Tagged: kneejerk reactions

By the Sword of Duquesne

Let be forever known that on the 20th of March in the year 2012, the noble Minutemen of the Valley of the Pioneers, from the whimsical land of Amherst, vanquished a horde of Dragons, and claimed its rightful place among the Council of the Up-and-Coming in the Enchanted Garden of Madison Square.

Now, lest you think this was an easy road, sit and let me recall the tale. The Minutemen’s quest had thus far taken them through the vast, barren wastelands of Mississippi and New Jersey. As they arrived at the Cave of Daskalakis, they were tired, but remained steadfast and determined. Road-weary, the Minutemen had nonetheless acquired followers along the way, growing louder and more numerous as they trekked ever-closer to their goal.

And oh, their fearless leader Derek Kellogg, also known as Derek the Hairgelled, and Kellogg the Improving, had a quest of his own to take care of on the way to the Enchanted Garden. You see, the king of these dragons, Flint the Bruiser, was Derek the Hairgelled’s old friend and mentor, who had taken Derek under his wing when they were both young and under the wing of Emperor Calipari. (Look, I don’t care if that part makes sense or not, or whether Bruiser’s a man or a dragon in this case. Don’t make me start throwing midichlorians into this.) Now, old mentor Bruiser stood in the way of sure semi-glory for Derek. Both leaders knew the other’s strengths and weaknesses. It would be a true battle of wits.

The Minutemen entered the cave with their supporters, facing extreme heat, a sea of yellow, and, umm, a giant inflatable dragon. They struggled early in their fight, as the dragons were far more formidable than the mere canines and Jack Sparrow impersonators they had faced thus far in their travails. But out of the Minutemen stepped leaders. Chaz the Unbreakable. Terrell the Much-Improved. Javorn the Unheralded. Even Freddie the Firehaired contributed his  underrated defensive prowess. And just as their ancestors before them, led by legendary Travis the Turncoat against the giant Orange Men (or at least legend has it), the Minutemen stemmed the tide. (It helped that Frantz the Choker missed numerous chances to land the striking blow.)

And so it was that Bruiser the Flint and the Dragons of the land of Drexel were slain in that Cave of Daskalakis. The Minutemen and their supporters rejoiced, and much mead was consumed in the celebratory din. (I mean, a shitload of mead, you guys.)

There is work to be done when the Minutemen arrive at the Mystical Garden. But whether it’s a pack of wolves or, err, a forest of trees that the Minutemen will face when they arrive, we know one thing is true about these noble warriors:

Nothing is over until they decide it is.

Now then. Tuesday is just seven turns away? I wait six turns.

- Max

10/14 Weekend Recap: Whiny Edition

Friday: Bentley 3 – Massachusetts 5

The return of Danny Hobbs clearly sparked the first line in Friday night’s game as Hobbs, Pereira, and Syner combined for four goals and 10 points. Hobbs’s first goal of the season came after the Minutemen had given up an early goal to Bentley’s Aaron Stonacek. It came courtesy of a slick feed from linemate Franchise Pereira. UMass went down 2-1 on a powerplay goal scored by Alex Grieve and trailed to end the first period. The Mass Attack then scored three consecutive goals, two by the Franchise and one by Branden Gracel, before giving up another powerplay tally. The score stood at 4-3 until Pereira scored on an empty net to complete his hat trick.

The offense played well and the Mass Attack really controlled the flow of play from the second period on. After outshooting the Falcons 12-10 in the first period, the Minutemen went on to outshoot them by a much wider margin, 35-14, in the final two periods. The first line looked like gods and no one skater looked particularly bad, although The Mike Marcou Show Starring Mike Marcou was on the ice for all three goals against. The penalty kill was somewhat suspect, but so was freshman goaltender Kevin Boyle, who allowed too many rebounds and didn’t recover quickly enough to challenge second shots.

Douglas F. Kublin Memorial Player of the Game

Derek: Danny Hobbs

Yes, yes, Pereira had a hat trick, but one of those three goals was an empty netter and the other two were set up by Hobbs, one fantastically so. Hobbs’s one goal of the night was a timely one, scored shortly after Bentley took an early 1-0 lead, and it was not a coincidence that the first line, as a whole, had a breakout game on the same night he returned to the lineup.

