It’s been a while since I sat down and wrote a View From Section U piece and even longer since I did a UMail session. I have some ideas for some future View From Section Us in the near future, so I’ll try to do a better job posting material beyond the usual previews, recaps, and recruit updates. And the reader response for this UMail session was pretty good so maybe I’ll try to do another right before the stretch run in early February. Without further delay, let’s get to the questions.
Jorma asks: Has your opinion on what it will take for Coach Mich to retain his job changed with this somewhat optimistic start to the 2015-16 season?
how do you see the Big 10’s apparent hijacking of the recruiting process playing out? A big-time backlash from the rest of DI hockey or will this “power” conference succeed?
FTT: I don’t think I speculated on what it would take for coach John Micheletto. When I asked Athletic Directory Ryan Bamford that question during the summer he did not get into any kind of specifics and instead talked about it’s his job to give the coaches and players the support and resources they need to succeed. Since he’s yet to make a coaching move in his short stint at UMass, it’s tough to read how Bamford is likely to react to another disappointing season. It’s probably safe to say if the team had a season like the last, Mick probably would be gone. But so far that is not the trajectory they’re on. And maybe that even wouldn’t have been the case. If Bamford has a specific criteria in mind he seems to be keeping it close to the vest.
Regarding the Big Ten age limit rule proposal, since according to reports it’s opposed by 49 of the 60 DI coaches, Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna, the USHL commissioner, Arizona State (and by connection possible, the Pac-12 voting bloc), and pretty much anyone else who likes college hockey and isn’t in line to directly benefit from such a power grab, I’m guessing you’ll see them quietly shelve the proposal. The Big Ten, because of how they and the Power 5 conferences have control over passing the NCAA legislation, can push this through if they really want. And by doing so unilaterally they’ll gain a recruiting advantage. But they also need to maintain relationships with the rest of college hockey for scheduling and other issues. And scheduling is a big one since the conference only plays 20 conference games a year that’s a lot of non-conference slots they need to fill. Their conference has struggled enough since its inception, I don’t they’ll risk further damage by alienating the rest of the DI teams. But then again, this is the same conference who thought Rutgers would be a good addition, so who knows.
Anonymous asks: please comment on d-men as a group- it appears to be the best combination of size, skating and pure talent they have had…but worried some will leave early for pro’s….but if they stay, umass d-line top 7 could become umass’ best overall group ever….top to bottom overall ability
FTT: I love the play by the defense so far. Their youth definitely was a bit of an issue early on, but the improvement in the last month or so is very noticeable. William Lagesson is as good an all-around blueliner as UMass has had in quite a while. Probably since Justin Braun. And his offensive contributions have exceeded my expectations. Ivan Chukarov is extremely solid and hasn’t shown a lot of growing pains going from the NAHL to Hockey East. Callum Fryer has played well enough to now be listed as a projected draft pick. Of the freshmen Carmine Buono has probably struggled the most, but I don’t think it’s something he can’t work through with more practice and experience. At the same time the veteran defensemen are all doing well. Ben Gallacher is playing the best hockey of his UMass career. Marc Hetnik has struggled on defense at different points in his career, and did so in the first couple games of the season, but has settled down since then. He’s done a great job blocking shots, leading the team with 28. Jake Horton has done well in the last few games he has dressed.
UMass fans should at least mentally prepare themselves to lose Lagesson at the end of the season. I don’t say that because I have any information suggesting that he will leave, but if you watch him play he’s pretty much NHL ready. He’ll likely get more international experience and attention at the end of the month at World Juniors and has already proven he can play against the top talent in Hockey East. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him leaves for the Oilers organization in March. I don’t think Chukarov is quite there yet, so I think there’s a good chance he comes back next year. But he could be a flight risk after that. Same with Fryer.
bittym87 asks: Yes, the beer question, that (responding to my request to ask anything, including “the best beer I had tailgating at UMass football”).
FTT: As we know, this was a really tough UMass football season as the team fell flat of expectations and incurred some of the most insanely aggravating losses since, well, last hockey season. But for me and my friends, we probably enjoyed our best tailgates ever. That was due to the copious amounts of rare and delicious beer imbibed during each tailgate. A lot of that good beer was supplied by the Fight Mass guys (of which bittym87 is 1/2 to 1/3, depending who you ask). Over the course of the season we had beers from Treehouse, Trillium, Bell’s, Night Shift, Dogfish Head, Cigar City, Green Bench, Revolution, Mayflower, Clown Shoes, New Belgium, Keegan’s, and a bunch of others I’m forgetting. The very best? Probably the Trillium Artaic.
@marshmont_63 asks: In your opinion, is Mick capable of taking this team to the next level in the coming years?
FTT: Honestly, I don’t know. I would say I’m more confident that he’s capable of taking a team to the NCAA tournament (assuming that’s what you mean by “next level”) now than I was at the beginning of the season. But there’s still a big difference between where the program is today, at 6-5-4, and competing for Hockey East championships and making the tournament. There’s still a lot to prove. The improvement this season is only step one. There are multiple steps that still need to be taken.
