View From Section U: FTT Mailbag

For a couple reasons, I decided to do something a little different for my weekly Wednesday feature and answer some reader questions.  First, I enjoy the interactions with readers and reading their insight and opinion.  And secondly, I couldn’t think of anything to write about this week.  So earlier today I asked fans on the Fear The Triangle Facebook page to submit their questions about UMass hockey or the blog and I would answer them to the best of my ability.  So here we go:

Carson asks:  “What are your thoughts on the goaltending situation thus far?”

In some ways it’s going how I expected, in that it’s wildly inconsistent.  From one game to the next, one period to the next, you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get out of the position.  Given that two of the goaltenders are freshman and the other only had limited experience, that’s not a surprise.  And that inconsistency is something that I think will lessen as the goaltenders get more games under their belts.  What has been a surprise is the rotation so far.  Obviously Steve Mastalerz getting injured threw a monkey wrench in having them all basically “tryout” for the first part of the season.  But I’m surprised that Jeff Teglia has seen so little time and Kevin Boyle has seen so much.  Boyle has the two wins for the team with one of them coming against top ranked Boston College, so he has had some success when he’s gotten out there.  But he also had a dreadful game at Providence and picked up the loss at UNH despite only being in there for four shots.  Teglia on the other hand has two losses in two games but those games came at BC and Boston University and he played very well against the Eagles and I heard was not to blame for the collapse in the other game.  He also has the best save percentage on the team as well.  I’d definitely like to see Tegs get some more time in net in the next few games.

Carson also asks:  “How do you feel about Eric Filiou centering the line with T.J. Syner and Conor Sheary on it?”

When looking at the roster, I feel that five of the six spots on the top lines are rock solid in Syner, Sheary, Danny Hobbs, Mike Pereira, and Branden Gracel.  But that other center spot seems to be up for grabs to whoever wants it most.  Filiou has improved his game a lot from last year when he made little impact on the outcome of games.  He’s beginning to show the intelligence and vision that contributed to some very successful seasons in the juniors.  But that said, he hasn’t really produced playing with those top players yet.  He has just one point on the season, an assist on Syner’s goal that opened the UNH game.  I think we may see that spot as a revolving door for a bit with both Kevin Czepiel and Steve Guzzo getting a shot at playing with those guys as well.  Filiou is starting to find his place on this team but I’m not yet convinced it’s on the top two lines.  That said, all the lines are fluid and I believe Toot even had Filiou with Hobbs and Pereira against BC.

Matt asks:  “What do you think of, as of next year, being the only HE team without a drafted player? Is this indicative of lackluster recruiting?”

This one is probably going to require a long answer.  First off, it’s not set in stone that UMass won’t have a drafted player next year as Kenny Gillespie has been mentioned as a NHL prospect.  Also, UMass likely has at least one more scholarship to hand out for next year.  Secondly, I personally think Mike Pereira, who attended the NHL Draft Combine a couple years ago, is certainly NHL Draft caliber.  That said, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have draft picks to be successful, at least to a degree.  Vermont is currently dead last among Hockey East teams in offense, defense, and in the standings despite having six NHL draft picks on their roster.  The 2008-09 Lowell River Hawk team that won 20 games and came an errant whistle away from winning the Hockey East championship had just one NHL draft pick.  Something to keep in mind is that if players had actually honored the commitments they made to the school there would currently be two 1st round draft picks on the UMass roster in John Carlson and Zack Phillips.   When it comes to recruiting I’m more interested in what they do on the ice than what NHL logo is next to their name on the roster.  Toot recruited players like Thomas Pöck, James Marcou and T.J. Syner because he thought, rightfully so, that they could be stars in college hockey.  Due to size or whatever the NHL didn’t think these guys were worth using a draft pick on, but in the college game Marcou and Pöck were Hobey candidates.  And that’s what I think matters most.  The NHL is looking for NHL players, the coaching staff is looking for college players.  Sometimes those two populations overlap, sometimes they don’t.  The number of draft picks can be one indicator of the overall skill level of your roster, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best way to measure college talent.

