Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot, Massachusetts Yours And Mine

I’ve written my thoughts on the 2012-13 season. I’ve opined about the current state of the Massachusetts hockey program. Now there’s nothing left to say but goodbye and thanks. As I first warned back in December, this season is my last writing about the UMass hockey program and with nothing left to write about, then this is the last post. Hanging up the blog is bittersweet. I am looking forward to what awaits; a baby girl due in June, a house on the horizon, the ability to watch TV from October through April, not scrambling to fix typos on my iPhone at Mass Pike rest stops, and losing the distraction of crunching Hockey East power play statistics while at work. But I’ll still miss this. I’m amazed at what a big part of my life Fear The Triangle has become. I’ve somehow trained myself to answer while being addressed as “Fear” or “Mr. Triangle”. I’m even more amazed that Fear The Triangle has become a regular part of the lives of so many others.

I started the blog for therapeutic reasons really. Just a distraction from an unfulfilling, stressful job and a chance to do something creative. As I wrote in my very first post, my hope was that this place would become the spot where UMass hockey fans go for news, insight, and opinion related to the team. Did it ever. Just a couple weeks in I was already averaging about 100 views per day to the blog. I was ecstatic. Who knew so many people wanted to read what I had to say about hockey, a game I’ve never even played. I had no idea just how many people would ultimately look to FTT for everything related to UMass hockey. At its in-season height the blog was averaging 550 views per day from all over the world. Last July, when the fandom was whipped up to a furor over the coaching search, the blog reached an astounding 1,100 views a day. To say this is beyond the expectations I had would be an understatement.

I loved the fact that FTT became a place where fans went to find out what was going on with their team. After all, that’s what I billed this place as. A UMass hockey blog for the fans, by a fan. And I had plenty of fans of all ages, some with season tickets going back to the early triangle jersey era to freshmen just hitting the campus, reach out to me and let me know how much they visited the blog. UMass aficionados of all ages enjoyed the blog to keep up with UMass hockey. But a funny thing happened that I really didn’t anticipate. People other than fans were reading too.

Somewhere along the way I realized that my hardcore readers were split between the loyal fans like myself and the parents of the players. Honestly, initially I never thought parents would enjoy FTT. Everything I wrote was intended for the fan. I wanted to be open and honest about how I felt the team was performing. That definitely included criticisms of players when I thought they weren’t playing well enough. I figured this would turn off parents and they’d ignore the place. But they didn’t, they embraced it and even embraced me. The number of interactions I had with a hockey parent truly angry at something I wrote was probably no more than three times max. At the same time numerous times parents have said they’ve appreciated my honesty and thanked me for keeping them informed on the team. I never anticipated FTT would be a lifeline for parents to follow their sons’ hockey careers. But it was, especially for those from afar who can’t regularly attend games. I was humbled during a midwest road trip in my second year of writing when one of the parents told me FTT was the first website they looked at each morning.

Building off that idea, and not as surprising, is that the players read this blog too. If I thought the parents would hate the blog because of what I was writing then surely the players would detest me. But they didn’t. At least none have mentioned such so far. The players I’ve had the chance to interact with have been appreciative and, well, have shown exactly the type of character we’ve grown accustomed to as UMass fan. In the last week I’ve gotten a number of touching messages of thanks from some of the current players. I’ll also always remember Paul Dainton giving me a wave of thanks as he walked out of his senior night post-game press conference.

The other group that ended up being regular readers that I didn’t expect were others around Hockey East. Opposing fans, other bloggers, and even (legitimate) media were readers of Fear The Triangle. And that has meant a ton to me. Again, this was meant to be a UMass hockey blog, for UMass hockey fans, from the viewpoint of a UMass hockey fan. Was my writing biased towards UMass hockey? I sure as hell hope so. Otherwise I was doing it wrong. Yet opposing fans and fan blogs enjoyed it. And as I wrote more and explored Hockey East on the web more I grew to respect and get to know the other fanbases better than I ever thought I would. I actually like following the Boston College hockey fans on Twitter, have met a few of them, and can say they’re very good people. Just a few short years ago I didn’t think such a thing was possible. As for the media members that read and enjoyed FTT, that is the ultimate compliment that can be bestowed upon me and the site. If the people that are trained to write about sports, who actually know what they’re doing enjoy this place then I must be doing something right.

So those are the different readers that I am so thankful for FTT started for selfish reasons, something I wanted to do for myself. But as the readership grew and grew it helped motivate me to do a better job so I wouldn’t let down the readers. I did what I could to help build an informed UMass hockey fanbase. There were lots of times when I’d come home from a long day of work or wake up on a Sunday morning after pulling into my South Shore home at 2am following the trip back from Amherst and just not want to write about hockey. Especially after a loss. But I did. Because I felt that you, the readers, were depending on me. It bothered me to think of a dedicated UMass fan who was logging onto the site to see what the latest news was surrounding the hockey program only to find it hadn’t been updated in two days. So I kept writing more and more. And people kept reading more and more. And I really started to enjoy it at that point. But a strange thing happened along the way. This blog brought me to places and into situations I never thought I’d experience.

