Hey guys, hey. The home opener is mere days away and this week we’ve noticed a bump in views and such. We welcome you aboard and I promise to find the time tomorrow to roll out a full year 3 introduction to the site for those of you who are joining us for the first time, and I guess for the rest of you to get reacquainted.
In the meantime, I’ve been harping on and on and on about how much I want to get you, the readers, involved in the site this year, in whatever capacity seems appropriate. If you want to contribute to the site, you shoot me a message on Facebook or Twitter or whatever and, if I smell what you’re stepping in, you just may have yourself your 15 minutes of non-fame.
To that end, I present a piece by one of our supporters, Jarod Hendrickson, who wrote my student section article before I did, and made a lot of interesting points. Bear in mind this was written after the end of last season, since my hardcore procrastination on writing that article extended to me posting other peoples’ articles on the same subject as well. (Or, just maybe, I didn’t want to get shown up by some upstart kid before I got around to my own piece. And by then it was, well, summer.) Anywho, in the glass half full category, this article is pretty timely given that the home opener is coming up and I am committed to making sure this year’s freshman class gets off on the right foot. Take it away, Jarod:
“I Can’t Complain if I Don’t Know How”
by Jarod Hendrickson ’13
Unfortunately I missed the glory days of hockey’s 2007 NCAA tourney run and two home playoff games at the Mullins, and how great the student section must have been that season. I can only base this article on what I’ve seen over the end of one era (the Jimmy and Casey reign and abrupt mail in of 09-10), and the rebuilding but entertaining and still equally heartbreaking 10-11 campaign. So here are some observations from a current sophomore [Ed: junior as of now], completely dedicated to this team, only to find out that a majority of his fellow “fans” aren’t even aware where they are during the game, let alone go to them.
When I arrived in Amherst the fall of 2009, I was already familiar with the student section. YouTube helped point me in the right direction, so unfortunately I was probably already ahead of most freshmen. The drunken haze of the 9-2 start to the season was great. The Bill was rocking every home game for our nationally ranked team, and chants were loud and coordinated. For the first half of the season, everything went fine, and even with the Cahoon Swoon in full effect during the second half, fan turnout was still good. As we fell flat on our face to conclude the 09-10 season (hell, at least we made it dramatic), I was cautiously optimistic of what the future of UMass hockey had in store for me and our fans. However what I saw this year out of our fans has led me to worry about the state of our student section.
To say we got off to a slow start to this season would be an understatement, earning our first win in a late November tilt against Vermont. The home opener against BU (that first goal still gives me chills) gave me hope fans would still show up, but that wasn’t the case. Obviously attendance was affected by the poor record, but should that really matter if we’re truly fans? Night after night we were competitive (with the exception of the Army game..no comment). People look at the record and immediately dismiss this team, but there is a future here (I promise!). Facebook helped spread the word of upcoming games, as did the slips of papers on tables at DC’s that people hopefully looked at. Home attendance was still good for the free t-shirt games (except senior night..embarrassing). Fans still missed out on the games that really mattered, such as the 2/12 Providence game, where our season was on the line (we didn’t lose that one btw). And at games where student turnout was good, the majority of them left early. I mean thanks for showing up for the start I guess. But it’s hard to consider such individuals “fans”, who show up shitfaced (nothing wrong there), know nothing about hockey, get their free shirt, and then leave after the first period. It was frustrating to see this happen on a regular basis, I know we’re better than that.
What’s the hurry to leave anyways? You’re just gonna end up back in your dorm at 8:30, where you will probably end up staying the remainder of the night blacking out. DU isn’t open, and Phillips and Sunset are on lockdown by the cops. Or maybe you will stagger to a party that will be busted within the first 10 minutes of your arrival. So why not make yourself useful and stay at the game for another hour and support your team? Oh we’re down by 3 goals? Well tough shit. This is college hockey, and that deficit can become a tied game in a matter of minutes, as was the case this season (but you wouldn’t know, would you, because you left every game early this year). Seriously, it happens with football and basketball..(please..rolls eyes) too, and I’m guilty as charged with leaving those games early sometimes. But let’s just stick to the team that matters, the Mass Attack. You (that’s right, YOU and all your fucking friends who know nothing about hockey) need to stay. Maybe you’ll learn something. Students need to make an attempt to learn the basics of hockey and our traditions that make the Mullins Center special. (BTW it’s “Fuck ‘em up, Fuck ‘em up, Go UMass” when we score, not “Fuck Fuck Fuck Go UMass” and obvious penalties against us don’t warrant a “Bullshit!” chant) [Editor’s note: More about that in the freshman primer that I will try to get done by Friday. – MB] For christ sake it’s only a few simple chants, nothing too hard to grasp.
