View From Section U: UMass Hockey–The Essentials

Yep, I totally ripped off this idea from Puck Daddy, my favorite hockey blog out there on the interwebs. For those two don’t read it they’ve spent the back half of the summer putting up posts summarizing The Essentials, from players to traditions, for each NHL franchise. Here’s The Essentials for the Bruins as an example. So without further ado, let’s get going on the things that make UMass hockey, well, UMass hockey.

Player: Thomas Pöck

(photo by Karen Winger)

I know Jon Quick is probably the popular choice right now, what with winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe and all. But Quick simply cannot come anywhere close to the accolades that Pöck accumulated during his time as a Minuteman. Hobey Baker Finalist. All-American. Inside College Hockey National Defenseman of the Year. First Team All-Hockey East. Olympian. Pöck still holds most of the scoring records for a defenseman, which is pretty impressive considering his first two years in Amherst were spent as a forward. But the most important part is that he accomplished all this during the time he and his teammates were bringing UMass from their perennial spot in the conference basement to within a toe’s length of the Hockey East championship. Pöck is, simply put, the best ever to don on the maroon and white in my opinion. Plus, he had a wicked hahd slap shawt.

Season: 2006-07

UMass fans weren’t overly optimistic coming into the fall of 2006 regarding their hockey team’s prospects. The Minutemen had gone 13-21-2 the prior year and were losing some key players to graduation like Stephen Werner, Marvin Degon, and goaltender Gabe Winer. But the Minutemen did have some veteran leadership returning in the form of Matt Anderson, Chris Capraro, Mark Matheson, and Kevin Jarman. They also would be handing over the goaltending reins fulltime to sophomore Jon Quick, who had split duty with Winer the previous year and had looked good or better than average at times despite a dismal 4-10-1 record. Quick ended up being better than better than average or even good. Instead, he put up the best statistical season in the history of UMass hockey. By March of 2007 Quick had 19 wins, a .929 save percentage, and a goals against average of 2.16. On the offensive side of things it was goal scoring by committee as had five different players with double digits in goals but no one gaining more than 13. But they didn’t have to. They got contributions from whoever, whenever they needed them, from the seniors to Cory Quirk to guys like the unheralded Matt Burto.

Chances for a successful season looked slim at the New Year when the team was coming off an embarrassing loss to Alabama-Huntsville in the 3rd place game of the Mariucci Classic. But they battled in the second half and then kicked off a stretch of six straight wins to end the season and start the playoffs, including four straight victories against Maine, before falling in double overtime to New Hampshire at the Garden in the conference semifinals. However hopes for the program to make its first ever NCAA Tournament as an at-large choice seemed dim following the loss to the Wildcats as the following night saw Quinnipiac go up 2-0 on Clarkson in the ECAC Championship. Such a result would’ve knocked UMass out of NCAA contention. But Clarkson would dominate in the third period of that game, ultimately win the ECAC title, and as a reward for their win they got to face the Minutemen in the first round as they made their NCAA debut. What followed was one of the most intense and nerve-racking of games as the teams traded zeroes on the scoreboard and went to overtime scoreless. But not too far into that extra frame Kevin Jarman would find a Jordan Virtue rebound sitting in front of Golden Knight goaltender David Leggio and the rest, as they say, is history. Sure the team was knocked off the next day, unable to beat the Black Bears for a fifth straight time during the month of March, but to this day 06-07 is the season all UMass fans cherish and fondly look back upon.

jarman goal

Game: UMass vs UNH 2004 Hockey East Semifinals

First of all, I so much wanted to choose the UMass vs Maine game from 1994 as this game. The triangle-clad warriors, playing their first full season as a DI team, was able to knock off the #1 Maine Black Bears just two years removed from their national championship. This was an upset of epic proportions. Unfortunately not too many were there to see it, including yours truly as I was back on the North Shore to do laundry at the parents’ house after watching Maine trounce UMass the previous night. Instead for best game I went with the team’s win over UNH in the 2004 Hockey East semifinals. A year earlier after UMass inexplicably swept Maine in Orono to advance to the Garden and UMass fans and probably players alike were probably just happy to be there after the lack of success in the program’s first decade since its rebirth in 1993. But in 2004 they were back in Boston with a purpose. However, achieving that goal did not come easy. The first challenge was the fact starting goaltender Gabe Winer went down the week before with a bad back. In stepped backup Tim Warner who led a sweep of Lowell in the Quarters. He then went on to the Garden and the Semis, performed admirably, giving up just a couple goals to the Wildcats, despite making only his third ever start.

