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NHL Updates

A few NHL related UMass news to pass along tonight.

First, Mike Kostka has signed a one year deal with the Florida Panthers.  Hopefully playing in the Panthers system (not exactly tops in the NHL) will afford him a chance to make his NHL debut.

Secondly, sticktap to a FTT reader who informed me that T.J. Syner has received an invite to attend the Washington Capitals Development Camp.

Lastly, Adam Phillips has received an invitation to attend the Philadelphia Flyers camp.  Joining him there will be none other than former Notre Dame goaltender Brad Phillips, Adam’s brother.

Last minute addition to this post:

Recruit Kenny Gillespie was included on NHL Central Scouting’s watch list for the 2012 draft.  Gillespie is considered a “B” level prospect.

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History On UMass’ Side

Much was made of the youth that made up a good portion of this past season’s roster for the Minutemen.  All in all UMass had 13 freshmen on the roster, not counting Stephen Guzzo who didn’t suit up due to an injury that occurred on the eve of the opener against Minnesota.  But this wasn’t the first time in recent history that UMass has had such a large freshman class.  And if history is any guide, it just may mean UMass is in for a historic season starting this fall.

UMass had 12 freshmen come to Amherst in the fall of 2001, Coach Toot Cahoon’s first real recruiting class.  That class featured guys like Peter Trovato, Tim Vitek, and Greg Mauldin, who put up 12 goals and 12 assists that season, nearly identical numbers to what Mike Pereira did last year as a freshman.  Of course as one would imagine that inexperienced team struggled during the 2001-02 season and finished with an 8-24-2 record.  Though in another similarity to this past year’s squad, 10 of those losses came by a single goal.  That next year however those 12 freshmen become sophomores and history is made.  The 2002-03 Minutemen turned a lot of those close losses into close wins and enjoyed the most successful year of UMass hockey in Division I to that point in time..  With a year under their belts the freshmen turned sophomores rolled into Orono for the Hockey East Quarterfinals and did the unthinkable, sweeping Maine at Alfond to earn their first ever trip to the Garden (nee FleetCenter).  There they pushed UNH in the Semis before falling 5-4.

The sophomore class wasn’t alone in that run however, because that 2002-03 team also featured a whopping 13 freshmen, featuring guys like Gabe Winer, Chris Capraro, and Stephen Werner.  Grand total there were 24 freshmen and sophomores on the roster that year.  If the current UMass roster were to stay as is (unlikely) then when you add in the projected freshman class for this fall of 9 players then UMass would also feature 24 underclassmen.  Of course when those sizable, talented classes of the early 2000s got yet another year under their belt is when things really got interesting.  In 2003-04 with the Winer class now sophomores and the Mauldin class now juniors the UMass squad came a Jimmy Howard glove save away from being crowned Hockey East Champions and earning their first trip to the NCAAs.

There was another year in the last decade when UMass had a double digit sized freshman class and that was the 2005-06 season.  That freshman class couldn’t save UMass from a 13-21-2 season in their first go around.  But the next season, when those freshman became sophomores, it was their class that led the program to its high watermark.  It’s easy to point to sophomore Jon Quick as responsible for the the team making it to the NCAAs and a first round win over Clarkson, but lets not forget that fellow sophomore Cory Quirk also shared the team lead in goals that year with Mark Matheson.

So there have been three times in recent history when a large, impactful freshman class came into Amherst.  It’s tough to measure how much influence the 2003-04 class had since the class before it was equally large and talented.  But looking at the other two similar years to this past year, UMass had a dramatic increase in success as those large freshman classes become sophomores. From the 2001-02 season to the 2002-03 season the team went from 8 wins to 19 and improved from 9th place in Hockey East to 6th.  From the 2005-06 season to the 2006-07 season the team went from 13 wins to 21 wins and jumped from 8th place in Hockey East to 4th and home ice.

