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View From Section U: An Even Dozen

As I promised a few weeks ago when the Notre Dame to Hockey East news became official, here are my thoughts on a potential additional program which would bring the total to twelve. While having an even number of teams isn’t absolutely necessary, after all there were only nine teams between when UMass joined in 1994 until Vermont was added in 2005, it does make scheduling easier and more exciting. One of great things right now in Hockey East is that during the months of February and March every team is playing every night as they battle for the championship. If Notre Dame joins as an 11th team by itself someone will be sitting on the sidelines every Friday and Saturday during that time. Plus a 12th team will allow for all teams in Hockey East to participate in the playoffs, with the top four seeds getting an opening round bye as the bottom eight fight to move on.

Of course a program shouldn’t be added just for the sake of getting to twelve teams. That school should bring value to the conference and its members. While I wasn’t on board with the Notre Dame decision due purely to geographic reasons, the profile of the school and competitiveness of the program is a benefit to Hockey East. But what other schools would do the same? Here are my thoughts on the pros, cons, and (since this is a FTT post) the road trip/pre-gaming possibilities of each one. Speaking of which, did you know South Bend, Indiana is only 80 miles from Bell’s Brewery?

Looks Good On Paper, But…

UConn

Pros – UConn fits well into the current geographic footprint of the conference. Four of the other flagship schools from New England are already in the conference in UMass, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Though not for hockey, they’re a high profile school in general college athletics, specifically for basketball and more recently football. They’re from an area with a decent hockey tradition and could potentially tap into that (beyond just playing Brass Bonanza after goals).

Cons – Their hockey history sucks. Despite beating Lowell just last night, it’s unknown if they’d be able to make leap from perennial Atlantic Hockey also ran to Hockey East. Their facility is frankly, awful. It’s essentially a building right out of an industrial park with a rink inside surrounded by metal football bleachers. The really sad part is it’s a relatively new building right out an industrial park with a rink inside surrounded by metal football bleachers. UConn would have to build something new if they want to meet Hockey East standards. That’s major hurdle number one. Major hurdle number two is the fact that they don’t currently fund scholarships, or if they do it’s just a fraction of the full allotment that HEA schools do. They’d have to fund all the way up to the max to become a Hockey East program and then of course find money for to offset such increases on the women’s side of their sports, due to Title IX. Considering the school has shown exactly zero interest in doing what it takes to have a successful program even at the AHA level, I don’t see this happening.

Road Trip – Storrs is a pretty barren place in terms of anything to do. The first time I went there I had to pregame at the Hooters all the way in Manchester. Luckily the last time UMass played there I came across Willimantic Brewing company, a great brewpub located in an old post office with garlic fries that are so good they should be illegal.

The Contenders

Quinnipiac

Pros – It wasn’t long ago that Quinnipiac was in Atlantic Hockey themselves, but a large investment in the program has allowed them to elevate to the ECAC and still be somewhat successful. The school built a decently sized, impressive facility right near campus that would work for Hockey East. The school also demonstrated their willingness to improve the profile of the program by paying for some games to be televised on NESN. While the team hasn’t made the NCAAs since 2002, it has enjoyed 20 win seasons in 5 of the last 8 years. Specifically from a UMass perspective these teams have played each other for the last few seasons and enjoyed some memorable games during that time.

Cons – Not a lot here to tell you the truth, other than the fact that while they’ve shown they can compete in the ECAC, they haven’t demonstrated they can reach the NCAAs in a more competitive league. It’s also an unknown whether they could attract a casual fan following to their games. Although it’s interesting that the small private school offers more than the state’s flagship.

Road Trip – This one is actually a con. Last time UMass played at Quinnipiac we pregamed at Southport Brewing Company which is a chain in the area. Meh. Mediocre craft beer. Think Northampton Brewery without the deck. Decent pregaming would have to take place down the road in New Haven, where Prime 16 is one of my favorites.

Holy Cross

Pros – Holy Cross would be the best geographic fit for the current Hockey East schools, just a short bus ride for both UMass and the Boston area schools. Unlike UConn, Holy Cross has actually won something in Atlantic Hockey, with a couple conference titles to their credit. They also have one of the more storybook wins in NCAA tournament history when they topped #1 seed Minnesota in 2006. The fact that Holy Cross has the support of the city if they decide to move to Hockey East is a plus.

Cons – While Holy Cross’ rink is nice by AHA standards, it’s not good enough for Hockey East. The good news is the city would allow them to play at the DCU Center. The bad news is they’d have to play at the DCU Center. Now, DCU is one of the few area hockey arenas I haven’t been to, but I’ve heard nothing but horror stories about it during those times when NCAA regionals are held there. Is that the best place to showcase Hockey East? Also it’s an unknown how much support Crusader hockey would get from its administration and student population. For these reasons Holy Cross is probably a longshot.

Road Trip – Though it’s on the far side of Worcester from campus, Peppercorn’s, the home of Wormtown Brewing, would be a great addition to Hockey East, as I found out when I pregamed the pregame before football played Holy Cross this fall. Wormtown’s owner and head brewer is a UMass alum.