Despite Warner’s play UMass went down 2-0 early in the game and entered the third period still trailing 2-1. But UMass owned that final period. UMass would get goals from unlikely sources to ultimately take the game. The first came from Peter Trovato following a couple of key penalty kills to tie the game at two apiece. Then it was time for the other Warner brother to take the spotlight. Mike Warner sent UMass ahead 3-2 by putting home a rebound past Wildcat goaltender Mike Ayers. Thomas Pöck would extend the lead to 4-2 on his 100th career point. Mike Warner would wrap things up with an empty-netter and send UMass to its first ever Hockey East Championship game. UNH scored the first two goals of the game, yet after that improbable hero Tim Warner shut down the Wildcats while the guys in front of him scored the next five in a row, including his own brother with two.

Goal: Chris Capraro versus Sean Fields, 12/6/2002

Before UMass made it to the NCAA tournament, before they made it to the Hockey East Championship, in fact before they made it out of the quarterfinals at all they were busy battling to prove that under newly hired coach Toot Cahoon they were not going to be the perennial doormat in Hockey East that they had been since the program rebooted in 1993. That message was delivered, the hockey program’s Battle of Concord Bridge if you will, on December 6th, 2002 when Chris Capraro streaked into the Boston University zone and scored an overtime gamewinner against Sean Fields and the vaunted Terriers. BU had absolutely owned the UMass hockey program to that point in time. And even during the game they displayed their dominance by taking a 4-1 lead to the dismay of the roughly 4000 Mullins faithful who had shown up. But the Minutemen chipped away at that lead and were able to tie it up thanks to a goal from freshman Marvin Degon. In overtime BU pressed the Minutemen defense but Gabe Winer stood tall and kept the score as it was. Then with under a minute to go in extra frame Chris Capraro took away the puck from Terrier defenseman Jekabs Redlihs and came in on Fields, just able to get away a shot despite being hauled down from behind. Five hole. Goal. Game over. Mullins Center goes absolutely wild.

Given BU’s historical record against UMass to that point and time, this was the Washington Generals taking down the Globetrotters. There have been some amazing wins and unbelievable upsets in UMass hockey history, many of which I’ve been lucky enough to attend in person. Over a decade later I can still remember the feeling when Cappy’s shot hit the back of the net better than any other moment as a UMass hockey fan, and I suspect it will stay with me for a long time to come. It probably doesn’t hurt that the point it time was captured well in photography with yours truly in the background so I can refer back to whenever I want and revisit my emotions of that time.

Unsung Hero: Doug Kublin

This was a tough one because honestly there are a ton of UMass players who have made huge contributions to the program while not getting a ton of recognition. Paul Dainton comes to mind, but I feel he did at least get the spotlight he deserved from the UMass fans, though not necessarily from the college hockey community as a whole. UMass has had a ton of important grinding, defensive-minded forwards like Peter Trovato or Brett Watson that could be this choice. But I’m going with Doug Kublin. Kublin did not evolve much from a freshman to a senior during his time playing for UMass hockey. Usually that’s not a good thing, but in Kublin’s case it was because he came onto campus and from day 1 was one of the best defensive defensemen UMass has ever known. He was solid and he was reliable. Being a good defensive minded defenseman isn’t very glorifying. It’s tough to measure your worth in terms of stats and and the casual fan will only notice a defenseman in their own zone when they do something bad, usually resulting in a scoring chance for the opposing team. If you do your job well, if you’re in the right position, if you get in that little poke check, or maybe block a shot, it still might not register with the crowd in the stands. Kublin was that guy who put himself in the right position, got in front of the shot, shut down the passing lanes. Every game. Without fail. From 2007 to 2011 it was that much harder to get the puck on net for UMass’ opponents thanks to the work of Doug Kublin.

