View From Section U: Winning Hearts And Minds

As July comes to the close I would think most UMass hockey fans are relieved to finally have a new coach in place and have the chance to look forward to this coming season when the Minutemen have a good number of key players and considerable depth at most positions returning. At the same time I would hope that, despite some high expectations, UMass fans have an open mind and give Coach Micheletto a Honeymoon Period and all allow him to build the program as he sees fit. Someone else who may also stand to benefit from a bit of a Honeymoon Period while fans are optimistic and open-minded about the program is Athletic Director John McCutcheon.

It’s safe to say that a good number of the UMass hockey faithful have lost trust in McCutcheon to do what’s best for the program and give Micheletto the support needed to reach the pinnacle of success in college hockey. This loss of faith occurred in a short amount of time. First came the announcement of the new radio deal for UMass, it wasn’t necessarily that the deal didn’t include hockey but how it was handled in relation to hockey (hockey was never even mentioned, even though it had shared the same flagship station with football and basketball) coming right on the heels of Jon Quick’s Stanley Cup heroics that really put a bad taste in people’s mouths. McCutcheon and former coach Toot Cahoon deciding he should step down in the middle of June amidst rumors of inadequate administrative support of hockey further frustrated fans. Then there was the circus of the coaching search, which I don’t feel like relaying the details of yet again, which pretty much made McCutcheon a lightning rod for the complaints of hardcore supporters of UMass hockey, myself included. Deservedly so in my opinion. Yet, we are now embarking on a new era of UMass hockey, one we hopefully can look forward to wholeheartedly. Just as we should give Micheletto the benefit of the doubt and our unwavering support, perhaps there’s an opportunity to rebuild some bridges between McCutcheon and the hockey program.

Yet, it’s a two way street. There are a number of actions McCutcheon can undertake, some simple, some not so much, that I think would go a long way towards rebuilding the trust of the UMass hockey fans. Here is what I think John McCutcheon can do to get back in good graces with us fans:

1) Find a radio home: As mentioned above, this was really the first thing to kick off our summer of discontent. But I think it’s key to find someplace on the dial for fans in the valley to follow their favorite team, for those far away to stream games through the magic of the interwebs, and if possible to leverage smart phone technology and allow UMass hockey fans to listen from pretty much anywhere. The good news is in talking to people around the program it does sound like progress has been made in this regard. But obviously it’s important to close the deal on this one.

2) Be seen at games: Now, a number of fans have referenced the fact that you very rarely witness McCutcheon attending hockey games. Whether he’s there and just lurking in the shadows of his office up behind the upper sections of the season ticket side is up for debate. But given all that’s gone on I think it would do him well to walk the concourse, maybe take in a few games with newly appointed Chancellor “Swammy” Subbaswamy, or even give marketing guru Todd MacDonald a break and do some presentations on the ice in between periods. Whatever it is, make sure fans know that you’re there with them supporting the team in person. While there it probably wouldn’t hurt to make a trip up to the Massachusetts Room in between periods to get up close and personal with the Pond Club members. Hell, maybe while you’re up there grumpy fan bloggers may even buy you an Opa-Opa Red Rock!

3) Be seen at events: Getting out to the games is key, but I think it’s also important to be a UMass hockey events. As I mentioned earlier in the summer, as I remember it, there was zero representation from the athletic department at this years Reverse Raffle fundraiser. That’s unacceptable. There was also minimal participation at the Golf Tournament by McCutcheon and other administrators. It can’t be like that. I understand they have a very busy schedule, but these are events attended by some of the most hardcore fans and, more importantly, some of the most generous when it comes to donations. Those people need to know their support isn’t going into some black hole within the athletic department. They need to know the administration supports the program and will do their best to make the most out of every dollar donated to UMass hockey.

4) Announce a capital campaign: Speaking of dollars donated, this is a great time to reinvigorate donations and spending to the hockey program. You obviously have the attention of casual and diehard fans alike with naming a new coach and starting a new era of UMass hockey, why not give them a reason to do their part towards future success. A capital campaign for UMass hockey, co-funded by the athletic department and donors alike, would be a great way to kick off Coach Micheletto’s tenure. The school is about to break ground on state of the art football and basketball facilities on campus. Most school sports have seen significant upgrades towards facilities recently. Hockey? Not so much. The great myth surrounding UMass hockey is that is has top notch facilities in Hockey East which makes it desirable amongst recruits.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In a statement that makes me feel entirely ancient, let’s remember that the Mullins Center will turn 20 years old this January. Aside from new locker rooms (paid for by the Pond Club) and video boards, there have been little renovations for hockey in those years. Meanwhile across Hockey East most programs have dumped tons of money into their hockey facilities in recent years. Boston University built Agganis. Boston College made upgrades and put in a new compressor at Conte. Merrimack gutted Lawler and now plans to build a brand new practice rink. Lowell renovated Tsongas and is currently doing more, such as building new training facilities as well as redoing their suites. Northeastern just modernized the oldest hockey arena in the country in good fashion. Maine has made updates to Alfond. UMass hockey in the meantime is falling behind in the Hockey East arms race. Weight room, training facilities, compressor. You name it. I’ll leave it up to Coach Micheletto to determine what UMass hockey needs most right now. But once he has decided it’d be great if McCutcheon and then the supporters of the program like me and you got behind the idea with both our voices and our wallets.