What does this mean for next year?  Well I think a strong and deep freshman class coming in could help in addition to the normal development of last year’s freshmen, especially since it seems to address some major needs like goaltender depth and the all-important size aspect.  Interestingly the squad that went on to win 19 games in 02-03 had a major question mark at goaltender just as the one that takes the ice this October has.  Mike Johnson graduated the prior year and the 02-03 squad featured rarely used sophomore Mike Warner with freshmen Mike Waidlich and Gabe Winer.  Not unsimilar to having sophomore Jeff Teglia fight for time with Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz.  Of course Gabe Winer grabbed the reigns and played well enough to get to the Garden.  Will one of those three goaltenders do the same and we see history repeat itself?

Not too much other stuff going on out in UMasshockeyland.

Alex Berry was not extended a qualifying offer by the Tampa Bay Lightning which means he’ll be a free agent once the signing period starts on Friday.  He had an excellent season for the Norfolk Admirals so I’m sure he’ll hook on somewhere.

I meant to mention it in my Monday post but the draft day trade that sent Brent Burns from Minnesota to San Jose in exchange for a number of young players, including BU’s Charlie Coyle, is not good news for Justin Braun.  That’s another established blueliner that Braun (not to mention Matt Irwin) will have to battle against for ice time with the big club.

Likewise, the Wild acquiring Darroll Powe from the Flyers is another center for Casey Wellman to worry about in the system.  Wellman likely will have to make a legitimate case to be the Wild’s 2nd line center in order to see playing time in the Twin Cities.

Still looking for UMass players on NHL development camps but so far Danny Hobbs appears to be it.

Great to see former goaltender Dan Meyers has joined the coaching ranks, working with current UMass goaltending coach Mike Buckley.

Pereira Goes Undrafted

Despite a very successful freshman season in Hockey East, UMass forward Mike Pereira was not selected in this past weekend’s NHL draft.  Pereira did not dwell on the draft this year, telling Matt Vautour of the Gazette that he would be checking the coverage here and there during the day but wasn’t planning around it.  He did say that going undrafted last year motivated him, so it likely will again.  A strong sophomore effort would go a long way to helping the UMass team have a breakout season.  In fact, following the draft Pereira thanked his supporters on twitter and ended with the hashtag “#missionHEchampionship”.  Sounds motivated to me.  Maybe we can send the NHL scouts a thank you note in a couple years for replacing the chip on his shoulder.

Dick Baker had some interesting comments from assistant coach Red Gendron on what Pereira not being drafted means for the long run.  Interesting in what Red had to say and interesting that it’s Red that’s saying it.  Maybe the news of him going to Yale wasn’t as definite as first thought.

Hockey East did have a number of current and future players picked over the weekend, including Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak.  With Greg Cronin bolting for the NHL the college future of Oleksiak and some top Husky recruits is in question.

Former UMass commit Zack Phillips was picked 28th overall, joining John Carlson as first round picks who never made it to Amherst.

Around the NHL, Casey Wellman, a restricted free agent, was offered a qualifying contract by the Wild and Danny Hobbs is attending New York Ranger Development Camp for the third straight summer.  Only a handful of camps have started or released their roster so far.  I’ll do my best to pass along news of any other attendees.

Lastly, a bunch of people have asked me about potential roster changes going into next season.  I’ve certainly heard some speculative talk regarding  players who might be looking to leave due to playing time or other reasons, but as of yet I don’t know of anything official.  The roster at UMassAthletics.com has been updated with everyone’s new class year (I think Joel Hanley and Stephen Guzzo were mistakenly switched), but so far there are no deletions from last year’s squad reflected.

Something To Root For

Between April and October there’s certainly still a lot of college hockey activity to follow.  You have coaching news, early departures, pro signings, recruiting of course goes on year round, and this offseason you even had some conference drama as plans were announced for the Big Ten.  But there are very few times during those months when you can actually root for something.  To root for your team before the fall.

