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Season Recap

At first glance this season pretty much met with my expectations.  Way back on the first day of October I picked the team to finish 6th in Hockey East and sure enough the team tied with Merrimack for 6th place in the conference.  But expectations evolve as the season goes a long and against the reset expectations of this team going into December break, they failed and failed miserably.  The thing is, even after an up and down January the team was still poised for one of the most successful seasons in UMass history.  To begin February the team was #15 in the country and their pairwise ranking had them set up for a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  But, as has happened too often in the last few years, UMass crumbled under the pressure they themselves created with their own accomplishments.

The 2009-2010 chapter of UMass hockey got off to a great start with four straight wins, including an exciting one against defending national champion Boston University at the Mullins Center.  A small hiccup against Providence was only a speed bump as the Minutemen would win five of their next six to start their season 9-2-0 with key wins over teams like UNH and Yale.  But a televised game at Quinnipiac on the Saturday after Thanksgiving was probably the first hint that this team might not have the mentality to survive the long college hockey season.  The game with the Bobcats was one to get excited about.  NESN would bring the matchup of top ten teams live to the region, showcasing two of the top offenses in the country.  Yet UMass showed up to start the first period perhaps as flat as I have ever seen a Minuteman team.  They responded to Toot’s replacing Dan Meyers with Paul Dainton and battled back, but in the end the three goals they spotted Quinnipiac in the first was too much and they fell in overtime.  UMass would go on to stumble into the December break losing two of their next three.

The Union game to begin the UConn holiday tournament looked like a repeat of the Quinnpiac game, coming out flat and giving up an early lead.  But this time UMass was able to come back and win the game, setting up the chance to win only the second holiday tournament in program history with a win over Atlantic Hockey’s Bentley Falcons the next night.  And in another trend that would continue through the season, despite UMass dominating for most of the game they would end up losing the championship of the tournament.  UMass had outshot Bentley 43-16 and yet lost 4-1.  The team would go on to have a losing record in games where they had over 40 shots. 

If fans were worried about the team’s mental state following the Quinnipiac game, they realized something was drastically wrong with the team given their response to that Bentley loss.  Whereas most would expect the team to get angry and play with more focus from there on in, UMass played probably their two worst games in the week that followed.  Two games in which UMass gave up seven goals is probably not how Toot wanted the team to start January, but that’s exactly what they did against UNH and BU.  The team gave the fans some hope however by winning four of their next six, including an impressive sweep of Lowell.

However, as the calendar turned from January to February, UMass fans had no way of knowing that the season was essentially over at that point.  Despite the struggles of December and January UMass still found themselves tied for 2nd place in Hockey East and in great shape in terms of the pairwise when Boston College rolled into the Mullins for a highly anticipated televised game.  But once again UMass folded under the pressure and gave up seven goals to the Eagles while managing only one for themselves.  From then on it seemed that key players were perhaps concentrating too much on conversations with their agents and too little on trying to recover the season.  The team would go winless for the entire month of February including sweeps at the hands of Northeastern and Merrimack.

The team at least got back on the winning track for the final regular season series at Maine but that came mostly from a beneficial goaltending fiasco for the Black Bears and captains Brett Watson and Justin Braun putting the team on their back and dragging them into the Hockey East playoffs.  The effort against Boston College was valiant but the Eagles were peaking while the Minutemen were trying to regain what they once had and in the end the season that started with a bang ended with a whimper at Conte Forum.

The 18-18-0 record for the season and 6th place in Hockey East look pretty good on paper.  Yet the team went just 9-16-0 from Thanksgiving on, and only 3-10-0 from the end of January.  Essentially, when the going got rough, this team ran and hid.  It always seemed like everyone was waiting for someone else to pull them out of the swoon they were in.  And while players were able to come up with key performances to keep the team’s head above water, notably the captains performance against Maine, hockey is a team sport.  It’s nearly impossible for one or two players, no matter how talented, to do it all by themselves.  In the beginning of the season we read a number of times that this UMass team was different.  There was a new team mentality that past editions lacked and most of all this team would not fade after the New Year.  Yet, in the end, that’s exactly what happened.  I can’t speculate as to what made this team lose its bond and spin off focusing more on individual goals than team success.  Pressure?  Selfishness?  I don’t know.  But in the end when the team really needed to come together they were no where to be found.  Another Spring, another season, another swoon, another lost chance at success.

