Tagged: complaining about our own fans

Handle It.

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.

-Max

Merry Happy!

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. :D

Bah, humbug:

- 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.

- Max

A game more important than BU? Then why are there no free t-shirts?

Providence Friars (7-14-6(3-12-5HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-16-4(5-11-4HEA))

Preface: To any fan who managed to fuck up the goal song badly enough to actually chant “Hey! You suck! Fuck fuck fuck fuck, go UMass!” last night, please go away and die, because you are a horrible person and I don’t want this blog or hockey in general to bring any amount of pleasure into your miserable existence.

Well, last night was what it was. The Mass Attack looked great at times; the offense was very proficient and the defense looked solid for about 95% of the game. Unfortunately, the few lapses the defense did have became markers for BU. The first 2 BU goals came from men who were uncovered and the game-winner in OT came on a short 3-on-1. The Minutemen played disciplined until late in the 3rd period when they gave BU a long 5-on-3 opportunity and then proceeded to have a too many men call during a sloppy line change. The offense got good production out of Pereira, Syner, and Hobbs, but also spread the scoring around; 9 Minutemen had points last night.

So, onto a much weaker opponent tonight in a game that matters more. The Friars are one of the worst teams in Hockey East. In Hockey East play, they average just 1.90 goals per game (worst in Hockey East) and give up 3.45 goals a game (2nd worst in Hockey East). The –1.55 goal differential is also 2nd worst (to Lowell) in Hockey East. The Providence power play (7.2%) is so bad that it makes the UMass power play (10.9%) look halfway decent by comparison. When the Friars do get offensive production, a lot of it comes from a trio of senior forwards: Kyle MacKinnon (13G/7A/20Pts), Ian O’Connor (7G/12A/19Pts), and Matt Germain (7G/8A/15Pts). In a lot of ways, Providence can be thought of as the anti-BU. While BU gives you crisp passing and smart plays, Providence, uh, just doesn’t. The Friars average a league-worst 2.95 assists per game in conference play. Providence’s best player of last year was the guy in between the pipes, but junior goalie Alex Beaudry (6-12-6, 3.25GAA, .901save%) appears to have taken a step back this year.

The game plan for tonight should be simple. Be aggressive. Score early, score often, and don’t let up. Get the Puck to Pereira (10G/11A/21Pts), Hobbs (8G/13A/21Pts), and Syner (7G/13A/20Pts). Run up the score if need be, but whatever you do, don’t take your foot of their throats for a second, because if the Friars are given any life tonight, it might be the death of the 2010-2011 Minutemen. With Vermont’s inexplicable 7-2 win over Maine last night, the Minutemen are now tied with the Catamounts for 7th in Hockey East. One would doubt Maine will have anything less than a win tonight, so a Mass Attack win would put UMass back into 7th alone with a 2 point lead over UVM. More importantly, a win tonight would put UMass 5 points ahead of Providence. A loss or draw would cut the Mass Attack’s lead to either 1 or 3 points ahead of the Friars AND give Providence the tiebreaker. If the Minutemen can’t win tonight, one would have to seriously question and perhaps even doubt the likelihood of UMass making the Hockey East tournament.

-Derek

Reactions from a night where even Kublin failed

Well, it can only go up from here.

Last night’s 3-0 loss against the Huskies of Northeastern was not as bad as the score may indicate. Make no mistake, UMass was beaten soundly and in no way deserved to win last night, but it was in no way a colossal failure on par with the now infamous “3 goals in 38 seconds” game.

In the begining, prospects looked bleak. UMass was outplayed soundly in the first period, giving up 13 shots, all of which had a chance to find the back of the net. Dainton stood on his head this period, and despite the loss, deserves alot of credit for keeping the game in reach for the minutemen. On offence, it was slim pickings. Unable to create a sustained offensive oppertunity, the minutemen got a few cheap shots on the rush, but never made me feel like they had a legitimate scoring chance. Things were bleak heading into the second period, although the game was still tied.

Coming out of intermision, the minutemen continued to play uninspired, lazy hockey. Early in the 2nd they gave up the inevitable goal off an absolutely horid attempt at a clear by Kublin (et tu Kubby?). However, coming off that goal, UMass controled most of the period, generating good opertunities but always being an inch or two away from a much needed goal. And that, my friends, is the problem with the team last night. Close was never close enough. Every pass that would have led to an easy goal was a few inches off, every rebound was barely blocked by Rawlings (who played out of his mind yesterday) and every break was broken up by some small mistake. Terrible execution.

