Ah, the end of a season, the time of year where we start questioning whether Derek Kellogg really knows what he’s doing, or why we even waste our time on a football program headed by the worst coach in the history of the sport, or…huh? What’s that you say? Optimism, huh?
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: the state of our fine ice hockey team is, as Darrelle Revis might put it, “in total disarray.” Well, maybe not that bad (nothing is), but it’s certainly got us, as drunk Max might put it, “a slightly bit concerned.” We don’t know what will happen with Toot – is this his final season? Does the school have a backup plan if it is? Will he decide he wants to stick around and will the school want him around if so? Are we possibly sort of fucked no matter what?
Look, we love Toot around these parts. His commitment to the Pioneer Valley and the school, his willingness to call out Hockey East’s corrupt officials and his own players alike, his CVS composition notebooks and ridiculous voice, the whole she-bang. But we’re equally torn about whether he’s ever going to be able to bring this program to the “next level.” He’s certainly had a few shining moments in his tenure, those moments being 2004 and 2007, but we’ve now seen three straight one-and-done seasons at the hands of BC. In Toot’s defense, the last of these exits followed a two-game series where UMass thoroughly outplayed the Eagles for two straight games and lost two consecutive snakebitten heartbreakers, with no help from some questionable officiating (although the Minutemen did get away with some things in both games after the damage was already done – proof that make-up calls and non-calls don’t necessarily work out for the team getting them).
A full season post-mortem isn’t really our thing, and we can’t pretend we’d do a better job of it than the three-sided one already did. (Besides, I’m a couple weeks late on that. Deal with it.) But you have to see this year as an improvement. The team won roughly twice as many games, managed not to embarrass itself against the “big three” of BC, BU and Maine, actually won the regular-season series against the Eagles, and did all of this despite virtually zero collegiate goaltending experience coming into the year. What do they lose going into the next year? Two top-liners, Hobbs and Syner, and Mike Marcou, whose single-year evolution from “worst defenseman in the conference” to “actually pretty good most of the time” had to account for at least a couple of wins. Syner is a dynamic player whose absence will be missed, and Hobbs is another Chase Langeraap – a solid player and good scorer who unfortunately never really met his potential due to injuries.
Next year’s team, provided nobody leaves early (note: PLEASE NOBODY LEAVE EARLY) will return that massive sophomore (now junior) class. That means dynamic scorers like Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira, scrappers like Troy Power and Pat Kiley (both of whom played very well down the stretch), and a solid defensive corps that figures to be that much better with another year under their belts. It’s also nice that juniors like Rocco Carzo and Darren Panda-Rowe-nium (aka Darren Rowe-vell) finished the season strong, as this team will need contributions from the seniors and freshmen/sophomores to support that big junior class. It would be great if this KJ Tiefenwerth fellow could step in and provide another scoring option to help fill the void Syner is leaving; I think Hobbs’s gap will be adequately filled by the improvements of the remaining players. And I think Kevin Boyle finally stepped up and earned the starting job by the end of the year. A big problem this year was the lack of a true #1 and the overall inconsistency that resulted among the goalie corps. I’d rather see Boyle be the starter and let Tegs and Mastalerz, if both stick around, compete for the #2 spot.
This will be a big test for the Toot Cahoon era. On paper, this team should be better than 8th place. This team, with two years of mostly close losses under its belt, an exciting freshman scorer coming in, and some actual experience in goal, should have what it takes to compete for a home ice spot. Toot’s due for a year where things get back on track. Both Hockey East and the UMass athletics program itself are at crossroads next year, with football upgrading, basketball finally back, lacrosse competing for a national title, and Notre Dame and (ugh) probably UConn joining Hockey East. The last train might be departing Cahoonaville if this team can’t manage a winning record next year.
End of Season Awards:
Most valuable player: TJ Syner
Barely edged out Mikey Franchise here. TJ will be missed. His speed and tenacity embodied the scrappy mentality of the team in its biggest wins of the season, and of course he led the team in points as well.
Most improved player: Mike Marcou
What can I say? We ate crow like crazy over this guy. Granted, anything would have been an improvement over last year, but it became pretty clear that his struggles last year were injury-related and, healthy this year, he was solid and consistent all year long. Irreplaceable? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. But good enough that we’ll actually miss him, which was unthinkable a year ago. Big ups to him for proving the haters, i.e. us, wrong. (I will point out that he was my sleeper pick for most improved player earlier this year. So suck it.)
Doug Kublin Memorial Award for Kubitude: Conor Sheary
We’re a bit biased, since Derek is also from Melrose and we’ve befriended Conor’s dad, who Derek used to work with and who is a fantastic man. But Conor was absolutely an everyman for this team, taking faceoffs (and doing a damn good job of it), scoring goals both pretty and gritty, and showing that TJ isn’t the only guy on this team who can absolutely fly at times. So he wins our now yearly award for embodying the Kublin spirit, even if he didn’t exactly fly under the radar with those of us who’re paying attention. We hear he’s a humble kid, too, and we hope that he takes it upon himself to improve his game even further – he and Pereira have “devastating combo” written all over them for next season.
All Hockey East Team:
F: Spencer Abbott, Maine
F: Chris Kreider, BC
F: Brian Flynn, Maine
D: Brian Dumoulin, BC
D: Chad Ruhwedel, Lowell
G: Doug Carr, Lowell
League MVP: Spencer Abbott, Maine
Rookie of the Year: Scott Wilson, Lowell
Coach of the Year: Norm Bazin, Lowell
I’ll go ahead and break this into two parts, BS Report style. Stay tuned for my basketball wrap-up and overall thoughts, probably later on tonight.