Program Villain: Jimmy Howard

I entertained the notion of going with Lowell’s Jerramie Domish for this pick after his elbow in 2004 left Minuteman star Greg Mauldin unconscious, bleeding, and concussed. Even his own coach Blaise MacDonald said Domish “lacked integrity” for delivering the cheap hit which kept Mauldin out for weeks and could’ve had a serious impact on the Minutemen’s chances for success that year. Instead I went for the villain who ended UMass’ 2003-04 season, Jimmy Howard. There was actually a time in Howard’s career where he did not fair so well against the Minutemen and UMass hockey fans were glad to seen him in net instead of his goaltender counterpart, Frank Doyle. But that dynamic changed as Howard got better and developed into one of the best goaltenders in college hockey. By the time UMass met him in the 2004 Hockey East Championship game he was at the top of his game.

As heartbreaking as it is for UMass fans to remember, that game is one of the best in the history of college hockey. Both goaltenders were amazing throughout the game. Gabe Winer, returning from injury and following Tim Warner’s heroics against UNH, made 59 total saves in the 109+ minutes of play, allowing just two goals. Unfortunately Jimmy Howard was just that much better, saving 63 total and only allowing one goal in regulation, though an opening period goal by Greg Mauldin ended up being called back in Howard’s favor because a fraction of Kevin Jarman’s toe was in the crease when it was scored. Howard never really looked back after that. Mauldin would eventually put home a puck on the power play to even things up, but Howard was cruelly dominant. Memorable, not in a good way, is Howard just barely snowconing a Thomas Pöck slapshot in the first overtime in what UMass fans thought was their ticket to the program’s first even Hockey East Championship and NCAA Tournament. After Pöck’s rocket the puck remained secured in Howard’s glove. Eventually the teams would move onto a third overtime in what was truly painful to watch as players had to will themselves up and over the boards at each line change.

Maine’s Ben Murphy would finally get one past an exhausted Winer and UMass captains Pöck, Nick Kuiper, and Mike Warner would have the unfulfilling task of receiving the runner-up trophy at center ice. Something closer to a human effort by Howard and UMass wins this game, takes the championship, and perhaps would have seen more consistent success in the years that follow. But Howard stood tall, made miraculous saves, and will forever be hated by UMass fans for it.

Fighter: Brad Norton

Now on the Puck Daddy version of Essentials the call is for “Best Fight”. Since fights are rare in college hockey, I had a tough time remembering one specifically well enough to choose. But that’s not to say they didn’t happen. And most of the fights I remember in regards to UMass hockey involved Brad Norton. Norton was a lumbering defensemen who joined the squad just after the program as they were starting in with Hockey East play in 1994. These were of course challenging transitional times and UMass had to play to their strengths to gain whatever advantage they could find over foes that were way more talented. Those strengths some of the time involved beating the other teams into submission. Norton exceled at this. True fighting is rare in college hockey, but I have definitive memories of Norton peeling off his helmet and dropping the gloves semi-regularly in his college career. He’s probably the toughest UMass player to take the ice and it worked out for him as he went on to be a pro hockey enforcer that made it all the way to the highest level. The first ever UMass Minuteman to make it to the NHL, he suited up for the Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, Detroit Red Wings, and Los Angeles Kings in his career. Ironically, for an NHL enforcer, his most famous “fight” may be this one:

.

Still, he is one of our own, so we salute him. So much so that I made a “knock you on your ass” beer last year and named it Norty.

