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Bemidji State Recap

After twenty minutes of play there looked to be little difference between the UMass team playing against Bemidji State and the one who lost their last three games to end the first half. The team didn’t play entirely poorly but just seemed to be going through the motions, not reaching the type of intensity needed to win a division I hockey game. They went into the first intermission down 2-0 and looking like they were heading for a loss and the consolation game today.

Whatever was said or done in the locker room made all the difference though and the team came out flying in the second. Offensively the team woke up, generating 18 shots in the 2nd period alone. The defense responded as well, allowing just five shots for the Beavers, all of which were stopped by Kevin Boyle who played solid in net. The result of the second period push was UMass scoring three times and gaining a 3-2 advantage.

The Minutemen would seal the game with a fourth goal in the third, though Bemidji made it interesting at the end when they cut the lead to one with an extra attacker in the final minutes. UMass got solid play from most during the game. It was the play of the defense though who never really allowed BSU back into the game once UMass got the lead. The fourth line of Zack LaRue, Eddie Olczyk, and Pat Kiley played with energy throughout. It was good to see Darren Rowe get back on the scoresheet after being without a goal since the early part of the season. The top line of Mike Pereira, Branden Gracel, and Conor Sheary started the scoring going early in the second. It’s essential for those three guys to produce during the second half of the season. Shane Walsh played particularly well, notching an assist.

The team will now play for the tournament championship tonight against the host Dartmouth College, who beat rival UNH 4-1 in a matchup of top ten teams. UMass goes for just their second in-season tournament championship ever, with the other being the Lightning College Classic in 2007.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game
Zack LaRue’s first collegiate goal ended up being the game winner. He played well throughout the game, despite being on the short end of a bad goaltender interference call, and ended up a +1 on the night.

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Ledyard Classic Preview

Massachusetts will ring in the new year in Hanover, New Hampshire where they will be taking part in the Ledyard Classic tournament featuring Bemidji State, New Hampshire, and host Dartmouth.  UMass and Bemidji will kick off the tournament on Sunday at 4pm while Dartmouth and UNH will renew their rivalry afterwards in the annual game that one USCHO poster dubbed the “Old Man In The Mountain Face-Off”.  UMass will then meet either UNH or Dartmouth the following day on New Year’s Eve.

Bemidji State Beavers 5-8-3 (4-7-3) T-8th WCHA

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 5-9-2 (4-6-1) T-6th Hockey East

On paper this looks like a pretty even matchup.  Both teams have similar records overall and in their respective conferences.  Massachusetts is 33rd in the country in scoring with 2.69 goals per game while BSU is 38th with 2.44.  The Beavers are a little better defensively giving up 2.81 goals compared to UMass’ 3.12.  Special teams are pretty even as well.  There is very little difference between BSU’s power play conversion of 20.4% and UMass’ 20.0%, both in the top 15 in the country.  The Beavers are only very slightly better on the penalty kill, 80.9% vs 79.7% for UMass.  We’ll see if this equality carries over to the ice this weekend and the fans in attendance are treated to an exciting, competitive matchup.

Bemidji struggled quite a bit in the first couple months of the season, starting out with a record of 3-8-2, but ended their first half strong with a victory over Minnesota-Duluth and a win and a tie over Denver.  Sophomore goaltender Andrew Walsh was in net for all three of those games and only surrendered a single goal in each.  He has the better stats so far with a 2.17 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 10 games.

On offense the Beavers have been led by their senior forwards.  Aaron MacLeod is the leading scorer with six goals so far, three coming on the power play.  Jordan George has five goals to go with six assists while Brance Orban leads the team overall with 12 total points.  A familiar name on BSU for Minuteman fans will be David Boehm, who was kicked off the UMass team in 2010 after an arrest for assault and for generally being a poor teammate.

#10 Dartmouth College Big Green 7-2-2 (4-1-1) 2nd ECAC

UMass hasn’t had much luck with the ECAC so far this year, going 0-3-1, and if they have the chance to play the hosts in Hanover it won’t be easy to get their first win against the conference.  Dartmouth is off to a very strong start, already finding themselves with seven wins on the truncated schedule the Ivies play.  Their only losses have come to #1 Boston College and a narrow defeat at Colgate.  Their last game before break was a 4-2 win over Vermont.

