View From Section U: Thank You Seniors!

The time has come for another crop of players to grace the Mullins Center ice one last time.

#11  Danny Hobbs ▲ Shawville, Quebec ▲ Psychology

It’s never easy to be an NHL draft pick in a program that traditionally has had few.  But that was the situation when New York Ranger pick Danny Hobbs walked into as a freshman four years ago.  While he didn’t put up huge numbers in the USHL it was known that he was on one of the weakest teams in the league (which is now no longer in existence) and was still seen as someone who would come into the program and make an impact right away.  He didn’t.  Despite playing 24 games that first year he registered exactly one point and one goal for the entire season.  He had better numbers the next season, scoring 3 goals to go with 9 assists but often he looked a stride slow and played without much confidence.  He rarely seemed to take advantage of his strength.  But it didn’t matter too much.  Those teams had guys like James Marcou, Casey Wellman, Will Ortiz, Matt Irwin, and T.J. Syner to put up points and could make due without Hobbs’ contributions.  But then Ortiz graduated and Marcou, Wellman, and Irwin all left early for the pros and UMass was left with very little in terms of returning scorers.

UMass was also left with few leaders and three juniors were picked as alternate captains to assist captain Paul Dainton.  Danny Hobbs was one of them.  With the A on his chest and the team looking for players to shoulder the scoring load he had a breakout year.  By New Years he had already equaled his goal total from the prior two years combined.  He finish the year with 28 points total, leading the team.  His 12 goals and 5 power play goals would tie for the team lead.  On a team that only won six games, he had one third of the game winners.  Hobbs’ breakout was probably the best storyline on a season that had few.  At the start of the season it seemed a little odd that coach Toot Cahoon would choose an underachieving junior over seniors on the roster for part of the team captaincy.  But Hobbs grabbed hold of his leadership role and became the player that we had hoped to see in the prior two years.  An annoying groin injury that has plagued him all season has prevented him beating the stats he put up last year, but he has still been able to battle through his physical issues and be one of four Minutemen with double digits in goals.  I think the Hobbs emergence as a legitimate leader and impactful player from two years of disappointment is one of the better stories in recent UMass history and it’s also a lesson to remember when touted freshman come in and don’t make a splash right away.  After two seasons some fans may have given up on Danny Hobbs.  But he certainly didn’t give up on himself.

#14  T.J. Syner ▲ Springfield, Massachusetts ▲ Finance & Operations Management

Western Massachusetts has had some excellent players make their way from the valley to Hockey East; from Bill Guerin to Barry Almeida.  UMass has gotten a good share of the local guys to make the short trip to Amherst, but they’ve missed out on a lot too.  T.J. Syner is one I’m really glad they didn’t miss out on.  In addition to giving UMass four solid years of effort and contribution, he has been a lot of fun to watch.  I first got to see Syner play two seasons before he ever put on the maroon and white, during the time he was playing for the Springfield Junior Falcons in the EJHL.  As I watched him in the frigid Rockland Ice Arena I had two thoughts.  He’s tiny and goddamn he’s fast.  Given the ease he was skating past, around, and through the other junior players on the 85’ by ‘185 ice in Rockland, I couldn’t wait to see what he could do on the expansive Mullins surface.  UMass fans would have to wait one more season as he headed west to the USHL after playing for the Falcons, but it was worth it.  In his first couple years Syner’s contributions were overshadowed by those of fellow classmate Casey Wellman.  But while Wellman’s time at UMass was fleeting Syner stayed at home in the valley for his entire college eligibility.

All the hometown hero has given UMass is four years of double digit points, two years of leading the team in assists, two years of leadership, some amazing breakaways and odd man rushes, and an amazing knack to score empty net goals from his own zone.  He’ll leave UMass as, at the very least, the fastest to wear that maroon and white that I’ve ever seen.  He has also been a very stand up individual for the team on and of the ice.  With his leadershis responsibilities he has often had to speak to the media after bad losses and he has always done so directly and honestly, never trying to deflect blame or make excuses.  Flat out, T.J. Syner has been one of the most exciting players to watch in my many years of watching UMass hockey.  I’m glad that we have at least a couple more games to get to see him on the ice.  Who knows what we’ll get to see.

#22  Michael Marcou ▲ Kings Park, New York ▲ Psychology

I’ll be completely honest, when UMass brought Mike Marcou on as a recruit and I did some research on him I pretty much chalked it up as a move to keep his brother happy and hopefully in Amherst.  The latter didn’t happen but a funny thing happened along the way,  Mike Marcou turned out to be a legitimate Hockey East defenseman.  Unfortunately with that he laso became one of the most maligned Hockey East defenseman in the minds of some of his own fanbase.  While he struggled at times in his career Marcou ignored his detractors, kept fighting to prove he deserved to be out on the ice every night, and as a result is having a senior season to be proud of.