~

Saturday: Massachusetts 4 – Providence 6

If you were there, you would know that the real first star of Saturday night’s game was Don Cahoon. For the Providence Friars. Listen, I’m not gonna blame Kevin Boyle. He had an off night, and it happens to all goalies. But I most certainly will blame Toot for leaving Boyle in to give up five bad goals. The first two weren’t absolutely terrible, they were rebound goals, one on the powerplay, pretty standard Kevin Boyle M.O. goals. However, the final three goals were all softies, two of which were literally give-up shots that were lobbed at the goalie to get a line change. I cannot fathom why Toot would leave in a goalie, who by most accounts is currently the number two goalie on the team, who clearly didn’t have anything when the number one goalie is sitting on the bench just waiting to go. Teglia stopped all eight shots he faced once he was finally put in net late in the second period.

I cannot complain about the way any of the skaters played on Friday night. To a man, they played hard, they played smart, and they played with skill. They earned almost twice as many powerplays as they gave up (9-5). They scored twice on the powerplay and held the Friars off the board on four of their five PP chances. Other than the first half of the third period, where they had issues possessing the puck, they played just about as well as anyone could hope they would play. I can’t single out any skater for the Minutemen who played poorly, only some who played exceptionally well. Danny Hobbs scored twice, once on the powerplay. TJ Syner had three assists. Conor Sheary made good on my promise that he would score, delivering on the powerplay. Conor Allen looked good on the back end. The list goes on. It’s just a shame that these guys weren’t given a decent shot at winning.

Douglas F. Kublin Memorial Player of the Game

Derek: Danny Hobbs

For the second night in a row, Hobbs delivered. Two goals, one on the powerplay, four shots on goal, and he threw the body around like an absolute beast. He was the Mass Attack’s best scoring threat AND the Mass Attack’s best forechecker on Saturday night. Kid’s playing like his hair’s on fire right now.

~

Other Games/Top Performers

Friday

 

  • Boston University 3 – Providence 5
    • BU comes out flat against the Friars, who get goals from five first time goal scorers, including four freshmen, to pull off the huge upset.
      • Providence – Stefan Demopoulos: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating, 5 Shots
      • BU – Matt Nieto: 1 Goal, 3 Shots
  • New Hampshire 0 –Northeastern 4
    • The Wildcats are shutout again as Chris Rawlings rebounds from a tough start against Maine. Matt DiGirolamo’s slump continues.
      • Northeastern – Chris Rawlings: Shutout, 27 Saves
      • Northeastern – Luke Eibler: 2 Assists, +2 Rating
  • Denver 4 – Boston College 2
    • The top team in the nation falls as Denver takes advantage of less than stellar goaltending
      • Denver – Jason Zucker: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +1 Rating, 5 Shots
      • BC – Kevin Hayes: 1 Goal, 1 Assist (PP), 3 Shot
  • Maine 1 – North Dakota 3
    • Maine outshoots ND but Brad Eidsness stands tall in net for the Fighting Sioux.
      • ND – Brad Eidsness: 30 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed
      • ND – Ben Blood: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating
  • UMass Lowell 4 – Minnesota State 2
    • Lowell controls the flow of play and blasts 37 shots on net to become the only Hockey East team to win a non-conference game on Friday
      • UML – Riley Wetmore: 2 Goals, +1 Rating, 3 Shots
      • UML – Terrence Wallin: 1 Goal, 2 Assists, +3 Rating\
  • Exhibition USA Under-18 2 – Vermont 1
    • Lol, rly?
      • Vermont – No one.

Saturday

  • Boston College 5 – New Hampshire 1
    • UNH’s scoring offense and goaltending both continue to stink as BC rolls over the once vaunted Wildcats.
      • BC – Parker Milner: 39 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed
      • BC – Paul Carey: 1 Goal, 1 Assist, +2 Rating, 6 Shots
  • Army 2 – Merrimack 3
    • Merrimack’s offense almost doubles up Army’s shots on goal, but Cannata gives up two and the Warriors barely eek out a win at home.
      • Merrimack – John Heffernan: 1 Goal, 1 Assist +2 Rating, 3 Shots
      • Army – Rob Tadazak: 37 Saves, 3 Goals Allowed
  • Denver 3 – Boston University 4
    • Denver’s third period surge is not quite enough to complete the east coast sweep.
      • BU – Matt Nieto: 1 Goal (SH), +1 Rating
      • BU – Kieran Millan: 35 Saves, 3 Goals allowed
  • Maine 3 – North Dakota 3
    • Maine goes up 2-0 early but needs to score last to earn the 3-3 tie.
      • ND – Danny Kristo: 2 Goals (2 PP), 1 Assist, 5 Shots
      • Maine – Spencer Abbot: 3 Assists (2 PP), +1 Rating, 4 Shots
  • UMass Lowell 4 – Minnesota State 1
    • The River Hawks control the game from late in the first period on to sweep the weekend series with Minnesota State.
      • UML – Derek Arnold: 2 Goals (1 PP), 1 Assist (PP), +1 Rating, 5 Shots
      • UML – Doug Carr: 24 Saves, 1 Goal Allowed