It was over when the second NU goal went in top shelf against Dainton (no thanks to the defence which gave up the uncontested shot off the rush) which the fans at home wern’t able to see because of a NESN comercial break. After that, it was more “almost’s” that never made me feel like we had a chance. It was hopeless, and by the time we gave up the empty netter, we were defeated and depressed (as oposed to when we arived, when we were ripping high)

That being said, I still remain optimistic about tonight’s game at the Bill. UMass could have (and should have) easily won the first meeting against the Huskies, and if we play as well as we did last night, with a few easy bounces we could easily leave victors. The key too this team has long been limit the mental mistakes, and tonight will be no different. Don’t turn over the puck in your own zones, don’t give away easy breakaways, and for the love of god, stay in the net Dainton. I expect a goal or two, but its not going to be a high scoring game by any means. We need to beat Rawlings when he gives us the oppertunity (which he did last night). If we can make the most of these, and have Dainton keep on playing as well as he has, we should win.

Not that it hasn’t been said before, but this weekend is extremely important for the minutemen. There are no easy games ahead (Providence is not going to be easy this year, if the haloween weekend was any indication) and we desperately need points in order to make the playoffs in a respectable seed. At this point, standings wise, tonights game isn’t that important. Its only one game against a team I realisticly don’t expect to catch up to. However, if the minutemen want to be respectable in this conference, they need a win tonight. I think they can do it, but this team has consistantly proved my optimism wrong. Lets hope they turn it around

You can relive the excitement of our liveblog from last night here.

Random Thoughts

  • NESN didn’t have a scorebar up for the first 15 minutes of the game. Good job NESN. Collosal fail.
  • We didn’t give up a PP goal last night. Silver lining?
  • Tonight is 80′s night at the Mullins Center, which brings up a mixture of emotions. Does this mean that Northeastern will be relevant in Hockey East and UMass won’t exist? Will the swesties be out in full skankish force? Will free neon sunglasses (Ugggggg) draw T shirt like crowds?  Will anyone who actively dresses for 80′s night actually be born in the 80′s?
  • Note: because of the glasses, 2 goals by any UMass player will herein be refered to as a “glass trick” where we all throw our terrible glasses on the ice. If it happens, you must do it. Matt commands you.
  • Saturday Night game+morning shift at work=more time to pregame=hammered bloggers. With that in mind, please understand if my tweets tonight are misspelt nonsense
  • If basketball is the only team with a win this weekend I’ll be sad. Thats more of a statement about my love for hockey than disenfranchisement with Basketball, but still
  • I hope we win tonight, sunglasses are hard to drunkienly set on fire on the walk home
  • I wrote this at work, so apoligized for the terrible wording/spelling/opinions

See you at the Bill kids!

-Matt

Weekend wrap-up: I’m not even mad; in fact, that’s amazing

Well, to call this the worst sporting weekend in my nearly four years at UMass is probably an understatement. First, UMass hockey fell flat on its face in front of the entire New England area on NESN and 8,000+ at the Mullins Center, doing virtually nothing right in a 7-1 bloodbath at the hands of the team everyone loves to hate. Not really much to say about this one: UMass got outplayed in literally every aspect of the hockey game. Goaltending? Dainton didn’t have it, Meyers wasn’t much better, Muse was rarely tested. Offense? Eagles. Defense? Eagles, by a LOT. Special teams? UMass got all the first-period power play time, including over a minute of 5-on-3, and looked completely inept.

Honestly, there were no silver linings other than the fact that it only counts as one game, and that aggregate goals are meaningless in the NCAA. The troubling thing is that, after going through the entire first half without getting blown out – staying close in literally every game – the Minutemen have now suffered losses of 7-3 (BU), 7-2 (UNH), 6-2 (BU…again) and now this mess. They’re a mind-numbing six goals under .500 in Hockey East and down to even overall. What does it mean? Well, this percentage of the way through an NHL season, you’d have to start worrying; in a 27-game season, it just means UMass has gotten thrashed, absolutely thrashed, four times (this the first one at home). Their overall record, which is still solid in spite of everything, tells you that when things are bad for this team, they’re REALLY bad. For some reason, games spiral out of hand for these guys, which tells me there’s a tendency to give up (whether it’s late in the game, as it was in the two BU debacles, or early in the game, like up at Lake Whitt and now this shitshow).