Marcou showed up to campus as a freshmen with very little expected of him.  He ended up playing 20 games that first year and proved that he could in fact play defense at this level.  As a sophomore he played every game and suddenly showed that he go do more than just contribute in the defensive end and put in 7 goals that season, equaling Matt Irwin and just one behind Justin Braun.  However, his focus on offense caused his defense to lapse a bit and he ended the season –9 and the criticism of his play began.  Last year Mike Marcou was chosen as an alternate captain and become a go to guy on defense, playing a ton of minutes, and perhaps it ended up being too much for the guy who came to Amherst with little expectations.  Though he still made solid contributions on offense his defense suffered horribly and a vocal portion of the UMass faithful put much of their frustration from a six win season squarely on his shoulders.  Some players wouldn’t have been able to recover from the insults and poor performance.  Marcou responded by having a great senior season.  So far he has scored 6 goals to go with 12 assists.  And that once dreadful +/- rating?  +5, good for sixth on the team.  Marcou has never been the most athletic player on the team.  His skating is average (on a good day) and he’s under six feet tall which doesn’t help as a defenseman.  But he’s been able to establish himself as a legit college defenseman by playing smart and sheer hard work.  And for that I hope the UMass fans make sure to give him a raucous thank you tomorrow night.  Even the haters.

#30 Kevin Moore ▲ Belle Mead, New Jersey ▲ Journalism

I have the utmost respect for the time, effort, and sacrifice it takes to be a Division I athlete.  To be able to balance the overwhelming workload of classes, studying, practices, conditioning, games, and road trips while actually trying to enjoy the college life now and then is not an easy task.  But athletes take on the task and hard work for the chance at playing regularly and perhaps achieving hockey glory along the way.  To be willing to undertake all that sacrifice, time and effort while knowing there’s very little chance of getting any minutes in an actual game is truly admirable.  And that’s exactly what has undertaken for the past three and a half years.

In fact, he’s done more than that.  He didn’t just go to the practices, do the required conditioning, sit on the bus, and cheer his team from the stands.  He became a leader on this team, even as a third and fourth string goaltender.  That’s impressive.  When goaltender Paul Dainton was selected as captain last year Moore was dubbed as basically a locker room captain.  With Dainton busy doing whatever it is that goaltenders do to get ready to throw themselves in front of hard chunks of rubber, Moore took over some of the gameday captain duties.  He undertook those duties, like everything else he’s done as a member of the team, with class.  He has immersed himself in the team.  He’s even done all the work of the player and leader of the team while also putting together his own video features and even writing recaps to be regularly sent out to Pond Club members, honing his journalism skills for a future career.  For all that hard work he has seen three minutes 40 seconds of ice time in mop up duty of an embarrassing 11-2 blowout.  But he hasn’t complained.  He hasn’t done anything different.  When it comes to anything UMass hockey he continues to be front and center, representing the team with pride.  You cannot say enough about that kind of dedication.

The hope obviously is that circumstance allows him to see the ice again this weekend, preferably Friday when the seniors are honored at home.  He’s so well-liked by his teammates maybe they’ll be motivated enough to find a way to get enough pucks behind Joe Cannata that Moore and the UMass fans who have been yearning to see him play will get their reward.  But if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t take away from what he has accomplished on this team, even if so much of it was out of the public eye.  Besides, if the situation doesn’t allow him to get between the pipes he’ll always be able to say his college career was no less than perfect.

 

Thank you to this year’s senior class.  Thanks for all your hard work and thanks for representing our great university with class.  Good luck in whatever the future holds for you.

Mike Pereira was a runner-up to February’s Hockey East Player of the Month Award.

Dick Baker makes a plea to the students to come out and support YOUR team.  Seriously, the crowds last weekend were sad.

UMass sticks at #8 in CHN’s Hockey East Power Rankings.

The Northeastern student radio station again does a nice job explaining what the Huskies need to do to grab that last playoff spot over UMass.

Believe it or not, UMass winning or losing will make a big difference to some of the top teams in the country.

Hockey Night In Canada Radio featured an interview with former Minuteman Paul Dainton where he says a lot of good things about his time at UMass and touts the opportunities that NCAA hockey offers.  The Falcons have a “Getting To Know Paul Dainton” video on their Facebook page currently.

Recruit Update; Free Moore?

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
26 GP / 3 G / 4 A / 7 Pts / 43 PIM / -1
Gillespie did not register any points in the three games he played in during the past week.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL/EmpJHL) – 2014
EJHL: 21 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 28 PIM
Empire: 22 GP / 7 G / 18 A / 25 Pts / 24 PIM
No games for Smith this past weekend as the playoffs are about to begin in the EJHL and Empire League.

Shane Walsh – LW – South Shore Kings (EJHL) – 2012
Dubuque (USHL): 23 GP / 5 G / 7 A / 12 Pts / 0 PIM / –8
South Shore (EJHL): 9 GP / 7 G / 6 A / 13 Pts / 4 PIM
Walsh’s Kings are also in the playoffs and have a first round bye.

Sounds like UMass should offer this Dougherty kid a scholarship.