~

Hockey East Awards

Hockey East has yet to post their weekly awards. I’m not sure if they’re waiting for the UConn-UML game to be played on Tuesday night to release them or if they’re just being slow. One way or another, there will be a supplement to this post once the weekly awards are up.

~

Hockey East Standings

Rank Team HE Games Played (Record) Points
1 Providence 2 (2-0-0) 4
2 Northeastern 3 (1-1-1) 3
3 Boston College 1 (1-0-0) 2
Merrimack 1 (1-0-0) 2
Boston University 2 (1-1-0) 2
Maine 2 (1-1-0) 2
7 Massachusetts 2 (0-1-1) 1
8 UMass Lowell 0 0
Vermont 0 0
New Hampshire 3 (0-3-0) 0

~

Hockey East Teams in the USCHO.com Poll

Ranked: #2 Boston College, #7 Boston University, #13 Merrimack, #18 Maine

Receiving Votes: Providence (69), UMass Lowell (12), Northeastern (3)

-Derek

Weekend in Review: February Thaw Edition

The Mass Attack found ways to lose games this weekend. In the Friday game, the Merrimack Warriors proved that it is sometimes better to be lucky than good. After taking a 1-0 lead into the 3rd period, the Minutemen found themselves down 2-1 with less than 6 minutes to go in the game. Enter Adam Phillips (8G/5A/13Pts), who scored back-to-back goals (the first 5-on-5, the second on a 4-on-3 power play) to give the Mass Attack the lead. Credit Mike Pereira (10G/13A/23Pts) with a fantastic screen on the first of these goals, as the shot was one that would’ve been easily savable, if not for the screen. Unfortunately, with less than 1:30 to go in the game, Colin Shea (1G/4A/5Pts) lost his stick and then inadvertently slapped the puck into his own net with his hand. Shea was, unsurprisingly, a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game. Shortly into OT, Paul Dainton (6-13-4, 2.95GAA, .910save%) gave up a juicy rebound that was netted by Carter Madsen (7G/6A/13Pts). And that was that.

Game two was all about Dainton and offensive ineptitude. Shots: 41-16 Merrimack. Score: 2-1 Merrimack. It was pretty much what you’re thinking right now. Dainton had an up and down night on Friday. He made some spectacular saves, but he let in two goals he probably shouldn’t have (including the game winner). On Saturday, Dainton made some spectacular saves. Then, he made some more. Then, he made some more. Dainton was great on Saturday. Unfortunately, Merrimack did what Merrimack does when it gets a lead at home. It clogged the neutral zone. Considering the ice at Lawler is about five feet wide, it isn’t hard to do. The one UMass goal came courtesy of TJ Syner (8G/15A/23Pts) in the 3rd, with the ice opened up because UMass was on a 4-on-3 power play. Saturday’s game did have some terrible officiating, too. Danny Hobbs (8G/14A/22Pts) got absolutely mugged in the corner by an elbow and came off the ice very slowly, but no call. Fortunately, Hobbs returned later in the game. Bunyan and Keenan also missed an incredibly blatant delay of game call with less than 20 seconds to go in the game.

Some notes:

