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Thoughts on the 09-10 Schedule

UMass will be heading to Gutterson to play this year's annual Thanksgiving week game.

UMass will be heading to the Gutt to play this year's annual Thanksgiving week game.

Here are some of my observations on the 2009-2010 schedule released last month.  Usually the early part of the season is reserved for games against out of conferences foes where the stakes revolve around getting quality wins that will help out the March pairwise rating.  Not so much this year.  While there are the usual non-conference games, they’ll most likely be overshadowed in importance by some key Hockey East match-ups that could set the tone early for UMass’ success this season.

After opening against RPI on a rare Thursday night match-up on October 8th, the team will kick off Hockey East play by hosting defending National Champion Boston University the next weekend.  They’ll then play Maine at the Mullins and a home and home with Providence before hosting UNH twice in mid-November.  The week of Thanksgiving brings the annual Turkey Tuesday game against Vermont at the Gutt.  Early December will see a game at Lowell to play what should be one of the top two or three teams in HEA next year, before playing Merrimack at home.  That means by the time Christmas trees are going up UMass will have faced probably five ranked Hockey East teams, half of the teams that made it to the Frozen Four in DC last year, and the chance for 16 conference points will have come and gone.  The good news is that six of the nine early conference games will be in Amherst.  The bad news is that a slow start will put the team in a hole in the Hockey East standings that may be tough to dig out of.

After slugging it through the usual tough games in January and February the team will close the 09-10 season with what could be a favorable 6 game slate featuring four games against Merrimack and Maine with BC sandwiched between.  However as we know all Hockey East games are tough and Merrimack could be much improved and it’s never fun to play at Alfond.

So that’s how things are looking on the league schedule, on to the non-conference slate.  Quite frankly, I find it disappointing.  No games against WCHA or CCHA opponents.  A steady diet of ECAC, Atlantic Hockey, and soon to be Atlantic Hockey teams.  There aren’t specific teams I don’t like to see on the schedule, it’s just the sum of the whole.  Games at Yale and Quinnipiac are solid with the Bulldogs coming off the ECAC championship and the Bobcats becoming a solid program in their new conference.  Plus it gives me a chance to see two arenas I’ve yet to cross off my list.  The RPI game is the return game from last year and could be pretty good as I think they’ll be much improved this year, though it’d be tough for them to be much worse than last season when they only won a handful of games.  A Friday/Sunday home and home with Niagara seems a little odd, but Toot told the Republican he wanted to help them out with their scheduling.  Well, I guess that’s ok, although if Niagara wanted to fill their schedule, they shouldn’t have refused to play their rivals across town.  The last piece of the puzzle is the Toyota UConn Classic in Storrs.  I know some fans think we have no business giving UConn home games.  Personally, it doesn’t bother me.  Roughly the series with the Huskies ends up being 3 games at the Mullins and one appearance down there for their tourney.  Fine by me.  After all, we don’t want to be too Jim Calhounesque about it.  It is too bad the other teams in Storrs will be Bentley and Union.  Both teams are on the upswing recently, but the help to the PWR will be minimal.

So individually I don’t have a problem playing those teams.  But do we have to play them all in the same year?  Yale and Quinnipiac are probably the only teams that could be ranked by the end of the season.  And even that’s a big question mark as I thought Yale was bit overrated last year (just ask Air Force) and could easily come back down to Earth.  The schedule is just a little frightening.  I think it puts a lot of pressure to sweep the non-conference slate on top of making some major waves in Hockey East in order to be in an at-large discussion at the end of the year.  The chance to knock off a couple of mid to high level western teams would’ve helped things in terms of RPI and strength of schedule.  But I guess we’ll have to wait for 2010-2011 for that when the team takes trips to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Madison Square Garden against a mystery opponent.

Here’s the wrap-up from yesterday’s chat on umassathletics.com with Casey Wellman for those who may have missed it (like me, stupid conference calls).  Casey thinks he’ll be seeing a lot of ice time with TJ Syner and James Marcou.  They’ve made it pretty impossible to link to but there are a number of good hockey videos on the official site as well, including last season’s highlight video, a small feature on the Western Mass Hockey School, and a Q&A with the older Marcou.  Videos are in the player to the right on this link.

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