Lastly, a group of student fans have gotten #freemoore trending on Twitter as an effort to start goaltender Kevin Moore on Friday. I think this is a great movement for a couple reasons. First of all, I always enjoy when students support the team in a constructive and fun manner. You know, something other than “F*ck (insert opponent here)”. Secondly, Moore has been a total class act and important part of the team in his years here, but that’s something I’ll get into more tomorrow in my annual salute to the seniors.

That said, I really doubt Toot Cahoon would start Moore on Friday. And truthfully, I hope he doesn’t. The sentiment is great but it’s the coaches job to put the players on the ice who give the team the best chance to win. Hell, there are fans upset when seldom used sophomores get substituted for freshmen with no goals. Therefore putting in a rarely tested goaltender when a playoff berth is on the line is probably not the best idea, even if only for a minute or two. In basketball you can usually get away with starting seniors for tipoff and quickly substitute. In hockey you don’t necessarily have that luxury and an early goal can be a game changer. If the game plays out where the outcome is already decided with a few minutes left (hopefully in UMass’ favor), by all means Cahoon should insert Moore in and relieve the starter. But not before then.

Besides, if everyone wanted to see Kevin Moore play, why didn’t they join the rest of us for the 11-2 debacle last year at Merrimack?? Misery loves company.

Awards & Polls; Mastalerz Named Hockey East Rookie of the Week

Congratulations to freshman goaltender Steve Mastalerz who shares the Hockey East Rookie of the Week award with Trevor Van Riemsdyk who scored a couple goals against UMass on Friday.  As I mentioned in my recap, I was impressed with Mastalerz’s play.  He had solid positioning and made some nice saves, but I think it was his ability and focus to cover up loose pucks that really stood out.  This is the second time he has been honored by the league, gaining Defensive Player of the Week honors in January.

Joel Hanley, Danny Hobbs, and Conor Sheary were all named Top Performers for their play over the weekend.  It was especially nice to see Hobbs have such a strong weekend.  He had been so close to a breakout game recently.

Boston College is again atop both the USCHO and USA Hockey/USA Today polls.  As much as it pains me to say, UMass fans should hope they’ll be in the same place next Monday because it will likely mean BC wins their games which would allow the Minutemen to keep that third tiebreaker over Northeastern if needed.  For those scoring at home, please note that a full 40% of the top ten consists of Hockey East schools as Boston University moves up a spot to #4, Lowell drops a spot to #8, and Maine remains at #10.  This weekend’s opponent, Merrimack, checks in at #12.

Here’s the current UMass playoff situation:
7th Providence, 23 pts. Games left vs Lowell, at Lowell
T-8th Massachusetts, 20 pts. Games left vs Mack, at Mack
T-8th Northeastern, 20pts. Games left  at BU, vs BU
Providence holds the tiebreaker over UMass with a 2-0-1 record.  UMass currently holds the tiebreaker over Northeastern. The teams went 1-1-1 during the season, they both have 8 conference wins which is the second tiebreaker, so UMass’ 2-1-0 record against BC gives them the edge (Northeastern went 0-3-0 against BC).

The Collegian has their recap of the weekend as well as a feature highlighting the play of Joel Hanley and Mike Marcou in the split.

The couple of commenters on BC Interruption’s playoff update seem to want nothing to do with UMass in the first round.

Congratulations to former captain Paul Dainton who was named this week’s AHL Rookie of the Week.  In typical Dainton fashion took to his own Twitter account afterwards not to beat his own chest for his honor but to congratulate Steve Mastalerz for his weekly award.

Unfortunately, Division I hockey will not be gaining a new program in the form of Minnesota State-Moorhead.

Lastly, I’m happy to welcome a new blog to the UMass sports realm.  Maroon Musket was launched today as a blog focused on UMass football and its rise from FCS champion to hopeful FBS power.  One of its writers mentioned to me that they hope to be the Fear The Triangle equivalent for football, which is nice to say, but in all honesty they’ll be much better.  The writers there are all products of the top notch UMass journalism program that has produced so many great media members across the country and I honestly can’t wait to see what these guys are doing as UMass takes the leap to big-time football.  The contributors consists of Bob McGovern and Mike Marzelli, both Daily Collegian veterans, and Marc Bertrand who is heard regularly on the Fleger Felger & Mazz and Bertrand & Gasper programs on 98.5 the Sports Hub.  I’ve had the chance to meet all of these guys in person and can vouch that they’re all diehard UMass fans despite graduating during a dearth of Minuteman sports success.  Personally I’m really excited for the new era of UMass football and having a central place for news and analysis will make it that much better.

Saturday Recap

For the first time in a long time UMass was able to put together a solid effort in two consecutive nights.  Mid-November was really the last time this happened.  Ideally when you have two solid games in a row, you get a couple wins out of it as well.  Due to some superb goaltending on Friday night, that didn’t happen.  But it is good to see the team realizes the desperate situation they’re in and are responding to it appropriately.  Because frankly anything less than 100% at this time is not going to cut it.