This weekend is one of those moments however as the 2011 NHL Draft will take place in Minnesota, with the first round tomorrow night and rounds two through seven on Saturday.  Lots of college fans will be rooting for their school’s players or future players to hear their name called by an NHL team.  Of course it’s great to have a player or recruit drafted as it creates prestige and awareness of your college’s hockey program.  This weekend though I think beyond hoping  another name is added to the list of Minutemen that have been drafted, I’m truly rooting for Mike Pereira to get his name called.

Last year at this time it seemed like a virtual lock that Pereira would be selected on draft day.  He had just helped lead Avon Old Farms to a prep title.  He was ranked 63rd overall for North American skaters and was one of only 100 players invited to the NHL combine.  There were numerous publications that projected him as being worthy of using a draft choice on.  But the NHL draft came and went and he wasn’t picked.  The story later was that the concerns about his size and strength did him in.

I was worried at the time if getting bypassed would affect his play.  If it did, it did only to motivate him because he came out and had a monster of a freshman year.  He tied Danny Hobbs for the team lead in goals, finished 3rd on the team in points, and was one of only four players to finish with a positive plus minus rating.  He led all Hockey East freshmen in goals and came in second in total points to Charlie Coyle who went in the first round of the draft last year.  He was runner-up to Coyle for the Newcomer of the Year award though the argument could easily be made that Pereira was much more important to UMass than Coyle to BU or even Jamie Oleksiak was to Northeastern.  The towering Husky is projected to be selected in the first round tomorrow night.  If he wanted to make the case that the NHL teams who passed on him made a mistake he certainly did a good job, not just showing he could play in an elite college conference but he could excel there while playing against future NHLers.

Still, it’s tough to see if all his effort caught the attention of the scouts.  He wasn’t picked last year when ranked 63rd among North American skaters and going into this weekend he’s now ranked 115th.  Still ranked high enough where a selection is possible, but gone is the hype and stories surrounding his NHL potential.  And that is why I’ll be rooting hard for Pereira this weekend to hear his name called, perhaps even by the New York Rangers, his favorite team growing up.  He’s kept up his side of the bargain and gone out and shown himself to be one of the better young players in all of college hockey.  I’ll be rooting for the NHL to wake up and take notice.

New England Hockey Journal lists Pereira as the 6th best New England product in the draft.

Recruit Joseph Manno is also ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting going into this weekend.  His 145th ranking among North American skaters could translate into a 6th or 7th round selection.

Pereira and Manno aren’t the only Minutemen pursuing NHL dreams.  So too is former captain Mike Kostka, who despite leading his AHL team in scoring last year as a defenseman still finds himself without a team and seeking his first game in the NHL.  Interesting anecdote in the story is that Kostka caught the attention of the UMass coaching staff as they were scouting former Wisconsin Badger and current Colorado Avalanche goaltender Bryan Elliot.

And former Minutemen Tim Turner is the subject of one of Matt Vautour’s “Where Are They Now?” features.

No major rule changes this coming year.

Red Leaving For Ivy Green?

Back from vacation means back to writing about UMass hockey.  I had a great trip down to the  mid-Atlantic area.  I got to visit three breweries (Dogfish Head, Ram’s Head/Fordham, Victory), see countless national treasures like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and hung out with a few of the original Section U inhabitants dating back to the triangle days.

So did anything happen hockey-wise in this area while I was gone?  Oh yeah, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup!!  What a run.  I’m definitely a college hockey fan first, as that’s how I first got into the game, but seeing the black and gold as the owners of Lord Stanley’s chalice is beyond thrilling.  New England is now the center of the hockey world, let’s hope that continues next fall when UMass and the rest of Hockey East return to the ice.