So that means there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that this team, I still believe, has the talent to make a run in Hockey East. The bad news is that there are still effort and character issues. You simply cannot give up early in a sport; anything can happen in a game that’s 2-0 in the first (which is the point where it felt like the wheels really came off), hell, a comeback is still possible even after it’s 4-0 after one period, but a 7-0 deficit is insurmountable. (By the way, this applies to the fans, too, but Ben covered that already in his post.)

I will say this: BC, as Derek pointed out in his preview, is a damn good hockey team, and you must give coach York and crew credit for making them into serious contenders earlier than anyone outside Chestnut Hill could have predicted. They’re scary-deep, they don’t make stupid mistakes, and yeah, it’s safe to say that their January slump is behind them. Meanwhile, I have to take back anything I said before the game about BC’s fanbase being apathetic; their little cheering section was easily the most impressive of its kind in the Mullins Center all year, and they were certainly rewarded for their efforts and creativity. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I hate most people from BC with a fiery passion, but you can’t say they don’t care when they send over 100 kids to a place they supposedly wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. (Then again, we’ll see how many of them come out in their own arena in a couple weeks.)

Coupled with tonight’s results, I think you have to look at Hockey East like this: three home-ice locks (UNH, Maine, and BC), and one spot open for the taking, with UMass, BU, and Vermont as the front-runners in a jumble, along with Lowell, although they’re on their way out as their offensive struggles (and now the loss of Dehner) have them on a rather Cahoon Swoon-esque slide. Northeastern, meanwhile, could jump into the conversation, but it would require a sweep of next weekend’s home-and-home with the Minutemen. Once again, we have to hope that playing the Huskies gives UMass a spark, and that this time, they sustain it. More on that later in the week.

Meanwhile, Matt and I made the annual (third time for me, first for him) bus trip down to URI to watch our men’s basketball team against our favorite A-10 rival. We’ll point out that we were among maybe five or six students on our bus and the group was heavily alumni-centric, so it wasn’t quite as fun as the last two trips. The outcome was also pretty depressing: once again, UMass started alright, then the wheel came off and before you knew it they were down 17 at half. I don’t even feel like talking about Big Shitty anymore, because honestly, there was nothing nice to say; I cringed every moment he stepped out on the floor, and this time he never managed to prove me wrong. The Gurley Show was also teetering on the brink of cancellation for me; his inconsistency is simply maddening at times.

Now, you have to give URI credit; they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn to start the game (0 for their first 8 or 9 threes I think), and yet they were able to keep UMass from getting any sort of sustained run thanks to a devastatingly effective press that forced UMass turnovers seemingly at will. You gotta love their fan base, too — granted, there’s really nothing else to root for in Kingston, but just the same, they’ve packed that place all three times I’ve been there, their student section(s) put(s) ours to shame, and it’s freaking LOUD in there (not to mention a fantastic place to watch a game, even from the balcony corner that they always stick us in). I honestly love the Ryan Center, although I must admit that I’d love it a lot less if it weren’t for the last two trips. This one…eh.

UMass did put something together to start the second half again, and we had visions of another 17-point rally followed by actually holding the narrow lead, but then the Rams and their fans woke up again and put a quick stop to it with a bevy of dunks, not to mention their shooters finally heated up. Our guys made it respectable in the closing minutes, as Gurley suddenly realize there was a basketball game going on and started knocking down shot after shot, but it was in vain. This was a superior team with a lot more experience, especially in the coaching department, and it showed. Still, I liked what I saw out of the freshmen, and Sean Carter continues to be solid if not spectacular. And hey, at least they didn’t embarrass themselves on NESN. *sigh*

-Max

The game we’ve all (shitty part-time fans included) been waiting for

No. 14 Boston College Eagles (14-8-2 (10-6-2 HEA)) vs. No. 15 UMass Minutemen (16-10-0 (11-8-0 HEA))

Well it is upon us again. Everyone’s favorite game of the year. I just love having to get to The Bill an hour earlier than the early time I already get there just to get the same seats I usually do. Okay bandwagon fans, I suppose I’ll grudginly allow you to come to this game (only because I can’t stop you) ability to see this game, but please don’t embarrass the rest of us who are there screaming just as loud when this team plays Merrimack and Niagara. That means you don’t chant “Fuck BC” every ten seconds (Yes, we know it’s fun, but after a while you sound retarded). That means you stay in sync during the chants and follow the clever ones that the regulars know and love (HINT: pay attention to that kid with the goggles). That means please, for the love of that crazy guy up in the sky with the beard that people who go to BC believe in, no swesties painting “zoomass” across their stomachs. Painting the name of our college is fantastic, painting a term that makes all other New England colleges look down on us is not. Thank you.