The Big Green have gotten the job done on offense and defense so far this season.  Offensively their 3.55 goals scored per game is 6th best in the nation.  The two players the other teams in the tournament will need to stifle on offense are Tyler Sikura and Eric Robinson.  Sikura leads the team in total points with 17, seven of which being goals, in just 11 games.  His 1.55 points per game is 5th best in the country.  Robinson has eight goals thus far, including three game winners.

Dartmouth boasts the best penalty kill in the country coming into the tournament.  Thus far they’ve allowed opponents just one power play goal in 40 attempts, killing 97.5% of all opportunities.  Overall they’ll given up just 2.27 goals per game on the season, which is surprising considering they’ve done so even while splitting the goaltender time between two starters.  But obviously it’s working for them.  Junior Cab Morris has a GAA of 1.97 so far while freshman Charles Grant’s is 2.38, though Grant has the better save percentage at .921.

#2 New Hampshire Wildcats 11-2-2 (8-2-1) 2nd Hockey East

Just as they did last year against Maine in the Florida College Classic, UMass has the chance to play a Hockey East team in a tournament game.  And that team happens to be the one over which UMass had by far their best game of the year against.  The 2-1 overtime thriller in November has been the highlight of the season for the Minutemen so far.  But for the Wildcats that night was just a small bump in the road.  Besides being upset by UMass UNH has lost just one other game so far, a one goal defeat to Boston University.  Other than those two hiccups this team appears to be not only one of the top teams in Hockey East, but in the country.

UNH boasts the best offense and defense among Hockey East teams with both being among the top five in the country as well.  The Cats have seven players with four or more goals (compared to UMass which has just four).  Leading the way is senior Austin Block who has nine goals total, almost half of which are coming with the extra man advantage.  Kevin Goumas has been their best overall player offensively with 8 goals and 16 assists, good for the third most points per game in the country.  Sophomore Grayson Downing is following up on a solid freshman year with seven goals and six assists.  UNH has been doing most of their scoring at even strength as their power play conversion is pretty average at 16.1%.

While the Wildcats are scoring in bunches, they’re only giving up a measly 1.80 goals per game.  Their penalty kill has been stellar as well, killing 96.3% of all power plays.  That’s second best in the country bettered only by their opponent on Saturday, Dartmouth.  Of course a lot of the reason for their play on defense is due to goaltender Casey DeSmith who is most definitely not having a sophomore slump with his 1.82 GAA and .939 save percentage.  It also doesn’t hurt when you have someone like Trevor VanRiemsdyk in front of you playing solid defense while also scoring five goals on the year.

So overall this should be a very interesting tournament, perhaps the best talent-wise since the Minutemen played in the Lightning College Classic.  Saturday’s matchups feature two very evenly matched teams in UMass and Bemidji State followed by a contest of two of the best teams in the country who also happen to be rivals.  Given the level of competition in the tournament, it’s obvious that a couple of wins would do a lot for the Minutemen in the grand scheme of things even though the three losses to end the first half put a big dent in any at large big chances they may have had.  What’s more important for the team is just to start fresh and try to begin the second half of the season with some solid play.  Losing those games after Thanksgiving was bad, but it was how they lost that was really concerning.  They’ll need to have a consistent effort and improve defensively in the second half if they want to turn things around.  That will all start Sunday against the Beav.

Beer The Triangle

Hanover is a pretty good BTT destination in my opinion.  New Year’s Eve good though?  We’ll see.  Last time I was up there my favorite place was the Canoe Club where I enjoyed their beer and especially their burgers.  Make sure to try the Switchback there, a small brewery out of Burlington that can be tough to find.  Not too far away was Murphy’s On The Green which also had a good tap selection.  One place I’m planning on spending more time at this time is the Norwich Inn, which is just across the river in Vermont.  This inn has a restaurant that brews their own beer and while I only was able to get in and out for a quick pint last time, I enjoyed what I had.

Harry Plumer has this story on the Minutemen returning to practice.

Looks like UMass was in the mix for a pretty high profile recruit, USNDTP goaltender Thatcher Demko.  Demko recently committed to Boston College and was also considering Northeastern, Cornell, Western Michigan as well as UMass.

