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.