. The Minutemen need to model themselves after that path. Now, we all know the flip side of “anything is possible,” namely that the boys let this success go to their heads and come out flat again next weekend. But we’d like to think that this, their first win in their last 32 games against Hockey East teams not named Lowell or Vermont, is the springboard they’ve desperately needed.
So far I’ve witnessed two things this season that I never saw in my four years at UMass: a hat trick, and now a win over BC. You know what I did see when I was a student? Year after year of strong starts and horrid finishes. Maybe this is the year that we see the opposite. Hey, the “Wait a second…we WON?!” tag is out of retirement, and Little Dude invited us to a house party. You never know.
Like the city of Lowell itself, last night was an ugly clusterfuck of a night. UMass comes away with a lucky as hell 5-4 win, but its a real shame that points have to be given out after a game like last night’s. Our defense was out of position and slow (highlighted by several players simply falling over with provocation, leading flag guy to comment “maybe they aren’t used to playing on good ice”) and scared the ever living shit out of me all game. Perhaps by simply watching this team all year I expect every shot on net to be a goal, but every time Lowell got the puck into our end I was in a perpetual Bob Dylan “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh” (the official sound of Fight Mass). I have zero confidence in our defense, and just looking at them execute simple hockey things like limit angles on a 2 on 2 is terrifying.
Lets be completely honest with each other here: If we were playing any team without “Lowell” on their sweaters we would have lost by 8. Too many good shots given up, far too much standing around. And that is whats scary, if we can only eek out a win against one of the worst hockey east teams in recent memory, what does that mean for the next 3 months where we are not playing the crack capital of Massachusetts?
Our ceiling this year is 6th in Hockey East, which after watching this team regress over the last month (something that should not be happening for such a young team) I have little faith we can do. If we are going to put ourself into position for making the playoffs, its going to be done in the next few weeks. First off, we need 2 points tonight, and as a personal preference, maybe we can earn them tonight. No falling asleep at the wheel and giving up 3 unanswered goals. No offensive complacency. NO SHORTHAND GOALS! Beat Lowell, show me something, anything, and then we can think about the future. Next week its a pointable weekend (thats my new phrase, remember that) against Vermont who is somehow worse than us in the HE standings (I refuse to believe that there are 2 worse teams than big brother UMass and ugly sister). Yes its on the road, but we need some points against the basement of Hockey East. After that, its a home and home with Northeastern, who is beatable (I watched 59 minutes of the last time we met and it went pretty well) and then a whole bunch of games I would be stupid to expect points from.
If there was ever a time for UMass to not suck this year, its these next few weeks. Maybe, despite the absolute shit play on the ice, last night’s win will wake up our beloved minutemen and turn this stretch around. An ugly win, yes, but maybe, just maybe, a win to stop the losing streak is all our boys need to start playing with some confidence (dear god I hope so). Get some points over the next few weekends, solidify a spot in the playoffs, and maybe give a BC or BU a scare for one game in the quarterfinals (is it too much to ask for a single playoff win in my UMass career?). We are not hard to please, UMass hockey, our expectations were low this year, but we only ask for a few things. Show us flashes of something to come, be entertaining, and for the love of god don’t be Lowell.
- I’m really disappointed Tsongas doesn’t suck anymore. The concourses may be planned out worse than Lowell’s recruiting strategy, but its still one of the better barns in Hockey East right now. The scoreboard is amazing, they finally got the lighting right, and there is no more dumb blimp. Good job Lowell (too bad we had to pay for it (lol taxpayer joke (no but seriously we’re pissed (does this mean we can have a nice football stadium?)))
- Does anyone remember when Darren Rowe was alive? That was fun.
- The sheer lack of shooting after the whistle and embellishment calls is disgraceful this year. Why can’t new Casey Wellman do that for me?
- Lowell has consistently been the best away game to be a loud asshole at. There is the perfect balance of hatred for you and knowledge that they won’t do anything that makes yelling at Lowell rewarding. Also, being a fan of the away team when they win in the last 15 seconds is a feeling that I hope everyone (except Lowell fans) gets to experience. The mix between the deflated quiet of the home crowd and our sheer jubilation was amazing
- I would like to send an official apology to the ice is life (RIP). I was an oversensitive asshole hellbent on trolling and you are hilarious. Also, misery loves company.
- On that note, Lowell has banners to remind us of all the years where weezer was still relevant and Lowell made the NCAAs
Apologies in advance for all the spelling errors and terrible writing. I’m a terrible blogger, get over it.
