View From Section U: Wanting More Than The Box Scores

Let me go on record as saying I think Friday’s game against American International, just the fourth time the schools have met in the modern era of UMass hockey, is a great thing for Western Mass hockey.  It’s amazing the Minutemen haven’t played their down valley neighbor more often, but it sounds like this game could be an annual or semi-annual affair in coming years with some games potentially being played at the MassMutal Center in Springfield.  Western Mass only has two Division I hockey schools so it makes sense to have them play more often.  Add in the fact that the Yellow Jackets pulled off the major upset last year and you have quite a few storylines going into Friday’s game.  Too bad it’s unlikely you’ll be able to read about how AIC is going to try to duplicate the heroics or how the Minutemen are looking for revenge leading up to Friday in the area’s largest newspaper, the Springfield Republican or its online partner, Masslive.  You likely won’t be reading a game recap on Saturday morning either.  You may find a box score in your paper, but I make no promises.  That’s because the area’s largest news outlet has decided Massachusetts hockey isn’t worth covering anymore.

Long time FTT readers know that I do my best to link to any and all news stories relevant to the UMass hockey program.  In prior years those links included stories written by Harry Plumer or Dick Baker usually multiple times a week.  Baker, a Western Mass hockey expert, especially had excellent coverage of the team for almost two decades.  No more.  The Republican/Masslive hasn’t posted one thing about the team since the season has started.  Not one.  Plumer’s successor Dan Malone wrote some features over the summer on prospects and returning players but there’s been nothing since as he concentrates on his quality coverage on the basketball and football programs.  Baker in the meantime is available and eager to cover the team, as he has for years, but has yet to get the green light from the Republican and/or Masslive.

I honestly don’t know why they’ve decided to pull the plug on UMass hockey.  It’s probably a combination of things.  Let’s face it, the newspaper industry is not in the greatest shape and tough decisions have to be made about allocation of resources.  And if they think their UMass hockey articles aren’t getting enough hits, they won’t put time and money towards producing them.  It doesn’t help that the program has struggled to stay relevant in recent years and interest has waned.  Still, this is a local team playing in the top conference in the country, regularly taking on the elite college hockey teams every weekend on the season.  Nearly 55,000 fans packed the Mullins Center last year to watch the team despite their dismal record (by comparison 69,000 fans paid to see UMass football play their home games in 2013, also with a dismal record).  Certainly that level of interest in a program playing the assorted powers of college hockey makes the program worthy of coverage?

Other outlets continue to cover the team.  Matt Vautour has written some decent articles about the team sporadically in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.  But he’s the only dedicated UMass beat writer there and understandably his time is consumed by basketball and football.  I know the Greenfield Recorder has had George Miller at some games at least, but their stories are behind a paywall and therefore inaccessible to most who don’t want to pay just to read a game recap every few weeks.  I personally rely on and relay the team coverage by the students writing for the Collegian.  UMass has been lucky to have some excellent up and coming writers on the hockey beat and I’m thankful to be able to read and share their stories over the years.  Besides that you have whatever coverage College Hockey News and USCHO have, which is usually pretty minimal unless UMass is playing one of the bigger teams in the country.

Unfortunately I don’t know what the solution is for this one.  In my opinion there are enough UMass hockey fans out there that would enjoy regular coverage from the largest media outlet in the area.  It seems most, if not all, of the other Hockey East teams have dedicated beat writers.  But I don’t know what the options are to get that kind of coverage back.  You would hope that maybe the athletic department could put some pressure on the Republican to cover the program better.  But can you picture John McCutcheon caring about hockey coverage enough to make that call down to Springfield?  No, neither can I.  So I guess it comes down to the solution to cure all the other ills surrounding the program currently.  Just win, baby.  If Mick can get the program turned around, get the some wins, hopefully some big wins against high profile opponents, then the fans will be back and the Republican will be forced to take Baker up on his offer to cover the team.  Until then, I guess to get your UMass fix you’re stuck with FTT.

I wasn’t able to get to recruit updates this week.  I’ll have two weeks worth of updates next Tuesday.

The Collegian had this article saying the freshmen are contributing, but the team needs more out of its veterans.

Blueshirts United had this video interview with former UMass captain and current Ranger Mike Kostka.

The HockeyRecruits4U blog has a post comparing the number of in-state players at state schools like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and UMass.  Personally I think it’s unfair to compare UMass to those big state schools because their programs have been around forever and they don’t have higher profile schools already in state like UMass does with BC, BU, etc.  It is interesting though that other Hockey East schools outside the state like Maine and Providence have more Massachusetts players than UMass does.  Toot Cahoon for a time tried to focus in on getting the commonwealth’s best talent to Amherst but had trouble consistently landing top Bay State players.  There are a number of advantages if a UMass coach is successful with that approach, with a main one being financial given the difference in scholarship costs between in and out of state.  Ideally, yeah I’d love to see the best of the state wearing the maroon and white every year.  But at this point I’ll just take players who can make UMass a winning program again, I don’t care where they’re from.

AIC is a main topic of the weekly Atlantic Hockey piece from USCHO.  More on the Yellow Jackets in tomorrow’s preview.

Alaska Fairbanks was hit hard with NCAA sanctions today due to using ineligible players a few years ago.  If they want to take away scholarships and forfeit historical games, fine.  But I think it’s unfair to punish the current players who had nothing to do with the infractions but banning them from their conference and national postseasons.

And this just in, UConn beat #3 Boston College in their first home Hockey East contest tonight.  It just goes to show, on any given night you never know what can happen in this conference.