Saturday Recap; UMass Secures a Playoff Spot

UMass lives to fight another day.  And what’s impressive is they secured their playoff spot in the last game with their own actions.  There was no backing into the playoffs.  In fact, with Providence beating Merrimack, things looked very grim with Maine leading the Minutemen 3-0 after one period of play.  But the team pulled together, got a nice effort from seniors and underclassmen alike, and they’ll have the chance to upset regular season champ Boston College next weekend.

The players afterward who made it into the press conference cited two things that helped drive them to the tie and key point.  First was an impassioned speech by senior Marc Concannon in the locker room after the first period.  The second was the fact that the coaching staff decided to go ahead after the second period and tell the team that Providence was currently up on Merrimack 5-3.  I love this decision by Toot and the coaches.  There are coaches out there who wouldn’t share that information, thinking it could distract the team or make them get away from their game.  But they correctly realized that this team plays its best in desperate times.  With this knowledge and the seniors rallying the troops UMass again showed that they play their best hockey when coming back from a lead.  This team has showed a lot of heart all season and have launched comebacks regularly throughout, though not always successfully.  But it shouldn’t have surprised anyone to see them make another run late and give themselves a chance to win the game and keep their season going.

Maine got up 3-0 by being allowed to do too much in front of the net and in the slot without really being touched at all.  UMass has to get better at keeping track of the guys camped out in front of the Dainton and the trailing players coming straight down the slot.  Rocco Carzo’s key goal in the beginning of the second got UMass on the board and at least within striking distance when the third period started.  Paul Dainton made some unbelievable saves before, during, and after UMass’ big third period comeback, some of them being the best of his career.  Without his heroics UMass still ends up a goal or two short this game.

Danny Hobbs got the 3rd period with another rebound goal, his second in two nights.  One of the biggest differences I’ve seen with this team in the last few weeks compared to when they were really struggling against good teams earlier in the year is they’re getting in front of the opposing goaltender.  No one has been better at this than Hobbs.  Putting home rebounds or screening the goalie has led to an increase in quality chances and goals.  I think going forward Toot is going to have to put Mike Pereira on the ice after every UMass goal as, for the second time in two nights, he followed up a UMass goal with one of his own just seconds afterwards.  Whatever lull Pereira was experiencing in scoring seems to be a thing of the past as he’s been very active the last few games and had a number of good chances last night that could’ve been goals as well.  And UMass capped off their scoring with another big goal by the biggest Minuteman, Adam Phillips.  I think his experience as a forward, the position he played until just a few years ago, gives him great vision on the ice and he made a smart decision to jump up into the play to score UMass’ fourth goal.  If he becomes a threat from far out with his slap shot combined with the ability to move around down low it’ll give UMass a lot of flexibility to craft future offensive gameplans.  It’s unfortunate that again UMass gave up a late goal after turning their deficit and a lead, but they didn’t let it affect them and played tough defense afterwards, only allowing one shot in overtime.

Getting into the Hockey East playoffs is a worthwhile accomplishment for this team.  Remember, nearly all of the college hockey media and the other Hockey East coaches picked them to miss the playoffs entirely, citing last year’s early defections.  Yet, from the very start of Hockey East play UMass showed they were better than those predictions, spending most of the season in 7th place and found a way to hold onto 8th at the end.  The playoffs is also a good thing for these freshmen, as it gives them at least another weekend to play and develop, another week of practice, and they get to experience the intensity of the Hockey East playoffs, which is beneficial for future seasons.  Lastly it gives us fans a chance to see Dainton, Chase Langeraap, Concannon, Doug Kublin, and Shawn Saunders pull on that UMass sweater a few more times.  All of these guys came up big on senior night; Dainton made huge saves, Concannon played well and rallied the guys between periods, Kublin was Doug Kublin and had the tough task of shadowing Gustav Nyquist, Langeraap had another great night on both sides of the puck, and Saunders made some key contributions and as always gave his full effort despite not playing in weeks.  Hopefully these guys can further cement their legacy by pulling off one of the biggest upsets in school history.  They played BC tough for 8 of 9 periods this season.  Let’s see if they can move from just competing with the Eagles to something else entirely.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Rocco Carzo
All season people have been asking “What’s wrong with Rocco?”  The sophomore has struggled mightily to regain the offensive play he showed last year when playing with James Marcou and Casey Wellman.  Since the start of the calendar year or so his played improved quite a bit and he was making solid contributions in the faceoff circle and on defense, and was even throwing his body around well in recent weeks.  But last night he exploded offensively with a goal and two assists.  The goal kept UMass in the game and gave them hope when he streaked down the ice and made a nice shot where he took the puck from his backhand to forehand and shot far side in one motion.  He would go on to pick up points on both the Pereira and Phillips goals.

Here are your Hockey East playoff pairings:

#8 Massachusetts at #1 Boston College
#7 Vermont at #2 New Hampshire
#6 Northeastern at #3 Boston University
#5 Maine at #4 Merrimack

Dick Baker’s recap doesn’t appear to be up yet, but he does have this piece highlighting Concannon’s speech.

Doug Kublin says the team knows they can play with BC in the recap from the Gazette.

The Maine players give a lot of credit to UMass for how they performed with their backs against the wall in this recap from the Portland Press Herald.  Maine coach Tim Whitehead also had a lot of nice things to say about the UMass team in both postgame press conference, starting off last night by saying he was happy UMass got the point they needed because they deserved it.