See you at the Bill kids,
Don’t tell anyone, but UMass’s hockey and men’s basketball teams have quietly been on a bit of a roll of late, since our last suddenly-few-and-far-between update. Hockey, in particular, has stepped it up big-time in dominating Vermont and Quinnipiac, improving from 0-6-3 (ugly as hell) to 2-6-3 with a bullet. It’s a year of very low expectations for Toot’s transitioning crew, and honestly, you can’t be too upset with the effort put forth by the Minutemen after 11 games. Only one of those games can truly be viewed as an awful showing, that being the Army debacle, and when you consider just how rough the schedule has been for the Mass Attack, things ain’t so bad. The tissue-soft schedule continues with a visit from the ugly sister. Let’s keep it rolling, boys.
Meanwhile, UMass hoops has continued its perfect start right through the first five games, albeit all in the Springfield/Amherst area, and the most recent, the return to the Cage against Holy Cross, being in “almost lose to an awful team” fashion. But hey, I’ve been saying (to nobody in particular) all along that last year, we’d find a way to lose these games to bad or fatigued teams. The truth is, the team rolled pretty easily through TCU and NM State, favorable travel conditions be damned, and they seemed to just lose focus in the Cage game; that combined with being shorthanded (no Traynham, who already looks like a key bench cog for this year and a star in the making) and some hot Crusader shooting and it’s easy to see how that game unraveled. Hopefully the focus is restored tomorrow night as UMass gets their first road test of the year, at Quinnipiac. A year ago, the Bobcats swept hockey and basketball. Time to return the favor, no?
So why are we whispering? Because I’m pretty sure these teams are still flying safely under the radar, based on poor attendance during these winning streaks, aside from the small-capacity Cage getting fairly full, even on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Granted, the holiday had a lot to do with the last few hockey turnouts, and the tournament in Springfield was too far and not free enough for students to make the trip. But make no mistake that the fanbase is watching that BC game next week veeeerry closely (and the QU game as well, to an extent). A 7-0 start in D1 play, and we might really be seeing the Mullins rocking for Seton Hall’s visit.
But first things first. Take care of business, boys. After the last few years, these fans just want to see winning basketball, and they’ll be back in droves. Hate to say it, but….just win, baby!
P.S. Oh by the way, I’ll just leave this here. More about this exciting subject when I get the chance :P.
Yes, Virginia, the UMass Minutemen basketball team just won a game in the Atlantic 10 tournament. I’m going to repeat that: the Minutemen won an A-10 tourney game. In what top scientists are describing as “by a wide margin the least likely thing that has ever happened,” UMass, which managed in consecutive years to suffer a shocking upset in the first round of said tournament that ultimate cost Travi$ Fraud’s teams a pair of NCAA Tournament bids, second-year (and, for some reason, already-embattled) head coach Derek Kellogg took a 10-19 team that very nearly 0-3 against the Atlantic 10’s two worst teams, snuck into the conference tournament on a last-day victory, and proceeded to do what Ford’s teams, featuring the likes of Forbes, Harris, Brower, Milligan, Lasme, and Freeman never did. The Derek Kellogg statue is to be placed in between the Mullins and the practice arena, and will feature lifelike hair to be re-jelled on a daily basis. Oh, and let’s name the Champions Center after him too.
Okay, so dramatic hyperbole aside, the Minutemen were playing a Charlotte team tail-diving in a way that makes the Cahoon Swoon look tame by comparison. They also didn’t have to play in UMass’s personal house of horrors, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. (No, really, I was so excited when I realized this game would be on Charlotte’s home court. I hate Boardwalk Hall; it’s right there with Safeco Field and Lawler Arena in the “places my favorite team should win but never seems to” pantheon, and it’s not even anyone’s home arena.)
Did UMass deserve to win this game? The defense in the first half and down the stretch was fantastic, though the lapse in the middle there nearly did them in. Derrio Green (and, really, the whole Charlotte offense) didn’t exactly set the world on fire from the field. And certainly, they got some help from the most hilarious thing I’ve ever seen, a too many men technical foul. I’ve never seen that in a basketball game (that’s roughly seven full seasons of Celtics, four full years of UMass and countless pro and college games on TV in between). and I can guarantee you the crazies calling for DK’s firing would be louder than ever if such a thing happened with his team.
On the other hand, UMass, as if to continue the A-10 First Game tradition, tried their darnedest to lose this game. The team continues to struggle to hit open shots, although at least they’re getting more of them. Anthony Gurley, as the UMassHoops chat room can attest, had one of those frustrating games that has really epitomized his time here in Amherst. Bailey got lots of minutes. And yet they still pulled it off, thanks to the continued stellar rebounding effort and Ricky continuing to go out with a bang here.