Dark Horses

Niagara

Pros – I guess this is probably the closest thing Notre Dame would have to a travel partner. While we are talking about an Atlantic Hockey team, they’re not one by choice. Niagara would love nothing more than continue to raise the profile of its program by offering close to or at the maximum for scholarships and making the team the flagship of its athletic department. Unfortunately when the CHA disbanded Niagara was forced to join the AHA to remain viable and adopt their myopic limitations on scholarships. Niagara wants out and wants big-time hockey, but has no where to achieve such dreams. The Purple Eagles have had success at the DI level with three NCAA appearances to their name.

Cons – The distance is an issue, for both teams and fans. The program would also very quickly have to invest in its facilities, scholarships, and try to make a splash in Hockey East. As UMass fans we saw the troubles of jumping right into an elite conference and the long term effects it can have. Another huge problem would be where would they play? Their current arena is inadequate and I’m not sure if the area has anything that could be used as an alternative, even if temporarily.

Road Trip – Pregame in the area best known for being the birthplace of the buffalo wing? Oh, OK. If I absolutely HAVE to..

RIT

Pros – If we’re talking about all these Atlantic Hockey teams, why not look to the current kings of that conference who went to the Frozen Four in 2010? It’s amazing to think that in 06-07, in just their 2nd year in DI and their first year in Atlantic Hockey, they won 21 games. And they haven’t looked back since. They would bring a very passionate fanbase who I personally witnessed take over the MDC rink that Bentley plays in a few years back. So we know they’ll travel. There’s talk about building a new facility on campus or as a backup is Blue Cross Arena in downtown Rochester, home to UMass’ biggest win.

Cons – Like Niagara, geography isn’t a perfect fit. They’d also have to invest in scholarships, facilities, and so on. It’s unknown if the school would be willing to put that much into their hockey program.

Road Trip – Dinosaur BBQ is located a slapshot away from Blue Cross Arena. I have to say I really enjoyed the time spent in and around Rochester for the NCAA tournament in 2007.

Syracuse

Pros – Here’s a high profile school that would fit well into the other institutions already in Hockey East. The trip to Syracuse is doable for most of the existing teams. The school just recently added DI women’s hockey.

Cons – The obvious one is that they’d have to actually start the program, fund scholarships, build a facility (unless they play in the War Memorial), etc…

Road Trip – Like Rochester, Dinosaur BBQ. Other than that I know nothing about Syracuse, having only driven through it. Beer Advocate has a number of interesting looking spots in town however.

Rhode Island

Pros – The school itself would be a natural fit in the conference, in terms of geography and the fact that it’d be the fifth flagship school from New England. They would automatically have a bitter rival in Providence. There are rumors the Ryan Center could be retrofitted for hockey, but I’ve yet to see them confirmed. The school has long had one of the better club teams in the country. Their AD, UMass’ own Thorr Bjorn, already has a relationship with Hockey East and was involved with running the Minuteman hockey program.

Cons – Like Syracuse, they’d have to start a program. Unlike Syracuse, which is now rolling in ACC money, URI is hurting. Citing lack of success and budget problem, they’re actually cutting scholarships and dropping their football program to the Northeast Conference. Probably the only way this could work is if they cut football all together and reallocate that money to hockey.

Road Trip – Honestly, I’m not seeing much down there. Anyone?

My Choice

RPI

Pros – Personally I think RPI fits best. Geographically they’re located just outside the New England footprint. Amherst to Rensselaer 100 miles. Amherst to Newton 89 miles. Beyond proximity, they have tradition. Houston Field House is a quintessential college hockey barn. It’s capacity of 5,000 fits well with Hockey East. Inhabiting HFH are some diehard fans, a great hockey band, and of course Puckman. This is a team on the rise. Seth Appert is considered one of the better coaches in college hockey and he’s brought some good talent to the capital region in his tenure. In the last three years RPI’s win total has gone from 10 to 18 to 20. Of all the schools mentioned as an addition to Hockey East, this is the only one that has national championships to its name.

Cons – It had been a long time since they found themselves in the NCAA or atop the ECAC before last season. 1994 to be specific. It’ll be interesting to see if they can maintain at that level.

Road Trip – Brown’s Brewing is a brewpub I try to hit when in the area, located just down the hill from campus. Thirsty on the way back to Amherst? Moe’s Tavern in Lee is Berkshire County’s premiere beer bar and UMass alumni owned and operated.

There you have it. Address the invite and get a stamp on this thing. I’d love for Hockey East to jump on this so both schools could enter at once.

Dick Baker takes a look at the ease Friday’s game will mean to the Shea family with both their sons playing each other. I noticed last year at the pregame at Cityside that the Sheas had taken a page from the Pereira family and constructed a half UMass-half BC jersey. Although it kind of turns my stomach to see my beloved maroon and white attached to a BC logo, I do appreciate the thrill it must mean for them to see both their sons compete at the same time on the ice at the highest level of college hockey.

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Bentley & Providence Previews

Bentley Falcons 0-2-0 (0-0-0) T-3rd Atlantic Hockey

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Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-1 (0-0-1) T-4th Hockey East

4-1 loss.  To an Atlantic Hockey team.  For actual hardware, something that UMass doesn’t get very often.  As the only team from a top tier conference in the mid-season tournament.  And then the season went to all hell.  Sure the loss to Bentley in the UConn tournament a couple years back was in the back of my head when we first learned of the schedule last spring and then more recently when I began to dig in deeper to the season that lay ahead.  But Dick Baker’s post about the game a couple days ago as well as reading my own recap from that time not only brought home the facts of the game, but the emotional impact as well.  What an embarrassment.  What a low point for UMass hockey.  What a long drive home from Storrs that was.

