So yesterday I headed out to the Northeast Regional at the DCU Center in Worcester and thought I’d share just some general thoughts.
First up on the afternoon was top seed Boston College versus Atlantic Hockey champ Air Force. Once again the Falcons represented their conference and their school well but it wasn’t enough to pull off the huge upset needed. I thought defensively Air Force played very well and kept BC from getting into any kind of good groove with the puck. Jason Torf played smart in net and was able to keep his team in the game for the entire 60 minutes. However, offensively Air Force were unable to overcome to size and skill of Boston College’s defensemen. As we saw, even one of the best offensive teams for UMass in a decade had trouble getting on the scoreboard against the Eagles, so it was an uphill battle all game for the Falcons to try to find the back of the net. In the end they fell 2-0.
The second game was one of the more entertaining games I’ve seen all season. It had just about everything you could’ve asked for; a couple Hobey Baker candidates in Maine’s Spencer Abbott and Minnesota Duluth’s Jack Connolly, some crazy plays, a lot of hard hits, and the chance to see the defending national champions. Maine would come out and take the early 2-0 lead with Abbott showing no ill effects from the injury he suffered last weekend in Boston. But the Bulldogs would tie it up when a shot went over Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan, hit the glass, and bounced back onto Sullivan’s back and in. UMD would take the lead a minute later when Sullivan made an initial save on Brady Lamb but the puck remained sitting in the crease and the Bulldogs were able to knock it home. UMD would not look back and eventually won 5-2. This game was fun to watch because it was one of the more physical games I’ve seen in a long time and for the most part it was pretty clean too.
So while the two games themselves made the trip worthwhile, I can’t say the same for my first trip to the DCU Center. It was pretty much as bad as everyone warned me about. There was just no feel to the building itself. The concourse was narrow. The food not very impressive. And considering that the building was never more than a third to a half full at any given time, the lines to the bathrooms were always lengthy. Doesn’t exactly make me want to return anytime soon.
However, there are other reasons to go to Worcester, like the Armsby Abbey. This was one of the last top rated beer bars in the state that I hadn’t visited yet and I really liked it. The service was a bit slow (and they seem woefully unprepared for the crowd of hockey fans) but they have a great draught selection of brews from around the state to around the world. This place will be joining Peppercorn’s as a suggested pregame spot for a Holy Cross road trip when I update that page soon.
Elsewhere yesterday the Frozen Four got its first two entrants in the form of Ferris State and Union, two programs that have never made it that far before. Congrats to both teams and their fans. I love to see new teams get the chance to fight for a national championship and enjoy the spotlight. Plus, UMass fans should love to see mid-tier teams like this break through the traditional powers and make it to the Frozen Four. It shows that if the UMass hockey program can get the right pieces in place, they can too. And those pieces do not necessarily have to be blue chip players. UMass fans seem to fret over the fact that the Minutemen roster is not filled with a dozen NHL draft picks like BC or BU. Well, Union and Ferris State will be taking exactly zero NHL draft picks combined to Tampa. It’s about finding the right players for the program, not the ones the NHL value.
The season ended for three Hockey East teams yesterday. Maine fell in the game I described earlier. I’m sure a first round exit probably won’t stop the constant complaining from a segment of the Black Bear fanbase for a new coach. But personally I think Maine fans should be happy with what their team accomplished this year. They came into the season having to find a way to replace the offense of Gustav Nyquist and with a huge question mark in goal. They ended up playing in the Hockey East finals and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. That’s pretty damn good if you ask me.
BU’s season ended in ugly fashion with a 7-3 loss at the hands of Minnesota in a game that featured 18 total penalties. If you ask me, it’s probably a good thing for the Terriers’ season to be over so they can just move on from this year altogether. They have a lot of off-ice issues to deal with before they can worry about on-ice results.
Lowell’s miraculous season ended at the hands of Union, but River Hawk fans have nothing to feel down about. What Norm Bazin was able to do in Lowell this season, taking a five win team and bringing them to within a game of the Frozen Four, is nothing short of amazing. Bringing in a fresh way of doing things and converting to a more free flowing, attacking style really paid off. It’s a lesson learned that other teams in Hockey East don’t just have to rely on defense and slowing down the game to overcome the more talented squads. You can just take the leash off the players and let them fly and it can work.
Those are all my thoughts for now. Time to go watch a couple more regional finals. BC will have to beat Duluth in order for Hockey East to have some representation at the Frozen Four. Out west the Minnesota and North Dakota rivalry adds another chapter. Should be a couple great games!
Here’s an article about previous UMass recruiting target Doyle Somerby and some of the reasons he chose BU over UMass and a host of other schools.