So what’s next? A Richmond squad that UMass took to overtime on its own court, and could have beaten if Ricky hadn’t dribbled down the clock to about 1 on the final possession before heaving a terrible shot. On one hand, UMass doesn’t have to play them in Richmond this time. On the other hand…right. Atlantic City. Fuck. Well, that was fun. No, but seriously, this is two great wins in a row for DK and for this team going forward, regardless of how central Ricky was to them. If the guys can’t pull the victory and bring a 19-loss team into the NCAA tournament this year (which is like saying “if I can’t go try out for the Red Sox and make the starting rotation”), at least it’s nice to have not just A-10 Tournament experience for the kids, but also Boardwalk Hall experience going forward.
But hey, anything is possibbblllleeeee! (Except, again, that Red Sox scenario.)
Oh, other things to note…I caught the first half of UMass-Albany today, my first-ever men’s lax game at Garber Field. (I know, I’m a slacker, though in my defense, the home games always seem to be either a) during class or b) too far away for my hungover ass to walk on a weekend.) UMass came back from down 4-1 to win 11-6. I’m not even going to pretend to be a lacrosse expert, but I’ll do my best to keep an eye on Cannella’s talented young squad.
Last but not least (but certainly most obvious): the new layout is finally here! After finally getting some free time to mess around with GIMPshop (my new laptop, unlike my old PC, does not have the real Photoshop, and I’m not made of money), I was able to put something together with a shot Walsh took a few weeks back before a game. Accordingly, I switched up the blog template, and I think this one looks better; plus, I enjoy having the tags and author stuff BEFORE the post, so you guys know whose work you’re reading right away. We’d love to hear any input you might have on the layout; notably, we’d love to change the color scheme but WordPress only gives you so many templates, so we’ll just deal with what we’re given. Enjoy!
One more thing…we will most definitely on hand for this weekend’s festivities at Chestnut Hill University. Is it Friday yet?
Well, another weekend, another disappointment for UMass athletics. The 12th-ranked men’s lacrosse team managed to falter on the road to an inferior Yale team, killing any sort of mome…
Hold the phone.
What’s this you’re wharrgarbl-ing on about?
Hockey SWEPT Maine? Basketball BEAT Rhode Island?
….PLAYOFFS? You can talk to me about playoffs, because both teams won a game (and then, in hockey’s case, another game)?!
Okay, so we at Fight Mass will admit, we had higher hopes for both of these teams than “barely sneaking into their conference tourneys on the last day of the season.” Particularly after basketball beat Memphis and looked poised to at least improve on last year’s in-conference performance, and after hockey got up to #9 in the country with the harder half of their schedule seemingly in the rear-view mirror.
Regardless, the Mass Attack took advantage of Scott Darling’s mysterious suspension and roughed up Shawn “The New Wilson” Sirman two nights in a row, then had to withstand the storm of a furious comeback bid by the Black Bears last night, and nearly doubled their all-time Alfond win total in a 26-hour span. The offense woke up again by running through the points, with Justin Braun and Matt Irwin exploding onto the scene in a manner eerily similar to last year’s near-shocker at Matthews Arena. Paul Dainton was magnificent in holding Maine’s potent offense to 5 total goals in two nights. In what can only be described as “Derek being proven triumphantly right,” the defense gelled around the return of Doug Kublin from mono. And Brett Watson of all people provided two more goals.
So yeah, next weekend, UMass gets to return to the Conte Forum, where we’ll likely see the bizarre sight of a noticeable BC student section at home against the Minutemen. The Iggles haven’t played a truly meaningful game in a couple of weeks now and are, naturally, considered the runaway favorites in the series. However, if the Minutemen play as well as they did last weekend, and are able to catch a couple breaks and ride the momentum of this Maine sweep, and Dainton is on his game…okay, that’s a lot of if’s. But “if” is a fun word to toss around when, just a few days ago, things were as grim as they were. There’s hockey yet to be played, and that’s all we can ask for.
Meanwhile, the basketball team (unlike hockey, those bastards) send out the seniors in style, continuing the annual tradition of ruining Rhody’s season. This is the third year in a row; two years back, the Minutemen dragged URI kicking and screaming into the NIT (and then damn near won it). Last year, UMass marched into the Ryan Center and made little Jimmy “Date Rape Baby” Baron cry on his senior day, the game we will always know as the C-Lowe/Matty Glass Game (I could watch that Glass pick on Ulmer every single day until the end of time). And now, the year in which the gap between the teams is the greatest, where URI is a win away from the NCAA Tournament and UMass needs a win just to make the conference tourney in which only 2 of 14 teams miss it, and yet history just continues to repeat itself with these two. If the roles were reversed, I think we might hate URI even more than we hate BC here. And we hate BC a lot.