So where do we go from here? Maybe it was just a down year in terms of fans and things will pick up again next year. Or it could continue to deteriorate even further. As other Fight Mass writers have suggested, there needs to be some organization and leadership to the student section, other than “that one drunk asshole everyone can hear” [Editor’s note: hey bud, Matt resembles that remark :P]. And how this changes remains to be seen. We have something special here at UMass, whether we realize it or not. I will feel personally responsible if our student section suddenly went to hell and closely resembled a line waiting to get into a frat. It’s up to us current students (with maybe some guidance from alumni) to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Not bad kid. Not bad at all. And, casual fans, if I may say something… if he and I and the rest of us are being a tad harsh at times, remember, we do this out of love. We love the team. We love this school. And hell, we have a funny way of showing it, but we love you. Even while we hate you. Don’t think about it. Just show up, this Friday and every home game after that. I cannot stress enough how much the future direction of our athletics program is in more than just the players’ and the administration’s hands.
Hockey season is upon us once again and have we at Fight Mass worked long and hard on a season preview? No, fuck that. Well, kind of. But also kind of a game preview, too. Just read it, it will all make sense. Or not. Whatever.
Massachusetts Minutemen vs. Northeastern Huskies
The Minutemen enter this year without an exhibition test to “judge” the boys by. A spirited intra-squad public scrimmage highlighted by a penalty shot goal by Edzo “via Chicago” Olczyk , a near fight between Conor “Mr. Most Improved” Allen and a Himalayan mountain disguised as a freshman named Oleg Yevenko, and a game winning powerplay top corner snipe by the gunslinger himself, Conor Sheary.
Conversely, the Northeastern Huskies did play an exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier… and lost 8-5. (Oh man! This team must suck. I mean come on guys, 8-5 loss to St. Francis Xavier???) Yeah, well, six of the eight goals were given up by sophomore backup Clay Witt in the third period. And as Confucius once said, Clay Witt is not Chris Rawlings. Rawlings gave up one goal on 12 shots in his period of work. Junior forward Garrett Vermeersch had a goal and an assist and sophmore defenseman Anthony Bitetto (the team’s leading returning scorer) had three assists in the losing effort.
The Huskies and the Minutemen both suffered key losses in the offseason. The Mass Attack’s losses were primarily defensive. Superstar captain netminder Paul “I’m so nice I found a guy’s class ring from thirty years ago, looked him up, and returned it to him” Dainton and rock solid reliable defensive defenseman Douglas “I invented the Dougie and, therefore, my Dougie is better than your Dougie” “God” Kublin are gone. However, the Minutemen do return 10 of last year’s top 11 point scorers (in case I need to jog your memory, the top 11 point scorers for the Mass Attack last year were: Danny Hobbs, TJ Syner, Mike Pereira, Joel Hanely, Chase Langeraap, Adam Phillips, Conor Sheary, Brendan Gracel, The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou, Rocco Carzo, and Darren Rowe with Langeraap obviously being the one to go). And Sheary and Michael “the Franchise” Pereira look poised for breakout years after solid freshman campaigns. (I’m predicting a 20G/20A season for Sheary. You heard it here first, folks!)
Hopefully the back end will be able to cope with the loss of Kublin. Conor Allen, Joel Hanley, Adam Phillips, and Colin Shea are all a year into the league and, hopefully, a year wiser thanks to their experiences. Freshmen Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo will be competing for playing time. Maybe Darren Rowe will play some defense. Maybe he’ll play some forward. Maybe Toot will forget he exists again. It’s anyone’s guess. And then there’s The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou had another terrible season last year in terms of plus/minus rating. What’s frustrating is that he played really well at times. The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou just needs to stop trying to do too much and play within himself; if he can do that, it’s very likely UMass will have one of the most solid defensive cores out there.