Will asks:  “(What are your) thoughts on the man advantage this year and what may have changed from last year, if anything?”

Certainly the power play has probably been the most pleasant surprise of the season.  I’m not an expert at the Xs and Os, but I think you’re seeing success because they’ve scrapped the reliance on the umbrella type of power play that requires the offense to be initiated from the defensemen.  Instead you’re seeing the puck being cycled into the corner and from there in front of the net.  How many times last season did you just see the puck get passed between the defensemen who would occasionally pass it to the top of the circles and then back out and then the defensman would shoot?  That’s not happening this year.  Last season 45% of the power play goals were scored by defensemen.  This year just one of UMass’ nine extra man goals (11%) have come from a d-man.  Another thing that is helping them execute this new strategy is the fact that the overall passing of the team has improved from last year.  They’re able to turn the puck over less and connect with tougher passes in tight than they did in the past.

John asks:  “This is year two of the “NAVY Seals” program. What impact is this having on the team?”

That’s a tough one.  Certainly the Navy Seal program that the team underwent at the beginning of this and last season was supposed to instill a mental toughness.  Has that mental toughness shown on the ice?  Not really.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  But one impact I think it has had on the team is made them closer.  Recent UMass teams, many of the ones mentioned in regards to late seasons collapses, had rumors of team cohesion issues.  Not that there was true in-fighting or anything, but just that it was cliquish and people on the team had different goals they were trying to reach.  I don’t hear or see that with this team or last season’s.  On the ice, in the locker room, around campus, even during the summer this team seems like a pretty close knit group.  I think maybe the whole Navy Seal thing has helped strengthen those bonds and hopefully will pay dividends in the long run.

Jason asks: “How much longer will we have to deal with Toot? What happened to Toot’s Marble Notebook? What was in Toot’s Marble Notebook? Will Blaise take over after Toot since he was interviewed in 2000 before Toot was hired?”

Well, we’ll have to “deal” with Toot for at least another year after this one.  Personally I’m still hopeful we’ll be dealing with some enjoyable successes in that time, but regardless his current contract takes him to the end of the 2012-13 season.  And I fully expect him to be here until that time.  For those who think this season will end badly and are hoping for a buyout, it’s not happening.  The administration and key supporters think very highly of him, especially for how well he represents the university, graduates his players, and brings in kids who go to class and stay out of trouble.  Secondly, whatever spare change is lying around the athletics offices that could be used for a buyout will likely be used on a much more pressing coaching change at the school that needs to made sooner rather later.  I doubt John McCutcheon would ever take the nearly unprecedented action of releasing Toot a year early.  And I don’t think Toot would retire early either.  He’s confident in his abilities and thinks highly of the players he has brought in.  In regards to the notebook, I didn’t notice he didn’t have it so far this season.  I supposed it could contain indexed dirt to blackmail each Hockey East official in order to get an edge on officiating, but my guess it has line combinations and scripted plays.  In regards to Blaise, if Toot were to hypothetically retire when his contract runs out I think Blaise’s experience would make him a leading candidate for the job.  But, I don’t think it would be a guarantee.  With all UMass has to offer I would hope the process would be opened up to garner interest from around the country in order to truly find the best person for the job.

Matt asks:  “Is the vilification of Mike Marcou justified?”

I think the concern about his level of play is definitely justified.  He struggled mightily last year and way too often was a liability on defense.  What isn’t justified in my eye is the level of blame that is put upon him for each loss or opponent goal.  UMass had 23 losses last year and not a single one was the fault of just Mike Marcou.  The entire team lost those games.  Yet Marcou seemed to get most of the blame.  This season I think his play has improved.  He’s gotten back to basics and stopped trying to do too much.  Not the most gifted athletically, he has played smart and concentrated on making sure he’s in the right place.  Last year through six games he had 2 goals, 3 assists, and was a –7.  This year through six games he has 5 points again, good for 7th among Hockey East defensemen, and has a –2 rating, equal to Adam Phillips or Anthony Raiola.  He’s even in his last three games which happened to come against tough opponents BC and BU.  And yet for all this UMass fans are relieved that he’s injured and unable to play.  I say give the kid a chance to improve his game.  And if he does, recognize it.