It would’ve been easy to come out a little flat after picking up the loss on Friday despite completely outplaying the Wildcats.  That didn’t happen though they still gave UNH the early lead on a shorthanded goal when they not only gave up a breakaway but were unable to clear out the puck after Steve Mastalerz made the initial save.  However UMass would take the lead thanks to scoring a couple goals off rebounds and continuing to hammer away at the puck, the first by Kevin Czepiel, the second by Mike Marcou.  Joel Hanley would score shortly after Marcou but UNH would get one back at the end of the third that setup a pretty tense third period with the two teams going back and forth and the goaltenders coming up with some big saves.  Conor Sheary would get the insurance goal with just over two minutes left, setup by Branden Gracel who returned to the lineup after sitting for two games.

Despite Kevin Boyle looking pretty good in net the night before, Toot Cahoon still decided to switch things up in net and Steve Mastalerz looked very good in the start.  What was especially impressive was how aggressively he was working to cover up rebounds and loose pucks in front of him.  This really limited the number of second chances for the Wildcats.  It’s also important because all weekend it seemed like the defensemen in front of him were a second late in putting those pucks on their stick or into the corner.

We’re in for an interesting two days of hockey next weekend.  Maine did to Northeastern last night what they did to UMass last Friday up in Orono, putting up seven goals on the Huskies and gaining the win.  That puts us back right where we were to begin the weekend.  Northeastern and UMass are tied for 8th place with 20 points.  Since the season series was even and they both have eight conference wins, it comes down to the third tiebreaker which is record against the first place team.  Right now that is Boston College who have a two point lead over BU and a four point lead over Lowell.  With UMass’ 2-1-0 record against the Eagles, they own that tiebreaker.  UMass fans will be in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the Eagles to maintain that lead in the league while cheering on the Terriers to beat the Huskies in their games next weekend.  UMass on the other hand will be facing a Merrimack team that has a lot to play for.  Not only are they fighting for home ice, just one point behind Maine for 4th place, but they’re fighting for an NCAA berth, currently tied for 14th in the Pairwise.  The Warriors and Minutemen both have something to battle for.  At the very least it should be some great hockey.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game
Joel Hanley’s goal in the second period was his second of the weekend and ended up being Saturday’s game winner.  He finished the game +2 and has been one of UMass’ best players in the second half of the season.

I realized that I forgot to include my POTG in Friday’s writeup.  Conor Sheary gets the nod thanks to his goal and assist.  He’d go on to add another goal last night for his first multi-goal weekend since the Florida tournament.

The Minutemen responded to the challenge says the Republican game story.

On the UNH side, the Wildcats suffered a letdown says their local paper.  Interesting to note though, UNH coach said after the game that he thought his team played better last night than on Friday.

PlayoffStatus.com now gives the Minutemen a 54% chance of making the playoffs.

Congrats to former Minuteman Paul Dainton who picked up his first AHL shutout last night.

Friday Recap

Hockey can be an unforgiving game sometimes.  You can play well for 59 minutes, dominating the game, but sometimes just a minute of lapsed play and an opposing goaltender standing on his head can lead to a loss.  That’s exactly what happened last night.  I absolutely cannot say anything bad about UMass’ effort.  They came out and hit the ice completely ready to play and in terms of effort it was there for the entire night.

As a fan, I have to admire how hard they worked on the ice, generating over 50 shots on the game.  But freshman Casey DeSmith goaltender worked hard as well, making sure he was in great position all night and making the tough saves when he had to.  A number of times it looked like UMass had a chance to beat him but a flash of the glove by DeSmith and the score would remain the same.  While UMass put a lot of shots on net, they ultimately couldn’t get DeSmith moving in his crease to try to sneak more past him.  A lot of the shots were straight on allowing DeSmith to position himself correctly.  Another thing to note is that while UMass did generate a ton of shots, surprisingly few of them came from the top two lines.  Mike Pereira had just two shots as did T.J. Syner.  Stephen Guzzo had just one while Eric Filiou didn’t have any.  Third liners Rocco Carzo and Pat Kiley totalled 14 shots together.  It’s good to get a lot of pressure on the goaltender and a lot of times just peppering him will lead to goals, but at the same time you’d like those shots to come from your most skilled goal scorers.

Looking through the scoresheet it’s amazing this game ended as a 4-3 loss for the Minutemen.  Shots were 51-29 in their favor, including 25 in the second.  There have been entire games this season where UMass has failed to gain 20 shots total.  The Minutemen were equally dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 41 faceoffs to UNH’s 24.  Steven Guzzo and Eric Filou did amazing work at the faceoff dot, taking 11 of 16 and 11 of 17 respectively.  UMass picked up a power play goal and were only sent to the box themselves twice.  They killed the Wildcats’ only power play opportunity.  While not spectacular, the team got solid goaltending from Kevin Boyle.  It’s always easy to say a goaltender should’ve done this or that but honestly UNH’s goals either came on screens or defensive breakdowns.