Fear The Triangle allowed me to attend a Hockey East media day at the Legends in TD Bank Garden where I got to witness the organized chaos of the event first hand. For a couple seasons I was able to attend post game press conferences in the Mullins Center, rubbing shoulders with other college hockey writers who I have tremendous respect for. In something I never ever thought in my life I’d do, I actually attended a press conference at Fenway Park as a member of the media. What an amazing thrill that was, despite the fact that it was in the 90s that day they announced the Frozen Fenway games. I at least fared better than Bananas, the Maine mascot, who was overtaken by the heat. Lastly for a season FTT allowed me to be a NESN Correspondent, calling in my report from the Mullins Center to the weekly Hockey East Live show that preceded their game broadcasts. I am not comfortable with public speaking and every reasonable part of me screamed not to do it. But I did it anyway because when else is a boring financial analyst going to get the chance to talk about the sport he loves on NESN on a regular basis? It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but worth every ounce of adrenaline it ultimately burned.

Yep, this place allowed me to do things I never though possible. But it wasn’t without some help along the way. I have a lot of people to thank. I’ll start off with the people who have to deal with me all the time. My friends in Section U. Thanks for your insight and your support. For those who credit me for my devotion to UMass hockey, the others in Section U are just as knowledgeable, just as loyal, they just don’t happen to write a blog about it. Thanks to the other fans I’ve gotten to know along the way. I’ve slowly worn the triangle less and less over the years but that hasn’t stopped people from stopping me in the concourse or from coming over to Section U in between periods to talk. It’s been great to get to know so many of you and quite honestly great to talk UMass hockey with so many devoted fans.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know so many student fans as well. It’s been good becoming friends with the boys from Fight Mass. They’re loud. They’re obnoxious. But they’re our loud, obnoxious fans. And their deep love to UMass and its teams cannot be questioned. The fact that they enjoy good beer didn’t hurt forming a bond either. Thanks to the two flag guys, Ben and Adam, for their support and friendship as well. Those two have been in some pretty uncomfortable situations trying to get the UMass flag into opposing arenas. But they’ve remained faithful to the flag no matter how many cavity searches they’ve had to endure. For that work they’ve created a true tradition for UMass hockey, one that next year will be handed down to Greg, another regular FTT reader. The last student group I want to recognize is the Bench Crew, a group of avid female fans who sit (you guessed it) behind the bench every game. These aren’t some flighty girls watching the games just to check out how hot the players are though (though I assume they probably do that too), these girls know their hockey. And they are the ones you can thank for the whole Free Moore campaign to get Kevin Moore to play in last year’s senior night. Not only were they successful, they got the #freemoore hashtag trending on Twitter and mentioned by NHL stars. That was damn impressive.

I want to thank people affiliated with the hockey program. UMass Sports Information Director John Sinnett was extremely gracious towards me, treating me much as if I was a media member and allowing me access to the postgame press conferences and practices. As a blogger that wasn’t something I expected but he was very accommodating and I appreciate that. When he moved up to his current job last year, Jillian Jakuba took his place covering hockey and has been equally friendly and accommodating and I’ve enjoyed watching her put her fingerprint on UMass media relations. There are other people affiliated with the department like Todd MacDonald and Matty G who I’ve enjoyed getting to know. I’d also like to thank Associate Athletic Director Rocko DeLuca who has always been open and friendly with me, even when I’ve been writing posts directly challenging the athletic department. Of course I want to thank coach Micheletto for the few times I’ve been been able to speak with him. The first time I met him was shortly after he was hired, when I had just been pretty critical of the coaching search process and my friends nearby joked that I probably was now seen as an enemy of the athletic department. I’ll never forget that Mick told me that “Sometimes you have to wear the black hat”. It was a great observations that I think of regularly. Maybe too much? Lastly I have to thank former coach Toot Cahoon for all his support. After my first season of writing FTT I honestly didn’t even know if he was aware that the blog existed. And then surprisingly at the post season golf tournament that June he recognized me for my hard work in front of everyone. He was always so friendly and so supportive no matter what I wrote. I think he was just happy that someone was putting a deserved spotlight on the program and it didn’t bother him in the least if at the same time I was sometimes critical of how he was doing. You can question Toot’s coaching, but you cannot question his character. There are very few better people that I’ve met in my life and though he started a Terrier, he’ll always be a Minuteman in my eyes.