@sandykirk62 asks: what will it take for mick to keep his job, how many wins and or look of the team or free pass with bamford this year? also, how do next years recruits compare to this years Frosh and Sophs who to me are two solid classes.
FTT: Like I said in my response to Jorma, I can’t even start to guess what Bamford is looking for because there isn’t any history with him. My guess is that a .500 season would probably get him the fifth season on his contract and anything below that there’d be risk of losing his job, but that’s just me totally speculating. There’s a lot on Bamford’s plate right now between football heading independent and some other potential coaching moves in the next year so he may just want to give Mick his final contract year and make a decision then. I don’t know. I personally thought that the team would have to finish in the top 6 of Hockey East for me to be happy with Mick being retained. But after seeing the team so far, a .500 record may be enough to convince me that he should be back for a 5th year.
The recruiting question is a good one. Obviously this current freshman class is very talented and one of the better recruiting classes for the program even going back to the final years of the Toot Cahoon era. Next year’s class will be small since there are only two seniors graduating. It’s tough to know exactly who would come in at this point but it’d probably be some combination of Shane Bear, Kyler Nachtigall, Jake McCarthy, Troy Conzo, Ty Pelton-Byce, and Jake Massie. I think Bear and Nachtigall would probably be regular players but not big impact guys. A year ago I would’ve said Pelton-Byce would be a potential high level recruit but he’s struggled in his transition to the USHL so I may need to reevaluate how much of an impact he would make. I think out of those guys Massie, a good two-way defenseman, would probably be the most comparable to the talent in this year’s freshmen class. I would say I am a little worried about the future recruits. None of the future classes look to be of the same quality of this past year’s as of right now, but obviously there’s a lot of time for that to change as the players develop in juniors.
@rbtmotorsports asks: before season started I had stated that Umass would host a Hockey East playoff series. 15 games in and a majority of the games at home in 2016, do you see that as a possibility, or still predicting a bottom 4 finish in the league?
FTT: They would only have to stay out of the bottom 3 to host as playoff as seeds 7 through 9 host seeds 10 through 12. I did a quick run through of the schedule earlier this week and thought the team would likely end the season with 17 league points which, if the standings are like last year’s, would put them right around 9th or 10th. Or right on the cusp of hosting a first round series.
Bob Carver asks: If we play to our potential, we can finish middle of the pack. Lots of ? out there, including BU who we haven’t seen yet. Thoughts? Also if I can change the subject FTT, do you see a football program on this campus in 2017? Can we pull the plug on the patient?
FTT: So as mentioned in the last question I see them finishing below middle of the pack in 9th or 10th based on how they’re playing right now. It’s still tough to know what the true potential of this team is at this point. They’ve proven they can consistently beat up on the bad teams, get ties against the average to good teams, and get destroyed by the really good teams. Until they figure out how to get wins (versus ties) against the good to really good teams, I have a tough time seeing them finishing middle of the pack.
Regarding football, yes I see a program on campus (or Foxboro) in 2017, 2020, and probably beyond. The question is are there other UMass athletic programs that disappear by that point. Independence at the FBS level is not viable. Conference and TV revenue is desperately needed to just keep the lights on and fund the scholarships. Not to mention it’s incredibly tough to recruit quality players without the lure of a conference championship or bowl affiliation. I think UMass has three years as an independent before the other shoe drops and they have to take some kind of drastic action. They’ve invested too much money into football to pull the plug if they’re still homeless at that point so I think what you could see is other programs, like baseball, cut to balance the athletic budget. I thought the program was set up for a very successful 2015 that would attract the attention of the AAC, but I’m still in shock at how drastically they underachieved. Football, and therefore the entire athletic department, is in an extremely precarious position.
@gamester asks: After 12 years I let my season tickets go this year, and UMass hockey is now exciting, correlation or causation?
FTT: If season ticket declines led to exciting hockey, they should’ve been exciting a few years ago. The locals and other season ticket holders have yet to come back, despite the good start to the season, but I’ve really been impressed by the student turnout so far. Not only has there been a good number of them, but they’ve been loud and brought a lot of energy into the building. I can understand fans not wanting to renew after the last couple years. But this has been a pretty fun team to watch so far and they seem like a pretty good group of guys so I suggest any lapsed fans should check out a game after winter break. The team has a tough slate of opponents in the second half, but maybe this is the UMass squad that can bring back some competitiveness to the Mullins.
Thanks to everyone who sent in questions!
This month’s New England Hockey Journal has articles on two different former Minutemen, Jon Quick and Frank Vatrano.
Jason Kates has a story on Kurt Keats for the Collegian. I’ve really liked Keats’ play so far this season, especially in the most recent games. He brings a lot of energy and movement to the offense and I think as the season goes along you’re going to see him find the net a lot more often.
Runnin’ With The Dogs, a Minnesota-Duluth blog, has challenged college hockey fans to donate to a food related charity based on how your team performs this weekend. I’ve pledged to donate $5 for every UMass goal scored against Notre Dame and an additional $5 for every goal Shane “Mr Friday Night” Walsh scores on Friday, to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.