Coach: Jack Canniff

Despite those who think that UMass hockey got its start in 1993 when the Mullins Center was built and its history is limited to the years since, that couldn’t be more wrong. The beginnings of Massachusetts hockey can be traced back to 1908 when the team played its games on the Campus Pond. From then to now only one UMass coach can say he brought the program a championship, Jack Canniff. Canniff was the coach from the late 60’s until the program went dark following the 1979 season. During that time he made UMass a Division II powerhouse and in 1972 was behind the bench as they were crowned ECAC Champions, or defacto DII Champions. The team went 19-7-0 overall that year, but played a number of DI teams during that season and were talented enough to almost knock off DI royalty Boston University (who had some guy named Toot Cahoon skating for them) during that historic season. UMass would fall to the Terriers 6-4. Canniff was more than a great coach though, he was a great person. And I’m confident in saying such, despite not knowing him very well, since I’ve heard it from many of his former players as well as my own wife who would end up getting to know “Mr. Canniff” when she was coming through the South Hadley school system with him as a teacher. Coach Canniff passed away in 2009 but as long as the 1972 ECAC Champions banner hangs in the Mullins Center his impact on the program will always be apparent.

Canniffbanner

Coach Canniff watches the 1972 ECAC Champion banner be raised to the Mullins Center rafters.

Broadcaster: Brock Hines

I like to consider myself a pretty hardcore fan of the program as I’ve followed UMass hockey in some way shape or form going back to 1993. I have friends who are just as loyal and have put in tremendous effort in their fandom during those years. I also have to recognize former players from that Triangle Era and earlier who have remained loyal to the program and followed it closely. But I would seroiusly doubt anyone has watched as many UMass hockey games or knows as much about UMass hockey as Brock Hines. Since that first game against Vilanova in 1993, Brock Hines has not only been around UMass hockey but has worked hard to allow others to enjoy UMass hockey from afar. Hines, someone who didn’t even attended the University of Massachusetts, lives and breathes UMass hockey year round and in my opinion is a tremendous ambassador of the program and school. He estimates that he has probably missed a grand total of four games in the last 19 years. Four. Games. If it was up to me the school would extend him an honorary degree for his contributions to the University of Massachusetts considering his service over the years. For being one of the best at his profession he was awarded the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award in 2010 in recognition of his years a color analyst for UMass hockey. When I want to get a grounded opinion on the goings on of UMass hockey, am looking for insight into the current plight of the team, or want to jog my memory of some obscure play from some obscure game in some obscure year of UMass hockey, Brock Hines is where I go for such things.

Arena Behavior: You Suck

When I thought about the great tradition that sets the Mullinsmaniacs apart from the rest of Hockey East, I couldn’t really think of anything. Well anything good at least. When I asked my Section U cohorts what came to mind for Mullins tradtions the response I got was what I wrote above, “You Suck!”. Frankly, that’s a tame example of what happens in the Bill. Let’s be brutally honest, the UMass crowd, dominated by its sizable student contingent, lacks any real traditions. Pretty much UMass crowds are known for their passion, crassness, and vulgarity. From the “See you a$$hole” during an opponent penalty to the random “F#ck (insert name here)” chants inserted whenever, UMass is known for a rowdy, vocal, and profane student section. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is. I still hold out hope that some season we’ll get a hockey band which will help focus the students’ energies into more original and witty chants and that we get some student leadership within the masses to develop some real traditions.

Arena Food: Baby Berk

I’ll be honest, outside of some free Goldfish or popcorn in the Massachusetts Room, I rarely eat at the Mullins Center, since I usually gorge myself on Hangar wings before ever setting foot into the arena on gamedays. So for an opinion of the best arena food at the Bill I went to a source that I knew would have extensive knowledge of the subject and one who I’d trust. I asked the guys from Fight Mass. Their answer was Baby Berk. It’s amazing to think that UMass now has one of the top ranked food options in the country considering I survived on nothing more than Smacks cereal and chicken pucks when I was a student. But times change and Baby Berk is all the rage around campus and the Mullins Center. I’m told that their burgers are the best choice, coming in five flavors appropriately named Black and Blue Wall, Worcester, Franklin, Hampshire, and Baby Berk, are the top choices. Given the reputation, I may have to limit myself to beer only during a pregame this season so I can partake in this culinary upgrade from the usual popcorn and dogs.

Swag: Triangle

Duh. There’s no better way to show off the fact that you’re a diehard UMass fan who has been around since before they ever saw 6th place, or at least honor that time period, than embracing the fact that UMass once had one of the more hideous sweaters ever in the history of college hockey. Cherish the Triangle. Fear The Triangle.