It has been said by many that only two types of people go to Boston College, rich Catholic snobs and great hockey players. This year’s edition of the BC Eagles once again proves the latter true. The Minutemen will face tonight the most statistically dominating team in Hockey East. The Eagles are the top-scoring team in Hockey East (3.67 GPG), have allowed the second fewest goals per game (2.62), and have the second best special teams scoring differential (+13). UMass ranks fifth (3.19), fifth (2.96), and fourth (+7) in these categories, respectively.

The Eagles have spread the scoring around this year, and they have eight double-digit point scorers in Hockey East games (Brian Gibbons (6-17-23), Cam Atkinson (13-8-21), Joe Whitney (6-10-16), Ben Smith (9-5-14), Carl Sneep {Sneep’s a pussy… you know the rest} (5-9-14), Jimmy Hayes (4-10-14), Pat Mullane (4-7-11), and Paul Carey (3-7-10)). UMass can counter such prolific double-digit Hockey East scorers as James Marcou (6-20-26), Casey Wellman (12-10-22), Will Ortiz (9-8-17), Justin Braun (2-15-17), Matt Irwin (4-9-13), and T.J. Syner (4-6-10). I might add that this is the first time since writing this blog that the Minutemen have actually had less double-digit scorers than their opponent. The Boston College offense averages over 32 shots on goal per game in conference and features a solid power play that scores on 20.4% of its Hockey East opportunities.

Boston College does a good job denying the opposition opportunities to score, as well. With shutdown defensemen like Brian Dumoulin, who has a +14 plus/minus (really, fucking +14! He’s +13 in conference too; what the fuck?) and good all around team defense (their top two scorers are both +8 in Hockey East play), it’s easy to see why BC has only been letting up goals at a rate of just over two and a half a game. What’s more, the Eagles have made their goalies face fewer than 26 shots a game in conference. With these numbers, its easy to see why the less than outstanding John Muse (.911 save % in conference) and that scrub Parker Milner (.887) are only allowing 2.37 and 2.60 goals a game, respectively.

Numbers, however, can be deceiving. BC has had a veritable cakewalk of a schedule so far this year. The Eagles have only had to play the other four teams in the top five of Hockey East (UNH, UMass, Maine, UML) in six of its eighteen Hockey East tilts this season. Since the start of the new year, BC has struggled. They are 4-5-0 in games played in 2010, although they are 4-2-0 in their last five. The key variable during this stretch has been shots on goal. In the four wins since the Jan 1, BC has put up 45, 39, 36, and 43 shots on goal. In the five losses, they have only topped 31 shots on goal once, and that was in an overtime game. So the key to this game would seem to be to limit BC’s shots on goal…

…Which brings us to the part of the Minutemen that makes me shudder, the defense. Our beloved team’s defense is, eh, not great. Giving up an average of 30.4 shots against in conference play not great. Having only five players on the team with positive plus/minus ratings not great. Having a plus/minus leader (Brett Watson) whose rating is only +4 not great. And missing an oft-overlooked but key defenseman in Doug Kublin for the last four games not great. (I’m holding out hope that Kubbie will play tonight, he has endeared himself to me BY KNOWING HOW TO FOLLOW HIS MAN TO THE GODDAMN POST ON A 2-ON-2 , knowledge that seems to elude our other defensemen.)

Still, I hold out hope. Paul Dainton will obviously be back in net tonight (Defense: Please, please, please give him a chance to win, just 31 shots or less, I’m begging.), and hopefully the breather given him by Dan Meyers (who performed very well in the 4-1 victory over Providence) will mean the end to the troubles he had in the two previous losses. The Minutemen are 3-2-0 in their last five and both Jimmy and Casey are due. Neither have scored a goal and they have only combined for three points in the last three games. SIDE NOTE: James Marcou has 32 assists on the year, one more will break the UMass record he set last year. I’m sure he would love to get that in a big way against a big rival.

This game is also on NESN, by the way. (They advertise it as Boston College versus UMass Amherst. Amherst, what the fuck man? This is UMass, that other college is UMass Lowell, get your shit straight NESN.) Usually a televised game would be enough to get me nervous, but there’s something else this year. There hasn’t been that January slide I’ve suffered through every year I’ve been here (please don’t come in February. Or March. Or Ever.), we don’t play down to our opposition, and I find myself really believing in this team.