Matt also asks:  “If our goaltending situation was a beer, what kind of beer would it be?”

I honestly have no idea how to answer that.  However I’ll spin it a little different.  How about I pick my favorite beers from the goaltenders’ home town or state.  Steve Mastalerz is from North Andover.  My favorite local beer from that area comes from my Merrimack pregame spot,  Haverhill Brewing’s Alt Bier.  Kevin Boyle is from Manalapan, New Jersey while Kevin Moore is from Belle Mead.  The best Jersey beer comes from Flying Fish who, in homage to their home state, names some beers after NJ Turnpike exits.  I’m a fan of Exit 4.  Jeff Teglia is from Chicago, IL.  Goose Island used to be my favorite Windy City brewery until they decided to sellout and join forces with Budweiser.  Therefore I have to go slightly beyond the state line and pick Three Floyds as my favorite local brewery.

Chris asks:  “Where is Darren Rowe?”

In the stands.  As far as I know he’s healthy.  For whatever reason Toot doesn’t think it’s worth it to put him in on defense and either he or Rowe are not interested in him playing at forward.

The same Matt who didn’t have anything else to do this afternoon asks:  “What current Minuteman has the best chance of playing in the NHL?”

I would say Pereira.  Obviously he’ll have to get stronger, but he has a lot of the tools needed to play at that level.  I know that Kirk of the now defunct Bruins Draft Watch blog is very high on him and he’s a very good judge of NHL talent.

That’s it for questions.  This was fun.  Hope you enjoyed it.  I’ll try to do this a few more times during the season.

The Collegian has a profile on Steve Guzzo who I’ve enjoyed watch play this season.

They also have a preview of the weekend.

Dick Baker has a profile of Oleg Yevenko.

Hockey East and NESN have agreed to a four year broadcast agreement.  Right now the game at Fenway is the only UMass game scheduled to be on the channel this season, but the schedule for late February and early March has yet to be determined.

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  1. Carson

     /  November 9, 2011

    great responses, interesting insight! i agree about pereira being the closest thing to an nhl prospect (other than hobbs obviously) on the nhl roster…and yeah ive been reading a lot of positive reports about gillespie too


    • Gillespie won’t be helped by the slow start he’s gotten off to though.


      • Carson

         /  November 9, 2011

        yes this is also true. i have seen some scouting sites that have him going in the 2nd/3rd rounds of next years draft though, so there are at least some people who feel pretty strongly about his abilities.


        • Will

           /  November 9, 2011

          Scouting sites also had Pereira projected to be drafted in that area two years in a row. I think if he continues to put up big numbers he has a shot. Although after 2010 I would rather have noone on the team be drafted… or signed to an AHL team for that matter.


  2. Carson

     /  November 9, 2011

    and also as far as filiou playing on the second line…i like the thought of giving guzzo a shot there as i have impressed with him thusfar, but at the same time the line of carzo-guzzo-power seems to be clicking pretty well right now, so at least in the short run i would be hesitant to break that combo up…i had hoped (like you) that zack larue would be the one to take that final top 6 spot, but he has been a pretty big non-factor thusfar


  3. Daniel

     /  November 10, 2011

    The one think that I would like to see more is the defense to be more physical when the opposing teams forwards are bringing the puck down. It seems that far too often our defense continues to back up as the forwards attack the zone. I know that you can’t do it every time but coming up and hitting someone a couple of times a game as they cross the blue line will give the opposing forwards something extra to think about when bringing the puck down. We have good size on defense and I feel we need to use it more.


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