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During my mid-season review I graded each player versus the expectations I had for them.  I do want to at least give a few thoughts on how I thought each one of them performed, but I think I’m going to move away from an actual letter grade.  So here we go:

David Boehm – Obviously the fact that Boehm couldn’t behave himself off the ice enough to stick with the team is disappointing.  Who knows what the second half could’ve been like with him still on the team.  At the very least the situations that led him to getting kicked off the team may very well be one of the factors that hurt the mental state of the team.

Justin Braun – Braun goes down as one of the UMass greats.  He’s the first UMass player to win Hockey East’s award for best defensive defenseman.    He also contributed greatly on offense with 8 goals and 23 assists.  In my time of watching UMass I don’t think I can think of a better overall defenseman that Braun.  He’ll truly be missed.

Rocco Carzo – Carzo’s freshman year started well with a couple goals and four total points in his first two games.  But he cooled off as the season went on and ended scoring just one goal from the middle of January on.  Still, he showed potential and seems like his strong skating and scoring ability will lead to a much bigger role in the years to come.  He’ll also be relied upon for his faceoff work with Brett Watson graduating and Casey Wellman gone.

Marc Concannon – Concannon’s 32 games was more than double his previous high in his first two seasons.  He successfully transitioned from a part time player to one of the team’s regular defensive forwards.  He was one of the few forwards who still played very well during the difficult stretch of February and March.

Kevin Czepiel – “Holyoke” saw time on the ice only intermittently to start the season but developed into a regular player by the end.  He ended the season on a high note with all four of his assists coming in the last four games.  “Yoke” has great vision and passing abilities and I’m very interested to see how his game develops playing on a line with more offensive minded players.

Paul Dainton – Dainton’s goals against and save percentage numbers were not as good as previous years, but considering how many nights the team took off in front of him, it’s tough to fault him too much.  Dainton won’t win any goaltending awards but he always plays well enough to keep UMass in the game and gives them a chance to win.  And here and there he’ll even rob a game from the opponent.  I expect that to continue next year when he may play ever minute in net for the Minutemen.

Mike Donnellan – Donnellan saw very little action, only dressing for eight games.  It’s tough to make a true judgement of him, but I still think he has the tools and the size to be a regular defenseman going forward.

Danny Hobbs – At times Hobbs looked like one of the best players on the ice.  But then there’d be times you’d forget he had even played.  Hobbs really has to step up his game in the next two years.  He has the tools physically and has shown flashes of offensive skill, but he has to do it more consistently.

Matt Irwin – Though his point production was better than his freshman year, Irwin seemed to take a bit of a step back this past season.  He only scored two goals from November on.  But his problem was that too often he became a defensive liability.  His plus/minus of -11 was the worst on the team.

Brian Keane – Keane doesn’t seem to have progressed much from his freshman year.  He plays pretty good defense but I think he could be much more on offense.  But he doesn’t show it often enough.

Kevin Kessler – After only playing 14 games total through his first two years Kessler played 18 this season and overall I thought he did a pretty good job.  While not the most skilled defenseman, he played to his strengths and always gave top effort.

Doug Kublin – Nothing showed Kublin’s importance to this team more than when he went down in the last part of the season with mono.  He’s not flashy, but you cannot have enough dependable blueliners like Kublin.  He goes into next season as the goto guy on defense.

Chase Langeraap – Though slowed by injury, Langeraap’s five assists in 20 games is unacceptable.  He came to UMass with a reputation as a high scorer and has yet to live up to that billing.