Of course there was some UMass news during last week as well.  USHR reported that Red Gendron will be leaving Amherst to take an assistant coaching position at Yale under Keith Allain.  Gendron does have a relationship already with Allain from when they previously coached for the US program.  From everything I’ve heard, this report appears to be true even though it’s not official yet.  I’ll be sorry to see Red go.  He’s done a lot for the program from recruiting many of the talented players on the ice to all the hard work he does for things like the annual golf outing.  He’s also been very friendly to fans and supporters of the program.  Whatever the future holds for him, I’ll be rooting for him (except of course when Yale comes to town this fall).

Also in the USHR report was the statement that they’re “hearing” that Red will be replaced by former Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald.  Besides being colleagues in the Hockey East coaching ranks, MacDonald and Toot Cahoon were also assistants together at BU.  First off, I have not been able to confirm that the report that MacDonald is about to be hired is true, but makes sense that he’d be in the mix.  Secondly, I’m not sure I like this news.  I have a lot of respect for the job that Blaise did at Lowell.  Against all of the challenges that surrounded that program, even when it was on the verge of getting mothballed by the Board of Trustees, he was able to consistently recruit some top talent in the league.  However, he was just fired from that job because he was never able to get that talent to its full potential.  At Lowell he had a history of his very best teams underperforming regularly and sometimes dramatically.  Problem is, in recent years UMass has also suffered from that same charge of underperforming compared to its potential.  If Toot is going to bring in someone new to the staff, I would rather the person have a record of addressing some of the team’s recent deficiencies.

My ideal replacement for Red?  Hire alum and current ECHL coach Dean Stork and groom him to replace Toot in a couple years when he likely retires.

In other Hockey East coaching news, remember how friend of FTT Ryan S. Clark reported a couple months ago that Greg Cronin was leaving Northeastern for the NHL and Cronin vehemently denied the report?  Well Cronin was hired today as an assistant coach for Toronto.  Maple Leafs or Northeastern?  Hmm…lateral move at best.  It should be interesting to see if any recruits or current Husky players look to leave with their coach on the move.

UMass has lost out to Providence for the services of South Kent defenseman Anthony Florentino.  Florentino is a talented defenseman who has participated in past US national development camps previously.  This one hurts a little because he has some close ties to the Minuteman program and from what I’ve read is highly regarded.

Congratulations to Conor Allen, Mike Lecomte, Kevin Moore, Colin Shea, and Jeff Teglia who were named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team for this past season.  Lecomte was named to the team for all four of his years at UMass.

Stuff the ballot box!  Vote for Paul Dainton for UMass Play of the Year!

Speaking of voting, don’t forget to take the survey for which UMass license plate you like best.

With the Cup awarded, that means the NHL Draft is just around the corner.  Hockey’s Future has Mike Pereira as one of the top 10 draft eligible players in the NCAA.  Pereira will also be featured in a pre-draft article in the New England Hockey Journal that I’ll be sure to pass along when it’s published.

Dick Baker of the Republican caught up with Greg Mauldin and Justin Braun at last week’s Golf Outing.

Golf Outing Recap

There’s not too much news that came out of yesterday’s golf outing other than the outing itself was another great success. Coach Red Gendron and Pond Club President Mike Merchant, who both work very hard organizing the event, were pleased with the turnout and everyone seemed to have a good time. The annual golf outing not only serves as a gathering of those close to the program but as a fundraiser as well. There appeared to be good number of sponsorships this year as well. Fear The Triangle proudly sponsored a hole again and it was great to see a few fellow Section Uers sponsor holes for the first time.

There were a number of former players in attendence. Jon Quick wasn’t able to make it but those that did included Justin Braun, Greg Mauldin, Matt Anderson, Peter Trovato, Topher Bevis, Cory Quirk, Stephen Werner, and Doug Kublin. Also in attendence was NHL legend and former UVM Catamount John LeClair.

Overall an enjoyable and successful day. Even for those of us who don’t golf. There’s agreat video recap of the event up on the UMass Athletics site.

http://m.youtube.com/?rdm=4mvi3lsqu

Sorry I don’t have a fancy way to link since this is being typed up on my iPhone while heading to the Mid-Atlantic for some vacation. Highlighting the trip will be a visit to Dogfish Head brewery. Be sure to follow on Twitter and Facebook as I’ll do my best to pass along any news through those methods.

