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View From Section U: Captain Picks; Marcou To OKC

If tradition holds true next year’s captains will likely be announced this coming weekend when the team holds its annual banquet.  So I thought I would take the opportunity of this week’s View From Section U piece to go through who I think should wear the letters next year.  Obviously I’m not at practices, I’m not in the locker room so my choices are made entirely by the leadership I see on the ice, when the players interact with the public, and from what I hear from those close to the team.

I don’t think there’s a clear cut choice for captain.  So instead I’ll just list who I think should be the three to be captain or assistant captains, starting with the senior.  That would be Rocco Carzo.  I’ve been impressed by Carzo’s evolution as a player.  As a freshman he was on a line with James Marcou and Casey Wellman and put up a ton of points.  After struggling a bit his sophomore year when he had a young team around him he started to become more of a two way player.  Last year he was a mainstay on the important third line that was great on defense and dangerous on offense.  Through it all I think he’s led by example and would be a good pick for captain or assistant captain.

We know though that the driving force with this team next year will be the junior class.  Specifically, I think mostly fans and players alike will be looking for Mike Pereira to contribute the most to the team’s fortunes.  For that reason alone, I think he’d make a logical pick.  Now Pereira had an issue this past season where the coaching staff thought he was not taking his defensive duties seriously enough and actually sat him a game because of it.  I thought he responded very well to that act and his improvement on the defensive end was certainly noticeable as the season went on.  It also said a lot that he didn’t pout or complain for getting sat down.  He publicly said he treated it as a learning lesson, improved the area of concern, and went on to have another strong season.  I think that shows a lot and I think demonstrates some good leadership abilities.

My last pick is, like Carzo, not too demonstrative on the ice but has certainly shown leadership skills so far in his career.  Like Pereira, Joel Hanley will be looked upon to make significant contributions to the team, helping to anchor the defense while also providing an offensive spark.  Hanley has already shown the ability to preserve through adversity in his career here at UMass and seems very well respected by the coaches and teammates alike.

Aside from these three, I think there are others who should be considered.  Eddie Olczyk seems like a great teammate in the locker room and I think, despite not playing in every game, has shown good leadership overall with the team.  Conor Allen has turned into an anchor on defense and is always one of the first players to stand up for his teammates and should be under consideration.  Kevin Czepiel has proven himself to be a hardworker in his three years at UMass and as a senior will likely be in the mix.  Lastly I think Conor Sheary would be a good choice, again someone who will be looked upon to contribute a lot and he has carried himself well on and off the ice.

So those are my picks.  We’ll see who gets picked to hopefully lead UMass back to a winning season next year.

Congratulations go out to assistant captain Mike Marcou who signed an amateur try out agreement with the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL, farm team to the Edmonton Oilers.  He certainly worked hard to develop his game in his four years here and had an impressive bounceback senior season despite an unfair amount of criticism directed his way, so it’s nice to see him rewarded with a shot in the AHL.  I’m also happy for his parents, Jim and Diane, who became fixtures at UMass games over the last five years while watching their sons play for the Minutemen.  Near or far they’ve been there dedicated to supporting their kids and the program.

College Hockey News reported today that UConn will formally apply to join Hockey East and that league officials are set to tour the facilities on campus as well as the XL Center in Hartford.  The Courant however says that money is an issue.  I will reaffirm what I’ve said before.  At face value, UConn is a logical fit for Hockey East.  It works well geographically and obviously would be joining the other flagship public universities in New England who are already members.  For UMass it would add a relatively close opponent and a potential rival within the league.  But if UConn is going to join the league they have to do it right.  First up they’ll have to fund the full complement of scholarships and will have to find a way to likely do the same on the women’s side of their athletics program to remain compliant with Title IX (remember, UConn’s women’s hockey program was created to offset football scholarships when they upgraded).  More important than that though is where an upgraded Husky hockey program would play.  Freitas Ice Forum is frankly, a pile of crap.  It’s essentially a small amount (capacity 2000)  of aluminum football bleachers surrounding ice surface with little amenities or atmosphere.  I’ve been told it’s not much better for players as there is only one set of showers that must be shared between teams.  The team could potentially play at the XL Center 25 miles away in Hartford, but I don’t think this is a good long term solution.  UConn has made it work playing football away from campus but we’re talking 6 to 7 Saturdays every fall (and hopefully UMass can do the same).  College hockey is made great by the student support schools get.  Are UConn students going to want to pile into busses every Friday and Saturday night in the dead of winter for 18 times a season?  Even if they do, what kind of atmosphere can you create when you fill a cavernous 15,000 seat arena with 5,000 fans?  XL would work for a few years while they build an on-campus arena but the ability to build something in Storrs is the dealbreaker in my eyes.

I still think RPI is the most logical choice.  They’re good to go as is in terms of fanbase, arena, and bringing in a hockey tradition that includes national championships.

It was great to come home from work yesterday to find a package from UMass waiting for me containing the gameworn UMass Frozen Fenway jersey.  It’s a great addition to my collection.  I may even pull it out of the closet to wear to games here and there.  Just a reminder to contact the Minutemen Club if you’re interested in one as well.  I’m not sure how many they have left.

I want to mention a few other things going on in the realm of UMass sports.  First off, stick tap to Derek Kellogg the basketball team for a great season and an enjoyable run in both the Atlantic 10 tournament and the NIT.  Losing only one player to graduation means next year should be even better.  Secondly, I’m psyched that I’ll be able to stick around the valley following Friday night’s Reverse Raffle and check out the undefeated, #2 ranked lacrosse team in the country at Garber on Saturday afternoon.  I’ve been following the team closely but this will be my first chance to see them in person this season.  Lastly, congrats to softball pitcher Sara Ploude who broke Danielle Henderson’s school strikeout record this afternoon.  I won’t pretend to know a ton about softball but I do know of Henderson’s status as a UMass legend so obviously this is quite an accomplishment.

The Northeastern Husky Hockey Blog (via Twitter) reported earlier today that Jon Gillies, considered one of the better goaltender prospects in the USHL, has been released from his letter of intent to pursue other opportunities.  This is a huge blow to the Husky program who were looking to Gillies to battle for the starter’s job give the Huskies a strength in net for upcoming years.  This comes on the heels of losing sophomore defenseman Anthony Bitetto early to the pros.  Tough times on St Botolph Street.

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Recruit Update

Ok, this isn’t really much of an “update”.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
31 GP / 4 G / 5 A / 9 Pts / 47 PIM / -2
Gillespie did not play in either of Omaha’s two games last week.  Research couldn’t come up with why.

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
Will Smith’s season is over as the Pics were eliminated in the Empire League playoffs. You can’t blame Smith though as he was the leading scorer for the Pics with a goal and three assists in the two playoff games.

K.J Tiefenwerth – C/W – Junior  Bruins (EJHL) – 2012
EJHL: 43 GP / 30 G / 47 A / 77 Pts / 14 PIM
Tiefenwerth had the third most points and sixth most goals in the EJHL this year as captain of the Junior Bruins.  He had a couple goals, including a game winner in four playoff games.

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 were eliminated by the New Hampshire Monarchs in the EJHL semifinals. Walsh had 2 goals in six playoff games. Next stop for him: Amherst.

I’ve also dug a little more into Tiefenwerth.  As I mentioned in last week’s post, K.J. played on a line with Mike Pereira at Avon Old Farms where they both helped the Winged Beavers to the prep championship in 2010.  In that year Tiefenwerth had 14 goals and 28 assists for 42 points.  Pereira had 28 goals and 36 assists for 64 points.

The UMass Club Hockey team will be participating in a charity sled hockey game this coming weekend in Westfield.

Boston University junior Alex Chiasson has left BU for a pro deal with Dallas.  He joins Vermont’s Sebastian Stalberg as the early defectors so far in Hockey East.

You’re running out of time to sign up for this Friday’s Reverse Raffle!

For a Tuesday, tomorrow is a huge day for UMass sports.  Good luck to the undefeated men’s lacrosse team, currently #2 in the country, as they take on Bay State rival Harvard under the lights at Garber and the men’s basketball team as they face the Stanford Cardinals in the NIT Semifinals at Madison Square Garden.  Fight Mass!

Thoughts From Worcester

So yesterday I headed out to the Northeast Regional at the DCU Center in Worcester and thought I’d share just some general thoughts.