Mike Lecomte – Unfortunately a broken ankle half way through the season interrupted what was a very good effort from the two way forward.  He wasn’t quite the same when he came back, but it was admirable that he was able to recover and play at all and says a lot about his dedication to the team.

James Marcou – The best player on the team this year and one of the best to put on the maroon and white.  His playmaking skills are off the charts.  Even when the team fell off in February his effort rarely waned.  It’s disappointing that we won’t be able to see him finish his career but it’s been obvious for some time that he’s wanted to see what he can do in the pros.

Mike Marcou – Last year I was surprised that Mike was able to come in and play such solid defense as a freshman.  This year I’m surprised at how well he was able to progress offensively.  After only notching one point his first season he had seven goals and three assists.  He’ll be relied on much more next year and to be successful he’ll have to become a little more consistent.

Dan Meyers – Meyers ended up being the victim of a lot of poor team efforts.  But he played well overall, did what he had to do in the backup role, and even challenged Dainton a bit in practice for playing time.  Overall, a very solid effort.

Martin Nolet – Nolet was asked to do a lot on the UMass blueline and for the most part he did it.  He played solid D, contributed offensive, and even was able to play physically, something UMass had little of this year.  There were a few too many poorly time penalties that hurt the team.  He’ll certainly be missed in the classroom, being one of the top academically in all of Hockey East.

Eddie Olczyk – Olczyk had a solid freshman year, playing in 21 games for the Minutemen.  He’s very much in the mold of Brett Watson and will likely have to take over his role as top defensive forward next year.

Will Ortiz – One of my favorite players to watch in all my years of watching UMass hockey.  After a couple of disappointing sophomore and junior seasons he returned to the form of his freshman year and had 13 goals and 13 assists on the season.  UMass will be hard-pressed to find someone to match his intensity and energy in years to come.

Darren Rowe – Rowe played well, seeing a lot of ice time in his freshman year.  It’ll be interesting to see what his role is in the future as he still appears to play more as a forward than a defenseman.  If he does stay on the blueline he’ll have to get better defensively and perhaps bulk up more in the offseason as well.

Shawn Saunders – Saunders did a solid job on the checking line this season and played in nearly every game.  I’d love to see him get a little more aggressive and use his speed to his advantage better in the future.

T.J. Syner – Syner progressed well from his freshman year, ending the season with 20 points.  He’ll have to keep getting better though as he’ll be relied on as one of the main goalscorers for next year’s club.  He has the potential to be one of the top forwards in all of Hockey East.

Brett Watson – UMass will miss both Watson’s elite defensive skills as well as his leadership.  When their backs were against the wall, Watson seemed to play his best, including scoring three goals in the last three games of the regular season.  He’ll also be missed off the ice where he did a lot for the local community.

Casey Wellman – Half way through the season Wellman was the top goal scorer in the country and really established himself as one of Hockey East’s best.  But when the going got tough, Wellman flat out disappeared.  He had a ten game stretch where he was unable to score a goal and hardly made an impact on the play in general.  It was nice to see him turn it back on at the end of the season but at that point the damage was done and it was too late.

Don “Toot” Cahoon – Through his recruiting Cahoon was once again able to assemble a team that for large parts of the season far exceeded expectations.  But also once again the team seemed to become unhinged and did not seem to have the mental toughness to deliver through to the end.  Toot did seem to manage his game plan to his players a little better this season, abandoning the conservative play that is his trademark for most of the season.  At the start of the campaign I said that I would call for a coaching change if the team again finished in the bottom of the Hockey East standings.  Though close, they did not, tying Merrimack for 6th place.  Yet this next season will be very interesting.  The team will look very different next year given the early defections and it will be a huge challenge to replace the team’s top five scorers.  Toot enters the final year of his contract with a solid incoming class but little veteran leadership.  If the team can do better than this year’s it may just take his best coaching effort of his career.

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1 Comment

  1. Jason W.

     /  March 22, 2010

    Nice recap.

    Great job all season. Glad to see your effort never waned as the season went on.

    Like

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