I doubt anyone can truly replace Dainton in our hearts and minds, but there are a few candidates who would have a good chance to make us think quite fondly of them, too. Sophomore Jeff Teglia had a freshman season that looked pretty bad on paper, but the truth is he didn’t give up many bad goals at all. He makes the stops he’s expected to, and if he’s improved just a little bit at controlling rebounds and making the truly great saves he could have quite the year. But he may not even have the chance to have a full year of work, if a tandem of exciting freshmen has their way. Kevin Boyle looked pretty good in the scrimmage, but he overcommitted on quite a few shots and relied a little too much on his defensemen to clear the puck from danger. We didn’t get a chance to see Steve Mastalerz play, as he was nursing an injury at the time, but according to some inside accounts he may be the best goalie of the three.
Jesus, I’ve said all this positive shit and I’ve barely even touched on the freshmen. In fact, I’ve neglected to mention the freshman forwards at all. We will possibly get our first chance to see how highly touted freshmen Zack LaRue and Andrew Tegeler fare in Hockey East play this Friday. And I’m pretty confident we’ll finally get to see Steven Guzzo, who sat out his entire freshman year due to a horrendous knee injury. The knee looked healthy last Saturday and Guzzo looked very fast on his skates in the scrimmage. I, for one, am excited to see the new faces get their shots.
Northeastern faces the opposite problem coming into the year. They need to find where their scoring is going to come from. They need to replace the scoring proficiency of a Wade MacLeod, a Tyler McNeely, a Steve Silva, and a Brodie Reid. That’s 138 points to find! In total, Northeastern lost players who produced 167 of the 288 points the roster scored last year. Almost 58% of last year’s production just gone. Wiped off the roster. And, yes, Bitetto, Vermeersch, and Mike McLaughlin are very talented players. And, yes, they have some promising young kids. But, come on, replacing 58% of your production? That’s just an absurdly difficult thing to do. It’s especially disheartening for the Huskies that Brodie Reid signed with the San Jose Sharks after just his freshman season (And you thought Casey Wellman was bad!) and that Jamie Oleksiak, the team’s leading plus/minus player and a guy who looked poised to become a force in this league, up and went to the OHL after his freshman year.
Northeastern’s defense is still passable thanks to a rock solid young core of Bitetto, Luke Eibler, and Drew Ellement, but depth certainly may become an issue at the defenseman position for the Huskies. Chris Rawlings is a phenom and one of the best goalies in Hockey East, but the Huskies may be asking too much of him if they can’t find a way to put pucks in the back of the net. They only had a +0.11 goal differential last year. It’s a pretty safe bet that that number will go into the negatives this season unless Rawlings has an ungodly year.
This is certainly not a game to take the safe route in. There will be quite a few fresh faces out there for the Huskies, and the Minutemen should look to test them early and often. This does not, however, mean the Mass Attack should open the throttle all the way and get sloppy. Despite the loss of offensive power, the Huskies did score four powerplay goals in their exhibition game. It would be wise to not test if this was just because they were playing St. Francis Xavier.
So, IT IS OCTOBER, but I still do want to know… is it Friday yet?
This season of UMass basketball has been alternated between relieving, frustrating, encouraging, discouraging, fun to watch and eye-melting. Sometimes, all of the above in the same game.
Tonight’s 78-69 triumph in Olean, where UMass refused to let a flight scare and a broken-down team bus sidetrack them from their goals, is another step in the right direction for a team that can’t seem to decide which direction it is headed in, but which has so far taken slightly more steps forward than backward this year.
UMass led this game wire-to-wire. They got out to a blistering start, shooting extremely well and holding Bonnies star Andrew Nicholson in check. They proceeded then to nearly give the game away in the early part of the second half, a continued recurring theme this year (see: Quinnipiac), but the strong first half gave UMass enough of a safety net that they were able to right the ship with a big run and put the game away.