First up on the afternoon was top seed Boston College versus Atlantic Hockey champ Air Force.  Once again the Falcons represented their conference and their school well but it wasn’t enough to pull off the huge upset needed.  I thought defensively Air Force played very well and kept BC from getting into any kind of good groove with the puck.  Jason Torf played smart in net and was able to keep his team in the game for the entire 60 minutes.  However, offensively Air Force were unable to overcome to size and skill of Boston College’s defensemen.  As we saw, even one of the best offensive teams for UMass in a decade had trouble getting on the scoreboard against the Eagles, so it was an uphill battle all game for the Falcons to try to find the back of the net.  In the end they fell 2-0.

The second game was one of the more entertaining games I’ve seen all season.  It had just about everything you could’ve asked for; a couple Hobey Baker candidates in Maine’s Spencer Abbott and Minnesota Duluth’s Jack Connolly, some crazy plays, a lot of hard hits, and the chance to see the defending national champions.  Maine would come out and take the early 2-0 lead with Abbott showing no ill effects from the injury he suffered last weekend in Boston.  But the Bulldogs would tie it up when a shot went over Maine goaltender Dan Sullivan, hit the glass, and bounced back onto Sullivan’s back and in.  UMD would take the lead a minute later when Sullivan made an initial save on Brady Lamb but the puck remained sitting in the crease and the Bulldogs were able to knock it home.  UMD would not look back and eventually won 5-2.  This game was fun to watch because it was one of the more physical games I’ve seen in a long time and for the most part it was pretty clean too.

So while the two games themselves made the trip worthwhile, I can’t say the same for my first trip to the DCU Center.  It was pretty much as bad as everyone warned me about.  There was just no feel to the building itself.  The concourse was narrow.  The food not very impressive.  And considering that the building was never more than a third to a half full at any given time, the lines to the bathrooms were always lengthy.  Doesn’t exactly make me want to return anytime soon.

However, there are other reasons to go to Worcester, like the Armsby Abbey.  This was one of the last top rated beer bars in the state that I hadn’t visited yet and I really liked it.  The service was a bit slow (and they seem woefully unprepared for the crowd of hockey fans) but they have a great draught selection of brews from around the state to around the world.  This place will be joining Peppercorn’s as a suggested pregame spot for a Holy Cross road trip when I update that page soon.

Elsewhere yesterday the Frozen Four got its first two entrants in the form of Ferris State and Union, two programs that have never made it that far before.  Congrats to both teams and their fans.  I love to see new teams get the chance to fight for a national championship and enjoy the spotlight.  Plus, UMass fans should love to see mid-tier teams like this break through the traditional powers and make it to the Frozen Four.  It shows that if the UMass hockey program can get the right pieces in place, they can too.  And those pieces do not necessarily have to be blue chip players.  UMass fans seem to fret over the fact that the Minutemen roster is not filled with a dozen NHL draft picks like BC or BU.  Well, Union and Ferris State will be taking exactly zero NHL draft picks combined to Tampa.  It’s about finding the right players for the program, not the ones the NHL value.

The season ended for three Hockey East teams yesterday.  Maine fell in the game I described earlier.  I’m sure a first round exit probably won’t stop the constant complaining from a segment of the Black Bear fanbase for a new coach.  But personally I think Maine fans should be happy with what their team accomplished this year.  They came into the season having to find a way to replace the offense of Gustav Nyquist and with a huge question mark in goal.  They ended up playing in the Hockey East finals and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.  That’s pretty damn good if you ask me.

BU’s season ended in ugly fashion with a 7-3 loss at the hands of Minnesota in a game that featured 18 total penalties.  If you ask me, it’s probably a good thing for the Terriers’ season to be over so they can just move on from this year altogether.  They have a lot of off-ice issues to deal with before they can worry about on-ice results.

Lowell’s miraculous season ended at the hands of Union, but River Hawk fans have nothing to feel down about.  What Norm Bazin was able to do in Lowell this season, taking a five win team and bringing them to within a game of the Frozen Four, is nothing short of amazing.  Bringing in a fresh way of doing things and converting to a more free flowing, attacking style really paid off.  It’s a lesson learned that other teams in Hockey East don’t just have to rely on defense and slowing down the game to overcome the more talented squads.  You can just take the leash off the players and let them fly and it can work.

Those are all my thoughts for now.  Time to go watch a couple more regional finals.  BC will have to beat Duluth in order for Hockey East to have some representation at the Frozen Four.  Out west the Minnesota and North Dakota rivalry adds another chapter.  Should be a couple great games!

Here’s an article about previous UMass recruiting target Doyle Somerby and some of the reasons he chose BU over UMass and a host of other schools.

Tiefenwerth Commits To UMass

UMass picked up a very intriguing commitment for this coming fall today in the form of K.J. Tiefenwerth. The 5’9” 160lb forward spent the past two seasons with the Junior Bruins of the EJHL, serving as team captain. This past season he scored 30 goals and had 47 assists in 43 games, that tied him for 3rd in the league in total points. In the prior year with the Bruins he had 26 goals and 31 assists in 44 games and was named Rookie of the Year in the league. Before that he was a teammate of Mike Pereira’s at Avon Old Farms where they won a prep championship together. When I went to watch AOF play at Deerfield a couple years ago to scout Pereira, Tiefenwerth played as well, even assisting on a goal with Pereira during the game. I can’t say I remember a lot about him, but he stood out enough that I still remember his name a couple years later.

What makes Tiefenwerth intriguing is that he was once a Boston College recruit, committing to the Eagles when he was just 15 years old. According to USHR Tiefenwerth was being recruited by BC as well as BU and UNH but committed to the Eagles. Somewhere along the way BC cooled on him and basically decided they didn’t want him anymore. In probably one of the more unclassy things Jerry York has done he said they’d honor his scholarship but he would not play hockey for them. Tiefenwerth still remained committed to the Eagles until this past fall. At that point Northeastern and some other schools got into the mix. Now he’s a Minuteman.

Tiefenwerth attended New York Islanders development camp this past summer (playing with Mike Marcou). Here’s another piece on his time at Islanders camp. He’s supposed to have a great shot, which is a huge asset for UMass as they’ve lacked finishers seemingly forever. He was identified as a potential NHL draft pick but went undrafted when he was eligible, perhaps due to his size.

I absolutely love this move. Here’s a mature player who will be able to come in and hopefully contribute right away. And not just contribute in minutes, but in scoring. He has already played with a number of current Minutemen like Mike Pereira, Colin Shea, and Andrew Tegeler. I could care less that in the end BC didn’t want him. For whatever reason BU decided they didn’t want Mike Pereira. Their loss, UMass’ gain. Tiefenwerth could be another similar steal.

I’ll try to post more on Tiefenwerth in the weeks ahead.

View From Section U: State of the Triangle; Recruit Update

Last week was dedicated to recapping the season and addressing the state of the Massachusetts hockey program.  I thought it’d be worth it to recap sort of my own season as well as the state of the blog.  From my own perspective the season ended in disappointment, another quick quarterfinal sweep at the hands of the Eagles, but there were some great highs for us fans.  Certainly the win over top ranked Boston College in October was amazing, especially since I was basically ready to give up on the season after getting embarrassed by UNH the night before.  Watching UMass take the season series from the Eagles from the scorer’s box thanks to a Steve Mastalerz shutout later in the season is something I’ll always remember.  After going a few years without taking the T ride in to Agganis I returned in February and had zero hope that UMass would somehow pull off the upset over the #1 Terriers.  After all, they hadn’t won a game on the road ALL YEAR.  But they did and that was the happiest I’ve walked out of an opponent’s arena in a long time.  I’m also glad during this season that I was able to return to perhaps my favorite place to watch hockey in the league, Alfond Arena.  Of course the Minutemen made it worthwhile to make the trip and sit through the horrific first game by taking a weekend split.  And lastly seeing UMass play in the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park, a place I’ve treasured for as long as I can remember, is something I’ll take to my grave.  But seeing the much maligned Mike Marcou get the game winner was only icing on the cake for that game and perhaps the season.