  • The power play went a respectable 2-for-9 (22.2%), but both of those goals were on the 4-on-3. Still, I thought the 5-on-4 power play featured much better player movement and a better net-front presence. The power play did have a difficult time getting into the zone against Merrimack’s stifling forecheck.
  • The penalty kill, on the other hand, was pretty bad. It only killed 5 out of 8 penalties on the weekend (62.5%) and the power play goals came at the worst times. On Friday, power play goals flipped the game from a 1-0 lead to a 2-1 deficit and on Saturday, the game winner was a power play goal. One of the two power play goals on Friday was Dainton’s fault, but even if he didn’t let that in, a 6-for-8 on the PK isn’t very good.
  • Conor Sheary (6G/7A/13Pts) scored again and later added an assist on Friday. It’s nice to see a kid who has excelled at some of the grittier aspects of the game (even given his somewhat diminutive stature) find his scoring touch at this level. It’s also nice to hear “That goal scored by Conor Sheary from Melrose, Massachusetts” (my hometown) come out of John Hennessy’s mouth.
  • Mike Pereira has not scored in a long time. He hasn’t had a goal since the January 29th 2-2 tie with Northeastern. That’s 6 games without a goal for the Mass Attack’s leading goal scorer. Pereira has had 3 assists in that timeframe, but as a guy who accounts for nearly 15% of UMass’s goals in Hockey East play, he needs to be putting more pucks in the net.
  • UMass Lowell was swept by Maine this weekend meaning they have [finally] been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Hopefully we’ll see some brotherly love from this sister school. They play Providence twice next weekend and Vermont twice after that. We could use some UML wins (or ties); maybe the statistical elimination will create some spoiler-drive in the River Hawks.
  • Mike Marcou (3G/6A/9Pts/-14) still sucks. Real bad.
  • Lawler Arena also sucks.
  • And most importantly: Paul Dainton will almost definitely (barring injury) break Brian Regan’s UMass career saves record (3,050) in his next start. After this weekend’s 70 save performance, Dainton needs just 20 saves to get to 3,051 for his career and pass Regan’s record mark.

-Derek

Kublin Kounter

Last Week: 0Pts/Even/1SOG/4PIM

Season Totals: 3G/4A/7Pts/+4/22SOG/32PIM

Let’s just hold all of our practices in plane terminals from now on.

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!

- Max

Black Eye

Kneejerk Reactions: Maine 68, UMass 56

Grade: F

Tonight I’m breaking out a new format for our Kneejerk Reactions column. I wish it was under better circumstances. I’m also breaking what has become a bit of an unwritten rule here, beginning writing about the outcome of a game before it ends, but if UMass isn’t going to play a full game, why should I have to sit through the whole thing first?

Tonight’s game against Maine was an atrocity. A mind-numbingly bad display of putridity. A positively Lowellian effort if there ever was one. The Minutemen lost to fucking Maine. Maine. No successful basketball season should ever include a home loss to Maine. The BC game was an expected first speed bump, but this was possibly the easiest game on the entire schedule, and damned if our boys didn’t manage to completely blow all of the good will a 7-0 start brings.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, went right tonight. Even our positives were negatives. Gurley? Sure, he had his flashes of his this-season brilliance, but he went cold in the second half. Vinson? A few nice moves early on, and another Casper act down the stretch. Traynham? I’m still highly anticipating my first chance to see him play in person, but for every brilliant defensive effort and Rondoesque play creation, he’ll turn around and toss a ball away in the open court. (And I’m starting to think he just miiiight be flopping, falling down on basically defensive possession. Just a bit.) But hey, at least they had upsides in this game. Bailey? Carter? Please. Riley was a trainwreck tonight. Farrell had another oddly quiet night. Correia, well, he is who we think he is.

The fundamental problems with this team are as such: they do NOT score in half-court situations. The offense relies so heavily on fast-breaks and turnovers, on beating teams in transition. That game was severely lacking last year, and has been vastly improved. But when everyone goes ice cold and starts choking on easy plays like the Minutemen have, first in the BC game and now tonight, they have no way of jump-starting themselves when the opponent stops making dumb mistakes and/or finds an offensive rhythm, as the Black Bears did tonight in spite of an atrocious shooting start.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to death with the strides DK’s team has made defensively. When the energy is there (and that has been more often than not), the D is tenacious. It’s offense that’s killing this team. If Gurley and Riley both have even below-average nights, there is no third option. Farrell and Sampson can occasionally break out with solid performances, but for the most part, this is a two-pronged offensive attack. They need a) to be a hell of a lot more balanced, b) someone like Farrell to become more consistent as a third option, or c) Jesse Morgan to come for the second half and live up to all the hype almost instantly. Gulp.

Okay, so let’s think positively: this team can’t possibly play a third straight game with sequences like the second-half debacle where Carter missed a layup, Gurley missed a wild putback attempt up-and-under, and then Carter missed a 2-foot bunny all consecutively. Right?

If they do, it might be time to rethink the expectations for this team. I really thought they were progressing. Please tell me they’re progressing. PROGRESS DAMNIT!

On to the next one. Sigh.