Defensive breakdowns.  As I said, you can give amazing effort for 60 minutes but if you fail to execute, even only for a period as short as 17 seconds, the entire game can turn in the other team’s favor.  Early in the third the Minutemen tied it thanks to a Joel Hanley goal but just a few minutes later some bad decision making gave it right back and then some.  Seven minutes into the period the defensive pairing of Colin Shea and Connor Allen had a lapse in play.  One of them (the Gazette and Republican differ on who did what and I don’t remember myself) got caught too deep in the offensive zone which led to a two on one break for the Cats and a UNH goal.  Only seconds later Mike Marcou and Joel Hanley got stuck watching and UNH had another breakaway and another goal.  That was the game.  17 seconds.

While UMass was giving their all and losing Northeastern upset Maine 4-2 by scoring the final three goals of the game.  So as UMass heads into tonight they’re in 9th place and out of the playoffs, two points behind the Huskies.  Of course the Huskies’ win also gives them the edge in the second tiebreaker scenario, conference wins.  The Minutemen no longer control their own destiny.  They have to find a way to win starting tonight and become Black Bear and Terrier fans from here on out.  A duplication of last night’s effort will be a good start to getting a win tonight.

Dick Baker says there wasn’t much to criticize from last night.

In the Gazette’s recap Dick Umile says his team was lucky to get the win.

Here’s the game story from the Wildcat viewpoint.

CHN’s Josh Seguin has his takeaways from the game.

Playoffstatus.com gives UMass a 26% chance of making the playoffs.

New Hampshire Preview

New Hampshire Wildcats 13-15-3 (10-12-2) Hockey East 7th

at

Massachusetts Minutemen 11-14-5 (7-12-4) Hockey East T-8th

What an opportunity the Minutemen hockey team has laid out before them this weekend. They come into this second to last weekend of the hockey season clutching onto the final playoff spot, four points behind 7th place. That 7th place team, UNH, is coming into the Mullins Center for two games with four points on the line. If UMass can somehow sweep the home stand they would tie UNH and gain the tiebreaker over the Wildcats who they also have a game in hand on, and potentially give themselves separation between themselves and dreaded 9th place. They could also potentially gain some major ground on Providence who is just five points ahead and has to play two games this weekend against the Boston College Eagles who have only lost three times since we turned the calendars to 2012. It’s a tall order to sweep even a down and out UNH team and get help from around the league to make a run at 6th place. But the opportunity is certainly there.

It’s been a while since these teams last played, which is a good thing because it was a game to forget for Minuteman fans. It started off well enough with T.J. Syner scoring just a minute and a half in. But then things got ugly. For Steve Mastalerz it was probably not how he dreamed his college debut would go. He ended up giving up three goals in the first period, including one with just six seconds left, and was lifted for Kevin Boyle to start the second. Boyle had even a worse night, giving up two goals on four shots and 11 minutes after being pulled, Mastalerz was back in the net. He played better after that but the damage was already done and UNH would roll to a 7-3 win. Despite that victory though UNH is in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. In fact if their losing record holds up it would be their first since 1995-96.

The Wildcats have struggled in all areas this season. They’re scoring on average three goals per game and have just one player with double digits in goals in Steve Moses. By the end of last season the Wildcats featured six different players with at least 10 goals or more. The Minutemen would do well to focus on Moses who has scored over 1/5th of his team’s total goals. A couple sophomores, Nick Sorkin and Kevin Goumas, have contributed on offense as well putting up 31 and 26 points respectively. UNH’s power play is converting at 19.6%, not too far off from UMass’ improved 18.2%, but once again it’s all Moses who accounts for nearly a third of their power play goals.

With all the talented forwards the Wildcats graduated last year it’s not a huge shock that they’re having trouble scoring. What is surprising is how many goals their opponents have scored. Goaltender Matt DiGirolamo had a breakout season last year with a goals against average of 2.44 and a Hockey East best .923 save percentage. Yet by January he had lost his starters job to freshman Casey DeSmith. And all DeSmith has done with the opportunity is put up better numbers than DiGirolamo did last year, coming into the weekend with a 2.11 GAA and .929 save percentage. His 7-6-1 record is more a reflection of the lack of support he gets from his goal scorers than of his own play.

For UMass to maximize the opportunity I laid out earlier it will mean coming out and playing their best for two consecutive nights. Now UMass fans, as well as Boston College, Boston University, Maine, Cornell, and others have learned that if UMass plays their best they can beat any team. But on consecutive nights? That’s only happened once this season, back in November when they beat Holy Cross and Northeastern at home in the Mullins. Every other time when UMass has had to play on two consecutive days they’ve lost at least one of them.

Looking at UMass’ last four victories it’s clear what they need to do. To start, score first. The Minutemen have done so in each of those wins. Three of the times they’ve done so in the first ten minutes of the game. Thanks to that first goal at the end of the first period they were ahead in two of those games and tied in two. They had the lead going into the third in all four. One of the reasons they’ve been able to score in the wins is because their power play has performed well, scoring 4 goals on 19 chances, or 21.1%. On the flipside, their penalty kill has been stellar in those wins keeping the opponents from scoring on 18 of 20 chances, or 90%. That’s a hell of an improvement from a team that has lingered in the mid to low 70% range all season. Score first, score a power play goal or two, and keep a team that has trouble scoring from doing so with the extra man. All that together just might be the recipe for success against UNH and perhaps improve their place in the Hockey East standings going into the final weekend.