Of course the star from that game for Bentley was sophomore goaltender Kyle Rank who the Minutemen could not solve.  A lot of that was because it’s nearly impossible to shoot a puck through a goaltender’s chest and into the net.  But Rank did come up big in the game and was able to stop 42 saves altogether, 34 through the first two periods alone.  Rank is still with the Falcons, but his play slipped from his sophomore year and last season saw him split time with senior Joe Calvi.  Rank played the first of the Falcons’ two games this season with Northfield Mount-Hermon product Brandon Komm playing the other.  The Falcons played those two games against Michigan, losing by a combined score of 9-2.  But don’t let that huge margin mislead you.  The Falcons had a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission of the first game, giving the Yost faithful a bit of a scare.  And in the second game they were only down 2-1 until the Wolverines scored a power play and empty net goal with under three minutes left.  If Bentley can hang with #4 Michigan for four of six periods in one of the more intimidating barns in college hockey, they’re probably not going to be overwhelmed at the Mullins tomorrow.

Bentley has relied on young players so far for their offense with freshmen and sophomores counting for both goals and all six points.  Their top goalscorer from last year, sophomore Brett Gensler has yet to get on the board.  The Falcons look talented, but young, and are likely a year away from doing damage in Atlantic Hockey.  They were picked to finish 10th in the preseason poll for their conference, but their strong showing in Ann Arbor may have a few people wondering if that was an accurate pick.  Defensively the Falcons will look to Rank and Komm, both of whom were forced to come up with in the neighborhood of 40 save last week against Michigan.  The Falcons return all six of their regular defensemen from last year, including three seniors.

UMass did almost everything you could’ve asked for last weekend.  They got solid goaltending from freshman Kevin Boyle in his collegiate debut.  The defense looked good, with Mike Marcou having a strong game and Colin Shea playing well defensively and offensively.  Sophomores Conor Sheary and Brenden Gracel moved the puck well and added to the offense.  New guys like Emerson Auvenshine and Steve Guzzo had contributions on both sides of the puck.  Hell, even the power play looked damn good for a couple periods!  And yet, a win escaped them.  The team looked tired and/or unfocused at the end and did not execute on the minor things (clear the puck!)  in order to take the win away from Northeastern.  Two seconds away from an opening win, their first since last January, the lead was gone and in the end they’d have to settle for a tie.

This team should be hungry.  They should be desperate for a win.  They should have had one last week.  They should’ve had a few, or at least played hard enough to deserve a few, during the last two months of the Hockey East season last year.  In comes a lackluster Atlantic Hockey squad.  Do not overlook them.  It seems like Michigan almost made that mistake.  No.  Play to your abilities and bury them.  Remember that this team, with this goaltender, gave the program one of its recent, all too many, embarrassing moments.  Seniors and juniors, explain to the underclassmen how bad it felt to lose that game in the aluminum box known as the Freitas Ice Forum and what it ended up meaning for the entire season.  Underclassmen, you make up the majority of this team.  Don’t be a slave to the history, achieve retribution for it.  I can’t believe I’m actually having an emotional reaction to a UMass-Bentley hockey game.  But I am.  So do us fans a favor and exact just a little revenge for what we had to endure almost two years ago.

Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-1 (0-0-1) T-4th Hockey East

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Providence Friars 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-6th Hockey East

Think UMass is at a bit of a disadvantage because they didn’t play an exhibition game and only had one game last weekend?  Well the Friars have played exactly zero games.  They’ll make their season debut tomorrow night against Boston University on NESN.

Since Providence hasn’t even played an exhibition game, there’s probably not much I can write about them beyond the season preview I put together.  If I’m Toot Cahoon and both Kevin Boyle (or Mastalertz) and Jeff Teglia are available, I go with Teglia in this game.  He didn’t play in Providence, but at least he had a chance to warm up there last season and I’d rather see someone familiar with the quirky rink in net.  That would give one of the freshmen the chance to play against Bentley without the extra pressure of points on the line as well.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got.  With just one game combined under the belts of both of these teams, it’s pretty much a blank slate.  The only thing to keep in mind is that UMass really, really needs two points on Saturday.  The Minutemen will be serious underdogs in the five games that follows the tilt with the Friars; at Boston College, vs Boston University, at BU, at UNH, vs BC.  I would hate to see UMass play the next six games getting little to no Hockey East points in that time.  Is a Saturday a must win?  Of course not.  But could it set the tone for the first half of the season?  Yes.

Beer The Triangle

I’ll be happy to make my regular season debut at the Hangar tomorrow afternoon for the usual pre-gaming activities.  Of course Stoney doesn’t put his beer list online, so what to recommend there, I don’t know.  However it’s safe to say I’ve never walked in there and been disappointed with what’s on draft.  And a lot of times I’m happy to find a beer rarity or even something I haven’t tried before.

