2010-11 UMass Team Preview

Turning The Page
I’m sure, like me, most fans have already recapped, rehashed, and relived last season way too much, so not a huge need to do that here.  The team had a lot of promise going into the season, had some amazing players in Casey Wellman, Justin Braun, and James Marcou, started off phenomenally, hit the now annual second half swoon, and got an early exit out of the playoffs.  Of course the hits kept on coming with Marcou, Wellman, and Matt Irwin all choosing to leave school early and pursue pro careers.  Fine.  Over.  What happened happened.

What the UMass hockey program is now faced with is having to replace its top five goalscorers, four of its defensemen, and somehow work 14 freshmen into rotation of players.  Certainly not an easy task and I think even the most optimistic UMass fans have tempered their expectations for the team this season.  However, while we may not have high expectations of the team, it sounds like we can at least have more expectations of a team.  It is of no secret that the UMass teams of the past few years haven’t always gelled on and off the ice, despite being some of the most talented in the program’s history.  I’m not pointing fingers, I’m not naming names, sometimes you can put a group of great hockey players together and for whatever reason they cannot collectively play to their fullest potential.

One thing has stood out to the most to me in the couple of days since talking to the coach and players at media day.  It was the words of captain Paul Dainton who said, “we had a lot of skill the past couple years but what we didn’t have was leadership.”  You know what, I think he was right.  He even mentioned how the team would do well through the first two periods of a game only to fall apart and I believe you even saw that extend out to the season where it translated to the team taking those late season falls in the standings.  Now you’ll remember at the beginning of last season we heard a lot about the team having a different mentality as well.  But I don’t remember that conversation being about leadership.  I remember it more about everyone getting along better.  So while the team had learned to live without conflict with each other, it appears there still wasn’t the leadership that needed to be there.

Is that leadership there now?  It’s tough to know for sure.  The team certainly has an interesting group of guys as its leaders.  A senior goaltender as its captain.  A backup goaltender who has yet to register a minute as associate captain in Kevin Moore.  And three juniors as assistant captains, in Mike Marcou, T.J. Syner, and Danny Hobbs.  Usually you see some high goalscorers, a gritty hard-nosed player, probably a good blueline general as captains., and anyone who happens to be a senior.  UMass has done that in the past and put letters on jerseys just because guys were supposed to be the stars of the team, even if they weren’t necessarily the leaders.  It usually didn’t work out. 

Amazingly, considering all the new faces and everyone still knowing each other, Dainton called this team the closest team not only in his time at UMass but the closest team he’s been on in his life.  It’ll be interesting to see how that translates to the ice.

Last year’s freshmen had some talent, as does the incoming class.  But none of the underclassmen are just going to be able to step up and fill the shoes (skates?) of James Marcou and Casey Wellman.  If the team is able to find the scoring it must be a total team effort.  All four lines contributing.  All players looking to pass when they need to, looking to shoot when needed, and getting back on defense.  They can’t wait for the other guy to take of things for them.  Everyone is the other guy this year.

Unfortunately Coach Cahoon did confirm that Mike Lecomte will not be back until at least January, which is a huge blow in itself much less on top of the early defections.  He says there’s a good chance they’ll start three freshmen centers at times.  But, there is talent there, starting with T.J. Syner who played a bit of second fiddle to Wellman last year but has the skill and the shot to be UMass’ top offensive threat.  Rocco Carzo got off to a great start last year but his production slowed as the season went on.  With a season under his belt, not to mention his second NHL training camp, I think it’s reasonable to expect a big jump from the 6 goal 6 assist output of a year ago.  Seniors Brian Keane and Chase Langeraap and junior Danny Hobbs are really the X factors to the season.  All three came in with expectations of contributing big things to the program and probably haven’t done as much as they’ve wanted so far.  Certainly one would think that Keane and Langeraap would take the opportunity of a significant offensive gap to fill and will hopefully really step up their game.  Hobbs is kind of a different situation that I’ll likely explore in a post next week, but basically the team pretty desperately needs a solid year from him as well.  Kevin “Holyoke” Czepiel had some good flashes of talent his freshman year and with the dearth of centers his playmaking skills will certainly be needed.

For the freshmen I think all eyes will initially be on Mike Pereira as probably the best goal scoring prospect coming in.  Personally I’m hoping that as an NHL prospect who got a decent amount of coverage before the draft, including an invite to the combine, yet wasn’t selected that he’s out to prove something.  He certainly seemed confident in the one game of his I got to watch last year and confidence is something UMass needs out of all their freshmen this year because like it or not they’re going to need to be on the ice and contributing from day one.  Brendan Gracel is capable of scoring some goals as well, putting 38 home in 58 games in a solid Canadian junior league.  Eric Filiou also played juniors in western Canada and was rookie of the year for the BCHL before having his numbers drop off in the last two seasons. 

Conor Sheary put up big numbers in the prep league and looks to be an excellent playmaker type that could play a huge role on the team.  Peter DeAngelo is a speedy skater who may be asked to play a few different roles.  T.J. Syner mentioned that a number of these freshman have very good quickness and have been able to keep up with him in practice, which says a lot about the skill set of this incoming class.  It’s always tough to gauge what type a player is based solely on stats and an occasional blurb in a news story but Troy Power and Stephen Guzzo both look to be more two way forwards with some aspect of physical play but certainly no strangers to the back of the net.  The darkhorse in terms of the freshmen forwards is Pat Kiley.  Kiley was initially set to play DIII hockey in New York but was a surprise addition to the team over the summer.  He actually had better stats than DeAngelo for their NH Junior Monarchs team and I’ve had a couple of people who know local hockey tell me that he is legitimate Hockey East talent.