Of course with the games comes the pregaming and the road trips.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to knock off any arenas on my list to visit (unless you count Fenway).  I’m still due a trip to Sacred Heart to finish off the DI rinks in New England and trips to Colgate and Princeton to close out ECAC barns.  Yet, I still got to see hockey all over in some great atmospheres and locales.  A return trip to Quinnipiac meant a major upgrade in the pregaming as I explored the excellent beer choices at Delaney’s Tap Room and in New Haven and Mikro just down the hill from the Bobcats’ enjoyable TD Sports Center.  I finally found a more than suitable upgrade to the Pizzeria Uno near Northeastern in Bukowski’s Tavern just a few blocks away by Boylston.  The upset over #1 BU was celebrated with cans of the absolutely divine Alchemist Heady Topper at mini-Sunset across the street.  I’ll no longer make jokes about the lack of anything to do on trips to Maine after being astounded by the excellent beer choices at Nocturnem Draft Haus in Bangor as well as enjoying Orono’s own Black Bear Brewing at the Bear Brew Pub in the middle of town.  Of course for home games in Amherst Stoney and Caleb treated me well at the Hangar, providing me with some of the best craft beer in the country to wash down the best damn wings ever.  Ever.  Amherst Brewing became a regular postgame spot with their move to University Drive and the ability to enjoy the fine ABC beer and some amazing guest beers.  Drinking Dogfish 120 Minute at ABC was by far the best postgame of the year.

Again this year it was humbling to meet and get to know readers of Fear The Triangle and other UMass hockey fans.  I certainly have to mention a couple groups of student fans I go the chance to talk to quite a bit.  One is the infamous “Flag Guy” and his crew.  I’ve seen these guys regularly at games from Amherst to Burlington to Orono over the years and it’s amazing to see that type of dedication that’s near impossible for students to swing while still in school.  While I may take some credit for at least making them aware of it, it was damn cool to see these guys start showing up to games in old school Mallen-era jerseys, embracing the hideous beauty that is the triangle.  I also got to meet the students that make up the Bench Crew, the driving force behind the #freemoore campaign that was able to gain support on social media from NHL players and beyond.  When senior Kevin Moore got in on Senior Night I was thrilled for his opportunity, but I was also happy that the Bench Crew got to see their movement come to fruition.  UMass’ student section sometimes unfairly gets a bad reputation, but it has some amazing student fans.  In addition to these two groups I also enjoyed talking to long time fans, other bloggers, opposing fans, and am always flattered that so many hockey parents use FTT as a way to follow their sons’ hard work representing UMass.

For the blog, it was a good year.  Just last week FTT hit it’s 300,000th page view.  The FTT social media sites hit milestones with the 700th follower on Twitter and 300 likes on the FTT Facebook page.  The fact that 700 people care what I have to say about anything, much less hockey, is mind-boggling.  But I thank you.  Traffic on the blog was up roughly 20% for the season and I really enjoyed the regular commentary and and discussions with readers during the year.  My whole thought process was to have FTT a UMass hockey blog by a fan, for the fans, so I certainly thank everyone for their contributions during the year, whether we saw eye to eye or not.  Started as just a hobby the blog has continued to take me places I never dreamed of.  Again this season, thanks to SID John Sinnett, I was able to attend postgame press conferences at the Mullins.  While I’ll leave the real game recaps and the quotes that come out of those sessions with the media guys, this opportunity gives me great insight into the game itself which I then try to pass on to you readers in my recaps.  Beyond that I’m thankful for two tremendous opportunities that I was afforded this past year.  First, I attended a press conference at Fenway Park for the announcement of the Frozen Fenway game.  Humbling to say the least.  And if that wasn’t enough I was lucky enough to land a semi-regular spot on NESN’s Hockey East Face Off Live as their UMass Correspondent.  My earliest memories of NESN are watching Ned Martin and Bob Montgomery call Red Sox games in the mid-80s so to be associated with that network in any way is a tremendous honor.  A thrilling and initially terrifying honor.  I certainly want to thank NESN’s Jamison Coyle and Justine Pouravelis for the opportunity as well as my talented sportsbiz brother who got the FTT url in front of the right eyes initially.  Again, this is all just a hobby so for a social science major from UMass who ended up in Finance to somehow make it onto NESN is beyond anything I could’ve imagined.

So the blog is already well beyond whatever I may have imagined when I first started it.  But I still want to improve it and make it better for you readers.  I love these weekly “View From Section U” columns because it makes me think of something new to explore with the hockey team every week and I plan to continue  this as much as possible, even over the offseason.  Beyond that my mission is still to provide you readers with links to UMass hockey news from around the web, original news and commentary, game previews and recaps, the scoop on recruiting, all while suggesting some decent beers and bars along the way.  I would say my number one idea for next season is to hook up with a photographer to help bring pictures back to the site, something that FTT has been without since Karen Winger decided to take her talents to Lake Michigan.  Certainly if there is anyone out there who would like to provide UMass hockey photography in exchange for whatever free publicity I can muster, please let me know.  I have a few other ideas to spruce the website up and am contemplating a mini-relaunch of the blog before next season, though I’m not sure to what extent.  You may have also noticed some “graphical additions” to the page (sorry, I’m not supposed to write about them) that may help me at least recoup some gas money (oh, who are we kidding; beer money).  I’m still just testing these out and am very conscious of such things getting in the way of readers’ ability to get what they want out of the site.  As always if you have any problems with the site feel free to comment or contact me.  Other than that I look forward to tackling the offseason and am hoping next hockey season comes as soon as possible.  I’ll be passing along any news I can get out of next week’s Reverse Raffle and the golf outing which usually takes place in June.

Thank you very much for another season of reading and interacting.  I have a lot of fun doing this by itself but it’s that much more motivation knowing that people are coming to Fear The Triangle to keep up with their favorite college hockey team.  So if you have an opinion, question, or even complaint feel free to share.

Go UMass!

Kenny Gillespie is the only committed recruit still playing, though Willy Smith did participate in the Beantown Classic last week, probably the biggest showcase tournament in the country.  Unfortunately I’ve been unable to come up with any opinion or stats from his performance.  Assistant coach Len Quesnelle was in attendance for UMass, scoring points from your truly for signing in being from “Massachusetts”.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
31 GP / 4 G / 5 A / 9 Pts / 47 PIM / -2
Gillespie did not make it into the scoring in his one game this past week.  College Hockey News’ Joe Meloni, who helped me out a ton with last week’s recruit post, did tell me that a source in the USHL compared Gillespie favorably with BU’s Yasin Cisse, a Winnipeg draft pick who had 2 goals and 3 assists in a freshman season where he battled some injury problems.

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
Will Smith’s season is over as the Pics were eliminated in the Empire League playoffs. You can’t blame Smith though as he was the leading scorer for the Pics with a goal and three assists in the two playoff games.

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 were eliminated by the New Hampshire Monarchs in the EJHL semifinals. Walsh had 2 goals in six playoff games. Next stop for him: Amherst.

College Hockey News has their Frozen Four picks.  I put out my tourney picks earlier this week.  You’ve probably noticed that I’ve favored College Hockey News’ coverage this year.  I really think that CHN has been the best and most unbiased of the handful of college hockey sites out there.  I think they still have a little ways to go to make their site more user friendly and intuitive but their content is by far the best.  Inside College Hockey has sadly become almost irrelevant and USCHO covers whatever it is they think is important to cover.  But CHN has become my primary source for college hockey info.

I really enjoyed this piece out of New Hampshire suggesting that UNH fans should root for Maine.  Dogs and cats living together.  Mass hysteria!

NCAA Picks & Other News

Yesterday was Selection Sunday and the bracket for the NCAA tournament was announced.  Hockey East ended up with four teams in the tourney; Boston College, Boston University, Maine, and Lowell.  Merrimack joined Northern Michigan as being just on the wrong side of the Pairwise.  BC, which won yet another Hockey East championship over the weekend, is the #1 overall seed in the tournament.  For Lowell it’s their first NCAA berth since 1996 while Maine returns to the tourney for the first time since they eliminated UMass in 2007.

With all that said, here’s my bracket:

 

Boston College    
  Boston College  
Air Force    
    Boston College
Minnesota-Duluth    
  Minnesota-Duluth  
Maine    
Boston College  
Minnesota        
  Minnesota      
Boston University        
    Minnesota    
Western Michigan        
  North Dakota      
North Dakota        
  Michigan
Union        
  Michigan State      
Michigan State        
    Miami    
Miami        
  Miami      
Lowell        
Michigan  
Ferris State    
  Denver  
Denver    
    Michigan
Cornell    
  Michigan  
Michigan    

 

Yep, picking the Wolverines to take their first championship since 1998.  I want to pick BC all the way but for some reason I just see a bit of vulnerability in them.  I’m not totally sold on Parker Milner after the up and down season he had.