Thanks to all the fellow bloggers and media people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know over the years. It starts with Matt Vautour and Dick Baker who have done a great job covering the team since pretty much forever. I used to read Matty’s work in the Collegian when I myself was a student and it’s been great to get to know him over the years. I’ve seen him get criticized for not covering hockey enough, but that’s really unfair. Not only is he very knowledgeable about the sport, but please realize that he’s busy covering ALL of the UMass sports. All of them. And he covers them all well. Dick Baker on the other hand is all hockey. But he’s been covering the sport forever and knows more about the history of hockey in Western Mass than anyone I’ve met, from Eddie Shore to Thomas Pöck. Thanks to both of those guys and while I haven’t met him, Harry Plumer has also done a good job covering the team since he jumped into the role. So many others I want to recognize. The Collegian has had some excellent people covering hockey, including the guys doing it now. But my recent favorites were Jeff Howe, now the Patriots reporter for the Herald, and Joe Meloni. Joe’s a great hockey writer and someone who has been very supportive of the blog. And I’m pretty sure that’s not just because I once gave him a ride to Yale. Mike McMahon in my opinion is probably the best writer in Hockey East and I read his Mack Report blog a few times a day. If something is going on in the conference, he knows about it. And he also has been a big supporter of FTT. Thanks to all the other media guys out there. Josh Seguin and (another former Collegian writer) Michael King at College Hockey News. Scott McLaughlin is someone I’ve never met but whose work I respect a lot. Joshua Kummins is a writer in training, just a high schooler who does great work and will be covering sports soon enough for his college paper. Thanks to all the other bloggers I’ve interacted with. There’s a lot of good ones out there like the folks at BC Interruption, Husky Hockey News, BC Hockey Blog, BU Hockey Blog, Ice is Life. There’s a lot out there to read if you’re into Hockey East and a lot of them are just as dedicated as what you’re accustomed to here. Thanks to Bob McGovern and Marc Bertrand. They’ve previously mentioned that FTT helped inspire them to create the spectacular UMass football blog Maroon Musket, which in my opinion is superior to Fear The Triangle in every way shape or form. But if what I did helped create that, I’m happy. Selfishly happy since I love reading their coverage of the football team which is entirely top notch. Lastly I want to thank my good friend Jim Clark, High School Sports Editor for the Herald. As a member of the legitimate media he relayed a lot of good pointers for the blog, even when he probably didn’t realize when he was actually relaying them. And he was my de facto, and much needed, copy editor, catching the stupidest of mistakes before the general public had ever clicked on the story.

I have to separately thank the UMass hockey broadcast media. Donnie Moorhouse is who I remember providing the play by play of some of the best moments of UMass hockey. He’s been a great supporter of FTT and has a tremendous knowledge of the sport. I enjoyed getting to know John Hennessey when he was working for UMass hockey, especially some of his stories. I always get complimented for my dedication to UMass hockey for driving from the South Shore to Amherst for games. John drove from New Jersey to Amherst for every game and if it was an away game he’d then climb on a bus for another however many hours. That’s dedication. I’ve really enjoyed Adam Frenier’s addition to the broadcast team and think he’s done great on color this season. A few weeks ago, after I announced FTT was shutting down, he said he was “sorry to hear we’re losing you”. I replied, “Losing me? You’re gaining me. I’m going to depend on you guys to follow the team”. Just as FTT was a written lifeline for fans to follow the team, the radio broadcasts are a godsend for those trying to follow the games. But they’re only as good as the broadcasters and I think we as UMass fans have been blessed with some damn good ones. Which leads me to Brock Hines. Because I write this blog and have been following this team since 1993 I’ve gotten this reputation as the UMass hockey expert. Wrong. When I want to know something about UMass hockey, I go to Brock. He has only missed a handful of games in the last twenty seasons. Players come and go, coaches come and go, his broadcast partners come and go, but Brock is still there every weekend during the winter talking UMass hockey. There are few people who have been more supportive of FTT than Brock and for that I am extremely thankful. I’m also glad that the Hockey East media day I attended in 2010 was the one where he won the Joe Concannon Media Award for the league and I got to witness it firsthand. Honestly, what took them so long?

With the blog becoming popular with the hockey parents as a result I got to know them. And honestly, I have a lot of respect for the life of a DI college hockey parent. They live and die with their kids’ performance. I thought I take losses hard? Try talking to a goaltender’s mom just after they let up an overtime goal. They drive unimaginable distances just to find their son is a healthy scratch. Honestly I’m glad that FTT served a purpose for them to follow the team and their sons. And, on a selfish level, I’m glad I got to know so many of them. They are hardcore fans. Sometimes their priorities are a little different than the typical fan, but they are all in for UMass. And they’re fun. In the four years I wrote FTT I had the pleasure of ringing in the New Year with UMass hockey parents twice. Once in a hotel bar in Madison, Wisconsin and the other in a Hanover, New Hampshire hotel room turned bar. Hockey parents are great to be arounde and I thank them for including me in their circle and for their support, even if I may have said their son sucked at some point in time.

