UMass Season Preview; Media Day News; Other Stuff (updated)

Well the 2008-2009 season saw another UMass hockey campaign plagued with inconsistency.  The season started well with a split at the Icebreaker Tournament that included an upset over then #5 North Dakota.   The team was 4-1-1 when they entered Lawler Arena and promptly dropped a 3-1 decision to Merrimack starting the yo-yo of results.  In the next game the Minutemen played their finest game of the season absolutely dominating Boston University for the second ever win over a #1 ranked team in program history.  Of course that monumental win was followed up the next night by getting shutout by Lowell.   And that’s pretty much how the season played out, flashes of brilliance mired in episodes of ineffectiveness.  No game better represents the 08-09 campaign than the one played against BU on February 27th.  Again the Minutemen were in complete control of the #1 team, leading 3-0 just seconds into the 2nd period in front of a boisterous crowd and a NESN TV audience.  Yet somehow they lost focus and then looked disinterested and ended up dropping the game 6-3.  Up to the end of the season they showed to be a better team than their record, taking #2 seed Northeastern to overtime in game 3 of the conference quarterfinals before finally relenting.  Can UMass carry over some of that momentum and jump up in the Hockey East standings this season or will they be plagued with more inconsistency that will doom them to fight just to make the playoffs?

Offensively the team must find a way to replace the scoring of graduating seniors Alex Berry, Cory Quirk, and Chris Davis.  Overall UMass loses 30% of their goals scored last year, just under the average for all Hockey East teams.  But if they want to contend they’ll have to more than just replace that lost production and improve upon a 2.9 goals per game average that put them at 7th in the league.  The offense will start with assistant captain James Marcou and Casey Wellman.  Marcou as a sophomore last year was stellar as he tied Colin Wilson for Hockey East scoring and named 1st Team Hockey East.  Casey Wellman led all Hockey East freshmen in points with 11 goals and 22 assists and was named to the All-Rookie Team.  Both these players are excellent playmakers which is why it’ll be important for the supporting cast to put the puck on net.  So who can be counted on to try to take on the role of goal scorer?  Chase Langeraap and Mike Lecomte both have shown some scoring touch in the past and must try to increase their goal production into the double digits.  Will Ortiz might be the closest this team has to a sniper but he’ll have to do his best to get onto the ice and stay out of Toot’s doghouse.  Look for lightning fast T.J. Syner to have a breakout year after a solid effort last year that saw him improve greatly as time went along.  Danny Hobbs must improve his game after a dismal freshman season that saw him only muster a goal and an assist in 24 games.  With his strength and size he’s a prime candidate to plant himself on the doormat of the crease waiting for rebounds.  Brian Keane and Shawn Saunders have both shown the ability to score and should be counted on as well as they see more playing time.  David Boehm should be able to contribute right away with a year of at least being around the team and learning the system.  Freshman Rocco Carzo could add some goals early while Kevin Czepiel  could be a great setup man given the amount of assists he put up in the EJHL.  The wildcard on offense will be transfer Ryan Leary who broke records on the Division III level.  How much of that will carry over to Division I remains to be seen.  Working to shut down the stars of Hockey East will be co-captain Brett Watson.  He’ll be joined in his effort by Marc Concannon and freshman Eddie Olczyk. 

The defense will be led by 2nd Team All Hockey East defenseman and co-captain Justin Braun who has developed into one of the league’s best.  Fellow senior and assistant captain Martin Nolet will be counted on to add some grit to the defensive group.  After being hampered with injuries early in his freshman season, Matt Irwin came on strong late and showed his offensive touch in the playoff series with Northeastern where he scored in each of the three games.  Doug Kublin and Mike Marcou aren’t flashy but will provide for some solid minutes on D.  Junior Kevin Kessler may be asked to play more than the four games we saw him last season since he adds experience and provides a much needed enforcer role that this team is missing with the graduation of Berry and Scott Crowder.  Freshmen Darren Rowe and Mike Donnellan will be counted on to play early in the season.