What I liked about tonight’s game is that, from what I could see on the choppy ChannelSurfing feed, the dribble-drive offense was actually successful. UMass had absolutely no trouble gaining penetration, letting Gurley drive to the hoop over and over again, or dishing out to guys like Correia and Riley for threes, or finding Sean Carter for easy finishes. It was important for the Minutemen to establish their outside game early tonight, hitting 4 of their first 5 threes. When the team comes out cold, they tend to stay cold, and the D can concentrate on closing down the middle without worrying about leaving guys open outside. UMass needs to improve on its “plan B” for when the shots aren’t falling early, but in their recent wins, shooting has been great early.
And making up for their lack of practice, I thought the guys came out running tonight. Guys were beating their men down the court in transition, even Vinson (who looks a LOT better in the last few games, and I think the injury woes are behind him) had a few Tommy Point moments. Hell, even Census-Designated Place knocked down a hook. Even with all the Traynham drama, this team is a lot more organized and defined than last year’s mess. Gurley is finally becoming the brilliant scorer we always knew he could be (like Harris before him, and Gaffney before him, and Forbes before him…damnit, why does every UMass star only seem to flourish as a senior?!), and Farrell is becoming a quality #2 scoring threat who does a little of everything. Sean Carter also continues to impress with his energy and it seems like every game he’s more and more in control of what he’s doing on the court.
The non-conference struggles seem to be behind this team. Losing by 29 at CCSU seems to be more of an aberration than anything else, a case of a team being totally unprepared to play and taking a solid road opponent lightly. There’s been much more of a spark under this team ever since then, even in the blowout losses to Richmond and Xavier, both of whom look like they’re headed to the big dance this year. UMass has shown that it can win on the road against middle-to-low tier A-10 teams, carving out a spot in the 4-8 range of upper-middle tier squads in the conference, with the likes of URI, Dayton, and George Washington.
If they continue to progress, I think UMass’s ceiling for this year at this point is a home game in the first round of the A-10 tourney, a possible home game in the NIT first round, and I don’t see why they couldn’t make a bit of a run in either tournament. They’re not there yet, despite what the 7-0 start had many of us hoping. But (if you like to count D2 wins) they’ve already matched last season’s win total, are 1 away from matching last year’s conference win total, and they’ve already played two of the three best teams in the conference. If they can continue to compete like this night in and night out, 20 wins is a possibility, and that would be quite the accomplishment for a team picked to finish near the bottom of the league.
The team returns home to face Rhode Island on Sunday at 4 PM. Other than the fact that we play Temple later in the year, there’s NO REASON why this shouldn’t be the biggest home crowd of the year. Tell everyone you know. We’re certainly going to do what we can to hype this up. For chrissakes, even St. Fucking Bonaventure in the frozen tundra of western New York had a large and lively student section. I know, I can’t fault many for their skepticism. “These are the same old Minutemen. They’re gonna just let us down again. They never build off of big wins.” Trust me, I’ve thought it too. But the worm has to turn eventually. It’s 2 hours, guys. The Minutemen just risked life and limb to secure a win for our school. We can at least give them a warm welcome back. FTFB!
With all due apologies to The Gurley Show, Census-Designated Place (our new nickname for the downsized Big City Bailey), Coach Kellogg’s hair, and the rest of our slightly-improved basketball team, it is time to take hockey coverage into full gear. (Frankly, I have no desire to talk about that Richmond game anyway.)
UMass has won 3 out of 4, they’ve returned to respectability in conference play after that god-awful start, and the bandwagon is looking as inviting as ever. Could this be the year they pull a reversal, and have a monster second half after an awful first half instead of vice versa? …Okay, even our glasses aren’t that maroon. But a glance at the standings will show that our boys have slowly been creepin’ on up the ladder the last few weeks:
(EDIT: formatting sucks. Just go here. Yes, I’m lazy, but so are you if you can’t click a link.)
As you’ll notice, the Minutemen, thanks to a 5-1-0 record against the Lowells and Vermonts of the world, are actually above the 8th place position they so calamitously backed into last year(EDIT: we ended up 7th last year, Max is a JV blogger -Matt). Notably, we were picked to miss the playoffs, along with Lowell, by seemingly every season preview. Instead, the team could find themselves as high as 5th (!) depending on the outcome of this coming weekend, with two games against Northeastern (and Merrimack getting Vermont twice).