Providence presents a bit of a conundrum.  The usual spot before games at Providence is The Abbey, located just down the street from the Coffin.  They have great burgers and a good beer list (hell, when the place’s website is www.92beers.com, you know they take their beer seriously).  Yet, most of the Providence beer scene is unknown to me.  So perhaps I’ll take the chance to check out Julian’s, which I’ve heard many good things about.

Dick Baker profiles Colin Shea, my FTT Player of the Game for last week, and his improved play.

USCHO has an interesting look at how the addition of Notre Dame will lead to scheduling opportunities and challenges.  It’s a much better read on the situation than the one from the Lowell Sun which seems to be under the impression that the Hawks will be forced to schedule ACHA teams.  For those that don’t know, the ACHA is the umbrella organization for club hockey teams.  The author probably means Atlantic Hockey, but maybe not.  Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to listen to this author do his postgame show after games at Lowell knows that his knowledge of college hockey is lacking.

Personally I’m not worried about the scheduling situation, yet.  The fact that you’ll now have a six team Big 10, 8 team NCHC, and a 9 (10 if they take UAH) team WCHA versus an 11 team CCHA and a 12 teams WCHA means less conference games and more flexibility, thus more teams looking for non-conference opponents.  Hopefully, and that’s a big hopefully, that will get some of the big name western teams to get off their high horses and visit mid-level Hockey East teams instead of just BU, BC, etc.  Perhaps even a couple of schools which got a visit from the maroon and white last year.

I write and post these previews the night before games rather than the morning of because my schedule for my real job means I’m usually out the door and sitting in traffic before 7am.  As a result I usually miss the late breaking injury and roster news that Baker or Matt Vautour publish on game day.  But I do do my best to pass along any late breaking news via Twitter, so make sure to follow Fear The Triangle on Twitter or at least keep your eye on the Twitter feed in the right hand column.

Northeastern Recap

So UMass was THIS close to winning. Again. Listen, there are a lot of positive observations to take from tonight’s game, but forgive me if I lead with my base thoughts. Last year we, as fans, could deal with the losses. We could deal with the close losses. The ties. The wins turned into ties or losses at the end because we had an experienced squad that didn’t know how to win. But I was hoping we left that in last year.  I thought that with a year under their belt and the team no longer full of freshmen we’d have moved to the point where the team had a little more understanding and confidence to win the close games.  To step on an opponent’s throat when they’re carrying the play.  Apparently not.

UMass played very well last night. But bad penalties and letting Northeastern dominate play for the last ten minutes of the game allowed the Huskies to grab one of the Minutemen’s points tonight. Yes, the Minutemen’s points.  They were UMass’ points to lose. They played like the better team for most of the game and had the lead until just two seconds left in the game. Two seconds. Good teams find a way to hold on for two seconds. Looking at the result this team looks like a continuation of last year’s. And frankly, last year’s results is not going to be good enough this year.  I don’t want to make too much out of one tie to start the season, but the result and moreso the manner in which the result came about was very disappointing.  UMass was the better team, but in the standings UMass and Northeastern are now tied.

When looking at the play of the individual players, the team did well and showed why they should’ve won. I thought the defense played very solid overall, Kevin Boyle didn’t have to do play too much out of his capabilities in his first game and I think a lot of that was due to how well the defense played as a group. Especially good were Mike Marcou and Colin Shea. Marcou honestly played one of his best games in quite a while.  Though he almost made a costly mistake in overtime, that was really the only mishap he had.  Through the entire game he made some great defensive plays and also ended up with two assists.  Colin Shea looked very solid on defense, even threw his body around, and score the first goal.  I thought Conor Allen played excellent right up to the point of where he started to take some really unwise penalties.  Speaking on unwise penalties, Oleg Yevenko had a couple of them and one of which resulted in a power play goal for the Huskies.  This is exactly what a lot of UMass fans were worried about and hopefully we’ll see some smarter play in the future.  Beyond the defense one of the major positives was the penalty kill, which performed extremely well.  The Northeastern power play, which included a couple of two man advanteages, ended up just 1 for 6 on the night.  Even more impressive is that UMass kept them to just three power play shots.

Boyle himself looked very good.  He showed good positioning on shots and this helped not only to stop what was coming in from the Northeastern skaters but allowed his defensemen to clear the puck in front of him.  For a freshman making the first start of his career to open up the season and played very composed.  He did not seem to panic at all, even during the numerous scrums happening right in front of him.  Is he the goaltender of the future?  Who knows.  But he certainly made a great case for his abilities last night.

Offensively the team played well.  I was impressed by the play of the centers, specifically Brenden Gracel and Kevin Czepiel.  Both were extremely active and Gracel scored the second goal for the Minutemen, just seconds after the Huskies scored to go ahead.  A couple pleasant surprises were the play of Steve Guzzo and Peter DeAngelo.  Guzzo, who didn’t get to play in his true freshman year due to injury, showed speed and aggressiveness in going after the puck.  DeAngelo didn’t make much of an impression last year but at times was one of the most active palyers on the ice last night and did a good job of distributing the puck when he gained possession.