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Hobbs Article

The New York Rangers featured an excellent article on co-captain Danny Hobbs this past week.  Their title of “Hobbs’ hard work paid off big in 2010-11” says it all.  As I said when it was time to hand out award for this past year, Hobbs would’ve definitely received my most improved player award if there was such a thing.  For two years he gave us short glimpses into the player he could be, this past year he gave us a full season’s worth of everything he is.  It doesn’t surprise me that that the Rangers have stood up and taken notice.  If he can build off last season where he became one of the most important players on the UMass team the Rangers will certainly be very interested in him come the end of the season.  He’ll also play a very key role in seeing where what UMass can achieve this coming season.  Good to see he’s accumulating some kudos after this past season.  He earned them.

Not too much else going on UMass hockey-wise.  Tomorrow is the Pond Club Golf Outing.  I do plan to be there for the non-golf portion and will be sure to pass along any news or tidbits passed along to me.

Golf Outing Update

Just wanted to relay a couple pieces of news for the golf outing.  Steve Sullivan of the Pond Club passed along that there’s still room for four more foursomes for this Monday’s golf outing.  Just click on the logo to the right for all the info on how to sign up.

He also shared the preliminary list of former players who will be joining the coaches, fans, and media that will be there.  Here is who has committed so far:

Jon Quick
Topher Bevis
Keith O’Connell
PJ Fenton
Scott Crowder
Cory Quirk
Justin Braun
Jeff Lang
Steve Werner
Peter Trovato
Chris Capraro
Greg Mauldin

Some of the finest to ever wear the maroon and white (not to mention a triangle or two) are in that group.  Make sure to sign up before it’s too late!

Also, I want to pass along congratulations to former UMass goaltender Matt Gedman who was taken by the Red Sox in the MLB draft today.  Of course his father Rich was the catcher for the Sox during the 80s.  Gedman had a 1.000 save percentage in four minutes of play as a backup goaltender for the hockey team before devoting himself to the baseball team full time.  He’s not the first UMass hockey player to have his rights held by a MLB team.  Former Minuteman John Toffey was drafted by both Tampa Bay of the NHL and the Colorado Rockies of the National League.

Finally, it appears UMass was in the running for the services of forward Pietro Antonelli who will be suiting up for Maine instead.  Antonelli was also considering Penn State and Princeton.  Antonelli played most recently at Stanstead College, a prep school in Quebec where co-captain Danny Hobbs once played.

Auvenshine Update; Westward Expansion

Though I was born on the North Shore, went to high school in the Rockies, and now live on the South Shore, I consider and will always consider Western Mass to be my home.  So to see the footage of a tornados rolling past landmarks I know well and the devastation they brought to the WMass and CMass towns was heartbreaking.  The UMass hockey community ranges near and far and certainly a good number of fans come from the areas affected.  Please know that my thoughts are certainly with all of you in this time of recovery and rebuilding.

Sorry for the lack of posting recently.  I’ve been busy with brewing and Bruins.  My first foray into homebrewing and several top notch beer events have kept my busy during the offseason as well as the Bruins spectacular run to the Stanley Cup.  I was lucky enough to be at last night’s game and have to say that it may have usurped UMass’ Hockey East Semifinal win over UNH in 2004 as my favorite memory in the new Garden.

While, rightfully so, the Bruins are dominating the local hockey landscape, there are some UMass and other related topics to discuss however.

First up are a couple of stories on UMass’ newest commit, Emerson Auvenshine, who will be at UMass this fall.  First is this piece from the website of the Bismarck Bobcats where he played juniors.  The piece expands upon some of the information that was shared to me when he first committed last month.  Dick Baker also checks in with a blog entry on Auvenshine.  Overall looks like the coaching staff has added a high energy player who is really happy about the opportunity to play in Hockey East.  He could end up being a valuable addition to next year’s roster.

