No.2 Boston College Eagles (22-7-1(16-6-1HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-18-5(5-13-5HEA))
Preface: Sooooo we probably won’t win tonight, but Paul Dainton is just 20 saves from breaking Brian Regan’s career saves mark. So, that’s something to look forward to.
What can we say about Boston College this year that everybody doesn’t already know? They have the best scoring offense in Hockey East (3.78GPG), the 3rd best scoring defense in Hockey East (2.22GA/G), and the best scoring differential in Hockey East (+1.57). The Eagles are a team that possess both Cam Atkinson (24G/16A/40Pts) and Brian Gibbons (13G/26A/39Pts). John Muse’s Hockey East numbers (14-4-1, 1.86GAA, .936save%) are rather absurd. They have the top power play in Hockey East action (23.9%); their Hockey East PK (87.3%) is a mere 0.3% behind BU for league lead. The BC roster boasts seven 20-point scorers and 11 NHL draftees.
The game plan against the Eagles should be the same as it has been the past few weeks. Discipline and special teams. Discipline is obvious. BC has the top power play in Hockey East. The UMass penalty kill unit looked atrocious last week. The Minutemen cannot afford to take penalties. Along the same lines, the defense needs to stay disciplined and cover their assignments well against a team as skilled as BC. The power play looked better last week and actually scored a couple goals. Let’s hope it continues to progress this weekend. The Eagles are averaging 7.7 penalties a game in Hockey East play, so the PP unit should have plenty of chances to hone their skills against a really talented penalty kill.
Northeastern showed us the book on how to tie or beat BC last weekend. Either your goalie has to have a fantastic night… or BC has to start Parker Milner (3-2-0, 2.66GAA, .901save%). Our hopes for Milner are rather low, as he started last Friday and gave up 4 goals on 9 shots and got yanked halfway through the game. Barring a surprise Milner visit, the Minutemen will need a godly performance out of Dainton, along with disciplined play and strong special teams work, to have a shot at winning. Oh, and score that first goal. When scoring first, the Minutemen are 5-5-2; when not, they are 1-13-3. The story is much the same (although with better numbers) for the Eagles. When scoring first, they are 18-2-1; when they don’t score first, they are 4-5-0.
Notes for fans: Wear a polo with a popped collar. The irony is great. Three Boston College players, Milner, Philip Samuelsson (4G/11A/15Pts), and Patrick Wey (1G/6A/7Pts), were involved in an incident over the summer in which they were in a car that collided with an MBTA train. Low quality vodka and blood smeared low quality beer cans were found in the vehicle the BC players were in. Chants like “Greeeeeeeeeeeeen line,” “Watch that train,” “Blood smeared beer cans (clap clap clap clap clap),” should be used liberally whenever aforementioned players are on the ice. Also, as suggested by friend of the blog Tyler De Ruiter, the “wheels on the bus” chant shall be replaced by a “wheels on the train” chant. Feel free to come up with your own chants. As long as they have some smatterings of wit, they will be appreciated.
Well, your UMass Minutemen lost their preseason game to UNB for the second time in as many years (this time 4-3 in OT). While we could pout about losing to a CIS team, in truth there were quite a few positives to take out of this game and at least one of the major downsides of this game should not affect the team too much this season.
Danny Hobbs (backhand) from Troy Power and Eric Filiou
Michael Pereira (powerplay scrum goal) from Troy Power and Adam Phillips
Danny Hobbs (powerplay slapshot) from Michael Marcou
First, the positives:
~Your humble blogger actually bothered to take a notebook to this game and form coherent thoughts about it. Savor these game notes, because he will probably not be sober or emotionally detached enough to form rational thoughts during the game again.
~Danny Hobbs played well, his goal in the first period was one of the prettiest you will ever see. Hobbs had the puck at center ice a flipped a clever back pass to Power, who was charging up the side boards. Power threaded a beautiful return pass to Hobbs in the slot, who then delayed until the UNB goalie committed and moved the puck to his backhand for the goal. Hobbs also scored the third Minuteman goal on the powerplay in the 3rd Period. Marcou slid the puck across the blue line, and Hobbs took a hard low slapper from the right point. The puck had the slightest of deflections off of a UNB defenseman in front of the net and found the bottom left corner of the net. It would be nice to see Hobbs continuing this trend in the regular season, especially considering that he was a highly regarded recruit who has not really panned out (4G/7A/13Pts/-6 in 57 Games).