Emerson Auvenshine looked very good early but faded towards the end.  Actually, most players faded towards the end of regulation, but it was good to see UMass’ play pick up in  overtime and really grab the most chances to win the game during the extra timeframe.  T.J. Syner and Mike Pereira did their best to take on the scoring load, with Syner scoring a goal, especially given the absence of Danny Hobbs.

It’s sad to say that a tie on the road in a season opener is a disappointment, but it is.  When you outplay an opponent, are able to withstand a good number of the man advantages, and still have the lead in the waning seconds of the game, you should win.  Good teams find a way to win.  UMass, like last year, found a way to not win.  Whether it’s a mental issue or a conditioning issue where the team is gassed at the end of the game, it’s something that needs to be addressed.  And hopefully soon.

Fear the Triangle Player of the Game – Colin Shea
Certainly T.J. Syner, Brenden Gracel, and even Kevin Boyle deserve some consideration, but I really liked what I saw from Colin Shea tonight.  I mentioned in my season preview that there was an offensive aspect to Shea’s game that I saw in juniors that hadn’t seen yet at this level.  Well I think we did.  He scored his goal on a nice pinch in and wrister on the power play, set up by Brenden Gracel.  He nearly was able to use the identical move again later in the game that would’ve given UMass a 4-2 lead, but Chris Rawlings was just able to get a shoulder on the shot.  Beyond his offense, he did very well on defense.  He was always in the right position to stop a Northeastern skater or get in a passing lane and he was even able to hit a couple guys on the ice.  Overall, a great unexpected contribution tonight from Shea.

Toot says they team “cheated” in the third period in the recap from the Republican.

He says Boyle stood on his head in the third in the Gazette game story.

College Hockey News has a nice feature on Boyle and his play as well as a look at the play of Northeastern.

The Herald also recaps the game.

College Hockey News previews Hockey East and Joel Hanley is included on their watch list.

The Collegian has a ton of stories previewing the season.

Elsewhere in Hockey East Merrimack beat Maine 2-1 in Orono while Boston College pounded Michigan State out at the Icebreaker.  Meanwhile defending national champion UMD upset top ranked Notre Dame.

Off to McGuirk for some tailgating and hopefully something that resembles UMass football!

View From Section U: Schedule Thoughts

Continuing my look at the upcoming season, I thought it’d make sense to take a look at the official schedule and share my thoughts.  At this point there is still no news of an exhibition game, so the team may see it’s first action opening night at Northeastern.  While teams not having an exhibition is rare, it’s not entirely unheard of.  Perhaps if they’re unable to schedule one the school will schedule some kind of intrasquad scrimmage and/or skills competition at the practice rink the night of October 1st.

The opener against Northeastern will be interesting for both teams.  The Huskies just came through a summer that saw their coach bolt to the NHL, players leave early, recruits decommit, weeks and weeks without a coaching hire, only to finally select someone who hasn’t been a head coach in nearly two decades.  For us UMass fans, there will be a few questions to be answered; how much have the skilled freshmen from last season progressed as they start their sophomore year, can the added size and toughness make a difference in the form of results, and most importantly, who’s in net?  They’ll then come home to Amherst to open the Mullins against Bentley, a team that went 10-18-6 last year but does have wins over Hockey East teams for the last three years straight.  That includes of course a 4-1 win over UMass two year’s ago in UConn’s tournament.  After a game at Providence the team will have a tough close to October with a game at Boston College followed by a home and home with Boston University.

The Minutemen will have 8 games in the month of November which includes four straight at home after opening the month at UNH.  They’ll then play a couple catholic schools at home with Boston College followed by their second Atlantic Hockey opponent, Holy Cross, which finished third in their league last year.  It’s rare that UMass will have played both BC and BU twice before Thanksgiving dinner ever hits the table.  The team will be tested early with these four games against the Comm Ave schools  plus another in Durham against the Wildcats, all in the first 8 games of the season.  The Minutemen will play Northeastern for the second time on 11/12 before hosting Maine and travelling to Lowell the following weekend.  Unlike previous years where the conference schedule has stretched into December, the Turkey Tuesday game up at the Gut will be the last Hockey East game of the calendar year.  After that it’s three straight ECAC opponents, starting with a return to Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center where UMass lost an overtime heartbreaker in their last visit.  The Minutemen might as well decorate the Mullins with ivy instead of mistletoe for December as NCAA participant Yale and Harvard visit, with the Crimson finally returning a game owed from way back when the triangle jerseys were first replaced.  The game will mark only the 8th time the two Bay State schools will face each other and only the 4th since the UMass program was reinstated

After Christmas UMass fans will have a chance to watch the team in two very different climates.  The team will take part in the Everblades College Classic in Estero, FL first taking on co-host Cornell before face either Maine or Clarkson.  The next week will be seen as a historic moment in the long history of UMass hockey as the boys will take the ice at legendary Fenway Park as part of the Frozen Fenway 2012 festivities.  There they’ll take on Vermont in a doubleheader featuring the four New England flagships as Maine and New Hampshire take their rivalry outdoors in the nightcap.  UMass closes out the season series with a game at home against Boston College before hosting Vermont and playing a home and home with Lowell to close out the month.