Hetnik Commits To UMass; Recruit Update

A couple things before I get started with the usual stuff.  First off, I hope all the UMass hockey fans out there had a merry Christmas, or whatever you choose to celebrate.  Secondly, I just want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to my post last week regarding the future of FTT.  I’ll reflect more on all that sometime when there’s no hockey to be played, but I do appreciate all the nice messages people have been sending.

So with that addressed, UMass has picked up a commitment for next fall from Marc Hetnik Jr, a 6’1” 175lb defenseman.  Hetnik is currently playing for the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL (same team where Andrew Tegeler is now playing).  He has a goal and five assists in 31 games for the Vipers.  Last year he had three goals and 14 assists in 60 games.  Prior to that the Brookline native played for Catholic Memorial where he was named to the Herald’s Dream Team in 2011.  Jim Clark of the Herald described him to me as a skilled defenseman who is solid in his own end but was a pretty good two way player in high school.

Hetnik was originally supposed to play at Boston University next fall, but as the Boston Hockey Blog explains, plans changed recently.  Hetnik was supposed to pay his own way there as his father, who won a national championship as a Terrier, worked for the school and therefore would’ve paid only minimal costs.  However, his father no longer works for the school and there was no scholarship available for Hetnik, so he reconsidered and will now become a Minuteman.  According to this article from when he committed to BU, he had a number of schools interested in him at the time including some of the Ivies.

Here’s a profile of him from last winter during his first year in Vernon:

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It’s still a little tough to see how the numbers work for next year’s roster.  The team will graduate four players, but there are currently six, maybe seven, players due to join the team next year plus Rob Dongara who is practicing with the team but sitting out due to transfer rules.  I’ll keep an eye out to see if there’s any change to the current recruit list and keep you readers updated.

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
7 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 1 Pts / 30 PIM / +1
Gallacher returned from his second suspension over the past weekend and had an assist and more importantly no penalties.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Updates for the prep recruits will happen semi-regularly.  Last I knew Hamilton still had yet to suit up this season.

Marc Hetnik – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2013
31 GP / 1 G /4 A / 5 Pts / 26 PIM

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
2 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts
Iovanna scored his 100th point in his HS career with an assist in his last game.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
25 GP / 12 G / 13 A / 25 Pts / 65 PIM / +6
Kravchenko had a goal and an assists in a couple games last weekend.  He’s currently 16th in the USHL in both goals and total points.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
34 GP / 16 G / 18 A / 34 Pts / 18 PIM / 0
Lee had a couple goals and an assist in recent games as the Bandits improved to 35-1-0.  They’re outscoring their opponents by a whopping 122 goals so far this season.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
5 GP / 2 G / 5 A / 7 Pts
Updates for the prep recruits will be done semi-regularly.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
18 GP / 0 G / 3 A / 3 Pts / 6 PIM
Smith had an assist over the weekend.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
18 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano didn’t play this past weekend.

Lastly, I know the recruits page is dreadfully out of date.  I’ll be rectifying that soon.

The End Is Nigh

No, this post has nothing to do with Mayans, 12/21/12, or the end of the world as we know it.  It does have to do with that disappointing feeling you have when something that has become part of your regular routine is suddenly gone.  There’s nothing worse than having your favorite TV show cancelled during the summer while still in mid-storyline.  Sadness is driving up to your usual restaurants to surprisingly find it dark and empty.  And of course it’s always depressing to click on one of your bookmarks to find the website it leads to is no more.  So with that, consider yourself warned.  Fear The Triangle will be going on permanent hiatus at the end of this season.

Before I discuss what is behind the end of FTT, it’s probably important to understand the beginnings of FTT.  Before I started the blog I shared most of my thoughts about the UMass hockey program, which I’ve followed since it was restarted in 1993, on the hockey forum over on UMasshoops.com.  In addition to conversing with fellow fans there, I started to follow the team more closely and would pass along whatever obscure news and recruiting information I would come across.  I was already doing the work for my own interest, so I figured I might as well pass it along to other fans.