The last thank you is to you, the Fear The Triangle readers. If I didn’t have any readers, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to make this place better. You folks drove extended recruiting coverage, the View From Section U columns, better previews, more in depth recaps. I put out a product, people started reading, I responded by improving it, and even more people started reading. I kept working hard for the blog and the readers responded. And it motivated me. And I thank you for that. I also thank those of you who regularly interacted on FTT. I am by no means an expert on hockey or UMass hockey. My opinions on how the team was performing or where the program stood are just that, opinions. I hope I never came across like an expert, because I’m not. And because of that I was always eager to know what others thought. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts through the comments. There were a lot of you. A lot commented anonymously, but there were some, like George, Will, my good friend Angry Mel, the next Red Berenson Justin, Carson, and Gregg, who regularly put their names to their comments who I would like to recognized. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was a UMass hockey fan blog for the fans, by the fans and your interaction, as fans, was a great part of it.

Lastly, I have to thank my wife. She has always been extremely supportive of not only the blog, but my obsession with UMass hockey. How long has it been since UMass missed the playoffs? I realized the other day the last time UMass had a senior night without a playoff game to follow was a game against Merrimack in 2002. That was the third date for my now wife and I. I talked her into going to UMass hockey for a date. Since the team was bad, we sat in a nearly empty Section W where she nearly got concussed by a puck flying into the stands. As the puck was heading for her forehead I was just able to reach out and deflect it away with my fingertip. The rest is history. We went to almost all the games the next year as we continued our relationship and have had season tickets ever since. UMass hockey has been a big part of our relationship and despite all the time I’ve spent in recent years in front of the computer she’s always encouraged me with my hobby in addition to being a loyal reader.

That’s about it. I’ve said what I wanted to say. Recognized who I wanted to recognize. And thanked who I’ve wanted to thank (although there are some I likely missed). For me it’s time to move on to a new part of my life. Gone are the long nights writing, crunching stats, or figuring out who the third leading scorer on Northeastern is. Those nights will be replaced with changing diapers, mowing lawns, and dedicating myself to raising the Commonwealth’s newest Minuteman fan properly (odds on the baby’s first words being “BC sucks” are 50/50). I’ll still get to games when I can. I’ll be sure to watch or listen to every game, that’s for sure. And if you still want to know what I have to say on the team (and beer snob beers), then follow the Fear The Triangle Twitter account, because I plan to keep that going strong. In a few years down the road you’ll see me in he Mullins Center with a maroon clad toddler in tow. But FTT is going away. Could I find some unforeseen time in the future to bring it back? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t count on it.

So I hope you have enjoyed the last four years. I did. Sorry I couldn’t write about more jovial times for UMass hockey. The four years I decide to devote my free time to the UMass hockey team they end up going 40-78-14. Damn, what can you do. But it’s taken me even closer to the team. I probably know these senior and junior classes as well as I know the successful 2007, 2004, and 2003 teams. I feel I have a much better understanding of the peaks and deep, deep valleys of the program recently. So while the Thomas Pöcks and Jon Quicks should be honored, let’s not forget all the others who pull on the UMass sweater, adorned in triangle or not. For every Greg Mauldin there’s a T.J. Syner. For a Matt Anderson there’s an Eddie Olczyk.

If you ever decided to start a blog, write about something you love and spending time on it will rarely seem like a chore. Even if you’re writing about a team with a losing record. I love UMass hockey so that’s why you got Fear The Triangle. I hope I helped you follow the team. I hope I provided insight to what was going on with the program. I hope I enlightened you. I hope you disagreed with me. I hope you thought I was supportive of the team when they deserved praise. I hope you feel I demanded better of the team when they were under performing. I hope I’ve brought attention to the program externally and internally and I hope those in positions of power at the University of Massachusetts will realize the potential of the program and help it reach the pinnacle of college hockey. I hope I’ve upset some people and made their lives harder if it ends up benefitting the program. I hope I’ve done a good job recognizing and honoring the tremendous sacrifice that is made by every student-athlete who pulls on the maroon and white sweater each season. Getting through college is tough. Doing it with the demands that are required to be a NCAA hockey player should be applauded. Regularly. I hope the blog helped develop some hardcore UMass hockey fans. Honestly if I had a hand in creating just one or two more loyal Massachusetts Minuteman hockey fans it’ll all have been worth it.

With fierce loyalty, Massachusetts we cheer for thee. Go UMass!

Mark F. Coogan ‘98 ‘06MBA
Section U ▲