Beer The Triangle
It’s been a couple weeks so I have no idea what’s on at the Hangar. However I do see that ABC has some beers that pique my interest, namely Left Hand Fade to Black Vol 3, Ommegang Seduction, and ABC’s own ESB (perhaps my favorite beer style).

Dick Baker previews the weekend and also notes that UMass has beaten UNH once in the last 14 games they’ve played. Ugh.

New England Hockey Journal has a piece on UMass’ opposing goaltender for the series.

College Hockey News’ weekly look at the weekend in Hockey East.

It seems that if anyone was upset with how Paul Kelley was running College Hockey Inc. it was the infinitely wise league commissioners and not the coaches around the country.

BU has created a task force to explore the culture surrounding Terrier hockey and what role, if any, it’s had in their recent off-ice troubles. Now if someone could just start a task force to see which Hockey East officials are in Jack Parker’s pocket.

View From Section U: Where Are All The Recruits?

Last September I wrote that despite there being only two committed recruits to the program for 2012 and none for future years that it wasn’t time to panic.  UMass’ imbalanced classes and the fact that, on average, players committed about 13 months before their class arrives at Amherst were the reasons I cited.  Well here we are five months later and UMass has added just one recruit in that time, Springfield Pics forward Willie Smith for 2014.  The more time that drags on the more I wonder and more I worry.  Not only are the other Hockey East teams lining up players all the way through 2016, but another thing that’s changed is it’s unknown what type of impact the two incoming recruits for next year will have on the team.  Shane Walsh split his season between the USHL and EJHL but has the type of game where it’s tough to measure from afar by statistics alone.  Kenny Gillespie, who it was hoped could contribute offensively as a freshman, has spent most his time on the third line in the USHL scoring just three goals on the season.  First things first, let’s take a look at where UMass stands with their future needs:

2012 2013 2014 2015
Open Roster Spots 3 4 13 8
Commitments 2 0 1 0

UMass has four players that will be honored at senior night next week; T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs, Mike Marcou, and Kevin Moore.  Obviously goaltender is not one of the team needs right now so likely the coaches will only look to bring in three players.  So far they only have two.  But it’s not next year that worries me.  Yes, it’s a question mark as to how those two will play, but obviously the coaches saw something in them so we’ll just have to have faith.  And for that last spot the staff has always been able to pick up recruits late in the season that have worked out, guys like Casey Wellman and Branden Gracel.  It’s the future years that really worry me.  In that next year the team will look to fill the spots of Rocco Carzo, Eddie Olczyk, Darren Rowe, and Kevin Czepiel.  Two of those guys are obviously regular players and the other two have played recently in key games.  Right now there are no players lined up as replacements.  The year after that what happens when our huge sophomore class is gone?  UMass will look to fill 13 roster spots.  13!  Here’s how other schools commits breakout. This is based on Chris Heisenberg’s site. When a player is listed as possible arriving at the school in two years, I’ve taken the earlier :

BC BU Lowell Maine Mack UNH NU PC UVM UMass
2012 7 8 10 10 6 9 6 9 8 2
2013 7 7 1 7 4 5 5 4 3 0
2014 0 1 0 1 1 2 1 0 0 1
2015 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
2016 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Total 16 16 11 18 11 17 13 13 11 3
Now obviously the most glaring thing that sticks out from the table above is that every team has at least 8 committed recruits more than UMass at this given point in time.  Some of that has to do with the imbalanced classes that has almost half the UMass roster as sophomores.  But still, it’s a little startling anyway.  UMass will has 7 spots to fill in the next two years, so far they only have two commitments for that time.  Meanwhile 116 other players have committed to other Hockey East schools for that time period.  UMass will need a ton of players in the two years after.  At least close to 20.  10 players have committed to Hockey East schools for that time period.  Only one to UMass.  UNH already has more players committed to come to school in 2014 and 2015 than the Minutemen have this coming year and the next.  All this evidence leads me to believe that the UMass program is falling behind in recruiting.  And at the very least, even if they find the bodies to fill the slots they’ve missed out on some very talented players who have committed elsewhere earlier.  Those early commits do not always pan out.  But a lot of them do.  I always feel it’s important to have a good mix of early commits and late bloomers that come into the picture later on, but right now things are setting up to be nearly all of the latter kind.
So if UMass is falling behind when it comes to recruiting, why is that?  Losing Red Gendron, whom a lot of currently players credited with helping them decide on UMass, has not helped.  I had hoped when Blaise MacDonald was added to the staff that the recruiting would benefit the most as he had continually brought in quality players to the Lowell program.  So far that hasn’t happened.  The one commitment that the program has gotten since he came on is Willie Smith, a player from down the road in Springfield coached by former UMass captain Rob Bonneau.  That’s not exactly scouring the countryside for diamonds in the rough.  Another factor has to be the status of coach Toot Cahoon.  I still think he’ll be back despite the fact that UMass is likely heading towards another finish at the bottom of Hockey East and the growing call from the fanbase for a coaching change.  But that’s just my opinion based on what I’ve observed and people I’ve talked to.  It’s not a certainty.  And even if he does come back for the final year of his contract, what happens after that is anyone’s guess.  Could he choose to retire?  If the team finishes in the bottom half of the league again does the administration make a change?  Without knowing if a coach will be at the school to start the 2013-2014 season will make it hard to get kids to commit to the school for that timeframe.
Whatever the case is, it would be great to see some names pop up on the Heisenberg site for UMass.  It certainly hasn’t been for lack of effort.  The staff is out there recruiting players,bringing them onto campus, and making offers.  Like Doyle Somerby who just committed to BU recently, they’re choosing to go elsewhere.  The lack of recruits is doubtful to hurt the team next year as the current crop of sophomores continue to develop into hopefully a strong junior class and the two current freshmen goaltenders play with confidence with a year under their belts.  But the year after that worries me.  The current sophomores could make for a spectacular senior class but they’ll need quality minutes from the underclassmen at that time if the team really wants to be successful.  That’s what the lack of current recruiting means.  There’s no doubt that this sophomore class is tremendously talented.  But it would be awful that subpar classes that should be committing now holds them back from accomplishing really special as they continue through the program.
The Pond Club has announced that this year’s Reverse Raffle will be held on Friday, March 30th.  The cost is just $115 for you and a guest to enjoy food. open bar, hanging with other UMass hockey fans, open bar, and a chance to win $5,000 and some other great prizes.  Oh, and open bar.  I absolutely look forward to it every year.  While it doesn’t appear they’ve been able to upload the info and form to the Pond Club site or UMassathletics.com yet I at least wanted to get the date out there so people could plan accordingly.  I’ll be sure to link to the info as soon as it’s available.
Alex Faust on the Northeastern student radio station has a comprehensive view of the playoff scenarios from the Huskies’ perspective.