Fight Mass MVP of the Game: Gary Forbes

Yeah, our first winner of this award doesn’t get to be from the current UMass team. But damn, he continues to look like he at least belongs in the NBA. Big ups to Gary for getting the start tonight in Denver’s completely futile attempt to beat the runaway Celtics.

Stray Observations:

- Yeah, this new format is gonna sort of rip off the A.V. Club’s TV Club segments. Originality is for suckers.

- Crowd didn’t look too bad for a Wednesday night with finals approaching, especially considering how much air the BC loss took out of the bandwagon’s tires. Student section has a full row and a half (better than last year, I suppose!) of diehards. Most of them stayed through the end, too. Too bad they had to see that shitshow. Hope they give this team another shot with the Seton Hall game coming up. Saturday night crowds tend to be alright.

- (Of course, I wonder how many of those kids thought they were showing up for a hockey game. That’s this weekend and it’s in Maine, by the way. More on that later in the week.)

- I’ll be glad to never have to hear Josh Maurer say “Malachi Pee-Ay” ever again.

- I Facebook statused this tonight: “von wafer literally turns the ball over or shoots an airball every single time he touches the ball. SURELY tony gaffney couldn’t have been worse than this.”

- Farewell to The Ice is Life. Crazy to think about just how smug they were one year ago, and now that program appears to be in shambles. Still, much as I hate to admit it, I looked forward to their every post, and now they’re gone. I would have loved to see their post after that last game with the ugly sister.

-Max

Growing pains

Well, you can put the champagne away now.

Nobody thought UMass basketball was going to run the table this year, not the craziest fan with the marooniest glasses. Indeed, the Minutemen have failed their first true test of the season, albeit barely, falling to Boston College 76-71 at the Gahhhden. No Terrell Vinson heroics this time. Hell, no Tony Gaffney tip-in at the buzzer to force overtime. Just a sloppy, sloppy game on both sides, where the Minutemen failed to find the offensive rhythm they rely so heavily upon.

Now, this is no time for our boys to hang their heads in shame. Despite the huge opportunity lost tonight to really rile up the student support, UMass hung in there with a power-conference team, one with a certifiable superstar (Reggie Jackson), an experienced lineup, a head coach on the rise (Donahue, whom you may recall from last year’s home loss to Cornell). On another night, those missed bunnies fall in, and/or BC doesn’t cash in on seemingly every single free throw, and you’re looking at a steal of a win. But truth be told, the experienced Eagles were able to overcome the disjointedness of the game, and UMass wasn’t, and that made all the difference.

There’s a lot of good to take from this game. UMass didn’t let the game get out of hand down 13 early in the second half, cutting the lead to 2 on numerous occasions. Terrell Vinson actually showed up. Sean Carter was the energy player this team really needs him to be. Anthony Gurley continues to be an absolute beast. Most importantly, Daryl Traynham, back from his foot injury, was the sparkplug in the second half, doing just about everything to try and will this team to a win. I wasn’t able to watch the game, but from the sounds of it, good things happened every time DT was on the floor. To consider that this lil’ guy’s merely a freshman makes me very excited.

Now for the bad. Hashim “Moderate-Sized Village” Bailey continues to struggle with, well, just about all aspects of the game, committing silly fouls and failing to make full use of his still-quite-large frame, which you’d think would be an asset on an undersized team like this one. Javorn Farrell battled foul trouble all night and seemed largely neutralized by the constantly-shifting BC defense. Freddie Riley’s shot continues to be way too streaky. Had that three-pointer for the lead fallen, maybe he gets it going and this game ends differently…but when he’s frustratingly cold like tonight, it limits this team’s offensive options severely. Gary Correia’s struggles continued, and there’s not a lot of point guard depth right now with the injury still seemingly limiting how long they can keep DT out there.

The Eagles, hate to say it, look a heck of a lot better than most of us figured they’d be, in the first year under a new head coach and such. Donahue, unlike Kellogg, has experience on his side, as well as veteran talent already in place. They’re a better team than UMass right now. The fact that they did what they did without Raji tonight, in what turned out to be a fairly hostile environment (despite their proximity to home; after all, Boston College is conveniently located somewhat near the city it claims to be in) is particularly impressive.