The official Fargo Force blog has this piece on current Minuteman Oleg Yevenko.

Nothing really new here but the Bangor Daily News talks about potential changes to the playoff format and expansion in Hockey East.

T.J. Syner had an assist in his first pro game.

Former Minuteman Mike Kostka contributed to a historic night as he assisted on the game winning goal for the Norfolk Admirals as they won their 18th consecutive game, an AHL record.

Just want to remind UMass hockey fans of a couple opportunities.  First it we’re getting closer to next week’s Reverse Raffle.  Make sure to sign up and claim your lucky number before anyone else does.  I cannot recommend this event enough.  It’s a chance to socialize with UMass fans, alumni, coaches, broadcasters, and even bloggers.  It’s a night of food, an open bar of beer and wine, prizes, and the chance to win $5,000.  All for just $115 for you and a guest.  Well worth it.  I look forward to it every year.

Also, the Minutemen Club has announced that they have a handful of gameworn Frozen Fenway jerseys available for sale.  NCAA regulations require that the nameplates are removed (obviously left on it would sully amateur athletics as we know it, right Fab Melo?) but the jersey still has the Hockey East and Frozen Fenway patches.  The sale price is $450, which for a jersey worn in a once in a lifetime type event is pretty good.  Since the University Store dropped the ball again passed on the opportunity to make money sell replicas, this could be your only chance to get one of these jerseys.  For more info email the Minutemen Club at minutemenclub@admin.umass.edu.  Speaking of the Minutemen Club, they’ve just announced their revised benefits and membership structure which can be found on their new website.  So far so good on the direction the athletic department is taking for the fundraising effort, something that will be incredibly important as football moves to the FBS.  What does that have to do with hockey?  Well as they say a rising tide lifts all boats.

Recruit Update; KAEO Zach Doerring and Eric Freschi

Unfortunately I was not able to get to Shane Walsh’s game on Sunday as I had hoped.  I was just too burned out from the weekend that was and felt like spending the day as far away as guys in black and white stripes as possible..  It’s too bad, because it ended up being his last of the season.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
30 GP / 4 G / 5 A / 9 Pts / 47 PIM / -2
Gillespie had an empty net goal for the Lancers last weekend.  I noticed some sites are still projecting him as an NHL Draft target, listed as the #68 forward on that link.

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
Will Smith’s season is over as the Pics were eliminated in the Empire League playoffs. You can’t blame Smith though as he was the leading scorer for the Pics with a goal and three assists in the two playoff games.

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 were eliminated by the New Hampshire Monarchs in the EJHL semifinals.  Walsh had 2 goals in six playoff games.  Next stop for him: Amherst.

College Hockey News writer and ex-Collegian Editor Joe Meloni passed along some news on a couple Minnesotans UMass is currently targeting.  First up is Zach Doerring a 6’3”, 195lb forward out of the Blake School in Minnesota.  Former Minuteman John Wessbecker also came from Blake and if I remember correctly there’s some kind of connection between Toot Cahoon and their coach.  He is the younger brother of Vermont defenseman Blake Doerring.  Zach finished the Minnesota high school hockey regular season with 13 goals and 53 points in 25 games.  His 40 assists were good for 10th in the top division of Minnesota HS.  In his final game of the season Blake lost a playoff game to Breck 7-5, by Doerring had 2 goals and 3 assists in the game.  A ‘94, Doerring would likely land in college in the fall of 2013 after spending a year with Fargo Force of the USHL.  I contacted Force beat writer Ryan S Clark and he says there are high hopes for Doerring when he gets to Fargo due to his size and his playmaking abilities.

Here’s Doerring’s profile page at Minnesota Hockey Hub.

Tim How wrote this story about Doerring being drafted by the Force.

Meloni says Northeastern is also after Doerring.  I assume a bunch of Western schools and perhaps Vermont would be as well.

Next to keep an eye on is Eric Freschi, a former teammate of UMass commit Shane Walsh’s with Dubuque of the USHL.  Freschi is another Minnesotan, a 5’10 185lb forward who has 10 goals, 6 assists, and 50 PIM in 40 games so far.  Before this year he also played Minnesota High School hockey, scoring  22 goals to go with 19 assists in 27 games for Bloomington Jefferson.  A ‘93, Freschi might be targeted to come to campus this year.

Western College Hockey blog ranked him the 36th best MN High School player last year.

Meloni says Providence in the mix for him as well.

Congratulations to T.J. Syner who was named an Honorable Mention Hockey East All Star.  Syner was the only Minuteman to garner any recognition at tonight’s banquet.  I would’ve liked to see Joel Hanley get in there somewhere (like in place of Tommy Cross), but he’ll have another two years to try to crack the Eagle-Terrier Hockey East awards.

FTT Awards and Hockey East Award Picks

I’m looking forward to revealing the annual Fear The Triangle awards in tonight’s post as well as make my own picks for Hockey East awards.  But first I just wanted to touch on the news Dick Baker reported last night that coach Toot Cahoon will in fact be retained for next year, the final year of his current contract.  Cahoon goes on to say that he’s motivated by the level of competition of the current team and is looking to stay on even longer.

I’ll be completely honest, I have mixed feelings about this.  First of all I have a lot of respect for Cahoon and am very thankful for the places he has taken UMass hockey.  Beyond his accomplishments he’s also a great person and am grateful to have him as a representative of my alma mater.  For all he has done for the program and his personal qualities I’m glad he’ll have the chance to go out on his own accord or even have the opportunity to extend his UMass career if the pieces fall into place.

That said, I’m really scared we could be in for another disappointing season in the mold of the last five years and frankly, I’m not sure I can take another losing season.  In my 19 years of following UMass hockey at varying levels of hockey fandom (from neophyte to insane blogger) fans have been treated to exactly 4 winning seasons, three trips to the Hockey East semifinals and one NCAA berth.  And one of those seasons was the rebirth year for UMass hockey when they spent the season in transition and beat the likes of Fitchburg State and North Adams.  Three winning seasons in 18 years of DI hockey.  Needless to say I’m out of patience and can no longer tolerate the words “wait ‘til next year.”  But what is done is done and I can say with everything ounce of my soul that I hope Cahoon is so successful next year it makes the last five years worth it and he’s able to stay on a few more years.

One last comment, the article also mentions that the coach is going in for surgery next week on his troublesome hip so I wish him well in that endeavor.

▲ Fear The Triangle Player of the Year

So without further adieu let’s talk awards.  For the past few years I’ve announced the Fear The Triangle Player of the Year Award for the Minuteman who has garnered the most FTT Player of the Game awards throughout the season.  Past winners have been Paul Dainton and James Marcou.  I actually do not keep track of the standings as the season progresses, so I enjoy going through all the game recaps at the end of the season and seeing how it all shakes out.  In a testament to how deep this team was the first 10 games saw 10 different players named FTT POTG.  All in all 15 different players were named FTT POTG at different points in time.  I also named University Drive the FTT Player of the Pregame for the excellent work done by the Hangar and Amherst Brewing and named the Bench Crew as FTT Fans of the Game for their work on the #freemoore revolution.  But for the players it ended up being  a four player race and one player came out on top by being named POTG five times.  That player was sophomore Conor Sheary.

It may come as some surprise since Sheary was tied for third on the team in goals and finished second in assists.  But he led the team with a +15, besting 2nd place Joel Hanley by three, which showed that when there was a goal to be scored, he probably had a part in it.  I can’t say enough about the progression Sheary showed from last year to this year.  You could tell as a freshman he was one day going to be able to impact games on a regular basis but I thought it would take him until his junior year to really develop into a star.  Nope, scoring goals in four of the first seven games while putting up points in six of those games showed that he hit the ground running for his sophomore season and a new UMass star was born.  That only means we expect more for next year however.  Maybe even the 20 goal/20 assist season I’ve heard predicted around the streets of Melrose.

