Going into the Ledyard Classic tournament I was just hoping to see the Massachusetts hockey team show some improvement from how they were playing previously and that a good showing would carry momentum into 2013. I wasn’t necessarily looking for or expecting anything more than a solid effort. The team itself had other plans however and last night they won the whole damn thing, upsetting #8 Dartmouth on their home ice to capture the 2012 Ledyard Classic Championship. The tournament win is only the second in the UMass program’s history with the other being the Lightning College Classic in 2007.
Now while the outcome game was enjoyable for UMass fans, I don’t think many fans for either team enjoyed watching the game itself too much. That’s because the ECAC officiating, not known for its high quality, made the game painful to witness. Both teams had a goal called back due to goaltender interference. The game featured 23 penalties, 10 for UMass and 13 for Dartmouth, and 87 total penalty minutes. Both teams lost a player to a game misconduct. There was close to 24 minutes of total power play time, with most of it going to UMass, 17:34 to 6:40. Now that last stat probably has Big Green fans saying they lost due to the officials (which seems odd since they’re from their conference), but the officiating certainly made things tough for both teams. Constant whistles kept both teams from establishing momentum. The inconsistency of the calls kept the players guessing throughout. And instead of the penalties restoring order on the ice, it seemed it only led to frustration and more chippiness.
UMass won because they were able to deal with odd environment created by the officials and make the most of the opportunities they were afforded. Especially when those opportunities came on special teams. This was one area where I hoped to see better play during the tournament and that definitely happened. UMass scored five of their seven goals in Hanover on special teams, including a shorthanded goal by Eddie Olczyk last night to tie the game in the second period. Olczyk’s goal was his first since his freshman year and it came right as Dartmouth got the extra man advantage following a UMass failure to capitalize on a two man advantage. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Overall UMass went 4 for 15 on the power play during the weekend (giving up a shorthanded goal) and only gave up one power goal in nine chances (scoring their own shortie).
With maybe the exception of the first period against Bemidji, the team played really hard this weekend and it was great to see them rewarded for their effort with some hardware (although I would label the actual tournament trophy as “diminutive”). The trick of course is what they do from here. They beat a Bemidji State team that went into break with some key wins over tough foes. They then defeated a skilled top ten team in their own tournament on their own ice. Hopefully this weekend gives UMass some confidence that they can play with the better teams and demonstrate what they need to do to execute well on special teams after succeeding against the top penalty kill in the country. They’ll get a bit of a break as they next game isn’t for another week and a half. This allows them to get a little bit of rest and gets everyone fully healthy for the second half push. But hopefully they can also take the next day or two to bask in their tournament victory. They deserve it.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Gracel was named the tournament MVP and with good cause. He had three assists on the weekend and his goal last night on the power play ended up being the game winner, just 15 seconds into the third period. Olczyk and Kevin Boyle were named to the all tournament team.
Here is College Hockey News’ coverage of the championship game, as well as their work from the night before.
Here is the Republican’s game story.
The local paper in Hanover has a thorough recap as well.
For those interested in a Beer The Triangle update, I was able to hit a number of quality spots during the weekend. Probably the beer highlight was going deep into Vermont to visit the Alchemist brewery and stock up on some Heady Topper, currently one of the best beers in the world. I still miss heading up to Waterbury to goto the old Alchemist brewpub and drinking the full range of beers they used to produce, but the trip was still worth it. On the way back I hit the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and enjoyed some fine Green Mountain state brews like Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest. I might have to take Norwich Inn off my road trip recommendations going forward because their hours make it near impossible to enjoy their brewpub there. I did hit some other fine places in Hanover though, such as the Canoe Club, Molly’s, and the Residence Inn’s Bar Down, to sample locals beers and good food. Good beer and a tourney win made it one of the better UMass hockey road trips in quite a while.