The Rundown:

Offense: BC (sucks.)
Defense: BC (sucks.)
Goaltending: UMass
Special Teams: BC (sucks.)
Other Factors: UMass

Prediction:

Boston College 2 – 4 Massachusetts
(Against everything my brain tells me, my heart says we can and will win this.)

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Matthews Arena: a successful endeavor by all accounts

Well that was more like it. Whatever Toot did or didn’t do after the UNH embarrassment, the team came out last night against the Huskies and played much like they did against Merrimack last month, which is to say utter and complete domination for the first two and a half periods, followed by a final 10 minutes of solid defense and clock-killing when Northeastern went into desperation mode.

Every aspect of the game was leaps and bounds ahead of what I saw in Boston and heard in New Hampshire the last two games. The offense was relentless, the puck control impeccable. UMass could pass, UMass could penetrate the NU defense, UMass could block passes and shots defensively, and, most impressively, UMass didn’t just kill off Northeastern’s power plays – they dominated on the PK. The Minutemen played, for the most part, with discipline, letting the frustrated Huskies take the dumb penalties (particularly the game misconduct on Silva; it was nice to see an opposing player take a deserving misconduct for once).

Now, let’s step back and look at this objectively. Despite their valiant performances the last couple games against Lowell, the Huskies aren’t that good a hockey team. I’m fairly confident that BU, despite the rougher first half, is a better team than NU and will finish with a better record. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced NU will even make the Hockey East tournament. They simply lost too much talent between last year and now, and, with all due respect to Rawlings and Mountain, the drop-off from Theissen in net is pretty tough to overcome (and let us not forget, they were starting the lesser of those two goalies in this one, although Mountain certainly wasn’t the difference-maker). On top of all that, the Huskies were coming off a deflating overtime loss to Lowell, a game where they had all the momentum in the world but got burned on a defensive collapse in the final 30 seconds of OT.

Other things that worry me: the Minutemen continue to rely heavily on a) the same couple guys (Jimmy, Ortiz, Syner, and Wellman) and b) the power play, although even the man-advantage game scuffled badly during the 3-game skid. The Minutemen showed themselves to be adept at using their speed to draw penalties and, at least for this game, capitalizing on the power play chances. But this was a rare Hockey East contest where the refs appeared to call a pretty even game – UMass’s even-strength game needs to be better for the vast majority of the games in which they don’t get the calls. This is especially true with so many road games left on the schedule.

Overall, though, this game was a joy to watch, and it’s absolutely key that the Minutemen got some positive momentum going into the massive Lowell series next weekend. Matthews Arena, the fourth Hockey East facility I’ve gotten to see a game in (along with Agganis, Walter Brown and of course the Bill), lived up to my expectations and then some. It has a real high-school rink charm to it, reminiscent of my high school’s hockey rink, Fitchburg’s Wallace Civic Center (now owned by Fitchburg State College), only obviously a hell of a lot nicer. The Dog House didn’t have much to cheer about, but they remained into the game and even unleashed a sarcastic, 10-minute goal-scoring chant for McNeely’s goal in the 3rd.

Our seats weren’t great – when Walsh ordered “the closest you can get to the UMass bench”, they apparently took him literally and gave us the row directly behind the Minutemen, which offered a couple challenges. First off, since we’re not 14-year-old girls or under 5’6″, we were too tall to comfortably fit our seats without banging our knees into the guardrail directly in front of us. Also, our seats offered a limited view of the corners of the rink, which we attempted to remedy by standing, but we were promptly chastised by the senior-citizens visiting section behind us to our right, who did not appreciate our blocking their view of those aforementioned corners that nobody could see in the first place. Luckily, we were able to stand in the empty seats directly behind us (with our backs to the newly-built press box wall) without further complaint, and ended up with a great view of the action.

Still, next time we visit Matthews we’ll avoid the same mistakes and ask for the visiting student section instead, which was off to our left and quite impressive for an intersession road game. (We did start the U! Mass! U! Mass! back-and-forth chant with them, which was a highlight of our night; we also enjoyed when our own row made it up on the scoreboard and prompted a hearty round of boos from the Dog House. Admittedly, we love us.)

So here we go, Lowell for two next weekend, I’ll write about it as it approaches. We’re gonna know a little more about the fate of the University of Massachusetts and its ugly sister a week from now, and we’re glad to be along for the ride.