In the end, here is the final tally for the FTT POTGs

Sheary 5
Boyle 4
Pereira 4
Syner 4
Guzzo 3
Hanley 3
Hobbs 3
Allen 2
Mastalerz 2
Gracel 1
Kiley 1
Marcou 1
Shea 1
Teglia 1
Yevenko 1

▲ Fear The Triangle Rookie of the Year

When I made my preseason pick for Newcomer of the Year it came with the caveat that I thought one of the freshman goaltenders could end up being the one but I didn’t know which it would be, so I went with Zack LaRue.  First off, LaRue wasn’t even the best freshman forward, Steven Guzzo and his double digits in goals was.  Secondly, it did end up being a goaltender who was the true Rookie of the Year.  Kevin Boyle is my choice for the award.  Just on stats alone he had a strong year, ended up with a winning record (on a losing team), settling in at an even 3.00 goals against average and a .895 save percentage.  Obviously those numbers have to be improved upon next year but when you add in the fact that he already owns two wins over top ranked teams, he did enough to garner the award.  I’m fairly certain Toot Cahoon will go into next season with another goaltender competition for the opening night starter, but Boyle played well enough, especially down the stretch, that he should get the net first on that first day of practice.

▲ Fear The Triangle Comeback Player of the Year

I believe in past years I kept it at those first two awards but I wanted to expand it this year.  Comeback Player of the Year is just my pick of someone who came back from some kind of adversity to have a strong season.  Last year this would’ve gone to Chase Langeraap who wasn’t expected to be a factor after a few disappointing years and ended up giving the team solid minutes every night.  This year I want to give the award to Mike Marcou who has taken three years of some over the top abuse from fans and in the end had an excellent senior year.  This past year was by far Marcou’s best all around season and when put up against his junior year really deserves some recognition.  To say he struggled last year is an understatement.  Though he scored four goals and had 11 total points his –18 plus minus was by far the worst on a team full of freshmen defensemen.  He entered this season with just about everyone either complaining about his play or flat out calling for him to be benched.  In the end he scored 6 goals to go with 15 assists, 9th best in points among Hockey East defensemen, and finished the year a +6.  Plus minus isn’t always the best stat but in the extremes we’re talking about it shows the tremendous progress Marcou made.  In the end his key play during this season not only was able to silence his critics but allowed him to come out from his brother’s shadow and really make a name for himself in UMass hockey.

▲ Fear The Triangle Breakout Player of the Year

Last year as a freshman Conor Allen did a serviceable job for the team.  He wasn’t spectacular but for the most part he did his part and when he struggled he didn’t seem to struggle any more than the other dozen freshmen on the team.  But as this year progressed he started to look like a very different player.  Not only did he improve defensively, turning a –11 plus minus last year into a –1 this year, but offensively he was able to make a huge contribution.  His two goals and four assists his first year seemed more like circumstance than a true strength.  But this year his seven goals tied Joel Hanley for tops among UMass defensemen and his 14 points was 9th best overall for the team.  Not bad for someone who looked like a stay at home defenseman last year.  I also thought his skating and puck movement improved greatly from last year.  There were numerous occasions where he either led a rush into the opponents’ offensive zone or found himself to be an effective trailer in such a situation and his passing was quite impressive.  I’m very much looking forward to next season to see how Allen builds off this year.

▲ Fear The Triangle Pregaming Locale of the Year

I certainly had some fine pregaming (and postgaming) this year.  Obviously the home games were dominated by two places, the Hangar and Amherst Brewing.  For my home Pregaming award I have to give it to ABC.  Though I’m still not completely sold on the new location, only because you’d never know it’s a brewpub (why can I no longer see the fermenters?!?), I do like what the new location brings.  One of those things was Dogfish Head 120 Minute on draft which probably put them over the top for this award.  For away games I hit a lot of familiar places.  The short list includes; The Abbey, Cityside, Roggies, Lowell Beer Works, mini-Sunset, Pat’s Pizza, The Tap, and the Publick House.  But I also got to try a lot of places I’d never experienced before like Baseball Tavern, Delaney’s Tap Room, Mikro, Bukowski’s Tavern, Liberal Cup,  Great Lost Bear, and Bear Brew Pub.  But my pick for best away pregame locale is Nocturnem Draft Haus in Bangor.  The fact that Bangor even has a top notch beer snob bar is impressive, but this place was good enough for any town.  It didn’t hurt that it was full of Allagash taps when I went (twice).  But it also introduced me to Nøgne Ø brewery out of Norway, for which I’m very happy.  They also had a damn good homemade pretzel.

So that’s it for my FTT awards.  Let’s move onto the league as a whole.

First up, my All-Hockey East Teams

1st Team
F – Spencer Abbott Sr, Maine
F – Joey Diamond Jr, Maine
F – Barry Almeida Sr, Boston College
D – Brian Dumolin Jr, Boston College
D – Karl Stollery Sr, Merrimack
G – Parker Milner Jr, Boston College

Listen, I hate putting Diamond on this list as much as you hate reading it, but in between being a complete douchebag, the guy scores goals.  Lots of them.  20 of them during league play which is 3 more than anyone else.  I had a tough time going between Almeida and his teammate Chris Kreider for first team.  In the end Almedia’s edge in goals put him over the top.  The picks for defensemen and goaltender were pretty easy.   Milner had a .842 winning percentage, more than .150 better than anyone else. Oh he also boasted the best goals against average in league play.

2nd Team
F – Brian Flynn Sr, Maine
F – Chris Kreider Jr, Boston College
F – Matt Nieto So, Boston University
D – Garrett Noonan So, Boston University
D – Joel Hanley So, Massachusetts
G – Doug Carr So, Lowell

The first two forwards were easy.  The third one was a little tougher given the performances by guys like Scott Wilson and others.  In the end it was Nieto’s knack to come up big in key situations gave him the edge.  Noonan and his 11 goals were easy as the first defensive choice here.  For the second slot certainly guys like Adam Clendening and Chad Ruhwedel deserved consideration.  But I thought Clendening struggled defensively and felt Ruhwedel benefitted a lot from the players around him. In the end I thought Hanley was most deserving for his rock solid two way play (though I guarantee that spot goes to an Eagle or Terrier when awards are announced tomorrow…see Charlie Coyle, 2011 Rookie of the Year over Mike Pereira).

Honorable Mention
F – Scott Wilson Fr, Lowell
F – Derek Arnold So, Lowell
F – Billy Arnold So, Boston College
D – Adam Clendening So, Boston University
D – Chad Ruhwedel So, Lowell
G – Joe Cannata Sr, Merrimack

These were all easy picks.

All-Rookie Team
F – Scott Wilson Fr, Lowell
F – Johnny Gaudreau Fr, Boston College
F – Ludwig Karlsson Fr, Northeastern
D – Alexx Privitera Fr, Boston University
D – Zack Kamrass Fr, Lowell
G – Casey DeSmith Fr, New Hampshire

The only tough choice on this one was the second defensive spot.  UNH’s Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Merrimack’s Dan Kolomatis had solid seasons but Kamrass was just a little better defensively.

Hockey East Rookie of the Year
Scott Wilson, Lowell
Very easy pick on this one.  A dozen goals to go with 16 assists in league play to go with numerous weekly awards.

Hockey East Coach of the Year
Norm Bazin, Lowell
What a great story.  The former player comes back to his alma mater and turns a 5 win embarrassment into 23 wins and an NCAA berth.  Nothing short of miraculous.  When I asked someone close to the program the difference between last year and this year I was told Bazin just tells them to go out, skate hard, and shoot the puck often.  Sometimes the simplest strategy is the best.  This should be just the first of multiple accolades for Bazin

Hockey East Player of the Year
Spencer Abbott, Maine
There aren’t many goals on Maine’s season that Abbott hasn’t had some hand in.  Simply put, he is a point machine.

Unless something crazy pops up, that’s probably the last of the extensive season recap posts for the time being.  But there is still more I want to write about.  Tomorrow will be dedicated to catching up on recruiting, both how our current commits are faring as well as relaying some news on a couple recruiting targets.  Next week I’ll probably take a deeper look into the performance of the freshmen and what we may expect from them next year.  Was this season’s freshman class a disappointment?  That’s the question I want to answer.  So while the season is over, keep checking back.  I’ll keep posting as long as either news is coming out or I can think of something to write about.

Season Recap Part II; Syner Signs

Yesterday I recapped how UMass fared through the schedule, outlined some of the key stats to the season, and gave some thoughts on each player’s performance.  Today I wanted to touch on my thoughts on the job by the coaching staff and some overall opinion on the season and the program.

Xs and Os

I think specific to this season coach Toot Cahoon and his staff had some wins and losses.  Early in the season he took some heat, including from myself, for not going forward with a combination of Mike Pereira, T.J. Syner, and Danny Hobbs, aka the HoPS line.  Fans argued that these were arguably the team’s best players and they seemed to have great chemistry together.  Cahoon made the point that he’d rather have them on different lines so the team had two equally balanced scoring lines.  In the end, with these players split between the top two lines for much of the season, UMass had their best offensive output since the 2002-03 season.  Can’t really argue with that.  Overall, though there were tweaks here and there, I thought the lines the staff put together were really gelling at the end of the year, including the impactful the third line of Carzo, Power, and Kiley.