Honestly, it wasn’t a pretty game. At one point, when the teams were trading fast-break misses back and forth, someone near me likened it to a hockey game, with the near-misses coming fast and furious – only there’s no goalies in basketball, and the scores aren’t supposed to be that few and far between. The officiating — horrendous, but it was bad both ways, and we’re used to that by now. And the thing that struck me the most was that URI really does not have a go-to guy. They’ve got a lot of pretty good players, sure, but they had no answer for Ricky Harris, who woke up in a big way after a just-okay first half. It’s worrisome that the future of this team will bank on someone (Freddie? TV?) stepping up and becoming the new face of the team next year, and although I think that taking the Ricky crutch out of the equation will speed up the process, there’s no doubt that he will be missed. 3rd all time in school history in scoring, no matter how you look at it, is fantastic. Ricky’s the one guy who played for all four of my years at UMass, and for that, I’m certainly grateful.
The URI student section was impressive (although not unexpected given that this is pretty much the only sport they have), but I saw hope for us as well. Sure, a number of kids were coming over from the Rec Center to grab t-shirts and promptly leave, but for the most part, I felt like kids were into it. They should definitely try to schedule more Saturday afternoon games next year if that’s at all possible; this was definitely the best student section of the year even having to compete with the Blarney Blowout over in town, and the end of the game was as loud as I’ve seen the Mullins for basketball in quite some time. Hopefully the kids who came out for this one were sold on this team’s potential and will be more inclined to see more games next year as a result, but, of course, the guys need to win games to attract fans, simple as that.
And so now the Minutemen survive to play Tuesday at Charlotte, a team in freefall mode, and whom UMass owes some revenge from a few years back. At the very least, Ricky gets one more game, and the freshmen get their first taste of playoff basketball together. This can only be a good thing.
Unlike hockey, whose expectations were understandably a lot higher (both at the beginning of the year and, especially, after their stellar first half), basketball’s fate for much of year has been a first-round road game and likely exit from the A-10 Tournament. A strong showing against Charlotte, and especially a first-round shocker (and I can’t stress enough how due this team is to be on the other side of that equation), could do wonders for this team going forward.
And if they lose by 30 in Charlotte? We’ll always have that senior night. Sad to think I will never again set foot in the Mullins Center as a UMass student, but the memories from my tenure here will live forever, and my entry into the alumni club – my graduation to the other side of the arena (not that I won’t be general-admissioning it up and joining the student fray for a few more years, naturally) is an exciting prospect that is just beginning.
So, not to crib that whole “live together, die alone” theme that Rocks has been using lately, but the countdown to the weird red hieroglyphs and the accompanying disaster has been, for the moment, put on hold. UMass typed in the Numbers and hit execute. Now, the road ahead is wrought with challenges. But for at least one more week, there is a road ahead.
…and, given the dire situation UMass found itself in coming into this weekend’s tilts in Middle-of-Nowherono, ME, it may yet be ongoing. But let’s not take anything away from the fact that the Minutemen sounded like a team on a mission tonight. They pounced all over freshman Shawn Sirman, to the point where we actually did get to see old friend Dave WIIIIIIILLLLLSSOOOOONNNN make a cameo (and, oddly enough, he didn’t give up any goals, which is decidedly un-Wilson-like).
Now, granted, we’re talking a UMass team with the season on the line against a Maine team that might not get home ice if they drop both games and the rest of the league action goes against them, not to mention playing in a not-so-hostile Spring Break edition of Alfond Arena. But the stakes for UMass’s last game were basically the same on both ends, and despite playing one of the best defensive games we’ve seen from the maroon-and-white all year long, against an Eagles team playing in front of a listless crowd and with 2nd-place (no more, no less) all but locked up, the Minutemen still weren’t able to capitalize on their chances.
Now, the three principal writers here at Fight Mass were sitting mere feet away at the Hangar on Tuesday for the RNX hockey show, and though we weren’t really able to hear most of Toot’s outburst about his team, we were able to piece together between the various web recap/transcripts and our visible impression of him that Mr. Cahoon was mad as hell and wasn’t going to take it anymore, regarding the behind-the-scenes behavioral stuff going on with this team. Clearly, his words finally got through tonight, and Hockey East was reminded that UMass is about as big a wildcard as one can imagine.