My posting on UMasshoops went on for some time, passing along whatever links I found, my thoughts on games I attended, and tidbits about upcoming opponents.  Around this same time along came the UMass Football Blog, which was doing similar news consolidation for the football team and I found it very useful and ultimately inspiring.  But the last factor that spurred on the creation of FTT was my job.  I hated it.  No, wait.  I abhorred it with every ounce of my soul.  But it was the Great Recession and finding a new job was incredibly difficult.  So I needed an outlet, a distraction to pour myself into since my career was a source of unhappiness.  So it was that in the summer of 2009 I decided I was going to start writing about something that was a source of happiness for me, the Massachusetts Minuteman hockey team.

I started this blog for myself, not for others.  I started it because I had always enjoyed writing, but rarely get to do much in my finance job.  And I started it to give me something to concentrate on instead of being miserable at work.  And FTT accomplished both of those goals.  I’m not always sure of the quality but I’ve really enjoyed writing FTT, be it recaps or opinion pieces, something I really hadn’t had a chance to do since I was an undergrad studying history and political science.  And I kept my sanity at work and looked forward to when my day was over and I could head home to read and write about hockey.

And I still enjoy doing that today.  So what has changed?  Well, that terrible job is a thing of the past.  I’m proud to say the career is back on track with a demanding, yet rewarding, position working for two of the most recognizable brands in the world; Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts.  I work hard but I enjoy what I do and love working for my company.  But, all that hard work has reduced the time and energy I can devote to FTT.  This was very evident during the coaching search when I did my best to keep readers as up to date as possible on what was going on as circumstances were changing by the hour, but being a sports reporter is a full time job and I already had one of those.  The result was a physical and mental exhaustion that carried over into the fall.  And that same lack of energy and time has resulted in not providing quite the same coverage here as I had in the past, seen in the lack of my View From Section U columns which I was doing weekly last year.

As crazy as work has made things lately, life is going to get a whole lot crazier.  This coming summer my wife and I will be welcoming a a future Minuteman or Minutewoman into the world, University of Massachusetts Class of 2035 or so.  Needless to say that’s going to be a huge lifestyle change, one I am completely enthused to take on, and my four hour round trip jaunts from the South Shore to the Mullins will soon be a thing of the past.  And therefore, so is FTT.  I only wanted to keep this blog going as long as I feel I’m doing it right and dedicating the proper time to it.  That’s just not an option in the near term.  So that is how I came to my decision.

I think I’ll probably save my reflections on FTT and all it has meant me for a later time as there is still a lot of hockey to write about in the next few months.  But I did want to get the word out that this will be the fourth and last(?) season I’ll be writing about the team.  I did that so people won’t be surprised when it goes dark in March/April and perhaps to get other diehard fans thinking about starting a UMass hockey blog to pick up the slack in my absence.  I think I’ve shown that the demand is there for a blog dedicated to Minuteman hockey.  When I first started in August of 2009 the blog was getting about 80 page views a day.  Today in the middle of the season I regularly get between 500 and 600.  In the midst of the coaching search I was getting 1,100.  If someone else wants to take the time to cover UMass hockey and do it well, I can promise you they won’t lack readers.  Though they’ll have to come up with their own nonsensical blog name as I’m not giving up the Triangle.

So that’s that.  I’ll do my best to keep up coverage through the end of the season as long as work allows and my growing family stays healthy.  There is a lot on the horizon though, including buying a house in the coming months, so please bear with me if coverage isn’t quite up to the standards of the past.  But I’ll do what I can and believe me I would love nothing more than to take some time away from packing this spring to watch the maroon and white make their return to the Garden ice.

It hasn’t been a good semester for players originally committed to UMass who ended up elsewhere in Hockey East.  First Joseph Manno left Northeastern because he didn’t like his role with the Huskies.  Now John Parker has been kicked off the Maine hockey team for alcohol infractions.

I’m always proud of UMass student-athletes who enjoy success in the pros after they leave Amherst, but the admiration and respect I feel for Victor Cruz for taking the time to visit and console one of the families of Newtown, CT is off the charts.  What a classy individual and great representative of the alma mater.