I think the staff also deserves credit for the progression the power play made during the season.  For the first few months of the year it was absolutely dreadful and a huge liability for the team.  But the coaches changed things up, focused on it in practice, and by the end of the season was converting regularly at over 20%.  The team finished in the middle of the pack among Hockey East teams with the power play.  The penalty kill improved somewhat as the season went on but still ended up being a huge weakness on the team, as it has been for years.  This has to be something addressed next year as it really limits the team’s ability to win.  Lastly I have to say that the schedule itself was a win for the staff.  From a fan’s perspective it was disappointing not to see any WCHA or CCHA teams on the list, but as I mentioned yesterday it’s currently the 10th toughest schedule in the country according to the RPI.  UMass got some good wins against the harder teams on the schedule, if they had just won against the middle and lower levels teams more consistently this schedule would’ve put them in prime position for an at-large NCAA bid.

But, they didn’t take care of business against those teams.  This team won the season series against league champion Boston College, played even with BU, yet couldn’t win a single game against Providence or take the season series against anyone else but last place Vermont.  Even if UMass had won one against the Friars, held onto the 3-0 lead at BU, turned one of the losses to UNH and Merrimack into a tie, and taken even a single game from Lowell things would’ve turned out much differently.  In fact if all that happened UMass would’ve tied with Merrimack for fifth place.  But it didn’t.  Too often UMass came out looking completely unprepared to play.  Too often they played down to their competition, just as they played up to the competition when playing ranked teams.  Certainly the players deserve some of the blame for this.  We’re talking about young men who have playing hockey their whole lives.  They should be able to prepare themselves.  But anything that becomes a habit or trend like this ultimately falls on the coaching staff as well who has to find a way to get through to their players, even if it’s constantly changing methods.  That never happened until it was too late.  Starting with the second game in Maine UMass was ready to play every game.  Before then, not so much.

Another miss for the coaching staff this season was the goaltending situation.  Now in their defense none of the three goaltenders made their lives easy by stepping up and being the clear #1 choice.  But that said, the goaltender rotation probably did not help things when the team struggled in January and February.  Only Jeff Teglia’s injury whittled it down to just a two man rotation but even that seemed to cause problems at times.  No one was able to get in a rhythm.  Neither were able to try to build on a recent success.  I’m not sure what next fall holds but I hope any potential three man rotation doesn’t last more than a few weeks and I hope if someone puts a couple solid games together they’re given ample chance to establish themselves as the regular starter.

Season Thoughts

Yesterday I outlined some of the statistical improvements and in the one stat that matters most, wins, the team improved too; from six last year to 13 this year.  But, like last year, it took until the very last weekend of the season to qualify for the Hockey East playoffs.  And they only did that by the very thinnest of margins, taking the third level of tiebreakers from Northeastern.  Once the team got to the playoffs it was another two game sweep at the hands of Boston College who have dispatched the Minutemen for three straight years.  If this team had been mediocre all year, beating lesser teams and other mediocre teams while losing to the best teams in the league and finished with 13 wins I think it would’ve been understandable.  The fact that the fans were treated to some amazing highs; the wins over #1 BC and #1 BU, the shutout over BC to take the season series, the victory at Maine, and defeat of Cornell, just makes the overall outcome that much more disappointing.  For at least 7 of the team’s 27 games, those being wins against ranked teams, they showed they could play with the best and beat the best.  Where was that team the rest of the time?  How could they beat the top ranked team twice and go winless against Providence and not even look competitive against Lowell?  How could the team be so dominant at home, undefeated for much of the season, yet had to wait until mid-February to get their first road win?

You could argue that perhaps fans were expecting too much if they wanted this team with freshmen goaltenders and a ton of sophomores to be competing for home ice in Hockey East.  But if expectations were raised it’s because the team’s own performance raised them.  Those signature wins, some of the biggest in the program’s history is what made us think the team was capable of doing something really special.  Instead they finished in a fashion we’ve become way too accustomed to.  In the end this team gave us equal portions of excitement and frustration.

Program Thoughts

Five years ago this week UMass had just beat Maine for the fourth straight game and were preparing to take on UNH in the Hockey East semifinals at the Garden.  The team would drop that game in overtime but a four goal 3rd period by Clarkson in the ECAC championship would align the numbers and give UMass its first ever NCAA berth.  A Kevin Jarman goal a couple weeks later would give UMass its first NCAA win.  While everyone knew Jon Quick was the difference maker on that squad, fans of the program hoped that season would usher in an era where UMass would regularly compete for home ice in Hockey East and even battle for a league title.  That hasn’t happened.  In the five years since UMass has had a losing record in four of them and finished at .500 in 2009-10.  The six wins last year tied for the least since UMass moved to Division I.  The team has finished in 8th place in the league three times during those five years, 7th once, and tied for 6th once, and just one year was legitimately a contender for home ice.  These are not the results UMass fans hoped for when they gathered in Blue Cross Arena in Rochester in 2007.

There are a lot of reasons for the lack of success in these past five years; youth, defections to the pros, recruits reneging on their commitments, and flat out selfish players.  But, rightfully, UMass fans are going to look to the head coach to be accountable for these last five years.  And the fact is head coach Toot Cahoon has lost the confidence of a sizable portion of the UMass faithful.  How much?  It’s tough to quantify.  However judging from what I read here at FTT and on UMasshoops.com and what I hear from the everyday fans I interact with at games, it’s close to a majority.  Even more concerning is, for the first time, people close to the program I’ve spoken with are vocalizing their doubts as well.

Before the 2010-11 season I happily broke the news that Cahoon received a contract extension that would keep him as coach through the end of next season.  All the arguments I made in Cahoon’s favor then are still applicable.  The players not only graduate but regularly receive accolades for their academics.  Attendance continues to be OK, despite the lack of success.  And he runs a clean program where the players rarely run into any trouble.  I think what’s happening over at BU this year can make UMass fans thankful for that last one.  But, with all that, it’s been a tough last five years.  I know my own frustration at the lack of success is mounting with every disappointing season.  Minuteman fans aren’t expecting UMass to supplant Boston College as league power but I think we can all agree that there’s enough potential in this program that annual 8th place finishes and quarterfinal sweeps isn’t cutting it.

It doesn’t help that in the five years since UMass has been out of the NCAAs and Hockey East semifinals that we’ve seen Merrimack emerge as on of the better Hockey East schools with a former Minuteman assistant at its helm.  The seven win improvement for UMass from last year to this year looks nice until you realize that the two teams that UMass finished ahead of in the Hockey East standings last year did much, much better than that.  Providence only improved their total wins by 6 this year, but they did finish ahead of UMass in the standings and will be playing in the Garden this weekend.  Lowell went from just 5 wins last year to an astounding 23 this year and have locked up an NCAA berth.  I probably don’t have to tell you that both of those teams changed coaches over the offseason.

For those UMass fans hoping for a similar move in the offseason, it’s not happening.  The only way Toot Cahoon is not at the helm next season is if he chooses not to be on his own accord.  And maybe that’s the way it should be.  He has built this program.  There’s something to be said for giving him this last season on his contract to bring the program back to where he and the rest of us fans want it to be or he and he school move on.  Obviously this isn’t the most ideal situation.  There are already questions whether his status is affecting the staff’s ability to secure recruits long term.  One has to wonder how much harm another finish at the bottom standings will do to the program and how much harder it will make it to recover from.  But, that’s out of our hands.  All we can do is continue to support the program and the school.  Some of us will continue to support Coach Cahoon.  There are many who have already chosen not to.  But in the end the best all of us can do is spend the offseason building up hope for next season with the wish that it is finally rewarded.

Note: Just a few hours after I wrote the above, Dick Baker posted that Toot Cahoon will in fact be retained for next year as I suggested.

Congratulations to co-captain T.J. Syner who signed a contract with the Washington Capitals, the team who invited him to development camp last summer. Syner is off to Hershey to play for their AHL club.  The linked article also mentions that Syner was named the top winter sports academic student athlete at UMass.