Here’s the good news: the way this season is going, BC might be the best team UMass plays all season, except for maybe UCF (Seton Hall is missing its go-to guy, or I’d throw them in there as well). The A-10 has been inconsistent in non-conference play and seems ripe for the taking. Temple looks particularly disappointing, Xavier and Dayton are solid but beatable, Charlotte’s a mess and Richmond just lost to Old Dominion. Particularly as Traynham continues to take control of this team (as I think he will), TV gets his act together (as I hope he will), and Kellogg’s in-game coaching continues to improve, I can’t imagine that UMass will have as many easy shots missed as they did tonight, against a very good defense to boot. They’re sure to get better looks against the Maines and Central Connecticuts of the world, not to mention a good portion of that conference schedule.

So here’s the key: bounce back on this mini-homestand. Maine shouldn’t be overlooked because the team’s gonna want to bounce right back. Seton Hall is a Big East team on a Saturday night, so you’d expect a big crowd (although not as big, sadly, as it would’ve been if they won tonight), playing without its best player…gotta think they can pull that off. UCF is surprising a lot of people this year, and will probably be their next big test, but I don’t think they’re as good as BC this year. BU was expected to be better this year, but they haven’t looked too impressive in the early going. Sweeping is not out of the question, but even a 3-1 stretch leaves the Minutemen at 10-2, with what should be a win at Central Connecticut standing between them and the start of conference play.

Counting our chickens before they hatch? Probably. They could go 0-4, and then it’s back to the old drawing board. Still, you gotta admit, even when they lose, as they did tonight, this team can’t help but compete night-in and night-out. They’re making strides from last year in just about every aspect of the game. They never seem out of it like they did at times last campaign. I’d be shocked if they didn’t start to click real soon and start playing to their full potential.

Stay winning. Or rather, get back to winning, and then stay there. Tonight’s just a little bump in the road.

-Max

Hawk Hunting

There are three sure things in life: death, taxes, and the pure unadulterated joy that Fight Mass experiences when bad things happen to the Lowell River Hawks hockey program.

So you can only imagine our elation in the fact that, 12 games into the conference slate, the ugly sister is now a hideous 2-10, three points behind the Mass Attack despite playing four more games, and, most importantly of all, appeared thoroughly mismatched for a majority of today’s 5-2 Minutemen win that easily could have been more of a blowout.

Lowell showed next to no heart in the first and third periods, inept in just about all aspects of the game of hockey, bailed out by a few near-misses and a couple nice saves by their freshman goalie Doug Carr, a former recruiting target of the UMass program. UMass completely dominated the opening frame, highlighted by T.J. Syner’s brilliant lightning-strike goal that the cameraman could barely keep up with. They finished the period up 2-0 and, frankly, should have tallied at least one more time given their momentum.

After a 26-minute, penalty-free first, the refs decided to call one type of penalty (tripping) rather than zero, as UMass found themselves with three straight trips to the box. Lowell promptly sleepwalked through two 40-second 5-on-3 advantages, but Ryan Blair’s shot from the point unfortunately found its way through past Dainton, a seemingly-crushing blow for a UMass squad just seven seconds away from that post-huge-penalty-kill momentum boost. For a while, it looked like Lowell finally had something going, competing on UMass’s level for the remainder of the period, and tying things up at the end of the period on Wetmore’s cheapie goal that handcuffed Dainton.

Shades of last year’s 2-0 collapse a year ago in Tsongas, right? Nonetheless, you had to sense that, all things equal, UMass would turn things back around in the third, given how the first period played out and given the lack of talent and composure Lowell has shown all season long. That’s exactly what happened, as Doug Kublin, who is incidentally The Official Favorite Player of Fight Mass (TM), accounted for a goal and an assist in a 3-goal third period where Lowell could get absolutely nothing going. 5-2, final. Pure joy.

So don’t look now, but the Mass Attack is now unbeaten in its last four games. Is this finally the year where they start poorly and THEN play well, instead of vice-versa? Probably not. But the fact that they’re holding up against the likes of UNH and BU, and winning games against dregs like Quinnipiac, Lowell, and Vermont, is a wonderful sign of progress on Toot’s team’s part. Next on the schedule is a date with the Black Bears, who surely want revenge from last year’s regular-season finale. Thanks for practice, River Rats…time to see where these youngin’s really stand now.

To recap: today, the Red Sox have gotten Adrian Gonzalez, the Mass Attack have made big strides in their battle to keep out of the Hockey East cellar Lowell so fittingly occupies this year…all that’s left is tonight’s rumble in the Garden (and maybe a certain announcement from the MAC, hint hint…) and tonight has a good chance at being redemption for the shortcomings of my birthday weekend of a year ago. And really, that’s the most important thing here.

-Max