Recruit Update; KAEO Danny Tirone

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
5 GP / 1 G / 0 A / 1 Pts / 30 PIM / –2
Gallacher is still serving his second 8 game suspension of the season.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Hamilton has yet to play for the Knights so far this season but is due to in the next couple of weeks.  Hamilton was recently named captain for Salisbury and USHR named him their 15th best senior in prep hockey.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
1 GP / 1 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
The Herald’s Jim Clark mentioned to me that Iovanna’s next point will be his 100th of his high school career.  Freshman: 6-12-18; Sophomore: 13-25-38; Junior: 15-27-42

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
23 GP / 11 G / 12 A / 23 Pts / 61 PIM / +4
Kravchenko returned from injury and had a goal and an assist in two games this past weekend.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
32GP / 14 G / 17 A / 31 Pts / 16 PIM / 0
Lee had a goal and an assist over the weekend at the Bandits improved to an astounding 33-1-0.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
5 GP / 2 G / 5 A / 7 Pts
Miller is off to a good start with 7 points in his first five games.  Miller was recently named the 10th best senior in preps by USHR.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
16 GP / 0 G / 2 A / 2 Pts / 6 PIM
No points for Smith in his most recent games.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
18 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano had a couple goals in his last game out.

Here’s a new name to keep an eye on.  USHR has suggested that UMass may be pursuing goaltender Danny Tirone, goaltender for the prep league’s Loomis-Chaffee where he’s currently a co-captain.  Tirone is 5’11, 180 lbs, was born in 1994 and is originally from Trumbull, CT.  Prior to playing at Loomis he was out west in Minnesota at hockey powerhouse Shattuck-St Mary’s.  Tirone has a couple UMass connections that could help him as former Minuteman goaltending coach Mike Buckley has helped him develop his game and he is currently playing for former Minuteman J.R. Zavisza.  Last season Tirone had a .924 save percentage.  So far this year LC is 4-2.

Boston College goes into winter break right where they started the season, #1 in the polls.  New Hampshire is right behind them while Boston University is sixth.  Dartmouth, the host of the holiday tournament UMass will be travelling to with UNH and Bemidji State, is #10.

This week’s Hockey East awards release is without mention of UMass.

Recruit Update

A little late on this with the odd Tuesday game this week.  So here’s this week’s recruit update sans Kenny Gillespie who recently decommitted.

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
5 GP / 1 G / 0 A / 1 Pts / 30 PIM / –2
Gallacher is still serving his second 8 game suspension of the season.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Sorry, the prep league just doesn’t seem to make it easy to find their players’ stats.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Malden Catholic’s first game is this weekend.  Iovanna is mentioned in a couple of HS hockey previews from the Herald’s Jim Clark.  The first is this overall DI preview in addition to this piece with Clark’s HS hockey rankings (MC is #2) and top players.  The Globe may have written about Iovanna as well but you’ll never see a link to them on FTT again.  Ever.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
21 GP / 10 G / 11 A / 21 Pts / 45 PIM / +3
Kravchenko did not play this past weekend due to injury.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
30GP / 13 G / 16 A / 30 Pts / 12 PIM / 0
Lee had a couple of assists in recent games.  The Calgary Herald recently ran this story on the Bandits and their amazing 28-1 record, with Lee quoted.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Like Hamilton, I simply cannot get aggregated prep stats.  Miller is mentioned in this preview of KUA’s hockey season.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
14 GP / 0 G / 2 A / 2 Pts / 6 PIM
Smith had an assist in one of his recent games.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
17 GP / 11 G / 9 A / 20 Pts / 18 PIM
Vatrano had a game with three goals and two assists this past week against Rochester.  The three goals were scored on three shots.  Wow.

While my Mid-Season Recap yesterday was definitely a glass half empty viewpoint, here’s a well thought out and more optimistic viewpoint from the Collegian’s Nick Canelas.

Lastly, since I haven’t had a chance to earlier, I just want to take a moment to talk about the meet and greet with Coach Micheletto and the rest of the coaching staff following Saturday’s game.  First off, it was better attended than I expected considering the team had just been on the wrong end of an uninspired sweep at the hands of Colgate.  It goes to show that win or lose there’s a segment of hardcore fans out there will support the program no matter what.  While there were many familiar faces there, I also enjoyed meeting and talking to a few fans I hadn’t met before whose loyalty to UMass hockey goes back to the beginning of the triangle era.