Could they still miss the playoffs? Easily. But the Minutemen have nonetheless put themselves into a position to climb as high as 6th, grab some positive momentum (which had slowwwwly been building during two straight frustrating L’s), and crash someone’s playoff party, like they came so very very close to doing to Northeastern last year.
Barring a disaster tomorrow, the Minutemen have, at the very least, shown us that they cared. The eulogy we were prepared to write for these guys a few weeks ago involved more of the same from the past couple years: lamenting the Cahoon Swoon, pondering what might have been had a key underrated defenseman not missed significant time down the stretch, wondering what exactly is going on with the discipline behind closed doors and the mentality of the players, even considering blaming ourselves and our friends for contributing to the players’ sense of celebrity and entitlement on this campus.
But why worry about the eulogy before we know when the funeral is?
P.S. Tomorrow afternoon. Senior night for men’s hoops at the Mullins Center, 4 PM. Free t-shirts, and a chance to honor one of the all-time greats to don the maroon-and-white, or at least one of the best pure scorers in school history, Lex Mongo Ricky Harris. Plus, it’s URI (sucks). So, uhh, go. And get your friends to go too. Did I mention free t-shirts?
Ah, Radiohead’s “Karma Police.” A true classic of 90’s rock off of one of the best albums of the 90’s (OK Computer), a song that feels like it’s been around for ages (though it was, in fact, released in 1997, which is the year after the Lowell River Hawks hockey program last made the NCAA Tournament, or so we’ve been most elegantly told). And though the dreamy croon of Thom Yorke’s voice actually tells a story of raging against the corporate machine (or something – who the hell really knows what Thom Yorke is thinking at any given time), the message of “what goes around comes around” is expressed as well as I’ve heard in any song, Justin Timberlake be damned.
“This is what you get / When you mess with us” is probably the most memorable portion of the song, and it describes pretty succinctly this past weekend’s much-anticipated two game set between the University of Massachusetts and its sister program to the east, a battle between teams that once climbed to #9 and #3 respectively in the national polls, two teams with distinctly different expectations coming into the season yet finding themselves in a virtual deadlock coming in. This was a UMass team, trying to avoid a third consecutive year of building something out of nothing (expectations-wise) then watching that something collapse. This was a Lowell team, crumbling under the weight of colossal expectations, pressured to continue to provide Lowell’s one avenue of superiority over its bigger and, in our unbiased opinion, prettier sister.
On Friday night, UMass got sick and tired of watching the little sister come into the Bill and throw its weight around. They dominated the first period, survived a shaky second period, and capitalized on Lowell’s now-characteristic lack of discipline at key points to earn a hard-fought 3-2 win in front of a student section that was low on numbers but high on spirit. Both teams had spectacular chances, both goalies made spectacular saves. It was as evenly-played a game as I’ve seen all year, and probably the most entertaining (yes, more fun than the Maine slugfest or last weekend’s road domination of Northeastern). If you weren’t on the edge of your seat the entire game, you probably don’t have a pulse.
Last night, Matt and myself, as well as his girlfriend and a few of our other friends, made our first road-trip out to Tsongas Arena to see the conclusion of the two-game set. After all, we were understandably curious to see what makes this place such a superior venue for hockey than our beloved Bill, an assertion made by no shortage of obnoxious Facebook kids, passionate forum posters and, yes, even a certain other hockey blog you might have heard of.
***We’re happy to hear that they’re still alive and well over at TIIL, by the way; after the grim “Googling a noose” tweet following their Princeton loss we were especially concerned that two losses to “lowly” “Amherst” would be the straw that broke the camel’s back. We thoroughly enjoyed reading their analysis of our blog aloud before Friday’s game in various Family Guy voices such as Brian Griffin’s screwy clone and Mort Goldman, and we’re taking a lot of their advice to heart – besides, we owe them a shout out after all the free publicity they unwittingly gave us. I will not, however, be going by “E.M. Bitter” anytime soon, though I appreciate the suggestion. And by the way, yes, Weezer’s albums have mostly sucked since Pinkerton, but they’re still great live, since they only play the good stuff. At least they did when I saw them last year in – oddly enough – the Tsongas Arena.
But really, to put this to bed, we understand your rule #10, that you’re “just havin’ some fun.” So are we. We’re glad that we’re not the only ones who think hockey’s the greatest sport in the world, as much as it pains us to admit it, we appreciate your contributions to the hockey blogging world. We apologize for taking things too seriously, and all future trash talk will contain 92% less glaring factual errors.)***
Anyway, here are the many fun things we learned during the Tsongas Experience (TM).