Mike Marcou will likely sign soon as well as I heard over the weekend that he had a number of AHL clubs interested in his services.  Marcou has spent the last two summers at Islanders development camp which may help him land a spot with their AHL club in Bridgeport. Unfortunately Danny Hobbs is unlikely to join the Rangers’ Connecticut Whale due to the injury sustained on Friday.

The Collegian takes an early look at next year’s squad.

Reading this excellent piece on the origins of the infamous Buffaslug makes me want to track down whoever came up with UMass’ triangle.

Please make sure to check back tomorrow night as I unveil the yearly FTT awards as well as my picks for the league awards.

Season Recap: Part I

When judging how this past season played out, it’s probably important to ground yourself with the expectations coming in. Personally, I saw UMass as finishing in sixth place in Hockey East. Obviously that didn’t happen. For the second year in a row UMass had to battle just to make the Hockey East playoffs right up to the last weekend and for the third year in a row were swept out of the Hockey East quarterfinals by the Boston College Eagles. But that’s not to say that this team didn’t give fans some exciting times and huge wins along the way. The question is were those wins, some of the biggest in UMass history, a precursor of times to come or just an aspect of a frustratingly inconsistent season.

The Season

UMass would not pick up their first road win on the season until February but they almost picked up one in their very first game at Northeastern. Unfortunately they were unable to hold the late lead and gave up the tying goal to the Huskies with two seconds left. It was something we’d see more of as the season went on. Unlike the prior year when they had to wait until just before Thanksgiving for their first win, UMass was able to get that out of the way in the second game of the season against Bentley. But then things went very poorly. The team would drop games to Providence and BC and then came an incredibly disappointing weekend against BU. On Friday in Amherst UMass would have a 2-0 lead late in the second and outshoot BU 35-23 but the game would end in a tie. The next night UMass looked to be on their way to a significant upset after leading 3-0 after one period. But the team collapsed and ultimately lost 5-4 in overtime. The next Friday the team would get embarrassed by UNH 7-3 and with a record of 1-4-2 the Minuteman squad didn’t look much better than the six win team the year before. So of course they came out the next night and beat top ranked Boston College. The team had a bit of momentum from that win and would pick up two more wins and a hard fought tie with Maine. But then they went to Lowell and were shutout 4-0 followed by a loss to Vermont, giving the Catamounts just their second win of the season. Then it was time for the ECAC swing to the season. It started out poorly with a loss at Quinnipiac but then they tied a decent Harvard team. The team finished out the first half of the season with a solid win over #17 Yale. At that point the team still had a losing record at 5-7-4 but at least had closed out the first half on the upswing.

Their success against the ECAC would continue with a dominating 5-2 win over #13 Cornell in the opener of the Florida College Classic. But, in a pattern that came to define this team, they completely no-showed the next night in the championship against Maine. They improved again from there and went on a 3-0-1 stretch that included the dramatic win over Vermont at Fenway and a shutout of #4 Boston College. After beating Vermont again the next night the team looked to be a great spot to make a run and do damage down the stretch. They had a winning record at 9-8-5 and had just clinched two season series. The team’s Pairwise at that point was #24 with a lot of games to play. But that next weekend the team played extremely poorly in two losses to Lowell and were never able to regain any kind of momentum for the rest of the season. From there it seemed like they were just constantly struggling to keep their head above water. Sure there would be good games, like their defeat of #1 Boston University marking the first time in program history where the team beat a top ranked team twice and the first upset of #1 on the road. But that win, the sole victory in a 1-6-0 stretch, proved to be more of a source of frustration for fans that a point of pride. The team would split the final three weekends of the season and that last win would allow them to grab the last playoff spot over Northeastern by virtue of the third tiebreaker, record against first seed BC. The team would then face the Eagles for the third straight year in the Hockey East quarterfinals. They’d play tough and would have to battle a number of factors, like questionable officiating and injuries to key players, but ultimately their inability to finish would results in the third straight sweep at the hands of the Eagles.

Number Crunching

There are a number of stats that show how frustrating this team was, how close they were to really doing something special if only they had been more consistent. Seven of the team’s 13 wins were against ranked teams. In the regular season the team was 7-7-1 against ranked teams and 6-9-5 against unranked teams. The team had a .500 (2-2-0) record against the #1 team in the country. Before the season a lot of UMass fans complained about a boring schedule. Well between the ranked ECAC teams they played and a strong year for Hockey East as a whole UMass’ strength of schedule currently is 10th in the country. Only BC, BU, and Northeastern had tougher schedules within Hockey East. Yet amazingly it was losses to unranked teams that kept this UMass team from doing anything special. An away record of just 2-13-1 did not help things either.

The team did improve greatly from the year before, which isn’t surprising as that was one of the most unsuccessful teams in UMass history. They jumped from scoring 2.51 goals per game in 10-11 to 3.17 this year. That 3.17 goals is the highest since 02-03 when the team narrowly lost to UNH in the Hockey East semifinals. The 3.28 goals per game allowed was an improvement from the 3.49 they gave up the previous year but was still second last in Hockey East. The power play made good strides from last year 18.2% compared to 12.5% and was regularly over 20% in the second half of the season. The penalty kill, which wasn’t that good last year at 77.8%, suffered without the likes of Paul Dainton and Doug Kublin and dropped to 76.1% on the year. What made that drop even worse was the team increased from an average of 14.1 PIM a game to 18.2.

Players

A few thoughts on each player’s performance

Forwards

Emerson Auvenshine Fr – UMass has never had a lot of players from the NAHL and I really didn’t expect too much from Auvenshine coming in. He didn’t make a huge impact on the scoresheet, registering just one assist in 15 games. But what impressed me was how hard he played every shift. It seemed like his skates just never stopped as soon as he hit the ice. He has some work to do to be a solid defensive player, but I think if he works on his game in the offseason as hard as he works on the ice he’ll be OK.

Rocco Carzo Jr – Carzo continued his evolution to more of a two way forward than the offensive player we saw his freshman year. For the most part I thought the evolution was successful. He worked hard to grind out plays along the boards and even had some of the best hits of the season. By the end of the year he developed a great bond with regular linemates Pat Kiley and Troy Power as the 3rd line became a big strength for the team down the stretch. He’s one of my picks to wear a letter next year.

Kevin Czepiel Jr – Holyoke had a career high three goals this season with two of them coming in key wins over New Hampshire and Merrimack. He played in all but two games this season, usually centering the fourth line. He will have to improve his defensive play though if he can be counted on every night as a senior as his –8 was the worst on the team.

Peter DeAngelo So – DeAngelo made some good strides this season after his freshman year that saw him play just 16 games, registering only 3 assists. He ended up with 3 goals this season, all coming in Minuteman wins, including the first shorthanded goal for the team in seemingly forever. Injury forced him to miss the last four weeks of the season. He’ll be expected to contribute regularly next season.

Eric Filiou So – Filiou also made some good progress from his freshman year. While he struggled to contribute when moved up to center the first and second lines, he did very well at other spots in the lineup. The team had a winning record when he registered a point and though not the biggest guy in the lineup he didn’t hesitate when things got physical. He played well enough to make a case for regular time next year.

Branden Gracel So – Gracel was a nice surprise as a freshman and made great progress as a sophomore. He improved from four goals and nine assists his first year to seven goals and 14 assists this year. He showed he has great vision and solid ability as a playmaker but I’d actually like to see him shoot more. The team was 5-1-1 when he scored a goal and he notched gamewinners twice. Obviously he’ll be the top center on next year’s squad.

Steven Guzzo RS Fr – I thought that Guzzo would be a bit of a wildcard this season, having the experience of being around the team a year but being unable to play due to injury. He really hit the ground running and made solid contributions all year long. He ended up 9th in the league in freshman scoring and was UMass’ most successful player in faceoffs. Getting double digits in goals is a great way to start his college career and he’ll be a key player next year.

Danny Hobbs Sr – Injuries limited Hobbs’ effectiveness through much of the season and then ultimately ended his season early when he took a slapshot off his glove and couldn’t play in the second playoff game. Still, despite being hobbled with a nagging groin injury he was able to match his career high of 12 goals and had an amazing five game winning assists on the season. In fact the team was 7-1-1 when he registered an assist. Through it all he did a fine job as co-captain. I was always impressed by his poise and honesty when speaking to the media after games, win or lose.