The Minutemen start February at a venue actually older than Fenway when they travel to Matthews Arena to play Northeastern.  They’ll see Merrimack for the first time the following night in Amherst.  After a game at BU and at home versus the Friars the traditional full weekends against one opponent to close the season will start up.  First up is two games at Orono followed by two at home against UNH.  The team will then close out the season with a home and home against Merrimack, honoring seniors T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs, Mike Marcou, and Kevin Moore on Friday, March 2nd.

There’s really no easy part of the schedule, with a steady stream of tough teams almost every weekend from the onset.  They’ll certainly have to make the most of the non-conference schedule since Yale is really the only elite opponent outside of Hockey East, though Cornell is likely to be ranked when the season starts.  If I were to identify one key stretch, other than March when UMass will likely be chasing something (a playoff spot, home ice, an at large, etc), I would say it’s the stretch of games in November at home starting with Boston College.  The opponents are tough in BC, Northeastern, and Maine, but if the Minutemen were to go pointless in this stretch they’ll likely find themselves playing catch-up for the rest of the season.

So there we have it, the schedule laid out for us.  I can almost hear the skates on the ice, feel the chilly Back Bay air, and taste those pregame beers.  Is it October yet?

Mike McMahon of the Eagle Tribune picks UMass to finish 8th and says the solving the question mark in net may be easier than you think.

Stick tap to whoever thought of “UMass Athletics 101” for the freshmen.  It looks like they packed to newest Minutemanics into the stadium, had coaches and players speak, and then threw a tailgate for them.  Way to get them engaged in UMass sports from the start.  And welcome to any freshmen who have made their way to FTT already.

Paul Dainton is covered by Blue Jackets blog Fire The Cannon.  Dainton will be heading to Columbus and then Traverse City, MI as part of their rookie camp.

Doug Kublin tried out for EV Fussen of one of the German leagues.  According to his Twitter account, it appears he was able to secure a spot over there.

Meanwhile, I heard that Cory Quirk, who played in Worcester last year, has signed with Rosenheim in Germany.

Lastly, Colin Shea and his brother Ed, a senior at BC, aren’t the only athletes in the family.

MacDonald Joins UMass Coaching Staff

With Red Gendron officially joining Yale over the weekend, it didn’t take long for his replacement to become official.  The university announced today that former Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald will be joining the Minutemen as an assistant coach.  As readers know, both moves have been in the works for a while since first being reported by USHR last month.

Let me repeat what I wrote when this was all originally reported,  and that’s to thank Coach Gendron for his contributions to UMass hockey.  If there has been one aspect of the program that I’ve thought has consistently been good year in and year out it has been recruiting, and Red has been a big part of that.  He has also been a great ambassador of the program and friendly and approachable towards all who follow the program.  I wish him well in the future, however considering he possesses two Stanley Cup rings and an NCAA championship it’s clear that success will seek him out.

Dick Baker has a good post covering both Gendron moving on and MacDonald’s hiring where Red cites Yale’s quality program, his longtime relationship with Bulldog coach Keith Allain, and the opportunity to be an associate head coach as his reasons for leaving.  Also likely a motivation is the job security that comes with a coaching job in the Ivy League (*coughdonatocough*) compared to the situation here at UMass where it’s likely Toot Cahoon will be retiring sometime in the next few years.  Still, Coach Gendron will be missed.

Regarding the hiring of MacDonald, I think it’s a good move.  You don’t often get the chance to add someone with extensive head coaching experience to staff.  Frankly, I wasn’t surprised that his tenure at Lowell ended this spring after a number of seasons where his teams underperformed.  However, throughout his time at Lowell I always admired the job he did recruiting.  Despite not always having the best facilities or even much support from school administration at times he consistently brought in quality classes.  I would argue his recruiting classes were as good, if not better, than UMass’ in the last few years.  The program shouldn’t lose anything by putting him in the lead assistant role.

So MacDonald is obviously well-qualified for this position.  The only reservation I have is whether this would’ve been a good opportunity to bring in a  dynamic young assistant to groom for when Toot retires.  Would such a thing be plausible however?  Perhaps not.  Maybe it would be better for such future candidates to gain deeper head coaching experience at other levels of hockey.  I guess just as long as we truly get an open and aggressive search when it does come time to fill the head coaching position, versus taking the easy route to just hand it off to someone familiar, I’ll be happy.

It’ll be interesting to see if UMass picks up any commitments in the next few weeks of recruits who maybe were preparing to commit to Lowell before the made their coaching change.

Obi Aduba has resigned with Quad City Mallards of the CHL (who barely escaped death this offseason).  He’ll also be attending training camp for the Springfield Falcons this fall.

Greg Mauldin is one of the featured coaches for the Junior Bruins summer camp this year, his team before coming to UMass.  I believe that Colin Shea is also working at the camp.

Red Leaving For Ivy Green?

Back from vacation means back to writing about UMass hockey.  I had a great trip down to the  mid-Atlantic area.  I got to visit three breweries (Dogfish Head, Ram’s Head/Fordham, Victory), see countless national treasures like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and hung out with a few of the original Section U inhabitants dating back to the triangle days.

So did anything happen hockey-wise in this area while I was gone?  Oh yeah, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup!!  What a run.  I’m definitely a college hockey fan first, as that’s how I first got into the game, but seeing the black and gold as the owners of Lord Stanley’s chalice is beyond thrilling.  New England is now the center of the hockey world, let’s hope that continues next fall when UMass and the rest of Hockey East return to the ice.