Now, objectively, we know that we can’t expect UMass to take these two games against Northeastern, and that hoping for a split is the most rational thing. But we’re optimists, damnit, and we also just watched UMass unleash an epic ass-whooping on Vermont sans two players (Lecomte and Phillips) who had been playing quite well offensively in past weeks. We see guys like Syner and Pereira emerging as offensive forces, while Hobbs and Langeraap are finally starting to show live up to their recruiting hype as scoring threats. It hurt to watch highlights of last year’s similar shellacking at Gutterson and seeing just how fun Jimmy and Casey were to watch when they were playing well, but with the mix of young and old, this team makes up for its pure star power with a much more balanced attack. Different guys are stepping up on different nights. Last year, it was the SWARM line, or Will Ortiz, or nothing.
We’ll have more specifics later in the week on the Huskies. But UMass, save for the Jekyll-Hyde act of Rob Madore shutting them down on Friday night, has seemed to make big strides since the debacle a few weeks ago at the Mullins Center, where they let a seemingly easy win slip away in a snap. You know the boys are gonna want revenge. They have had some recent success at Matthews in past years, and they’ve got a hopefully raucous crowd awaiting them for the first home game of the semester Saturday night. Go out and do your part as always to FTFB (fill the fuckin’ Bill! I’m coining it) and hell, if you live in the Boston area, or even if you don’t, round up a posse and make the roadtrip. Matthews is a great arena to visit, and there’ll always be plenty of UMass fans in a Boston-area game. We certainly are considering it depending on how things shake out schedule- and money-wise. UMass has a real opportunity here, just 3 points back. A sweep would not only secure a season series tiebreaker and likely put more distance between UMass and the dreaded playoff spot cutoff, but remember – UMass has two games in hand on Northeastern, and obviously still will after this series. Again, it won’t be a cakewalk against a hot goalie like Rawlings, but the defense and Dainton have been mighty impressive the last 3 games after that near-meltdown in Lowell.
Looking further down the line, UMass admittedly has its work cut out for it. 3 games against BC are gonna be a chore, but we’re due for at least one win against them after the last few years. One more big home game against a very beatable BU looms as well. We can beat NEU and PC at home. It’s the three games left against Merrimack (the next foe in the way, provided this weekend goes well) that loom the biggest, I think. Two of those are at Lawler Arena, a historic house of horrors for the Minutemen, and the Warriors are legit…but again, sometimes, you just gotta believe. The last two of the season are at home against Maine, and if things continue to go well for UMass, well, who knows? I’ve seen that scenario determine home ice between these teams before. Current students, I guarantee you – you’ve never seen the Bill rock like it did that weekend.
All of this being said…it’s my job to get ahead of myself. It’s UMass’s job to do just the opposite, or all of this speculation will be for naught. Personally, I think there’s a bright future ahead for this core of young players, and if nothing else, it’s been fun watching them improve and mature as the year’s gone on. But my co-writers are seniors, and thus not around for the magic of the NCAA run in 06-07. I just hope they – not to mention Langeraap, Kublin, Dainton, and the rest of the seniors – somehow get the opportunity to see this team do something special before they graduate. (D’awwwwww.)
P.S. The title is a reference to this. Note to self: somehow get the other writers to watch Parks and Rec so that Ron Swanson can become our official mascot. #impossibleisnothing
Saturday Recap – UMass 6 – 0 Vermont
It was quite the road trip for us here at Fight Mass (helped by the fact that we only went to the Saturday game). As a quick aside from the hockey action, our pregame spot needs mentioning. Per the advice of Rocks over at Fear the Triangle, we had to check out The Alchemist in Waterbury. Gotta say, he was right on in his assessment; it was fantastic. Two of the beers I had there were definitely in the top 5 of beers I’ve had all time. Also before I start this recap in earnest, I have to give a big thanks to the staff at the Gut, who actually came up to us before the game and explained their policies and then actually enforced the policies on their own students (also, thank you to the Vermont State Trooper who stood at the end of our row for the entire game making sure we didn’t get killed). We also got to meet Brendan Gracel’s mom Christine (it’s pronounced gray-CELL, btw), who is a very nice person and a great supporter of our team and Conor Sheary’s dad Kevin who is a great guy (which I knew before last night anyway because it turns out I used to work with him). He had just made it back from Northeastern where Sheary’s sister was playing for the UNH women’s hockey team.