~Paul Dainton. He looked strong; he gave up only one of UNB’s four goals in two periods of work, and the sunlight coming through the practice rink’s windows could have had something to do with that one. He made a fantastic glove save in the first period, extending the glove just above his pad to snag a hard shot out of the air that appeared to be netward bound. In classic Dainton fashion, he played the puck a lot and kept us on the edge of our seats, but it didn’t cost him, and he played a very strong game overall.
~Brian Keane’s skating. It was simply exquisite (if you ignore the fact that he fell down away from the play while not moving with no one around him at one point). Keane’s skating created opportunities for himself and others and he was involved in the two best scoring chances the Mass Attack had in which they did not score a goal (One where his shot produced a very juicy rebound for Mike Pereira, and another where he screened the goalie on a Joel Hanley slapshot from the point). Keane’s fancy skating in the neutral zone allowed the team to do one of my favorite things which is:
~Rushing the puck instead of dumping it in. I know that we’re a speed team and, as such, Toot has thought it wise to dump the puck instead of carrying it into the zone a lot. Despite this logic, the dump and chase hasn’t seemed to work too well over the last couple years whereas creating plays off the rush has worked well when we have done it. I was pleased to see Toot allowing the guys to carry the puck in more and dump it in less today.
~The aggressive 2 man forecheck. I LOVE THE AGGRESSIVE FORECHECK. UMass forwards created havoc in the UNB zone when they used it, and it was very effective, especially in the first and third periods. I feel like they took their collective foot off the throat in the second and used the 2 man forecheck less, but when they used it, it was super effective.
~The Langeraap-Czepiel-Sheary Line. Okay, what can I say about a 5’9” center from Holyoke who had one goal last year? You take him and pair him with a freshman winger who is also just 5’9”. And then you match them both with a 6’2” 202lb. senior winger who has been injury prone, but still looks like he could kill you with just a look. Well, you’d probably say you’ve got a finessey fourth line with one big guy to protect it. You’d be wrong. This line played scrappy, hard-nosed hockey all day long. Czepiel and Sheary were constantly creating havoc for UNB and coming up with great takeaways in New Brunswick’s zone. Sheary also had a nice deflection on a Colin Shea shot that was saved, unfortunately. Langeraap looks like he’s in good form, as well, and he didn’t mind showing a little physicality in the game. In fact, this line started the game (much to my annoyance, at the time). My apologies to these guys, they played their hearts out in an exhibition game and I’ve gotta say my hat’s off to them and I hope they play this way in the regular season, because if they do they will be a fantastic energy line.
~The powerplay while inside the offensive zone. I really liked the down low cycling and looking for the man in front of the net. This was combined with a few point shots to keep the PK honest. Although the powerplay goals that our boys did score was a point slapper and a scrum in front of the net, I feel like most of our powerplay production this year will come from that down low cycling game, if it remains strong.
Now, a few concerns:
~The breakout on the powerplay. While the breakout stalled a little in the second period, the Minutemen were mostly able to gain entry all night. Except when on the powerplay. I don’t know why, but whenever we went up a man we seemed to have issues gaining the blue line. Compounding this were some shots on the rush when we did gain the line that were rushed and from bad angles. The set plays once in the zone seemed to be working really well, so why take a bad angle wrister when you could probably set up something better?
~The penalty kill. The PK let UNB have A LOT of time in the offensive zone with the man advantage. Let Maine have that much time, and I guarantee they score.
~Line changes. They were lazy and sloppy. I’m willing to chalk it up to being the first game and only preseason, but they need to be much more crisp when the regular season rolls around.
~Defensive positioning. Especially in the third period and the overtime, our D-men looked to pressure the puck on the strong side and frequently overextended themselves. (Noteworthy exception: Doug Kublin. He looked as solid defensively as ever and denied a couple opportunities with good positioning and stickwork. Fundamentals, kids. Fundamentals.) This allowed UNB to get many wide open shots that our freshman netminder couldn’t stop.
