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 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.