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Recap ▲ Boston College Blitzes UMass 7-0

Boston College 7.  Massachusetts 0.

These blowouts were supposed to be a thing of the past.  Over the summer Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto re-tooled his defense, bringing in four players who are either already drafted, attended an NHL prospect camp this summer, or are projected to be drafted next June.  Or some combination of all three.  In net, Micheletto finally landed the high profile goaltender he’s been coveting, with the top Junior A player in all of Canada landing in Amherst during the offseason.  Yet, here we are a month into the season and UMass finds itself 56th in the country in goals against after giving up 23 goals in the last 4 games.  They are also 56th in penalty kill with opponents scoring a third of the time on the power play.  Players leave.  New players come in.  But the program continues to be dogged by major defensive deficiencies.

At some point you have to come to the conclusion it’s not the players.  William Lagesson is a 4th round draft pick and plays on the Swedish Junior National Team.  Yet he was on the ice for some of the worst defensive breakdowns last night and has had other glaring mistakes in earlier games.  Did he suddenly forget how to play defense or is it the system he’s being asked to play?  Since his struggles are systematic of the same problems we’ve seen the last four years I think it’s fair to say it’s not him.  It’s early on but Lagesson appears to be one of the most talented defensemen UMass has seen in a while.  But he’s constantly being caught out of position.  It’s not because he’s bad, it’s because the instruction he’s being given puts him out of position.  The problem with UMass’ porous defense of course is not the players.  It’s the proven failure of a system that Micheletto still insists on trying to run.  And unless he makes immediate adjustments, preferably abandoning it altogether, it will cost him his job.

Let’s look at exactly how BC put up a touchdown on UMass last night.  The folks over at BC Interruption do a great job providing coverage of their teams and have GIF’d each of last night’s goals in this post.  There are four that stick out to me as most egregious in terms of defensive play either not being properly taught to be in position or the system making proper positioning impossible.  Remember, this system calls for quick, aggressive outlet passes from the defensive zone and the defensemen to constantly be pinching in and/or roating with the forwards on offense.  Goal 1 starts with a very bad neutral zone turnover and ends with poor handling of an odd man rush by a senior defenseman.  How has he not been taught how to play that rush in his years here?  Goal 2 you have THREE players moving to engage the puck handler coming from behind the net, leaving Eagle Travis Jeke all by himself two feet from the far post.

Goal 4 is one of the worst plays I’ve seen in my 22 years of watching UMass hockey.  You may have seen it already since it was all over social media, on the front page of ESPN.com, and who knows where else.  It’s a 3 on 0 that BC of course easily converts to a goal.  You can see the far defenseman, like he’s been told to do, is pinching in on offense and is already at the top of the faceoff circle.  When the other defenseman turns over the puck and is caught flat-footed it’s nothing but open ice for the three Eagles.  Maybe in this case the system doesn’t call for the the other defenseman to be that deep at that point.  But considering that I’ve been watching this system for four years now and it’s never made much sense to me, I’m sure the players are equally confused when it’s ok and not ok to actually play like a defenseman.  One of the defensemen on the ice for that play is Lagesson.  I don’t call him out to criticize him personally.  I point it out because he is, in my opinion, a world-class defensive defenseman and yet that horrible, horrible breakdown happens under his watch.  It’s not the players!  Goal 5 is a result of trying to get the quick, aggressive outlet passes ahead when the better idea would’ve been to not push the puck at that point.  Bad pass equals bad turnover equals another BC goal just 11 seconds after UMass gave up the “Flying V” score.

Those who have read FTT long enough know that this kind of Xs and Os breakdown is not my strong point.  I have played exactly 0 hockey games in my life and therefore tend to keep my on-ice insight broad and save my heavy duty analysis for statistics.  But watching in person and then replays the folly of this system seems very apparent to a fan like me.  Add in the long documented struggles that multiple classes of Minuteman players have had implementing it and I don’t think you can deny it’s not working and likely never will.  Even if such a system could be rolled out and is successful against bad and average teams, I can’t see how it would work against the BC’s of the world.  They’re too skilled and have the ability to make an overly aggressive team pay for even the slightest miscalculation.  This system is doomed to fail.  And if Micheletto blames the players and screamed and yelled at the team afterward in the locker room, then shame on him.  Because it’s his fault.  Just as it has been in the previous three years.