~Jeff Teglia. God, I’m sorry, he was awful. It was tough to watch. The kid definitely has potential though. One can clearly see he’s very athletic and made a couple acrobatic saves. Unfortunately, he seems to have some issues seeing through screens and controlling rebounds. He also is way too slow to close the five-hole when he goes into the butterfly. The lateral quickness was his biggest issue, though, as he couldn’t get post-to-post quick enough to stop a couple goals from shooters left wide open (see rant on defensive positioning above). Three goals in one period and an overtime is unacceptable. I’m very confident he will improve (and, who knows, maybe today was just first game jitters), but the question is, will he improve enough to be the No. 2 goalie for this season or will it be Kevin Moore, who didn’t play today, who gets the nod?
~The ice. It was so bad. They had to stop the game and sweep it. I know it was warm out and I know the practice rink is always worse than the ice at The Bill, but seeing it today brought back memories of the second UVM game last year. I do not want to relive that.
Things I’m torn about:
~Mike Marcou. He did all the little things well, like positioning himself and sticking the rebounds to the end boards. His game in the defensive zone was Kublin-esque. And he rushed the puck really well. All day long. The only concern I have is that he may be too aggressive on the rush, taking the puck too deep and exposing the team to a counterattack. He didn’t get burned today, but he could in the future. Nevertheless, I suppose we shouldn’t try to change that aggressive tendency of his game so I hope it works out and he torches the opposition more times than we get burned.
I mean, come on guys, we lost to UNB. But I guess I’m about as happy as I could be with that loss. And, to be honest, I’ve come out of that game with much more hope for this season than when I went into it. One way or another, it’s going to be an exciting season and I just can’t wait for it to start for real.
~Edit: Eddie Olczyk left the game early and was seen on crutches following the game, but sources indicated the injury was very minor, and he should be fine by next week.
~Edit Pt. 2: Darren Rowe logged all his minutes playing on the wing, which was something we had heard inklings of at the end of last season. It makes sense given his shiftiness and playmaking abilities when juxtaposed with his somewhat small size and lack of checking power.
No. 17 Vermont Catamounts (11-7-2 (5-6-2 HEA)) vs. YOUR No. 15 UMass Minutemen (14-8-0 (9-6-0 HEA))
The Mass Attack have two games this weekend (Sat. 7PM, Sun. 3PM) against a tough Hockey East foe. Vermont has won games this year against Denver and Minnesota Duluth and have taken two out of three from Boston College. The Catamounts’ strength lies in their defense. Their 28.4 shots on goal against per game average in Hockey East play is second lowest only to BC and of the nineteen skaters who have played in ten or more games, ten have positive plus/minus ratings (Brayden Irwin is tied for best plus/minus rating in Hockey East at +13).
While Vermont excels at team defense, where they fail is pretty much everywhere else. Their offense ranks sixth in Hockey East with 3.20 goals per game. This is a team lacking any bona fide scorers. It boasts only three skaters with double-digit points in Hockey East play (Brayden Irwin 6-6-12, Justin Milo 6-6-12, Colin Vock 3-7-10). Compare this to a UMass team with five players whose point totals meet or exceed 12 in Hockey East action (James Marcou 5-18-23, Casey Wellman 10-7-17, Justin Braun 2-14-16, Will Ortiz 8-7-15, Matt Irwin 4-8-12). Not to mention that Marcou leads the nation in scoring and Wellman is tied for the lead in goals.
Take your pick between the two Vermont goaltenders, neither have a save percentage above .900 in Hockey East play. The starter, Rob Madore, has played poorly (.896 save%, 2.84 GAA in Hockey East play) while their second goalie, Mike Spillane, has been abysmal (.871 save%, 3.96 GAA in Hockey East). Madore’s relatively low GAA is attributed to his facing only 250 shots on goal in his 10 Hockey East games. Vermont’s special teams are lacking, as well. UVM has killed penalties at a rather unimpressive clip of 79.4% in Hockey East while their power play is scoring on ONLY 13.0% of its chances in conference. UMass meanwhile has killed 81.0% of its penalties and scored on a robust 25.4% of its power play chances in conference play.
Vermont comes into this weekend riding a pretty hot streak. They have been 4-1-0 in their last five games including a win against No. 4 Minnesota Duluth. BUT, the other three wins were against sub-.500 teams including lowly Dartmouth (4-13-0) and Alabama-Huntsville (5-13-2), and they lost a game to the Northeastern Huskies, who have struggled mightily with the lose of Brad Thiessen this season. UMass comes in riding a three game win-streak, including a sweep of last weekend’s game with rival Lowell. Special teams have been strong in this stretch with the power play netting five goals in nineteen opportunities (26.3%) and the penalty kill a perfect 16-for-16.