To sum up this game in a nutshell, I would call it a fantastic 50 minute effort. Our boys scored 5 even-strength goals and one on the powerplay (the 6 goals came from 5 different skaters), aaaaaand successfully killed off 5 penalties. The majority of the first period was a fierce battle. It even looked like the Catamounts would score first as Paul Dainton was forced to make two incredible glove saves against Drew MacKenzie while lying on his stomach at around the 9 minute mark of the first. At 15:27, when Danny Hobbs scored off of T.J. Syner’s rebound on the rush, the Minutemen never looked back. Less than two minutes later, Syner took a puck in the neutral zone, skated right into the slot, and shelved a picture perfect wrister past Madore. Syner would add a second goal just 37 seconds into the second period on a snapshot from the low slot off a nifty pass from Doug Kublin.
Then came one of the prettiest goals I’ve ever seen (at least from the Mass Attack). So pretty, in fact, that it gets its own paragraph. Pereira stripped Funky A (see last post) at the defensive blue line and skated through the neutral zone. As he crossed the Vermont blue line, he slid the puck over to Conor Sheary, who then delayed and made a cross-ice pass to Eric Filiou. Filiou rushed the net, forcing Madore to commit, and then neatly slid the puck across the crease to Pereira, who tapped the puck into the vacant net. It was technically executed perfection.
14:06 into the second, Kevin “Holyoke” Czepiel potted the fifth UMass goal off a rebound from Chase Langeraap’s backhander. Patrick Kiley also figured into this goal; the assist was his first NCAA point. At this point, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon decided he had had enough of Rob Madore, and benched him in favor of freshman Alex Vazzano. Vazzano played well, holding the Mass Attack off the board for more than a period. The final goal was scored with about a minute left in the game when Chase Langeraap’s powerplay backhander beat Vazzano (I believe it went 5-hole, but I’m not positive. The play was at the other end of the ice).
Paul Dainton played spectacularly, but definitely not perfectly. He was even more eager to play the puck than usual; Matt even was moved to ask, “Who gave Paul Dainton a Red Bull?” At one point, Dainton went to play the puck, and immediately gave it away, giving Vermont a brief opportunity at an open net… which they missed. Yes, Vermont’s offense is THAT bad (full disclosure: it was a tough angle, but still, no goalie!). Also bad was the play at the beginning of the third period. There was a lot of prevent defense being played by UMass. The whole let UVM have offensive possession for a minute and a half, clear the puck, change lines, rinse, repeat thing was going on. Granted, the defense was doing a pretty good job of not allowing a ton of great shots during these possessions, but it’s still not a good way to play hockey (I know we were up 5-0 at that point, but I really think Toot should be pressing 60 minutes of good hockey, no matter what the score is).
There were plenty of guys who had good nights other than Dainton, three were particularly noteworthy. Danny Hobbs started the scoring and tacked on two assists for a tidy 3 points on the score sheet. T.J. Syner had two goals (including that beautiful wrister) and an assist on the first three goals of the night, and he really got a fire lit under the offense. Also of note was Doug Kublin, if for no other reason than for the fact that HE WAS A +5 FOR THE GAME. That’s right, a +5. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that before. Shoutouts for solid all-around play should go to guys like Gracel, Langeraap (who had 2 points), Sheary, and Hanley, as well.
For anyone who’d like to watch some highlights, I’ll just leave these here:
Aaaaaaand since we weren’t there for the Friday game, I’ll just post a vid of some of the high(low)lights.
Last Week: 2GP/2A/+4/3SOG/0PIM
Season Totals: 21GP/3G/3A/6Pts/+7/18SOG/18PIM
It seems fitting that I write this on the day that Zdeno Chara has his first career hat trick, as the key to Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of our ugly sister was the continued amazing shooting of an tall, oafish defenseman. Adam Phillips , King Phillips for those listening to my drunken yelling, has been the highlight of UMass’s offense when they decide to actually set up shots. His slap shot from the top of the point is the greatest weapon our power-play has right now, and I’m looking forward to seeing it for many years to come.