Recruit Update

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
23 GP / 3 G / 4 A / 7 Pts / 37 PIM / 0
Gillespie had a multi-point game over the weekend, scoring a goal and an assist as the Lancers beat Cedar Rapids 7-0 on Saturday.  Gillespie is also playing a game against Sioux City as I type this.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL/EmpJHL) – 2014
EJHL: 21 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 28 PIM
Empire: 22 GP / 7 G / 18 A / 25 Pts / 24 PIM
Smith did not register any points in the two Empire level games he played over the weekend.

Shane Walsh – LW – South Shore Kings (EJHL) – 2012
Dubuque (USHL): 23 GP / 5 G / 7 A / 12 Pts / 0 PIM / –8
South Shore (EJHL): 9 GP / 7 G / 6 A / 13 Pts / 4 PIM
Walsh had a goal and two assists in his three games with the Kings this past week.

Also on the recruiting front I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that recruiting target Alex Minter who plays for Governor’s Academy is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL.  Very unfortunate news.

I’m not totally sure yet, but the subject of tomorrow’s View From Section U weekly column may feature recruiting as well.

Mike Pereira and Danny Hobbs are both mentioned in Joe Meloni’s Three Up, Three Down feature on College Hockey News.  Pereira for his recent hot streak, Hobbs for his inability to get on the scoreboard during that same time.  I’ve been wondering about Hobbs’ lack of points recently as well.  One has to wonder if maybe the groin injury that plagued him during the first half of the season is acting up again.  One interesting thing to note, even though he has missed some conference games due to injury he’s still 7th in Hockey East in total shots.  So he’s definitely been active on the offensive end but has been unable to find the back of the net.

Boston University defenseman Max Nicastro pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape today in court.  The Daily Free Press, BU’s student paper, also tweeted this afternoon that Nicastro is no longer enrolled in school.

Paul Kelley, who was in charge of College Hockey Inc. and its efforts to promote the NCAA game, surprisingly resigned yesterday amid reports that he was forced out for trying to get support to raise the profile of the organization directly from schools instead of the league commissioners who oversee CHI.  College Hockey News says losing the high profile Kelley, who was head of the NHL’s Player Association earlier in his career, is no cause for alarm.  Late today it was announced that Nate Ewell is being elevated from his current post as head of Communicates for CHI to interim Director.  From what I can tell Ewell seems to be a strong advocate for college hockey and is well respected among the NCAA hockey community.

Awards & Polls

Boston College and Eagle goaltender Parker Milner were honored in this week’s Hockey East awards for their sweep of #9 Merrimack and Beanpot Championship. Kevin Boyle, Mike Marcou, and Mike Pereira were all named Top Performers for their play up in Orono.

The Eagles are also the top ranked team in Hockey East in the USCHO poll, just behind #1 Ferris State (that still sounds weird). Boston University’s two losses this past week dropped them to #5, Lowell is #7, and Maine moved up a spot to #10 even though they split with the Minutemen. Merrimack dropped out of the top ten to #12. Much the same in the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.

Hockey East has four probable at-large NCAA bids in the most recent Pairwise rankings.