In the previous meeting of these two teams this year, the Minutemen came away with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Catamounts at Gutterson Fieldhouse behind the performances of Casey Wellman, who had a hat trick and four total points and James Marcou, who had five, count ‘em, five assists in the tilt. UMass also received multi-point efforts from Will Ortiz and Justin Braun while David Pecan and Brian Roloff chipped in goals for the Catamounts.
All the Mass Attack have to do against the Catamounts this weekend is play solid, fundamental hockey. We all know this is an offense that loves to pass and look for the perfect plays that will beat great goaltenders, but Vermont has a defense that can pick off passes and turn them into offense. Vermont’s goalies, meanwhile, are certainly not the greatest we (as fans, as well as the players) have seen this season. Throw a lot of rubber on whoever’s in net for Vermont. Make high percentage plays, use screens, and look to score ugly goals. On the other end, simply don’t make anything easy for UVM. No odd-man rushes and no dumb penalties. The Catamounts do not have the offensive skills to beat the UMass defense and Paul Dainton on even terms.
This is a series that UMass could come away from four points richer, and I would love to make that prediction. However, there is one thing that concerns me. The Sunday game is an afternoon game, with the puck set to drop at just past 3:00. This means both that two games will be played on the same ice within twenty hours and the outside temperature will likely be in the high-30s for this entire game and, let’s face it folks, the ice at the Bill has a tendency to get very sloppy anyway. The poor ice will better suit the Catamounts’ defensive game while taking something away from the skating game the Minutemen like to play.
Special Teams: UMass
Other Factors: Draw
Saturday: Vermont 1 – 3 UMass
Sunday: Vermont 1 – 1 UMass
(and I will gladly take three points out of this matchup if I can get ‘em)
Interesting games around Hockey East:
No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA)) vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell (12-9-2 (6-6-2 HEA))
Saturday, 7:00 PM, Tsongas Arena
Boston College comes into this game as the number two team in Hockey East and is currently riding a two-game winning streak. We all know UML struggled last weekend against UMass. However, BC’s last two victories came against a Scott Darling-less Maine and lowly Providence, and they lost their last three games prior. Meanwhile, Lowell is a team that scares me when its backed into a corner. I know first-hand since UML soundly beat UMass after coming off a three-game losing streak earlier this season then went on to win their next game. I doubt head coach Blaise MacDonald has taken it easy on his team this week given their complete lack of discipline in last weekend’s games against UMass. UML also has a tune-up against Merrimack on Friday that they should win easily, giving them some positive momentum. Boston College will also be coming off what will probably be an emotional game against BU on Friday night.
Prediction: Boston College 1 – 2 UMass Lowell
(Carter Hutton stands on his head and his teammates give him just enough help to down the Eagles)
Boston University (7-10-3 (5-8-2 HEA)) vs. No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA))
Friday, 7:00 PM, Agganis Arena
BU has played poorly this year, mainly due to the loss of several top players to the NHL, but they always play BC hard and Boston College will be looking to avenge their loss at Fenway Park. It should be an exciting game.
Prediction: Boston University 2 – 4 Boston College
Other Hockey East action:
Merrimack vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Providence
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Boston University
Providence vs. Merrimack
Merry Christmas, everyone! (Don’t complain to me about political correctness. It’s Christmas. I’m not even religious. It’s basically a secular holiday now anyway. Get over it.)
Alright, so the other night’s loss to the Superfrauds, where, according to everything I hear, it was as predicted a pro-UMass crowd, puts the boys back in their place a little bit. However, they did have an awful shooting performance, like, beyond-awful; embarassing. And the aforementioned STUD Terrell Vinson was in foul trouble (I think) and didn’t play most of the game. So there’s that.
I still think the boys can bounce back. They’re 1-1 on this three-game trip, though I figured the two outcomes would be reversed. Let’s see how they respond at Davidson and we’ll have an idea of where they’re at as A-10 play begins.