I’m not sure what else to say about the game.  Nic Renyard in his first Hockey East start got rocked for five goals and then got yanked.  At least four of the goals were in no way his fault.  In fact, he made some great saves early on in the game when the Minutemen were getting manhandled in shots to keep the game scoreless and then close later on.  I have just as much faith in Renyard and his ability going into this weekend as I did before yesterday’s game.  Alex Wakaluk probably never thought he’d be facing the #3 team in the country yesterday, but he did and I thought he did fairly well.  He gave up two goals but both came on the power play.  Considering the state of the game when he came in things could’ve gotten much, much worse.  But he made the saves he needed and kept things from getting epically ugly.

Offensively I’m a little surprised UMass couldn’t get on the board at least once.  But BC is super talented, as advertised they do everything they can to disrupt their opponent’s offensive flow, and Thatcher Demko is probably the best goaltender in college hockey right now.  After finding the net just once in their last two games I think we’re finding that UMass may not be quite as good on offense as the early games suggested and that they’ll struggle against the really good defensive oriented teams (hey good defense beats good offense, remember that folks).  I’m officially worried about freshman Austin Plevy.  After kicking off the year with a hat trick and four goal weekend it looked like he would be a major part of this team’s offense.  But he hasn’t scored since, hasn’t had a point in his last three games, and managed just one shot on net last night.  If UMass is going to continue to give up a ton of goals as a result of this system and need to win 5-4 every night, he needs to chip into that 5 goal output.

Or, Micheletto could wave the white flag, abandon this failure of a strategy, and maybe do something with this team that is still 4-2-1.  In the last week or so I think we’ve been shown the obvious vulnerabilities of this team, but they’re still in a good spot and still have a lot of talent.  It was going to be tough to gain the win last night no matter what.  The problem isn’t that they lost, it’s entirely about how they lost.  But there is still time to adjust.  There are plenty of games left.  But if the team continues to give up 4.5 goals a game, as they have so far, it’s difficult to see them winning more than they lose.  The madness has to stop.  Play some defense.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Joe Widmar
Honestly, I thought about Renyard for POTG, since he really kept UMass in the game early, had some high quality saves, and wasn’t at fault for any of the goals.  I thought about Wakaluk for putting in a better than expected performance.  I thought about Maddison Smiley who had three shots and wasn’t on the ice for any of the even strength goals.  But I’m giving it to Widmar.  He was only on the ice for one of the goals and I thought played tough, but smart.  He only had one shot on net, but it was one that Demko had to make a skill save to keep out.  Also, he did pretty well in the faceoff dot.


Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Shortly after BC’s 5th goal UMass took some liberties in front of Demko and as a result of the various actions Ben Gallacher got a game disqualification for spearing, meaning he’s automatically out for Friday’s game against UConn.  Stephen Iacobellis got a game misconduct during the same fracas and this afternoon the league suspended him for Friday’s game as well.  In addition to those two, Patrick Lee missed last night’s game due to illness.  It sounds doubtful that he’ll dress Friday either.

The Collegian had this recap of the game.

SBN College Hockey’s game story is worth a read.

USCHO had a recap of the drubbing as well.

Unfortunately the ugliness of last night and the aftermath today overshadowed some really positive news.  Dennis Kravchenko was named Hockey East Player of the Month after his 7 goal, 5 assist October.  Pretty good for a guy who got snubbed for the All-Rookie team not too long ago.  Kravchenko was also an Honorable Mention for the national player of the month.

Frank Vatrano, who was at the game last night along with some other alumni players, was named AHL Rookie of the Month after his 10 goals in 9 games last month.