I did get to speak with Coach Mick for a little while and he certainly did not appear shaken by what had transpired in the two games last weekend.  I give him credit for going to speak with fans following the losses, which was probably the last thing in the world he wanted to do at that point and time.  It’s clear that he’s a methodical person and has a certain way he wants to approach the team and the game and I don’t think a bad stretch of a few weeks is going to change that.  He seems to have an long range plan and I’m interested to see how it plays out.

Also in attendance were the assistant coaches as well as de facto Athletic Director Rocko DeLuca.  I say de facto because I honestly don’t even know if John McCutcheon realizes we still have a hockey program.  He did not make it out to Amherst Brewing Company that night, invisible that night just as he is during games at the Mullins Center.  Yes, he was absent to support his first year hockey coach coming off two tough losses and surrounded by the program’s most diehard fans.  You’ll be happy to know that reports are that McCutcheon did make his way to University Drive tonight to “work the room” with the fans of the men’s and women’s basketball programs for another event at ABC.  Yep, now you know where you rank in the eyes of our Athletic Director, UMass hockey fans.

After coach Mick was hired I wrote this post, suggesting ways that, in the wake of allegations McCutcheon doesn’t support the hockey program to the extent he should, he could win back the confidence of the hockey faithful.  In it I suggested seven actions he and the department could take to publicly show their commitment to hockey.  To their credit, two of the suggestions, finding a radio home for the sport and hiring a full time Director of Hockey Operations, have happened.  But sadly some of the easiest, most basic suggestions, such as “be seen at games and/or events” and “get on the radio” haven’t happened.  The reports were that Toot Cahoon left/was fired because he was fed up with the lack of support the hockey team got at the university and he had the gall to be vocal about it.  Based on everything I’ve read and heard, I totally believe that.  And in fact, it doesn’t take much more than basic observations skills to see that’s the case.  In the time since Toot left I’ve done my best to detail evidence corroborating the fact that McCutcheon in fact does not support hockey to the extent he should.  Hell, just in terms of his presence, McCutcheon’s public support of hockey in the last six months has consisted of the press conference announcing the hiring of Micheletto and an event at the UMass Club featuring Mick and basketball coach Derek Kellogg.  He’s yet to be seen on the concourse during a hockey game or in the Massachusetts Room in between periods with the programs boosters.  Based on that and everything else we’ve heard in recent months, how much would you say John McCutcheon is personally dedicated to the success of UMass hockey?

Mid-Season Recap

While not exactly halfway through the slate of games, the start of winter break in December is generally seen as the mid-season point of college hockey.  It’s a time to take stock of where the team is, identify what has worked and what hasn’t, and, importantly for this UMass squad, get some rest and get healthy.  So before I get into my opinion on the state of the team and the state of the season, let’s start with some facts.

The Massachusetts hockey team comes into the break with a record of 5-9-2.  In Hockey East play they’re 4-6-1, currently tied for 5th in the league.  According to the RPI the team has played the 7th toughest schedule in the country so far.  The team has one win against a ranked opponent, beating #9 New Hampshire.  Last year heading into break the team was 5-7-4, but just 2-6-3 in Hockey East where they were tied for 9th.  They had wins over top ranked Boston College and #17 Yale while tying #13 Boston University.

The Minutemen were doing quite well in the first part of the season statistically.  Their power play started off strong and, despite one extended drought, is still sitting at 20% and 2nd best among Hockey East teams.  Their overall offensive output however has fallen during that time.  Once sitting comfortably over three goals a game and in the top half of the league, UMass is now down to scoring just 2.69 goals per game.  That’s down considerably from the 3.17 scored last year.  Defense is where UMass’ biggest problems lie.  While the 3.12 goals per game allowed is slightly better than the 3.28 allowed last season, it’s dead last in the league.  A lot has to do with their penalty kill which started out solid, but is now under 80% and also dead last in the league.  Amazingly just a few weeks ago goaltender Kevin Boyle was, statistically, the 4th best goaltender in the country.  Now his goals against average and save percentage are near the bottom among the Hockey East starters.  The last month was brutal for this UMass hockey team.