Baker also has a short piece on next week’s golf tournament.  There’s still time to sign up, folks!  Click on the logo to the right for more info.  Your time on the links will help the UMass team on the ice.

Paul Dainton, Lord of the Ring. (Stick tap to reader Adam for passing this along).

Casey Wellman and his Houston Aeros fell short of the Calder Cup as the Binghamton Senators took the AHL championship in six games.

Former Providence player Alex Velischeck who left the Friars midseason to play in the USHL has found a college team to play for.  His old team.  The talented defenseman is returning to play in the Coffin for new coach Nate Leaman.

The Bangor Daily News is reporting that Notre Dame is considering joining Hockey East in the wake of a number of CCHA programs jumping ship to help form Big Ten Hockey.  The article also states that the league’s reluctance to have an odd number of teams could lead to an invitation to Miami as well.

Notre Dame has established itself as one of the best programs in the country.  Jeff Jackson has taken the team to great heights and as a result the school will be opening a brand new arena this fall.  Miami recently opened a new barn for their hockey program which has made it to the national championship game under coach Enrico Blasi.  Both these teams already share traits with current Hockey East schools.  Notre Dame is of course a catholic rival with Boston College while  Miami and UMass will soon be meeting each other regularly on the MAC gridiron.  Either one of these programs would be a huge addition for a hockey conference.  Adding both would solidify Hockey East as the far and away best conference in the country.

Yet, I personally would not want Hockey East to add either of these teams.  There are a lot of aspects of Hockey East that makes it great like the rivalries, the success, and traditions.  But one of the things that I really think makes Hockey East unique is the geography.  The conference’s footprint sits entirely within New England.  As a fan, the fact that it’s possible to jump in the car every weekend, drive a few hours, and watch them play each of their conference foes in enemy barns is priceless.  Only the ECAC can claim this benefit as well, and that drive from the North Country to Princeton is a lot longer than even Amherst to Orono.  Hockey East is unique in its current formation and I hate to have a couple of Midwest programs disrupt that, even if they are two very worthy programs.  Call me provincial, call me shortsighted, but that’s how I feel.  In a day and time where the Big East extends to Texas and the Atlantic 10 reaches to the banks of the Mississippi, Hockey East is a reminder of how college conferences should be.  Plus, in an era of skyrocketing costs, a bus ride cost structure helps keep DII schools like Lowell within arms reach of a Boston College.  Start adding in plane fares and its unknown if the smaller Hockey East schools would be able to absorb the higher overhead to their programs.

That’s not to say I’m anti-expansion.  I just think that expansion should be limited to the current footprint.  There are a few schools out there that could be worthy additions down the road, though none are ready to join anytime soon.  Quinnipiac could be an intriguing addition.  As would Holy Cross with a lot of effort put in to upgrade the profile of their program.  Hell, even UConn may make for a good rivalry for UMass if they ever decide to start a invest in their hockey program.  Perhaps future schools are not even on the radar as of yet.  Maybe old friend Thorr Bjorn down at Rhode Island decides to drop Ram football altogether in favor of Ram hockey.  Maybe that geographic footprint could be extended west to include a prospective program at Syracuse.  While none of these schools are a Miami or a Notre Dame, I think in the long run they’d be a better fit for the existing schools.

UMass alums should fill out this survey from the Alumni Association on the license plate project.  I’m ecstatic to see they’re reviving this idea with the survey being the first step in what will hopefully be a successful result.  I honestly don’t care how many plates are out there on the road at the end of it all, I just want one.  So I guess I’m being selfish.  But hey, I don’t charge for this site and you only rarely have to deal with advertisers and all that mess.  So do me this favor and just fill out the survey so I can roll in the Mullins lot with the maroon and white on the back of my car.

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