ANYWAY…with this little basketball interlude out of the way, it’s time to get back to the ice, my focus on the game having been renewed by the Bruins’ 6-4 win against Atlanta that I had the pleasure of witnessing a few hours ago. The UConn tournament is fast approaching, but before it does, it’s time for some 20-20 hindsight analysis of the road they’ve traveled thus far.
10/3 vs. New Brunswick (exhibition)
(No, seriously, we all thought the team was doomed after that painful experience of a preseason hockey game. Definitely woke them up a bit methinks. Maybe a blessing in disguise. Still embarassing.)
10/8 vs. RPI
A 5-2 win for our boys which felt a lot more excruciating, mostly because of what happened five days prior. Irwin’s two goals seem like a distant memory now, but Jimmy’s four assists were just the opening act of a masterful first-half performance. The slow start to this game was worrisome, as was getting outshot by the Engineers; conversely, the team showed it could grind out ugly wins.
10/16 vs. BU
Kinda funny how beating the #2 team in the country and the defending national champs is now our least impressive win, but the truth is, the 3-2 score didn’t even really reflect how badly we outplayed the Terriers. I called this one for WMUA and I remember how many close calls there were, and it’s fortunate, because Chiasson damn near won this game by himself for BU in his first collegiate game. It’s funny how completely the tables have turned as these teams get set to meet on Comm Ave on Jan. 2nd, and hopefully, BU doesn’t return the favor.
10/23 vs. Maine
Two words: ug-ly. After Adam SHE-MANsky’s Oscar-worthy performance, sustaining what looked like a season- (and perhaps career-) ending injury on what was admittedly a cheap shot by Nolet, and settting off a slugfest. It’s funny that the guy was completely fine and played in the next game. Then again, what do you expect from Maine?
Anyway, in spite of Maine using “defending their ‘fallen’ teammate” as an excuse to take cheap shots at our guys the rest of the game, UMass prevailed 5-3, and we saw Mikey break out offensively, scoring his first collegiate goal on a beautiful feed from his brother. It didn’t look like much at the time, but now that we’re looking up at Maine in the standings (though, with games in hand, we could pass them), this becomes a standout win. I’m not sold on the Black Bears yet, though, not if their game is goon hockey.
Shemansky is lucky the remaining two games are up in the middle of nowhere, because he’s never going to stop hearing it from UMass fans after that one. (Then again, he’s no Dave Wilson.) But I still circle those two games as somehow being “revenge games” for Maine, as if that acting job was a noble cause to avenge.
10/30 at PC, 10/31 vs. PC
Mixed bag here. The 5-3 win at Schneider was a sign of what I think differentiates this team from the one we’ve seen the last few years – instead of falling apart when things went south, the boys rallied in the third period and took over the game down the stretch. I know, the Friars aren’t exactly world-beaters, but the Minutemen have had a reputation for playing to the competition and I think they shook that off with this game. Halloween sucked, but let’s be frank, nobody was going to beat Alex Beaudry that night. He’s the one goalie in Hockey East this year who can single-handedly steal a game like this. To be fair, UMass didn’t exactly come out gangbusters right away, but the extent to which they dominated the 3rd period (we outshot PC 21-0. That’s not a typo. TWENTY ONE TO ZERO) would have been enough to overcome a greater deficit than 2-0 on most nights. Not this one. Sucks when this kinda game happens in league play, but that’s life.
11/06 vs. Niagara, 11/08 at Niagara
A 4-1 home win and a 4-2 road win in one weekend, where again, the boys started slow and finished strong. Honestly, I prefer that to the “score early and pray that Dainton and the D can make it stand” strategy of the last couple years. Meyers finally got a start and looked (well, sounded) good in the road game. Niagara came in a snakebitten team and they certainly haven’t gotten much better since (they’re 51st out of 58 in the KRACH rankings), so these aren’t really resume-building games, but wins are wins.
11/13 and 11/14 vs. UNH
Figures that I got to call the second game for WMUA, right? Funny thing is, UMass got outplayed (perhaps as badly as they have all season) in the first game and still pulled out a win, then controlled play for most of the second game and managed to lose. Hate to bring out the old excuses, but as they’ve discussed to death over on the UMassHoops forums, the ice SUCKS at the Mullins Center when it’s warm, as it was for this weekend series. You could say that we got the appropriate outcome from the series, but we’re really lucky that Wellman knocked home that equalizer (and that Foster fell asleep on Boehm’s game-winner). That said, this looked like a bad weekend for UMass against a supposedly mediocre Wildcats team, but 1-1 against these guys doesn’t look so bad considering how they’ve done against the rest of Hockey East so far. I fully anticipate a tie when we go to Whittemore next month, because it just seems fitting after those first two games.