- Tsongas Arena has the world’s greatest scoreboard over center ice. No, really. It displays text images in a whopping three, count ’em, three wonderful colors: off-orange, something vaguely resembling blue, and something even more vaguely resembling red. Simply remarkable.
- Additionally, Tsongas has installed lovely ribbon-scoreboards along the sides of the arena. These marvels of visual technology are as close to a real videoboard that they offer here, and following a Lowell goal you get to see – we shit you not – the eyes of the goal-scorer. And let me be the first to tell you, Patrick Cey’s are positively dreamy.
- We’ve heard our beloved Bill referred to as “dim.” We’ve always found it rather bright in there, especially after experiencing minor-league hockey in venues like Manchester’s Verizon Wireless Arena and the good ol’ Worcester IceCats at the DCU Center Centrum. But now it all makes sense, because relatively speaking, the Mullins Center is the goddamn Batcave, and Tsongas is the Flanders’ house in the very first Simpsons Christmas episode. This seems ironic for an arena without a videoboard, but the Mullins, despite all the silly things about it, manages not to abuse said videoboard too much. Meanwhile, Lowell does all it can to take the focus off the action on the ice and put it on the antics of their mascot and that insufferable woman hostess who would periodically mumble announcements across the PA system, presumably offering “prizes” of Lowell memorabilia to contest winners. Yeah, yeah, we get it, entertain the kids too, etc, but Mullins does a much better job, in our completely biased opinion, of balancing that shit with the game presentation and not just making us feel like we’re at an AHL game. In Tsongas’s defense, we missed the starting lineups and pre-game stuff, so we will have to give that a pass. For now.
- The arena sound person does a good job playing “every fucking song from Rock Band” between action, which, in all honesty, seemed unnecessary in an arena with a live pep band present. He or she also seems to be a big fan of Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK,” so much so that they just had to hear a few seconds of it in the middle of game action in the 2nd period. I mean, damn, it is catchy, but come on.
- The PA announcer is equally inept; twice he forgot to announce the one-minute remaining mark (leading to some very entertaining “thirty seconds left in the period” announcements). He also referred to Wellman’s 10-minute misconduct for slashing the goalie after the whistle as “shooting after the whistle,” which understandably made us pretty angry until we found out what really happened after the game. (Not that we agree with the actual call anyway, but we’ll address that momentarily.)
- Their chuck-a-puck contest, rather than a traditional one (like ours, or the one at most places) or a fun unique one (like Northeastern’s “throw the puck into the dog bowl” game), their hawk mascot goes around the arena with – again, we can’t even make this shit up – a shopping cart that you toss pucks into. Apparently even he would rather be a homeless bum than call this place home.
- It’s an absolutely wonderful place to watch a game with children, because unlike the UMass students, their student section never uses any profanity. Oh, wait, they do! Y’see, in Lowell, it’s offensive and in poor taste to yell “fuck ’em up” as part of your goal-scoring song, but when the f-bombs and middle fingers are directing toward our fans and players for two whole hours. Practice what you preach, or stop criticizing our behavior. (Frankly, we like the atmosphere, little kids be damned. Go see a Lowell Devils game, kids.)
- Speaking of little kids, we unfortunately were late to the game and couldn’t join our student section, so we started our own row in the corner adjacent to them. This led to a row of 13-year-old boys who sat behind us and talked shit about UMass as if a) they even went to college and b) their college was winning the game. (This was in between several completely-serious conversations about the Twilight films, I might add.) At one point one of them said “Be respectful, keep it clean – that makes sense,” referring to the back of my t-shirt. So at least Lowell kids know how to read. Fortunately their dad came to get them right after the Minutemen scored the winning goal – crying about the so-called Hockey East conspiracy as one would expect (more on that in a second) – and we got our chance to remind the kids that trash-talk is reserved for those who have actually gone through puberty.
- The pep band is pretty cool – I would absolutely love to hear our nationally-renowned marching band playing the “you suck” goal-scoring song, because it sounds soooo much better played by a college band. Their rendition of Lowell’s fight song was also pretty awesome. …Wait, what’s that you say? They don’t…have a fight song like “Fight Mass” or, you know, most colleges? (Or if they do, they certainly didn’t bother playing it, and it’s nowhere to be found on their band’s website.) Well at least we know now why our blog title would be deemed “unimaginative” by someone from Lowell.
- Yep. They have “beer.” But hell if we’re going to spend $5.25 on anything with “Bud” in the name.