Patrick Kiley So – I probably criticized Pat Kiley more than any other player this season on the blog. It was easy to since for the first half of the season he was absolutely killing the team with penalties. In his first 10 games he took 11 penalties for 41 minutes. But, he got better and he played much smarter starting in January. In his final 16 games he had 3 penalties for 6 minutes. He deserved the criticism for taking the penalties and deserves all the praise for adjusting his game and making solid contributions for the back half of the season. He ended the season having an established role on the third line and did well finishing +2 on the season. I’m looking forward to seeing how he plays when next season starts.

Zack LaRue Fr – LaRue’s first season was probably a disappointment to those who followed him in juniors. There he scored a lot of goals and even led his league in shorthanded goals. He showed the speed needed for those shorties and has great size for the college game, but never made much of an impact playing sporadically in 14 games. I think he’ll be looked on to play a much bigger role on next year’s squad, perhaps helping replace some of the skill and size of Danny Hobbs.

Eddie Olczyk Jr – Olczyk again played in about half the games, serving as a key defensive forward when he did. After not playing in 16 games in the middle of the season he was able to give the team some solid minutes down the stretch. It’ll be interesting to see what his role is with the team. His defensive skills are unquestioned, but if the coaches are looking for a more two-way player for their third and fourth line he may struggle to crack the lineup again.

Mike Pereira So – Pereira went from freshman phenom to sophomore star. His 17 goals were tops on the team and among the top ten in the league. He did go through a tough stretch in the middle season, even getting benched a game for not playing defense, but I thought he responded well. He’d eventually regain his scoring touch while improving his play without the puck. During February when the team was fighting for their lives he scored goals in 5 of 8 games and registered a point in 7 of 8. With T.J. Syner and Danny Hobbs graduating Pereira becomes the star of the squad next season.

Troy Power So – Again, the third line with Carzo and Kiley really developed into something special. Power gave the Minutemen solid minutes regularly and was able to make an impact on the scoresheet in his second season as well, netting a couple goals to go with 7 assists. He plays with an intensity that really benefits the team.

Conor Sheary So – After his six goal, eight assist freshman year I wrote that Sheary had star potential. UMass fans got to see him bloom into that star just a year later as he put in a dozen goals and registered 23 assists, good for second on the team. Next year’s team will be built around Sheary and Pereira.

T.J. Syner Sr – Syner played some of his best hockey as a Minuteman in his final games in the maroon and white. In the final games of the season when the team needed someone to lead them into the playoffs and beyond the senior co-captain registered a point in 5 of his last 6 games. If there was one critique to his senior year it would be the amount of penalties he took, 21 in total. That said, he’ll go down as one of the most exciting and by far the fastest Minuteman ever.

Andrew Tegeler Fr – Tegeler is a player I wish we had seen more of during the season. He looked good in the preseason scrimmage and scored a goal against BC in practically his first shift. But the youngest player of the roster ended up in just five games on the season. Personally I thought he looked OK in all of those. I’m very interested to see what he can do next year when the lineup allows for more playing time.

Defensemen

Conor Allen So – Allen had a pretty good freshman year as a physical stay at home defenseman, but really improved into a huge impact player as a sophomore. Defensively he played much smarter. Statisically he improved from a –11 last year to a –1 this year and even took less penalties. Offensively he exploded for 7 goals including two game winners. He still has a ways to go but at times I found his play not unlike that of former Minuteman Justin Braun.

Mike Busillo Fr – I honestly didn’t have much expectations from Busillo before the season. Coming straight from Atlantic Junior Hockey I wasn’t sure if he’d even play. But he ended up dressing for a half dozen games and didn’t look out of place in any of them. I think he’ll be in the mix for many more games next season.

Joel Hanley So – Hanley was perhaps UMass’ best player on the blueline. He was one of the top scoring defensmen in Hockey East and really turned on that aspect of his game starting in December. From Thanksgiving on only once did he go consecutive games without points. He was also very good defensively and led all UMass defensemen with a +12 plus minus. Hanley will deservingly get some consideration for All-Hockey East Second Team (though he’ll probably lose out to some random Eagle or Terrier)

Mike Marcou Sr – I loved watching Mike Marcou play this season. First because he’s a good kid who has tried hard all four years here. Secondly, because he played well and it shut up his over the top critics. Like Hanley he was one of the top scoring defensemen in the league and scored perhaps the most dramatic goal of the season with the overtime gamewinner at Fenway. Defensively he bounced back greatly from two subpar seasons and finished with a +6. Like fellow seniors Syner and Hobbs he did well down the stretch, registering a point in 6 of his last 8 games and going +1 in that time.

Adam Phillips So – With so many sophomores on the roster at least one was bound to have a sophomore slump and that person was Phillips. After playing very well, especially on the offensive end, as a freshman his second year at UMass is probably one he’d like to forget. After scoring 10 goals to go with 5 assists as a freshman he scored just one goal to go with six assists as a sophomore. On defense he struggled mightily. Phillips will probably benefit from an offseason where he can put this year behind him and try to recapture what he had going on as a freshman.

Anthony Raiola RS So – I thought Raiola had a bigger role to play on this year’s team after some very solid play toward the end of his freshman year. He ended up playing just four games on the year and didn’t really stand out in any of him. It’s tough to see him playing a big role on the team next year.

Darren Rowe Jr – At one point late in the season Coach Toot Cahoon admitted that he didn’t really think Rowe would ever see regular time again as a Minuteman. But he credited Rowe’s hard work and determination in practice and late in January he was put back in the lineup on a regular basis. While he still had hiccups here and there on defense, he did make solid contributions, scoring a couple goals in the last couple months. It’ll be interesting to see if his hard work translates into regular ice time next season. Certainly his reemergence on the team was one of the better storylines on the season.

Colin Shea So – Shea had a bit of an up and down season, playing well at times but actually getting benched during February. However I thought he played alright when he made it back into the lineup and would be very surprised if he’s not an everyday defenseman on next year’s team.

Oleg Yevenko Fr – Yevenko ended up being a pleasant surprise on the season. As hoped he helped keep the other team honest and from taking liberties with UMass’ small forwards. And in the end he was able to keep the penalties to an almost reasonable level. He even ended up with the game winning goal that knocked off #1 Boston College. If there’s one thing for him to work on in preparation for his sophomore year it’s his skating. If he can improve that aspect of the game he’ll be a force in this league.

Goaltending

Kevin Boyle Fr – Boyle had the best season of UMass’ three headed goaltending monster. He finished with an 8-7-4 record and had a goals against average of 3.00. His play made him the goto goaltender down the stretch starting 8 of the last 12 games. What’s important beyond the stats is how he improved his play. Early in the season he struggled letting in goals between him and the post. By the end of the season that wasn’t a problem. Next up to address would be rebounds.

Steve Mastalerz Fr – Mastalerz had a memorable freshman season, highlighted by his shutout of #4 Boston College. He’ll have to work on consistency though if he wants to win the job next season. Only once, with the BC game followed by a win against Vermont, was he able to string two solid games together. Athletically he may have an edge on Boyle but in the end Kevin had a little more poise in net.

Kevin Moore Sr – 0.00 goals against average. 1.000 save percentage. #freemoore. Great team guy. Not sure what more I can say.

Jeff Teglia So – Teglia had some great games which unfortunately did not always translate into wins, like his November tie against Maine and the narrow loss against Vermont. He did finally get his first career win when Mike Marcou scored in overtime at Fenway. But overall it was a tough season for Teglia who struggled to establish himself as the #1 goaltender despite being the only returner with experience. The season ended on a bad note when he was injured in practice and unable to play for the final two months. Still, I think if he works hard next year he could still be in the mix for playing time.

That’s it for the first part of the season recap. Part II covering the coaching and my overall feelings about the season will come up tomorrow.

No awards or even top performers for UMass from the playoff weekend.

Here’s the Collegian’s coverage of the final weekend for hockey.

Dick Baker has more on the embarrassingly horrendous officiating by John Gravallese, Dave Hansen, Jeremy Lovett, and Matt Riegart on Saturday while T.J. Syner comments on the fact that he never enjoyed the chance to play at the Garden in his four years as a Minuteman.

Reverse Raffle! Get on this before your lucky number is taken!

Lastly, the Penguins’ Steve MacIntyre is a gutless bastard for taking on former Minuteman Paul Dainton when he couldn’t find anyone else to fight him. I hope someone rearranges his face. Soon. You also gotta love the other Penguins holding Dainton’s teammates back so they couldn’t come to his aid. I absolutely hate that organization.

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