And I’m done with Bobby Butler. Done. He was a Blue Devil nemesis when he played for Marlboro High, and he’s absolutely TORCHED the Minutemen for four years. Please graduate, and whatever you do, do not somehow end up on the Montreal Canadiens someday.
11/19 at Yale
Just a huge non-conference road win. Once again the boys rallied in the third period, and I just don’t remember the last two years having ANY confidence in the team being able to make such a comeback. I was working security and in the middle of signing someone in up in Sylvan when Jimmy scored the goal, and I remember not really hearing what happened for a moment, but it was undoubtedly the greatest moment of the season that I wasn’t present for.
11/24 at Vermont
I was one of the few scattered souls at the basketball game vs. St. Francis (NY), and let me tell you, the collective groan when we heard “Vermont 1 UMass 0″ and “Vermont 2 UMass 1″, followed by the outburst when they announced “UMass 4 Vermont 2″ shortly afterward, were the loudest moments of the game. (Not saying much.) I think this game put to bed any notion that Jimmy’s season is a fluke. Vermont is one of those scary places we never seem to win at, and so this was sort of cathartic I think. Plus, Vermont is still #15 in the KRACH, and though I think the Catamounts are gonna have a rough 2nd half if they don’t figure out how to score, right now these two HEA points double as a very nice resume-building road win.
11/28 at Quinnipiac
Ugh. Terrible loss, and avoidable at that. Dan Meyers is an alright backup, but why start him on the road against the hottest team/offense in college hockey? There’s no doubt in my mind the Bobcats are overrated as all hell; they’ve definitely come back to Earth a little since this game and I see them doing more of that in the second half. But even if that’s true, they WERE ranked above us. You start your ace in that case. I know, at least two of those goals would have probably gone in against Paulie. But that’s not how hindsight works. Dainton in goal would almost definitely not have given up that horrendous rebound on the first goal, and the whole complexion of the game would’ve changed. Cahoon agreed after the game that this game was lost in the first period, and who was our goaltender for that period? Exactly.
That said, we still easily could have won this game, if not for a questionable interference call on Braun-co that led to the game-tying 6-on-4 goal. The defensive breakdowns on both that penalty kill and the Wong game-winner cannot be overlooked. The defense has been up-and-down this year, no question, and this was a low. Just painful all-around, especially if QU’s smoke-and-mirrors show falls apart in the second half. At least it wasn’t a league game.
12/4 vs. Boston College
For all the hype and for everything that went into this game – my visitors from home who came up to see the game (my cousin’s first ever UMass game, in fact), the huge crowd, etc; this was probably the most boring game of the year. I walked down to Parking Services that afternoon to pick up some tickets for my sister and her friends, and I remember thinking, “It’s 50 degrees out. I can feel the Mullins ice melting. We’re going to lose.”
Briefly, I thought I would be wrong when Jimmy wrapped around that goal in the opening minutes, but it quickly became apparent that nobody could fucking skate on this ice, and the speed and finesse game UMass relies so heavily upon just does not work on bad ice. Again, it’s been talked to death on UMassHoops, but for those who don’t read it, the Mullins Center has one compressor which it shares with the practice rink (which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, has an open-skate/shoot session during UMass hockey games). This is not true about any other rink in Hockey East. As a result, the ice is a huge slushy mess whenever it’s unseasonably warm in Amherst. I swear this is not a conspiracy theory.
Other excuses? What the hell was Watson doing on the top line with Jimmy and Casey? I really hope this decision was more “let’s give Syner just a bit more time recovering from that injury before we stick him on the first line again” but I fear it was Toot trying to overmanage this team. Whatever it was, it didn’t work, and I never want to see it again.
That being said, I really wasn’t all that impressed with BC. UMass was able to get myriad chances, and on another night, they might have gotten a little luckier. Those freshman defenders are pretty good, but again, the game slowed down for them quite a bit. Thankfully, this won’t be a problem for the next two meetings, and since BC has gone from middle-of-the-pack to national championship contenders in a matter of weeks, the two remaining meetings have become that much bigger. The NESN game in February will be massive. Mark my words.