-Max

No love in the air: Men’s hoops takes on Fordham

Almost two years ago, the UMass men’s basketball team was in the mix for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament behind what looks like a loaded team by today’s standards: Forbes, Harris, C-Lowe, Milligan, Brower, and guys like Gaffney coming off the bench. On Valentine’s Day, UMass hosted lowly Fordham in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2 (I think…it may have even been ESPN itself though). It was the boys’ chance to strut their stuff on a national stage, during an otherwise slow week for sports. Marketing even drummed up support with t-shirts. If you’re fairly new to UMass, you may be wondering where the “UMass <3 ESPN” t-shirts came from, which I’ve seen at least a couple of at literally every UMass sporting event since then (whether ESPN was involved or not). Well, now you know. And now I will make you hate those shirts.

Y’see, the Minutemen inexplicably failed to show up for that game, letting Fordham hang around for the first half and falling apart down the stretch to let the A-10′s typically less-dangerous Rams embarrass us on national television. I call it the Valentine’s Day Massacre, even though we only lost by a few points. It felt like a blowout loss to a real team (and remember, these were the glorious times of just a few short years ago when the Minutemen actually beat inferior teams at home). Instead of rolling into the A-10 tourney, the Minutemen had the pressure of needing to win one to keep hopes of an at-large bid alive, and, well, we all know how that worked out in the Travi$ Fraud era.

Now, normally, when your favorite team suffers a soul-crushing defeat, you’ll want to erase all memory of that game and move on. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Red Sox 2003 ALCS shirt, or a Patriots 2007 AFC Champions hat. Yet, for whatever reason, clueless UMass fans continue to wear these shirts recalling the Valentine’s Day Massacre, as if they have no idea what actually happened on the court, and just came to the game for the t-shirts. Oh, wait. That’s because they did. This is something that has pissed off many a true Minutefan for the last several years: the people who come for the free t-shirts and leave before halftime (or, in a few cases, before the game even starts). Now, granted, when it comes to college sports, it’s better to have a mix of fairweather and hardcore fans than no fans at all (see: the Mullins Center this year for basketball), but if you can’t be bothered to stick around to see your team play for at least the first half – and even that’s pretty lame – it’d probably be better for you to just not come at all. The point of the shirts is so that you’re seen on TV wearing them, not walking around campus next week, or two years later. One of my buddies – let’s just say he’s one of the more prominent student fans at basketball games – came up with the idea of proving a point by making Facebook events promoting free t-shirts for games where that isn’t the case. Ethical? No. But he’s got a point; a midweek t-shirt game against an A-10 dreg would probably draw a bigger crowd than a weekend game against an upper-tier team like Richmond or Dayton with no free swag.

A little disclosure here: I was held up by something, I don’t recall whether it was class or work obligations but I was definitely late to the game, juuust late enough to miss out on getting a t-shirt. (As in, literally the person in front of me walking in got the last one.) But I’m preeetty sure part of drowning our sorrows after the game would have included some sort of shirt-burning ceremony. I wanted nothing to do with that game; I wanted to get that memory purged, Eternal Sunshine-style. (And for that matter, sophomore year, I wanted the memory of Leemire Goldwire purged, too. And hockey’s entire second half. And the Super Bowl. And, uhh, maybe a couple of hookups. Man, sometimes I wish that movie was real.)

Anyway, rant aside, the Rams are paying their first visit to the Bill since that awful, awful night two years ago. No national coverage, and probably a lot lower stakes, as the Minutemen are coming off two consecutive disappointing losses and Fordham is beyond awful this year. They’ve lost last year’s breakout star Jio Fontan to USC, they’ve won just twice all year, they already fired their coach, they have two guys averaging double figure scoring. If UMass wants to do anything in conference play this year, they cannot lose this game, because really, everyone UMass has played this year (including Dowling and Arkansas-Ft. Smith) should be able to rout the Rams at home. I have a lot of  loyalty for the hockey team. A LOT. They could lose every game down the stretch, change their fight song to a Keith Urban song, have the UMass Republican Club sing the national anthem, replace Matty G with Glenn Beck, and replace the pucks in the Chuck-a-Puck contest with kittens, and I’d still follow every game. Basketball? Yeeeah, they don’t exactly have that from me yet, and besides, losing to Fordham would be far more egregious than all of that combined.

I’ll be back on hand to call the game on WMUA (the stream is right here or just tune your old-fashioned radio-mabobber to 91.1 FM at about 7:15 or so) and Matt’s gonna be there too, so you can probably expect a blog post from him at some point.

And there better not be any UMass <3 ESPN t-shirts, or so help me Cosby, there will be consequences.

-Max