Here’s the current Hockey East playoff situation:
7th New Hampshire, 22pts. Games left at UMass (2), at Maine
T-8th Massachusetts, 18 pts. Games left vs UNH (2), vs Mack, at Mack
T-8th Northeastern, 18pts. Games left vs Maine (2), at BU, vs BU
UMass currently holds the tiebreaker over Northeastern. The teams went 1-1-1 during the season, they both have 7 conference wins which is the second tiebreaker, so UMass’ 2-1-0 record against BC gives them the edge (Northeastern went 0-3-0 against BC).

With two games at home against UNH and the Minutemen having a game in hand over the Wildcats means 7th place is not out of the question.

PlayoffStatus.com gives UMass a 19% chance of taking 7th place but a 35% chance of finishing in 8th. Overall the site gives the Minutemen a 36% chance of missing the playoffs while Northeastern has a 59% chance. The Huskies inability to get more than two points in their two home games against Providence this past weekend really hurts them.

Despite some adversity during the season, UNH remains confident coming into this weekend’s trip to the Mullins says the Foster’s Daily Democrat.

USCHO covers the races at the top and bottom of the standings.

Something is rotten along Commonwealth Ave. Terrier defenseman Max Nicastro has been arrested for sexual assault on the BU campus. Nicastro is the second BU player to be charged with a serious crime this year after Corey Trivino was kicked off the team for a similar incident in December. Some of the quotes in this article from the BU student paper suggests the problem may lie in the culture that surrounds the hockey program at the school.

Lastly, I’m sad to report that UMass lost a long-time fan in the past week. Joe Mauger was a fellow UMass fan I got to know over the last decade or so at games, tailgates, and wherever else UMass fans gathered. He was a mainstay at UMass sporting events, be it basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, softball, or whatever. I personally enjoyed hearing his stories of when he was young and worked at Boston Arena (now Matthews) caring for the ice and facility in those pre-Zamboni times. Those who met him will remember his quick wit and love for the University of Massachusetts. My thoughts go out to his wife Nancy and the rest of his family. Rest in peace OBG.

Saturday Recap

So why can’t they play like that every game?? A night after getting their doors blown off by the host Black Bears UMass returned to the form we saw last Friday against #1 Boston University and with a full 60 minute effort, a focus on defense, and solid goaltending were able to gain a 4-1 win. The victory over #11 Maine brings UMass back into a tie with Northeastern for the final playoff spot in Hockey East and currently own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 2-1-0 record against first place Boston College.

Everything that has been missing from recent losses was present for the Minutemen last night. They took an early lead, just 51 seconds in, thanks to Steven Guzzo’s first goal since the tournament in Florida. Mike Pereira continued his hot streak and converted a power play goal, the team’s first against the Black Bears this season, to allow the Minutemen to go up 2-0 in the second. The final goals came in the third to seal the game came from a couple guys who haven’t done much scoring this year. Rocco Carzo, back this weekend after missing five games due to injury, scored halfway through the third and Eric Filiou scored an empty netter from between his own faceoff circles to cement the win.

In between the scoring was some of the best defense this team has played all season. They held the Black Bears to just 22 shots all game and never more than eight in a period. The shots that they were able to generate were turned away by Kevin Boyle who looked very solid again in net after struggling in his last start. Perhaps some of the reason for the strong effort was a completely revamped lineup. Not dressed were regulars like Branden Gracel, Troy Power, Adam Phillips, and Emerson Auvenshine. In their place were Andrew Tegeler, playing just his third game of the season, Eddie Olczyk, playing his first game since before Thanksgiving, Zack LaRue, Darren Rowe, and a returning Colin Shea. Whether it was this new mix of players, the desire to redeem themselves for the awful display of hockey the night before, or the fact that desperation is finally setting in, something worked.

While I’m happy that they won and are back in the playoff hunt, I can’t help but feel utterly frustrated. This team obviously has talent. This team obviously knows how to use that talent to beat any team in the country when they want to. With last night’s win UMass has now beaten the #1 team in the country twice, #4, #11, #13, and #17. So how in the world can the team have a record three games under .500 and are battling just to make the playoffs? I’d love to think this team has turned some kind of corner or learned from their mistakes but the fact is I thought that last week when they beat BU only to look disinterested the next night and lose to Providence. I thought the same thing multiple times on the season. The playoffs, if they make it, will be the only chance for this team to accomplish something. The chance for regular season success is gone. But if they want to do some damage in the playoffs they have to learn to play consistently. That first step did not happen last night. It’ll have to happen this coming weekend when they host New Hampshire.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game
There were a number of players who played well last night. Pereira scored his 8th goal in the last six games. Mike Marcou played solid defense and added a couple of assists. But I’m going to give this one to Kevin Boyle. He wasn’t tested a ton with the guys in front of him holding Maine to just 22 shots. But when shots did get through he was in good position and had a solid night, making some great saves when needed. Unless your name is Gabe Winer, winning at Alfond as an opposing goaltender is not easy. Boyle looked at ease in the crease last night.

What a difference a night makes starts the Republican recap.

UMass won with “inspired defense” says the local paper.