Are we calling the Mullins Center perfect? Course not. We lack a pep band (not necessarily the team or arena’s fault, of course), there are stupid dancing games between periods, the recording of “Fight Mass” used to skip (thankfully they appear to have fixed that), and it lacks the closeness of a smaller arena like, well, the rest of the arenas in Hockey East. And, yes, a scoreboard over center ice would be pretty sweet, provided it didn’t look like it was borrowed from 1974. But between our much more coherent student section and vastly superior mascot, not to mention our arena’s treating its inhabitants more like college hockey fans and less like a glorified AHL team (right down to the goddamned blimp!), we gotta say – we’re feeling pretty good about the Bill right now.
On the plus side from the River Hawk perspective, the Lowell student section was pretty into the game, intersession and all. Likewise, our own student section was disappointingly tame. I wasn’t over there but I’d imagine we got an Agganis-esque “only our kids are allowed to swear” ultimatum. Plus, it’s obnoxious for our “Let’s go UMass” chant to be followed by “…Lowell!” as if to simultaneously a) destroy any notion that their students actually do resent the UMass name as they so claim, and b) remind us that they are not the flagship of our university system. The university itself may insist that we be “UMass Amherst” to siphon the positive connotations associated with the “best college town in America” and the name-value of Amherst College. We know that “UMass” by itself means only one thing.
Alright, alright, so all the prerequisite “fun-at-Lowell’s-expense” smack talk that follows a two-game sweep is out of the way. After all, we didn’t want to disappoint anyone by going too easy on them. It’s time to actually talk hockey. As I said, we were late, and so completely missed the disallowed Lowell goal at the start of the game, though we later read online that even the immortal Bob Ellis admitted to overreacting after a Lowell player was clearly in the crease for the goal. Still, Lowell came out and played balls-to-the-wall hockey, performing like a team with its season on the line, at home. UMass’s first period wasn’t quite as one-sided as the shots total would indicate, but it was clear they were doing all they could just to keep up with Lowell’s desperation and intensity. Dainton played yet another brilliant game in net, and, like Hamilton on Friday night, lucked out on a couple occasions in the first period when Lowell had him beat. The much-vaunted Lowell defense was at its finest, blocking shots left and right and making life really difficult for the Minutemen power-play. Mark Concannon (Coco!!!) finally struck for his first goal of the season, but unlike the first period Friday where the 1-0 lead felt like it should have been much greater, we were counting our blessings.
Then the second period reared its ugly head, in which the following things happened:
- Lowell seemingly decided, as a team, to come at James Marcou and take him out however possible. This began with Maury Edwards delivering a vicious slash to the face, which I’ll admit I didn’t see the beginning of but which drew a “Jimmy’s done” from a cringing Matt next to me. Edwards went to the box for a 5-minute “high-sticking” major, as the Lowell faithful lamented the Hockey East officials’ perpetual hatred for their beloved program.
- This vast conspiracy was further proven by UMass’s Casey Wellman being whistled for a two-minute minor and ten-minute misconduct for “shooting after the whistle” when he crossed the blue line, went to fire a shot, and had the whistle blow in mid-shot. Again, this was later officially listed as “slashing the goalie after the whistle,” an infraction which pretty clearly never transpired either. But whatever. Between the Hawks opening Marcou head-hunting season, Steve Silva style (because we all saw how well that worked out for Northeastern), and the mysterious banishment of Wellman to the bench for a sixth of the game, the refs were clearly trying to help UMass win by any means necessary, even if it means imposing Bill Simmons’s Ewing Theory on the Minutemen mid-game.
Between three additional penalties on UMass in the period, Jimmy playing hurt (he later left the ice for stitches), and Lowell now truly feeling the pressure, the River Hawks took complete control of the period, though again, this is all somehow in spite of a conspiracy against them. UMass’s defense, to their credit, continued to play tough, even as the offense began playing like the joke of a Minutemen team that showed up in those blowouts against BU and UNH, which is to say, about as well as a drunk Southwest girl trying to fly a passenger jet. And when the Minutemen finally did get a couple opportunities, Carton Hutton was up to the challenge, including a ridiculous lunging save from his back on a late rebound. Ultimately, it was Patrick Cey with 8 minutes to go in the period who knotted the game up, and by that point, it was basically inevitable. Still, the Minutemen were able to slink away in a 1-1 tie, setting up the biggest period of the season for either team thus far.
