With the season over for the Massachusetts Minutemen it’s time to hand out some hardware. Not actual hardware mind you as that would be a booster violation. But I want to take the opportunity to recognize some of the players who made major impacts for the Minutemen this season. All awards are entirely my choice except the Player of the Year which is awarded to the player who has accumulated the most FTT Player of the Game recognitions through the season.
Newcomer of the Year – Dennis Kravcheko
With 10 freshman on the roster there were certainly plenty of newcomers to contribute to the fortunes of the team from the very first game. And most of them did to some degree. But this choice was actually pretty easy. Dennis Kravchenko started contributing right from the very beginning of the season. Actually even before the official start he made a splash by scoring two goals in the exhibition game before the season opener. He would pick up a couple assists in the first five games of the season and then gain the attention of everyone around the league when he scored three goals and grabbed an assist during two games in Orono. Kravchenko ended up being good for almost a point a night for the Minutemen during the season. His 33 points was tops on the team, 2nd best among Hockey East freshman behind some Terrier named Eichel, and 4th best for freshmen nationally.
Under The Radar Player – Steven Iacobellis
This is the first time I’ve given out this award. I want it to go to someone who may not be one of the first names that come to mind when people think of the Minutemen, but who a lot of times makes the difference between winning and losing. Steven Iacobellis I think fits that description. Kravchenko, Frank Vatrano, and Brandon Montour got the headlines, but the season could’ve been much worse without the contributions of Iacobellis. His 24 points was third best on the team. His two goal, two assist performance against Michigan State almost single-handedly got the team their first win of the year. The team ended up going 5-0-1 when Iacobellis scored a goal this season. He also ended up being the only UMass player with a positive plus-minus rating for the season with a +4.
Breakthrough Player of the Year – Shane Walsh
This award goes to a returning player who well outperforms expectations. And again it’s a very easy choice as I can’t even think of anyone to consider besides Shane Walsh. Through his first two season Shane Walsh had a total of 4 goals and 15 assists. Though he had shown at times in his junior career that he had a scoring touch it seemed pretty apparent that he would be a 3rd line grinder type of player. And through December I think UMass fans had gotten exactly what they expected from Walsh with 2 goals and 5 assists in 16 games. But once the calendar hit 2015 Walsh turned into a completely different player. It started with a goal scored against UConn on 1/2 and then a week later he scored a couple, including the game-winner, against Maine. From then on it seemed like every weekend, specifically every Friday night, he was scoring key goals for the team. None were bigger than his goal to end the epic five overtime marathon against Notre Dame this weekend. From January on Walsh scored 12 goals in 18 games and was a huge part of the team’s improved record in the back half of the season.
Beer The Triangle Beer of the Year – Boulder Shake
Boulder Shake probably wasn’t the highest quality beer I had pre or post-gaming during this season, but its constant presence on the taps at the Hangar meant it ended up becoming a delicious routine. There are a lot of good chocolate beers out there, like Young’s Double Chocolate or Southern Tier’s Chocolat. I think Boulder Shake is even better. Hopefully Stoney is already busy ordering the kegs needed for next season.
FTT Player of the Year – Frank Vatrano
As mentioned, this award goes to the player who accumulates the most FTT Player of the Game awards that I name after each and every game. Here are the final totals for the past season:
As you can see 15 different players were named POTG during the season, plus the time I gave it to the fans who stayed to the end of the 11-1 shellacking by Vermont.
As you can see Vatrano was the clear front runner and what’s interesting is that he didn’t even pick up his first POTG award until December. After transferring in from Boston College and getting his debut delayed and delayed there was a lot of built up hype and pressure for when he finally pulled on the maroon sweater. Well, he ended up being as good as advertised and then some. Vatrano accounted for nearly 1/5th of UMass’ goals this season and over 1/4th of their power play goals. He was tied for 6th in Hockey East for goals scored and was in the top 20 nationally.
Let’s face it, Vatrano could’ve also gotten the Newcomer of the Year award since he only played a single game last season. His path to finally get on the ice for a regular season game was not an easy one and it must’ve been tempting to go major junior just to be able to play the game he loves. But he stuck it out, was patient, waded through an initial slow month, and then ended up being the best player on the team and one of the best in the league. Vatrano has tremendous skill and his quick release, but heavy shot is one of the best I’ve ever seen from a Minuteman player. Next season Vatrano will be one of the most feared goal scorers in the league will be a significant factor as to how successful UMass can be.
I had hoped to include a recruit update tonight but that’s going to have to wait until a later date. There’s just too much recap work to write this week.
Shane Walsh’s game winner in the 5th overtime Saturday morning was the NCAA Play of the Week.
Matt Vautour has an update on the search for a new UMass Athletic Director.
In other department news it was announced today that UMass Associate Athletic Director Tim Kenney has been named the Athletic Director at Saint Bonaventure. Tim is one of the nicest and funniest guys around UMass Athletics and he’ll be missed. Still, this is a tremendous opportunity for him and I wish him all the best.