It’s obviously waaaaay too early to try to evaluate John Micheletto as coach.  Personally, I don’t try to gauge a coaching hire until at least the end of year three.  But when a new coach is chosen to take over a program, there are usually two things that can happen.  First, the coach comes in and whether it’s due to improved strategy, better training methods, or just an overall attitude adjustment the players buy-in and the team is able to see success immediately.  We’ve seen such a thing recently in Hockey East when Nate Leaman got Providence to the Garden last year or Norm Bazin leading a miraculous turnaround at Lowell, bringing them all the way to the NCAA regional finals.  In these cases a lot of the pieces for success are in place and it just needs a new coach to make some tweaks, reenergize the troops and off they go.  Sure there is generally some bumps and period of adjustment in there, but sometimes just the change itself is enough to bring wins.

This immediate success is what I, naturally, hoped for when the coaching change fiasco occurred over the summer.  It seemed like a lot of things made this a viable option.  UMass is not an inexperienced team anymore, with 17 seniors or juniors on the roster.  There was a good chance the team would see improved goaltending as Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz were no longer going to be wide-eyed freshman.  The team was bringing back talented offensive forwards in the form of Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary while also having leadership and skill on the blueline in guys like Conor Allen and Joel Hanley.  K.J. Tiefenwerth, originally committed to go to Boston College, was the star of a solid freshman class.  It seemed like no matter who was the coach, the team was poised to launch itself upward in Hockey East.  But heading into the break going 0-4-1 in their last and looking horrible while doing so makes it challenging to think the team is poised to improve on last year’s 8th place finish.

Which leads me to the other path a coaching change usually leads to.  No matter how much talent is already on the roster.  No matter how much it seems like a replacement at the top and a little tweaking is all that’s needed for a team to have a breakout season, it just doesn’t happen.  The players don’t respond to the new coach, one who didn’t bring them into the program.  And if that occurs, the rebuild/retool process becomes drawn out and it takes multiple seasons, usually until the coach has “his guys”, until success comes to the program.

At the traditional midway point of the season, UMass seems to have these two paths before them.  Or maybe the last five games have shown that they already have a head start down the second, more drawn out, path to success.  It’s tough to tell.  On one hand the team is currently sitting in 5th place, just two points behind Providence (a team they beat convincingly), for home ice.  On the other hand this team is playing terrible hockey right now and hasn’t shown signs that they’ll have the mental toughness needed to take on the grueling Hockey East schedule that awaits them.

What’s frustrating is that the season’s beginning, when you’d think there’d be bad losses as adjustments are made, the team wasn’t that bad.  Sure, they dropped their first three conference games but BC, BU, BU isn’t exactly an easy hand to be dealt for a program in transition.  And two of those games they lost narrowly.  Up next the team handed UNH their first loss of the season, another narrow loss to the Eagles, and a beatdown of Providence.  Through seven games the team was 3-4-0, had played five games against ranked opponents (including the #1 team in the country), and only had one game that they weren’t really competitive in.  Then on 11/16 they went to Maine where they tied the struggling Black Bears, who have managed just two wins all season, and the team hasn’t been the same since.  Next up was a game against a Lowell team that had gotten off to a very slow start and the River Hawks came into the Mullins and flat out embarrassed the Minutemen.

What we’ve seen since that weekend is a team making tons of mistakes on defense.  We’ve seen ill-timed penalties and a penalty kill unit that is unable to prevent power play goals.  We’ve seen the team’s goaltending, a strength early on in the season, let up some soft goals and not play well enough to overcome the poor play in front of them.  The power play which was stellar is now inconsistent.  And the two guys who were supposed to lead your offense and scored 29 goals combined last season have scored 5 total so far.  I hope that in the end adjustments are made before New Year, weary bodies get healthy, and the realization is made that the prospect of success this season could quickly slip away.  I hope the team wakes up and plays much better in the coming months and is poised for a run to the Garden and beyond come March.  But such a thing looks bleak given the last couple weeks of play.  At this point it seems like the program will have to be stripped down and rebuilt from scratch.  And that’s a somber thought for a UMass fandom that hasn’t seen a winning season in over five years.

Co-captain Rocco Carzo is featured on Hockey East’s Five Minute Major:

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Here’s the game story from last night by the Republican.

The local New Haven Register also has a recap.

UMass drops a spot in the College Hockey News power rankings.

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