In general. this is the game I was looking for from our minutemen, playing strongly against an admittedly weak opponent, but putting a solid effort up nevertheless. While UMass did let off the gas in the 3rd, they didn’t fall asleep at the wheel like on friday night and have to be bailed out by some last second heroics. I would like to think of this game as a turning point, giving this team enough confidence to play strongly in hostile territory this weekend in an extremely important tilt with UVM.
I hate to put so much importance on one series, but this weekend will tell us alot about the rest of the season. If we can go to UVM and take 3 or 4 points, we can almost guarantee at least an 8-spot in hockey east, with room to grow against some tougher opponents later in the season. This team seems to be gaining an identity. I have been extremely impressed with the upperclassmen as of late. TJ Syner continues to be a thrill to watch (so much speed, too much speed), Hobbs has stepped up as of late, Langeraap has had a point in 5 of the last 7 games, and Kublin has continued to be Kubtastic (which is to say more important than meaningless stats). Its good to see some leadership be established, especially given how young this team is.
Well, we can only hope this is a sign of a turn around. We (ie, me) also hopes that Derek will continue preview duties with the start of a new semester (because I sure as shit ain’t doing it). Also, welcome back Max, who will be joining myself and Walsh for the first out of state complete triangular fight mass road trip.
Happy new semester, we’ll be seeing you in the land of cheese (and Bernie Sanders)
Okay, okay, we’ll be the first to admit it here at Fight Mass: we’ve been slacking. Big-time. It’s not our faults, frankly…Derek’s got a hectic senior-year courseload (contrary to popular belief, the academic life at the world’s #56 university is, in fact, a bitch) and I’ve still got another 6 weeks or so left in my program down here at Disney World. (For those inquiring minds, Matt seems to have stepped back from a writing role and is accepting a more fitting role as our head Twitterer/social networker.) Between that and a less-than-exciting start to the season for the Mass Attack, you can see where keeping up with the site would be rather difficult. Rest assured, though, kids, that season 2 of Fight Mass is just getting started, as the men’s basketball season comes into full gear and the hockey team gets into the swing of Hockey East action. Remember, we started the blog around this time last year, and that was when I was in Amherst instead of all the way down the coast. I’ll be back soon enough.
So, catching up on where things stand for the Mass Attack…not a pretty start, to be sure. UMass is 0-6-3, the only winless team in D1 thus far. Things seem like they would be dire in Amherst, but let’s not freak out just yet. The Minutemen were not getting an at-large bid this year, as we’ve been saying from the start, and the 0-3-3 HEA record isn’t nearly as horrifying when you consider UMass lost those 3 games by a combined 5 goals. UMass also has three ties already after going all of last season without a single one. Two of those ties, to be sure, were games UMass should have won, against mediocre Providence at home and last weekend’s last-minute collapse at Lake Whitt. The tie against BU, a much hotter sister-kissing, could have easily been a win as well. Really, when you consider A) that this team is so ridiculously young and inexperienced, B) the injuries to the few remaining veterans, and C) the pretty tough schedule thus far, 3 points in 6 games isn’t that bad. The youngsters, particularly Pereira and Gracel, have been very impressive, and the defense hasn’t been a complete disaster, at least not in Hockey East play. Now, you can’t totally throw away games like the Army shitshow, but the truth of the matter is that despite all the horribleness of a winless first 9 games, UMass is just one point out of a playoff spot in Hockey East, where they were picked by so many experts to finish 9th or 10th. The Minutemen have been knocking on the door of the win column all year long. They’ve played exactly one awful game (again, the Army debacle), and have managed to not get swept in their three HEA series so far. Coming up are winnable games against a few more teams, Vermont and Lowell, who will be in that battle for the last HEA playoff spots. It’s the perfect time for our boys to finally put a W on the board, so let’s all calmly back away from the ledge for now until after these games are in the books.
In the meantime, guys, keep on coming out to support your team. I know the pre-Thanksgiving Vermont game can suffer from all the students going home early, but if you’re gonna be in town Tuesday night, go out there and cheer UMass to that elusive first win. You have the whole rest of the night to party and worry about getting home the next day for The Busiest Drinking Night of the Year(TM). I’ve been wondering when this team would have a poor start (didn’t happen in my four years in Amherst), and now that it’s happening, this is a good test of the bandwagon mentality for the hockey fans, and whether or not attendance will suffer due to the lack of wins. If the numbers have to suffer, those of you who go just have to be extra loud. Maybe this is the chance for the hardcore fans (that’s you) to take back the Mullins from the frat boys and Swesties? Hint, hint.