Eddie Olzcyk is poised to take up where Brett Watson left off as the goto defensive forward on the squad, with help from Shawn Saunders and Marc Concannon.  These guys have already shown in their careers that when given the chance they’ll do everything in their ability to outwork the other team.  It’s not a glamorous job but they do it well and play an important role given the youth of some of the defensemen.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I almost feel like the offense will work itself out.  Will UMass be an offensive juggernaut?  No, but I think guys will step up and pucks will cross the goal line.  What worries me the most about this team is its defense.  And Cahoon mentioned this as well in that his initial focus is on getting the defense up and going and getting Dainton the support he needs before trying to solve the offensive issue.  The defensive corp has Doug Kublin returning, whose value was shown when he missed a number of games in the Spring and the defense faltered in his absence.  Mike Marcou comes back as well who has turned into a reliable two way defenseman and one of the leaders on the blueline.  After that things get a bit shaky.  You have Darren Rowe who played in 26 games but struggled on defense at times even while performing well offensively.  Mike Donnellan had his up and downs in the 8 games he played and while I personally think he has the potential of being a solid player he’ll have to go out and prove it.  Anthony Raiola is a redshirt freshman who is familiar with the system and could have a leg up on the others at this point.  Joel Hanley was at one time being talked about for the NHL Draft but a broken leg last fall put a damper on those chances.  Still he performed well and should see a lot of minutes and be able to contribute on offense as well.  People walking around the Mullins Center may mistake Adam Phillips for one of Derek Kellogg’s players given his 6’6″ frame but he did well out in the USHL and did at least catch the eye of one Red Wing scout which says a lot.  Conor Allen is a solidly built defenseman also out of the USHL who should add some grit to the blueline.  Colin Shea looked to be a very smart blueliner the couple of times I saw him play and was able to move the puck well.  The key for him to play in Hockey East will be to bulk up.  Hopefully the upperclassmen have directed him to DP Dough and Antonio’s by now.

While teams like Maine, UNH, and Lowell are sweating their goaltending situation, that’s not the case for UMass thanks to having a three year starter at the position.  It’s always nice to have the superstar, Jon Quick-like goaltender to make flashy saves and steal wins, but all I ever ask for is a goalie who keeps the team in the game and gives them a chance to win.  And Paul Dainton has done that almost every night he has taken the ice.  His poise and his positioning are his strengths.  When I asked him if he felt he needed to do anything differently this year given the inexperience in front of him he basically said he’s going to go out and just do his thing and he has confidence in the guys in front of him.  Giving him a breather when needed will be freshman Jeff Teglia, one of the best goaltenders in the USHL the past two seasons and the likely goaltender of the future.  If needed, Kevin Moore will step in and is perpetually ready to go according to Cahoon.  Without a doubt goaltending is the team’s biggest strength.

I know I have referenced Coach Cahoon’s comments about making this team tougher mentally and physically and making a “Navy Seal” environment a lot over the summer.  My biggest question going into the season was whether Cahoon would actually do such things.  The answer so far seems to be yes.  Each of the captains indicated that the limited practices they’ve had have been a bit tougher this season but I think the clincher was learning that a few weeks ago the team had a two day “team building exercise” directed by a former Marine.  I think over the years the coach has tried to change how he relates to the players to try to get the best results.  It doesn’t sound like that’s how it’s going to be this year.  He’ll likely leave that up to the assistants but he’s going to kick asses when needed and try to follow through with what he said about making the team mentally tough.

What will be interesting is what he does with the team on the ice.  Those fans, like me at times, who get frustrated by the switching of the lines and varied offenses he runs, better buckle up.  He flat out called the offense a work in progress because with so many freshmen combined with the limited practice time (the past two weeks he’s been able to practice them for only four hours total) he doesn’t totally know what he has.  So be prepared to see guys jumping around on lines all the time and I think it’s justified given the situation.

He does sound like he’s a big believer in his incoming class and T.J Syner made a point of saying that how the players do in practice will determine who hits the ice.  He mentioned that practices will probably be pretty intense because you have 30ish players going for those limited spots to dress for games.  I think this will create a good environment of competition.  If you feel to have to go all out in practice and games to stay on the team it’ll translate to success.  While talented this team will not win with talent, it will win with effort and I think that’s what Cahoon is trying to squeeze out of the players.

I expect we’ll see a strong effort most every night.  I expect they’ll surprise some top teams here and there.  I expect them to lose ugly.  I expect one or two of the upperclassmen will be huge disappointments.  But, I expect it will be an entertaining season.  At least for me.  This is an intriguing storyline.  An underachieving team loses its big name stars, reloads nearly half its roster, combines them with a driven core group of guys and sends them off against a brutal schedule.  I don’t think we’ll learn a lot about the team the first weekend in Minnesota.  I don’t think we’ll know everything about this team by New Year’s either.  With so many freshmen progress will have to be measured game by game.  Boston College’s recruits didn’t look so hot last fall but by February they were comfortable and playing solid and by April they were national champions.  Lowell’s talented class that just graduated had the same kind of progression their freshman year where by the end of the season teams were worried to play them.  That’s what I’m hoping for.  I’d love to see a season where the team gets better bit by bit every week as the freshmen get more games under their belt.  Combine that with a senior in net and I’d like to see the team go on a little roll at the end of the season when they play six of their last eight in the Mullins Center and they can grab that last playoff spot in Hockey East.  The pundits and coaches don’t see that.  They see the team cleaning out lockers on March 6th.  I have a feeling the team might not feel the same way.


Brett Watson and his brother Chase are currently trying out for the Adirondack Phantoms, the AHL team for the Philadelphia Flyers where their dad and uncle played.  Good luck, Brett!


John Parker has been named captain of the Muskegon Lumberjacks.