Junior Paul Dainton’s save percentage of .918 was good for 4th in the league last year and he will be expected to carry most of the goaltender duties this coming season.  Senior Dan Meyers put up solid numbers and will probably play every 3 or 4 games as he did last season.  He will be unavailable to play to begin the season due to off-ice issues.  Kevin Moore, who joined the team mid-season last year when Matt Gedman left for the baseball diamond, and Randy Wolcott, the AJHL goaltender of the year, round out the netminder position.

The Minutemen are blessed with an easy non-conference schedule with games against RPI, two with Niagara, Quinnipiac, Yale, and then the UConn Classic with Union, Bentley, and the host Huskies.  Of those only Yale is currently ranked in the major polls released so far.  The toughest part of the Hockey East schedule will likely come immediately after New Years when they’ll have to play eight straight against the likes of BU, UNH, Lowell, UVM, and Northeastern, with five of those games away from the Mullins.

Given the ups and downs that we’ve seen this team go through the past few seasons it’s incredibly hard to make a prediction for this coming year.  I think the players on this team are more than capable of making up for the loss of the graduating seniors.  The recruitment of players like James Marcou and T.J. Syner has shown that Toot is changing his strategy by developing an athletic team that relies on small, speedy forwards.  Everything I’ve heard about the incoming freshmen is they also fit this mold.  I’m really hoping to see Toot open things up both in the offensive zone as well as the forecheck to leverage the abundance of speed on this team.  But this will only be successful if more of the players get out of the pass first, shoot second mentality.  Players must step up and take on the role of goal scorer or the team will find itself losing close games all season.  Defensively things look more in place with lots of experience at goaltender and two of the better defensemen in the league.  But at least one or two in the group of Mike Marcou, Kessler, Rowe, and Donnellan must step up and play near mistake free hockey to solidify things behind the blueline.  With increased production from players like LeComte and Langeraap together with a significant contribution from redshirts Boehm and Leary and perhaps a Carzo goal now and then and this team could find itself in the mix for home ice.  But this only happens if there’s a consistent effort and focus for all sixty minutes.  We haven’t seen that from a UMass squad in some time.  Last season UMass allowed the fewest 1st period goals of any Hockey East team but allowed the 2nd most in the combined periods after.   That type of play is something they’ll have to avoid this season.  Only with consistent effort comes consistent success.

My picks:

#1 Lowell River Hawks
#2 Boston College Eagles
#3 Boston University Terriers
#4 Vermont Catamounts
#5 New Hampshire Wildcats
#6 Massachusetts Minutemen
#7 Northeastern Huskies
#8 Maine Black Bears
#9 Merrimack Warriors
#10 Providence Friars


This report from Media Day by College Hockey News and former Collegian writer Joe Meloni talks about the top line of Marcou, Wellman, and Syner for the Minutemen.  Toot hopes it doesn’t become a defensive liability.  It also mentions that Dan Meyers will be unavailable to play the first few games due to his recent troubles.

The hockey page on has a video of John Hennessy interviewing Toot at Media Day.

The Hamp Gazette’s Matt Vautour has a Media Day article as well.

James Marcou was snubbed and left off of INCH’s Pre-season All Americans list despite leading Hockey East in points last year and finishing 12th nationally.


Joe O’Connor of the Canadian National Post picks Jon Quick as his surprise star of the upcoming NHL season.


Saturday’s opponent, the New Brunswick Varsity Reds, played the AHL Portland Pirates close last night in a 4-2 loss.  The V-Reds actually outshot the Pirates 36-22.  Saturday may prove to me a pretty good test for UMass after all.  I’ll be previewing UNB tomorrow.


Hockey East also released their television schedule for next year.  UMass will be on tv eight time; twice on local channels, three on NESN, and they’ll be broadcast nationally on ESPNU three times (thankfully added by comcast).

Date Opponent Time Channel
10/30 at Providence  7pm Cox
11/28 at Quinnipiac 3pm NESN
1/2 at BU 4pm ESPNU
1/10 at Northeastern 8pm ESPNU
1/24 UVM 4pm ESPNU
2/5 BC 7:30pm NESN
2/20 Merrimack 7:30pm NESN
3/6 at Maine 7pm WABI