Of course there was some UMass news during last week as well.  USHR reported that Red Gendron will be leaving Amherst to take an assistant coaching position at Yale under Keith Allain.  Gendron does have a relationship already with Allain from when they previously coached for the US program.  From everything I’ve heard, this report appears to be true even though it’s not official yet.  I’ll be sorry to see Red go.  He’s done a lot for the program from recruiting many of the talented players on the ice to all the hard work he does for things like the annual golf outing.  He’s also been very friendly to fans and supporters of the program.  Whatever the future holds for him, I’ll be rooting for him (except of course when Yale comes to town this fall).

Also in the USHR report was the statement that they’re “hearing” that Red will be replaced by former Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald.  Besides being colleagues in the Hockey East coaching ranks, MacDonald and Toot Cahoon were also assistants together at BU.  First off, I have not been able to confirm that the report that MacDonald is about to be hired is true, but makes sense that he’d be in the mix.  Secondly, I’m not sure I like this news.  I have a lot of respect for the job that Blaise did at Lowell.  Against all of the challenges that surrounded that program, even when it was on the verge of getting mothballed by the Board of Trustees, he was able to consistently recruit some top talent in the league.  However, he was just fired from that job because he was never able to get that talent to its full potential.  At Lowell he had a history of his very best teams underperforming regularly and sometimes dramatically.  Problem is, in recent years UMass has also suffered from that same charge of underperforming compared to its potential.  If Toot is going to bring in someone new to the staff, I would rather the person have a record of addressing some of the team’s recent deficiencies.

My ideal replacement for Red?  Hire alum and current ECHL coach Dean Stork and groom him to replace Toot in a couple years when he likely retires.

In other Hockey East coaching news, remember how friend of FTT Ryan S. Clark reported a couple months ago that Greg Cronin was leaving Northeastern for the NHL and Cronin vehemently denied the report?  Well Cronin was hired today as an assistant coach for Toronto.  Maple Leafs or Northeastern?  Hmm…lateral move at best.  It should be interesting to see if any recruits or current Husky players look to leave with their coach on the move.

UMass has lost out to Providence for the services of South Kent defenseman Anthony Florentino.  Florentino is a talented defenseman who has participated in past US national development camps previously.  This one hurts a little because he has some close ties to the Minuteman program and from what I’ve read is highly regarded.

Congratulations to Conor Allen, Mike Lecomte, Kevin Moore, Colin Shea, and Jeff Teglia who were named to the Hockey East All-Academic Team for this past season.  Lecomte was named to the team for all four of his years at UMass.

Stuff the ballot box!  Vote for Paul Dainton for UMass Play of the Year!

Speaking of voting, don’t forget to take the survey for which UMass license plate you like best.

With the Cup awarded, that means the NHL Draft is just around the corner.  Hockey’s Future has Mike Pereira as one of the top 10 draft eligible players in the NCAA.  Pereira will also be featured in a pre-draft article in the New England Hockey Journal that I’ll be sure to pass along when it’s published.

Dick Baker of the Republican caught up with Greg Mauldin and Justin Braun at last week’s Golf Outing.

Boston College/Merrimack Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-13-4 (5-8-4) 7th Hockey East

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#1 Boston College Eagles 18-6-0 (14-5-0) T-1st Hockey East

February is supposed to be a month for love, candy, and insane margins for flower shop owners.  But for the Minutemen it is judgment month.  Judgment in the sense that UMass fans will be able to see just how this young team has developed over the course of the season and how they stack up against the best teams in the country.  And judgment because how they fare this month may ultimately decide if they make the playoffs.  To kick off judgment month they’ll play their first games of the season against two of the better Hockey East storylines of the year, Boston College and Merrimack.

BC is of course the defending national champions and were picked to repeat by just about everyone after they lost little from last year’s squad and reloaded with another elite recruiting class.  But a funny thing happened on their quest for a repeat, they were downright mediocre for a stretch of the season.  In fact from late-October to mid-November they went 3-4-0 and had a lot of people scratching their heads.  But starting with the Sunday after Thanksgiving they’ve been nearly unstoppable.  They’ve gone 10-1-0 in that time, their one loss being up at Maine, and this past week regained the #1 ranking in the country.

If there is a chink in the Eagles’ armor, I’m not seeing it.  They come into tomorrow’s game with the 2nd best offense in the country and the 8th best power play.  UMass’ penalty kill play was stellar in the month of January.  From New Year’s Eve on they’ve killed 90% of their opponents’ chances and an amazing 97% over the last 7 games.  But they’ll have their work cut out for them trying to shut down a power play unit that is converting at a rate of 22.2%.  Not surprisingly BC is led offensively by Hobey hopeful Cam Atkinson whose 19 goals is second best in the league to UNH’s Paul Thompson.  Also helping Atkinson with the scoring load are fellow juniors Paul Carey and Jimmy Hayes as well as senior Brian Gibbons.  Sophomore defenseman Brian Dumoulin is building off a great freshman and has 16 assists already from the blueline to go with a couple goals.  The UMass defense has definitely improved as the season has progressed, but it remains to be seen how they’ll fare against an elite offense like they’ll see tomorrow.  The important thing is to do what has led them to be successful, good positioning and constant movement.  BC is way to fast to try and chase around the rink but if they get caught with their skates stationary, the Eagles will make them pay.