Segueing off from that rambling mess of a paragraph into basketball now! UMass hockey is reminding me an awful lot of last year’s basketball squad, with Dainton filling the Ricky Harris spot as the “lone remaining star senior,” and yes, I understand all the flaws in that comparison, but just the same – he’s the training wheels for a stocked group of freshmen. For Kellogg’s boys, those training wheels are off, and what we’ve seen so far is a somewhat wobbly 2-0 start with wins over Rider and Sacred Heart. Opening night included a 22-point deficit overcome for a 10-point win, in a game where UMass had a great student turnout, scared them off, then came back without them. Go figure. The Broncs are actually a pretty experienced squad, so for them to collapse so completely (with a little help from Gurley and Riley both getting ridiculously hot at the same time) says that UMass did something right. It’s a little disconcerting that Kellogg even said after the game that he didn’t know how it happened, though. But a win is a win. Unless, of course, it’s an 8-point win against Sacred Heart, an absolutely atrocious basketball team that should never have smelled the lead, let alone in the second half. However, considering last year’s team would have probably found a way to be 0-2 so far, you have to at least be happy with the results of these first two games.
The good? Daryl Traynham looks every bit as good as advertised, although hopefully game 2 is more indicative of his offensive talents than game 1 was. Gurley looks like he’s finally got things figured out. Riley’s gonna score a shitload of points for UMass before his career is over…you just can’t deny how smooth that shot is. Sampson Carter has been greatly improved, too. And UMass has done all this without Javorn Farrell, who was the unsung hero of last season, and with Terrell Vinson basically a ghost.
The bad? Little Village Bailey may be in far better shape, but this whole “lack of tangible basketball skills in game situations” thing continues to be troubling. Here’s hoping he’s still getting used to his leaner body. Luckily, the team doesn’t hinge on his success, so he’s got time to become a big contributor off that bench. TV, on the other hand, doesn’t have that luxury. What the hell happened to this guy? He was up-and-down last year, but in two games, he’s really been a non-factor. Guys with this much raw talent don’t just disappear overnight, so I’m confident he’ll get it together, but it does raise eyebrows. Sean Carter hasn’t really been too great either. Really, the big men need to step it up for tomorrow’s matchup with New Mexico State, which has a couple of big men of their own that will provide a better test than Rider or SHU have. Unlike the hockey team, hoops actually does need to win some non-conference games. I think the big dance this year is an attainable goal if (and this is a huge, huge if) TV improves, DT plays this well against better opponents, and Riley and Gurley continue carrying the offense. The cool thing about struggling to a 2-0 start is that you’re still 2-0, and I know Coach Kellogg and the team know they need to be a lot better in order for the wins to keep coming in. Even if the team proves to be not quite ready for that jump yet, I can see this team making a run in a suddenly-not-quite-so-deep A10 and/or getting back to the NIT and getting valuable postseason experience for the sophomores and for DT and the other guys like Putney, Esho, and Morgan if and when they work their way into the rotation.
In the meantime, and I hate to keep beating a dead horse here, but please go out there to the Mullins and support your boys. Hell, they’re undefeated! I love that the marketing department was able to get a good student turnout for opening night against Rider, but that flat start scared off a bunch of them, and the attendance for Sacred Heart was abysmal (although the timing of the game and the opponent were likely factors as well). If UMass keeps winning, I’m sure the student turnout will improve, and I love that the diehards in the front row(s) are already much more numerous than last year, when it was basically me, Matt, Hamel, Goggles, and a few other guys and the band every night. Our school is situated in the birthplace of basketball, and we’ve got guys like Marcus Camby and Gary Forbes (as Marv Albert said, from “U of Mass”) in the NBA, and our state is home to the greatest NBA franchise of all time. It shouldn’t be hard to get students to turn out for free games, especially this year with a team that has contention potential. Get out there and make the Mullins a nightmare for visitors again. I know I’ll be doing my part when I come home in January.