Four seconds into period 3, Michael Budd set off a string of Lowell penalties with a seemingly harmless hooking infraction. Here, dear readers, is where the River Hawks fell into the rut that has plagued them for a good while now: lack of discipline where it counts. This is an all-too-familiar story for the Minutemen, as you’ll remember the way UMass let their frustrations get the best of them in late-game meltdowns against BC and Bentley. Here, it was Lowell, at the worst possible time, who, instead of continuing their solid and, really, at-times dominant play of the earlier periods, got fed up with their efforts being unrewarded, and took out their frustrations with dumb penalties and stupid mistakes. Even when Jimmy got absolutely leveled from behind on an open-ice tackle by Scott Campbell, resulting – naturally – in matching penalties on embellishment (but hey, you know, conspiracy against Lowell and such), the overall penalty time did indeed favorite Massachusetts down the stretch. Lowell, to their credit, revved up their penalty-kill game, doing the thing they do best – defense – all the while looking for the opportunity to get their 2nd-period momentum back.
The River Hawks were playing well enough to win without resorting to goon hockey and going after Jimmy. Alas, after failing to capitalize on their chances throughout the first two periods, not to mention ten whole minutes in the critical second period where UMass was without its second-best player and a sizable two-way presence in Wellman, and all the dubious calls of the second period, the third period brought UMass and its overpowering power play too many sterling opportunities, and say what you will about the calls, but neither of those last two penalties looked “ticky-tack” the way this game had been called. Add that to Lowell’s recent track record of late-game lack of discipline, and you have a team that was begging to give this game away, and that’s what they did, after Matty Irwin stuffed home a long-overdue-for-him 5×3 goal with just over a minute to go, with Jimmy getting an assist in a turn of poetic justice. Lowell gave the final minute a valiant try, much to the dismay of our already-overworked hearts, but when we opened our eyes, the horn had sounded and our “cute” aspirations of a UMass sweep and the Alumni Cup – and the tiebreaker it entails – became reality. Huzzah.
Now, let’s get things straight here: from a purely hockey perspective, Lowell deserved to win Saturday. But that wasn’t enough, they had to go after Jimmy, and that’s where the karma police came calling. Lowell assumed it would get the calls, assumed there was no way they could lose a season series to UMass given the recent history, and played a reckless third period, and the karma police struck again. The end result: UMass is sitting in 3rd place and just a couple points out of first; Lowell is swimming in the pool of mediocrity on the wrong side of the home-ice line.
All the trash-talk about the arena and students and the school itself aside, we here at Fight Mass will freely admit that, for the second period of Friday’s game and the entirety of Saturday’s duel, we were absolutely terrified of the River Hawks – dare I say, even respectful (for the first and probably only time ever, we’ve chosen not to refer to either Lowell or the River Hawks by any of our colorful array of nicknames). Entertainment value be damned, I do NOT want to see these guys in March, regardless of the venue, because if we do, it will involve a disciplinary turnaround on their part. And we shudder to think of this team pulling together and outperforming their talent level. Not that we’re taking back what we said earlier this year about UMass being underrated and Lowell overrated – I think the results speak for themselves so far – but we never explicitly said Lowell was a bad team, either.
Just to butter up the karma police, though, I will say it again – Patrick Cey’s eyes? Daaa-yumn.
…and 3.6, tomorrow and I’m out of here… (/Ben Folds)
Ahem. The Minutemen put together one of their finest performances of the season tonight (technically last night) and downed the River Hawks 3-2 at the Bill, making all of us at Fight Mass thoroughly happy. It was a bizarre game in which UMass thoroughly dominated for bursts, and fell back on their heels for stretches, but the defense was tough-as-nails throughout, and the Minutemen overcame a thoroughly impressive performance by Nevin Hamilton in net for Lowell. I’ll be honest, when Lowell tied the game late in the 3rd on Auger’s goal, then went on a power play with four minutes to go, it was one of the scariest moments of the season, but Lowell continued their pattern of untimely penalties and undisciplined play late in games and I believe it was Worthington whose penalty negated the man-advantage and led to Mikey’s game-winner.
So now it comes down to tomorrow night, at Tsongas, for the Alumni Cup. The Minutemen have shown what can happen when they play to their potential, especially on the defensive end. Regardless, nothing seems to come easy for these guys, and with Lowell’s collective back against the wall, this showdown in Coketown will undoubtedly be a key moment in their season going forward. UMass already blew one chance earlier this year to kick the Sewer Rats when they were down and out. With a potentially-huge student turnout from the Minutemen faithful across eastern Mass, and the suddenly-existent Lowell student section still on break, Tsongas should lose at least some of its intimidating edge. Toot and the boys may be able to afford to squander this opportunity, but it would behoove them not to.
(Yup. Finally read it. But more on that later; first, hockey.)