12/5 at Lowell
Warning: Lowell rant forthcoming.
My 22nd birthday was the Monday following this game. Now, the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was Rivers Cuomo getting in a bus accident and getting my birthday Weezer/Motion City Soundtrack concert in Boston cancelled. But this was 2nd – yes, even worse than losing to BC.
Now, last year, it would’ve been different. I liked Lowell, I really did. They were a scrappy bunch of kids that gave BU all it could handle in the HEA championship game (I still rooted for the Terriers, of course, but that’s just personal bias). “UMass Jr.” was an affectionate little name for these guys. It was good to see someone else from the middle of the HEA pack succeed. It gave us hope.
This year, something happened to these guys. They fell in love with themselves. Mostly because, with so many big names in HEA graduating or fleeing to the NHL, everyone looked at the team who had the most coming back. (This involved overlooking UMass, due to their seven graduating seniors; completely ignoring the fact that a bunch of those guys were dead weight at this point, and that all the guys who carried UMass to being a goal away from knocking off Northeastern last year were coming back a year older and wiser.) Certainly, Lowell had a lot coming back as well, but people seemed to conveniently forget that these guys didn’t actually win anything last year. They rode a hot streak into the playoffs, and came one pretty horrible officiating decision short of stealing the Hockey East title.
But the expectations and swagger displayed by their rabid fanbase far overstretch what most people look at as “reasonable,” to the point where not being picked to win Hockey East, something they’ve never ever done, was seen as outrageous disrespect. Umm, okay. Whatever.
What grinds my gears more than anything, though, is this notion that Lowell is somehow a far superior hockey program to UMass. Yes, Lowell has had far more success in the season series. They’ve had our number, in good years and bad. For whatever reason, we don’t match up well with the Loch Monsters (or is it River Hawks? They both sound like AHL teams). But we’ve been to one HEA championship game. They’ve been to two. Neither of us have won it all yet. Meanwhile, we’ve been to the NCAA tournament once, and even pulled an upset in it. They…haven’t. Ever. EDIT: Just kidding, further research shows that they actually have made it on 3 occasions, with a grand total of 2 wins in those trips, making it further in the tournament than UMass exactly zero times. Yeah, yeah, they were a successful D2 program back in the day. Good for them. Doesn’t count.
Look, I’m not trying to say the Minutemen are in the BC-BU-UNH-Maine level of Hockey East prestige. We’re not. At all. But neither is Lowell, not even close. Of late, we’re both middle-of-the-pack teams, with an opportunity to break out of that rut this year. They’re on the same level as we are. Which, I guess, is all you can ask for when you’re Lowell, because that would be the ONLY thing Lowell Community College has that is on the same level as the University of Massachusetts. (That goes back to my hatred for the question “Which one?” but that’s a whole other rant which I’ll get to someday soon.)
Which is why this loss hurts so much more. We had them on the ropes, they lost 3 straight before this game, and proceeded to suffer maybe the worst loss in Hockey East this year (3-2 at home to Princeton, which had been winless on the road) the very next weekend. “Tailspin” doesn’t begin to describe it. We grabbed a 2-0 lead, everything was looking up, and then we blow a long 5-on-3, Ortiz takes a dumb penalty, and it was downhill from there. After we fell down 3-2, there was even hope when Syner found Mikey to tie it up early in the 3rd, but for the first time I think all season, we got badly outplayed in the 3rd period.
Whatever. Lowell desperately needed this win, and it showed. But the battle of the state schools in mid-January will probably be two of the biggest games of the year. A sweep for us would bury their season. A sweep for them would put them right back in it, and we’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll be there for both games so we damn well better win one. I’m still owed a birthday present.
12/12 vs. Merrimack
Ahh. Much better. 4-1 doesn’t even really tell the story; the boys came out guns a-blazin’ in the first two periods and put this one away early. The early-season hype for the Warriors looked pretty silly; these guys didn’t look like a D1 hockey team (save for Da Costa, who is the real deal). But hey, HEA points are HEA points and we’ll take ‘em. Good exclamation point for a dynamite first half for Ortiz, too.
…Phew. So that’s what’s happened so far. The wait ends in just three days. Last few years, we’re used to looking back at the first half as the “glory days” of the season. Not this time.