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12 Comments

  1. I saw Bamford at Cityside in Cleveland Circle before the game. At least we know he’s paying attention.

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    • It was great that our AD travelled to support the team on the road. I did spot him as I was walking out, so he did stay for the whole thing.

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  2. umassattack

     /  November 5, 2015

    Agreed that Coach Micheletto has to abandon this style of play, or else this team will only be able to compete with the lesser teams. The UNH game was an incredible comeback and I think really led many of us to believe that in this early season that they were going to be a legit scoring machine. As it stands now they swept Colorado Colorado, beat Sacred Heart at home, beat Maine in O.T., and tied UNH at home with a miraculous come back after being down 6-1. These “4” wins and “1” tie come against teams with a combined record of 6-16-5, and two of these four teams have still not won their first game of the season. The two losses come against two ranked teams, BC & Yale, who have a combined record of 8-1-0.
    Being in HE means that every game is going to be a WAR. Like last year the unreliable goaltending and defense are going to continue to plague this team. As well as the questionable coaching..Hopefully this ship gets righted soon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous

     /  November 5, 2015

    will bamford pull the trigger during season? go with assistants for the year? no hockey east teams show these types of gargantuan defensive breakdowns….3 on nones occur only in mites…..go umass – need a sweep this weekend…

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    • Without a track record it’s tough to know what Bamford would do but I don’t think there’s a lot to gain from an in-season change and having an interim coach. Only real reason to do such a thing is if you think the interim/assistant is the coach you want to move forward with full time. I don’t think that would be the case.

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  4. Trevor

     /  November 5, 2015

    I think its time for Mich to hit the road along with the staff. He is never going to change his system, or at least tweak it. I remember a series against a ranked Colgate team in 2013 where he actually had his guys not pinch as much and it was a little more of a hybrid system between toots of old and his current one. They swept the series. For some reason he never went back to it. The players are not the issue as you have said, there have been some very talented players in Amherst the last few years. The only thing I am encouraged about is the fact that the new AD does seem to care about the program, and hopefully he can keep a close eye on the program.

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  5. George

     /  November 5, 2015

    The system works against the poor and not the rich. We beat the poor early on and have faced the rich the last two games. We see it in all of sport and you said it, D beats O on most occasions. This isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to keep apologizing for not having ever played hockey.

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    • Thanks. I feel my lack of playing experience is a deficiency in my writing. I hope to be able to increase my knowledge of the game to get into the nitty gritty stuff in the future through some reading and research though. It’ll probably improve my experience as a fan I think too.

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    • Trevor

       /  November 5, 2015

      I actually like the attacking style, I just dont get why he absolutely refuses to tweak it a bit. Must drive the players insane, making them look awful.

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  6. I am one disgusted original season ticket holder. The only positive I took out of the game was the return of Donnie Moorhouse behind the golden microphone. How long are good players going to wish to be shackled into a system that makes them look bad. Why would Lagesson stay? He could go home and play for Frölunda and make the NHL that way- worked for Henrik Lundqvist. Like you, I don’t blame the kids- I have a couple of my own playing college athletics, so I’m very hesitant to criticize the players. As you say Rocks, not their fault. You convinced me, for example that Yevenko’s perceived poor play last year (or at least my perception of his play as being poor) was a result of being hammered into a system that was not good for him. The same is happening today- these kids are playing a system that is not working. It is highly unusual for a coach to be let go in mid-season, but honestly, I see no alternative here. Make Miller the interim, and then perhaps take a run at a defensive guru (Guentzel?) for next year- a real search as opposed to a ” hey, I kinda hear this guy was good’ sort of search”

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    • George

       /  November 5, 2015

      ganderson9754 I’m with you. I can’t for the life of me understand why you wouldn’t want to even, at minimum, tweak the system, as Trevor says above. Gave up my tickets after last season. The temptress had me wondering why I did it when I woke up Halloween day. Unfortunately, I’m thinking that it was all a mirage and it’s business as usual.

      Also agree, good to have Donnie back. He and Brock work together so well and they talk hockey strategies and don’t drown you in stats. I appreciate that.

      Like

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