So BC has arguably the best offense in the land.  Well the bad news is their defense is pretty damn good as well.  In fact they boast the 7th best defense statistically and the top penalty kill nationally, despite injuries to most of their defensive corps at various times of the season.  Unfortunately, they’re all healthy now.  I’m not sure how much the penalty kill matters since UMass seems to be incapable of scoring power play goals anyway.  Especially good so far this season for BC have been the four sophomores of Patch Alber, Patrick Wey, Phillip Samuelsson, and Dumoulin.  Of course behind them is a guy gearing up for another championship in John Muse.  Muse’s boasts the best save percentage in the league and 2nd best goals against.

It’s tough to outline what UMass has to do to beat the best team in the country.  One good thing is that I think UMass is one of the few teams that can match the Eagles in terms of speed.  And they’ll have to use every ounce of speed they have to cycle the puck, get open, and try to catch BC’s defensemen out of position.  Defensively they just have to keep doing what they’re doing.  To pull off the upset Paul Dainton will have to be at the top of his game as he’ll likely still see a lot of shots even if the defense plays well.

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-13-4 (5-8-4) 7th Hockey East

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#12 Merrimack College Warriors 15-5-4 (9-5-3) 4th Hockey East

Merrimack is in the midst their best season ever at the Division I.  Their 15 wins to date is already second best in history next to the 16 they won last season and in 93-94.  Their #12 ranking is the highest ever and if the season ended today the Warriors would secure their first NCAA tournament berth.  And they’ve already proven they can play with the best and beat them, as they took the season series from BC this year.  UMass will not only see a Merrimack team unlike they’ve seen before, but a Lawler Arena unlike they’ve seen before as the school undertook some major renovations over the offseason.

Merrimack has been getting it done one both sides of the puck.  Not many would be surprised that Merrimack has one of the best offenses in the league but they may be surprised to learn that Stephane Da Costa is not the leading goalscorer on the team.  Junior Jesse Todd has scored 13, one more than the sophomore sensation.  Da Costa is by far tops in points on the team however with 32.  Senior Chris Barton and freshman Mike Collins have also shared in the goal scoring for Merrimack.

The Warriors do boast the top defense in the league, allowing just 2.12 goals per game.  They’re led by goaltender Joe Cannata who in his junior year is showing why he came to North Andover with such high praise.  His 2.07 goals against is tops in the league and his win percentage is second only to John Muse.  It impressive that Merrimack has been able to get things done defensively even while relying on a couple freshman blueliners.  Brendan Ellis and Jordan Haywood have joined upperclassmen Adam Ross and Karl Stollery at the top of the team’s +/- list.  Both of Merrimack’s special team units are second in the league to Boston College, so again it’ll be a huge challenge for UMass’ power play and a good gauge of their penalty kill.

Merrimack has lost a few of their more physical players to graduation, so it will be interesting to see if their style of play has changed at all in this first game between the teams this season.  While their defensive stats are similar to BC’s, I think it’ll be more important to try to solve Cannata than trying to get through the defense like against BC the night before.  Hopefully a seemingly new Lawler Arena will help the Minutemen shake off their troubles there as they’ve lost the last three games straight there and four of the last five.

Beer The Triangle
My hope is to finally get to American Craft following tomorrow’s BC game.  That’s the place opened last spring by the same folks who own the Publick House, one of my favorite beer bars in the area.  I haven’t gotten there yet.  However, I have a feeling the streets in Brookline are likely horrible right now, so let’s hope I can just find a place to park.  On Saturday I’m hoping to get over the The Tap/Haverhill Brewery since I wasn’t able to get there before the Lowell game last month.  That’s actually a good thing since they now have one of my favorites available, Snowbound Ale.  Of course there is snow/sleet/thunderhail forecast for Saturday so who knows if I can even get up to North Andover for the game much less have a chance to pregame.  I could have great beers this weekend watching UMass or none at all.  Wish me luck.

I meant to mention this earlier in the week but Mike Pereira was a runner-up for Hockey East Rookie of the Month.

Dick Baker previews the battle of the Shea brothers as Colin takes on Edwin tomorrow night.  He also has a short post on the great season Chase Langeraap is having in his senior year.  I agree, Chase has been extremely valuable.  He got off to a rocky start and it looked like he was on pace for an underwhelming season, but right around the Vermont game before Thanksgiving he started scoring and hitting  in all the key situations and hasn’t looked back since.

Coach Cahoon refuses to give any specific updates on the team’s injuries in this preview from the Collegian.  I would love to see Danny Hobbs back on the ice for this tough weekend.

The BC student paper details their team’s dominance over in-state teams in their preview.

Andrew Merritt of the New England Hockey Journal says it’s make or break time for the freshmen in Hockey East, including UMass’.

Luke DeCock (real name) of the News & Observer tweeted that recruit Kenny Gillespie will be spending next season in the USHL.  Gillespie is currently at Shattuck-St Mary’s in Minnesota.

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