View From Section U: UMail

Tonight I’m bringing back the UMail feature on FTT where I answer your mail/comments/Tweets.  I’ll try to do this every so often.  This blog is really meant to cover the Massachusetts hockey team for the fans, by a fan, so I really enjoy any interaction with readers be it through comments, or Twitter, or however.  So here we go:

George asked “November 19th prediction. Where do we finish the regular season? I think we can host a first round game.”

With last week being a bye week I was pretty bored so I sat down with the schedule and went through game by game with my predictions for each one based on how UMass has played thus far and how the rest of the league has played.  I did it before this past weekend’s games, but given that most teams split I don’t think I would’ve changed much.  I came up with an overall record of 13-18-2 and a conference record of 7-13-2.  The 16 league points will put them right around that 8th or 9th seed split for home ice in the first round.  The 13-18-2 record doesn’t sound like much to celebrate, but it would be a step forward from the 8 wins last year.  If you remember at the beginning of the season I predicted that this team would win anywhere from 5 to 15 games so it would be on the high side of that initial projection.  We’ll see though.  Still lots and lots of games to be played.

Will asked “Is Montour still coming in January?”

From everyone I’ve talked to Brandon Montour is still on track to join the team mid-season.  He’s still out there racking up tons of points in the USHL instead of jumping to the pros or major junior so that signals his intention to go the college route.  And he’ll have had the time to clear up the clearinghouse issues that delayed his arrival in Amherst.  The big question is when UMass fans will get their first glimpse of him.  He’s technically eligible to enroll and join the team the first day of Winter session, which is Monday, December 15th.  The team has a non-conference game against Northeastern the very next night.  Will Mick throw him in with minimal practice time  or will he wait until the Catamount Cup games just before New Year’s?  We’ll have to see.

Brain asked a bunch of questions.  His first was “Do you see the goalie shuffle continuing all season?”

That’s a tough one.  You’ll definitely see it continue in the short term, especially with the five games in nine days stretch coming up.  After that it’s certainly possible that one of the goalies will get hot and take the net over full time.  Mick was asked the question in one of the recent radio shows and while I forget his exact wording he basically said he likes having the competition to drive the goalies to get better, but sounded like he’d rather one of them make the choice for him by the time the late season stretch and playoffs arrive.  Who would that be?  I don’t know.  Henry Dill probably has a slight edge but Steve Mastalerz has had some bright spots too.  It’ll come down to consistency.  I think both are capable of taking down a big time opponent but it’s getting that solid effort night in and night out that has plagued UMass ever since Paul Dainton graduated.  Whoever can play well 3 or 4 games in a row will find the job is theirs.

Brian’s second question is “What beer after the Maine debacle?”

Hmm.  Not sure if that means what beer did I actually drink after the Maine debacle or what?  I’m also guessing the debacle in question would be the team giving up the two goal lead in the third on Saturday versus the OT loss on Friday.  I don’t remember what I was drinking that night and my Untappd doesn’t show any check-ins (obviously I was distracted).  I think a good beer to drown your sorrows in after that game would have to come from New Hampshire though, just to kind of stick it to the Mainers.  It would also have to be strong to be effective in its ultimate purpose of helping forget about the loss.  Also, being in a bad mood, I’d probably go for something darker and more malty versus hoppy (happy?) and flowery.  So given all that I’ll say a Smuttynose Baltic Porter probably would’ve been a good beer to have on hand right after that game.

Brian also asked “What benchmark defines a “successful” season?”

It’s a good question and one that I’m not sure there’s an easy answer for.  There will be a lot of fans who think a coach in their third year should be expected to produce a winning season.  There are others who would just want to see some kind of progress on last year’s 8-22-4 record.  For myself, I don’t think I’ve figured out exactly what I’d consider a successful season this year.  I think just saying they need a winning record is too simple and maybe too much to ask given the size of this freshman class and how much they’ll be relied upon to produce offense.  I don’t have a specific win total or place in the standings that I’d consider successful, but there are a number of things I’d like to see this year.  First and foremost, I want to see the team playing their best hockey at the end of the season.  This is actually something I’ve wanted to see for the past two years but it hasn’t happened and the team has sputtered into the playoffs or not even made them at all.  It’ll be much easier to be optimistic about next season if the team is playing well to close out the season we’re in.  Secondly, the team can’t finish last in Hockey East.  Thirdly and related to the last one, the team should finish above teams making their Hockey East debuts.  Now this one is a little tougher given recent results, but UConn finishing higher than UMass in their first year in the league with a coach that was under consideration to coach here would be pretty tough to swallow.  Overall I think if the team was playing good hockey in February (either winning or losing close games), finishes with 13 or so wins as projected earlier and makes a few teams sweat in the playoffs, I’d be satisfied.