5) Get on the radio: Just as it’s important to be seen at games, McCutcheon should be heard at games. I’m somewhat amazed while I sit in the stands at the Mullins how many texts I get from friends or tweets I get from fellow fans from afar reagarding the game I’m watching. There are a great number of fans listening to these games on the radio. Once a radio station has been established for the season I think it’s important that McCutcheon gets on it. I don’t think he needs to be on it weekly. I think two or three times a season would be fine. But I think having him sit down with Brock Hines and John Hennessy and just talk about UMass hockey, UMass athletics, and his thoughts on college hockey in general would do wonders for his image among hockey fans. A once a season appearance on the coaches show would also be a great gesture.

6) Hire a full-time Director of Hockey Operations: This is a position you see for both the UMass basketball and football programs. More importantly this is position you see at the Hockey East schools that UMass is aspiring to be. By having a full time administrator dedicated to taking care of the details and making sure the program is functioning as it should would free up the coaching staff to do what they do best; developing players and recruiting the next generation of Minutemen. Recently this position was filled by Chris Hall, who by all accounts did an excellent job, as part of his duties as Graduate Assistant. But this is really too much to try to do part time and really needs someone who is dedicated to these essential duties.

7) Get us a Puck Band: OK, this is a bit of a crusade of mine. First I posted about if a few years ago in my ideas to improve the UMass hockey experience. Then I posted this open letter to then newly appointed UMass Marching Band Dr. Timothy Anderson. Yet UMass still is the only Hockey East school without some kind of puck band. Honestly, a pep band adds so much to the college hockey experience. I travel to a lot of games and besides the arena itself what sticks in my head from those visits is the band. Whether you have Maine’s band playing Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Jump On It”, hearing “When You’ve Say Wisconsin, You’ve Said It All” in Madison, or even a bunch of band alumni dragging instruments down to Tampa in order to play “Hail, Dear Old Rensselaer”, nothing beats having a hockey band. Nothing. It’s long past time for UMass to have one. I figure McCutcheon, just coming off the near impossible task of getting all parties involved to agree to UMass upgrading football and gaining an invite from the MAC (a move I’ve been advocating for years), he must have the cache to do whatever it takes for hockey to finally get its deserved pep band. Strong arm people, make promises, do whatever it takes within the norms of a college campus and NCAA regulations. I personally don’t care. I just know that if I were to listen to the refrains of Fight Mass echo around the Mullins when the team opens up it season against UConn I might just forget this entire offseason happened. Seriously, make it so.

Those are my thoughts. That’s what I think it’ll take for John McCutcheon to win back the hearts and minds of the UMass hockey fandom. Maybe I’m asking for too much. Maybe my thoughts are not representative of the overall opinion of UMass hockey fans. But that’s my view. All I know is that, despite all that went on, there is some promise to his ultimate choice of who will lead UMass hockey onward. In the end how Micheletto does at the helm will probably mean more towards his standing among us UMass hockey fans, but I think everything I’ve listed above would enhance his standing among us that much more.

It looks like UMass is looking for more than just one assistant coach. Former UMass goaltending coach Mike Buckley has been named to the same position at UNH. Buckley made some significant contributions to UMass hockey in his five years in Amherst. Paul Dainton set career records under his watch and the program got some solid goaltending from Kevin Boyle, Steve Mastalerz, and Jeff Teglia despite their relative youth and inexperience. I know players and coaches alike have always thought highly of Buckley’s work at UMass and I wish him the best in this next step in his career.

Elsewhere in Hockey East, Lowell is extending the contract of coach of Norm Bazin through 2016. This move is well deserved in my opinion given the historic turnaround of the River Hawk program this past season.

Meanwhile Mike McMahon of the Eagle-Tribune is reporting that Northeastern and Vermont are the favorites in landing Kevin Roy, the USHL Player of the Year who recently decommitted from Brown.

This may be the last FTT post for a while as I’m about to embark on a much anticipated (needed) vacation starting Friday to Northern California. For the Beer The Triangle fans out there you’ll be happy to know I pan to hit around 10 breweries in the area such as Lagunitas, Anderson Valley, and the legendary Russian River. I’ll also be hitting a few Baskin-Robbins out there as well since their ice cream is far superior to anything in New England (soft serve sucks). Since I’m going on vacation and away from home I fully expect at least the following events to occur in my absence; UMass names an assistant coach, UMass announces its 2012-13 schedule (even though I’ve already compiled it for you), and UMass announces it’s new radio partner for UMass hockey. I’ll post if I can while I’m going back to Cali (yo, I don’t think so), but I still suggest getting on Twitter and following FTT there in order to stay the most up to date with whatever I know is going on with UMass hockey. I’ll do my best to keep the FTT Twitter account up to date as I travel from brewery to national park to Baskin-Robbins to hotel to brewery to national park to brewery.