In a related question Brian asked “How long or short is Mick’s leash?”

Mick gets at least four years.  The team could lose every game for the rest of the season and Mick would still be here next year.  And I think there’s a good argument that he should be given that opportunity.  He and his staff have worked hard the last couple years putting this year’s freshman class together.  He should at least get two years to work with them and get some results.  Next year’s class is looking pretty solid as well.  That’s why I would give him at least four years.  Athletic Director John McCutcheon probably views it the same way or has different reasons why he’d keep Mick at least four years so I think you can count on that.  If hypothetically he struggles this year and next year does he come back for his fifth and final year of his contract?  I’m not totally sure.  I’m going to guess yes though and say Mick will get all five years of his original contract regardless of record.  McCutcheon has always seemed very hesitant to pull the trigger on coaches who struggle.  I think the same would apply to Mick if that was the case.  Hopefully it doesn’t come to the point where Mick is coaching in the final year of his contract because that always makes it tough to recruit.  Ideally we see some significant progress in the next year and a half and Mick gets an extension before it ever gets to that point.

Ryan asks “What is the best craft beer from each New England state?”

Ok, this one is going to take some real work and thinking.  Let’s get the easy one out of the way first.  Vermont, Alchemist Heady Topper.  Does Heady get perhaps too much hype?  Yes.  Is it still the best beer in the beer mecca that is the Green Mountain State?  Yes.  Maine I would have to say Lunch From Maine Beer Company.  Allagash has the most great beers in the state in terms of quantity, but Lunch is probably the best downeast beer I’ve had (still haven’t found Dinner yet).  For New Hampshire the Smuttynose Baltic Porter I mentioned earlier might be it, but they have a lot of others including their barleywine and wheat wine, that are pretty close.  I unfortunately never got Portsmouth Kate the Great when they were making it.  Rhode Island is tough because they make a lot of good, not great, beers.  I think I’ll go with Decadance from the Trinity Brewhouse.  Massachusetts is really tough because there are not only an amazing amount of breweries in the Bay State now, but there’s some amazing ones.  It doesn’t help that I have two beers, Lager Ness Monster and Bride Maker, from one of my favorite in-state brewers, Jack’s Abby, which are very highly rated but I haven’t tried yet.  I guess Julius from Treehouse Brewing?  Asking me my favorite Massachusetts beer is like asking people which of their children is their favorite.  It’s not fair.  So anyway, those are my top beers from New England.  I don’t consider Connecticut part of New England so screw them.

Ryan asks “Is Hill Farmstead really as good as it’s reputation?”

Yes.  The first time I had Edward I rethought the existence of man and creation of the universe.  It’s that good.  But I will tell you this, if you decide to drive to the middle of nowhere where they brew their beer, plan an entire afternoon to do so.  The sloth-like pace at which they fill growlers is mind-boggling.  Don’t get fooled if you see only a couple dozen people in front of you.  You’re looking at hours of waiting.  Whatever you do, try to avoid bringing a toddler with you because they apparently do not enjoy standing in the same place for a few hours.

Justin asked “Name your all time starting UMass team- 3F, 2D, 1G, you can go with the best or your favorite.”

Best is probably pretty easy.  Jon Quick in net obviously.  At defense you’d have Thomas Pöck and Justin Braun.  Forward is a litter tougher.  I’ll say James Marcou, Greg Mauldin, and Stephen Werner.  As for favorites I’ll take Paul Dainton in net.  Defense stays the same with Pöck and Braun.  And at forward I’ll keep Mauldin and add Rob Bonneau and Chris Capraro.  These are all subject to change.  I’d probably come up with totally different combinations if asked tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who sent in a question!

Captain Troy Power outlines how the team kept busy during their recent bye week in his latest blog post.

The annual Alumni Game will be taking place this weekend and there’s a huge amount of former players who are making the trek to Amherst to participate.  Here’s the current list of alumni who will be there: Bob Jefferson, Carl Burns, John Riley, Ken Richard, Dusty Demianiuk, Craig MacDonald, Jeff Timmins, Randy Drohan, Luke Duplesis, Tim Turner, Jeff Turner, Marty Miljko, David Leaderer, Scott Crowder, Kris Wallis, Chris Davis, Jeff Lang, Jordan Virtue, Matt Walsh, Brett Watson, RJ Gates, Mike Warner, Tim Warner, Will Ortiz, Kevin Czepiel, Dave Alessandroni, Jack McDonnell, Kevin Sullivan, Justin Rafferty, Jamie Benelli, PF Hurley, Joe Culgin, Chase Langeraap, Fernando Fernandez, Shawn Saunders, Sean Regan, Jay Shaw, Peter Trovato, Mike Merchant.  The alumni will play on the Mullins ice at 2pm and then attend the game against Vermont that night.