Good news on the radio broadcast front. It appears that initial reports were wrong and the Athletic Department has passed along the news that UMass hockey broadcasts as well as coaches shows will be available to stream via the Tunein app for iPhone and Android. As someone who is absolutely owned by his iPhone, this is excellent news.

Yesterday I mentioned former Vermont recruit Dennis Kravchenko being a potential target of the UMass coaching staff given the prior relationship when they were at Vermont. Today Kirk Luedeke, an excellent resource for amateur hockey and NHL draft information, tweeted the following:

Needless to say, I’ll be keeping a close eye on what transpires with Kravchenko. When I have a chance I’ll also do some more research into him and his talent level as a recruit.

So in case anyone missed it, the CHL, an entirely amateur league where players don’t get compensated anymore than education packages that few of them actually cash in on, is starting a players union. A union involving workers who are supposed to be amateur and supposedly are not paid to play? Yeah, that sounds plausible.

Lastly, I want to pass along this link to benefit the children of Major Thomas Kennedy, the former Army hockey player who was recently killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

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.

UMass Hockey Award Banquet News

I wasn’t able to make it to the team banquet yesterday, but luckily I got a first hand account from Brock Hines and Dick Baker has a nice writeup about the event, which included an emotional speech by Paul Dainton who received the team MVP award.

Here are the awards given out yesterday:

Team MVP – Paul Dainton
Rookie of the Year – Mike Pereira
Jack Canniff “Unsung Hero” – Doug Kublin & Chase Langeraap
Minuteman Spirit Award – Kevin Moore
Most Improved – Anthony Raiola

I can’t argue with any of those. Though personally I think Most Improved could have been shared between Raiola, who did a great job showing that he should be considered for an everyday spot on the blueline next season, and Danny Hobbs, whose production exploded this year.

Also announced at the banquet was that T.J. Syner and Hobbs will be co-captains for next year’s squad while Mike Marcou will keep his role as assistant captain.

Yesterday I mentioned that there’s a good chance UMass will be heading up to Canada to play regular exhibition opponent University of New Brunswick in a future year. Thanks to FTT reader Graham for bringing to my attention that the V-Reds, a powerhouse in the CIS, won the championship yet again. Graham also endeared himself to me by passing along beer suggestions, specifically Propeller Brewery in Halifax.

The Boston Herald has an article on ex-BU assistant coach David Quinn who is now coaching the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters where he names Greg Mauldin as one of the key leaders on the team.

View From Section U: Thank You Seniors; Busillo Commits

Another Senior Night is upon on which means it’s time to say goodbye and thank you to another class of players who have pulled on that UMass sweater for the past four years.  This graduating class was perhaps the first to hit campus with some pretty high expectations as UMass was just coming off their first NCAA appearance the spring before.  Unfortunately, the team hasn’t made it back there since.  And even more unfortunately this class has had to endure three losing seasons and one in which they finished .500.  However, despite the overall wins and losses, this set of seniors includes some who, in my opinion at least, can be considered among UMass’ best ever.  It also includes guys who truly give it their all each and every shift, guys who battled through injuries for the good of the team, and others who developed slowly but are now playing big roles as the squad tries to make something of this season coming into its final week.  The 2010-11 UMass Minutemen might be remembered more for their freshmen, specifically the sheer number of them, than anything else.  But the poise and progress that those young players have shown as of late is due in some part to these seniors and the leadership they’ve and the examples they’ve provided.  And with that, let’s remember each one of them who will take the Mullins ice for the last time on Saturday night.

#9 Shawn Saunders
Saunders played sparingly his freshman year but made a big splash in his debut when he scored the game-winning goal against UConn in what was a much closer game than it should’ve been.  From the start it was apparent that he possessed great speed and the inability to take a shift off.  I’ve seen very few players that give their all for an entire game like Saunders does.  And that dedication has made him a fan favorite among those who follow the team closely.  While he played a majority of games his junior season, he has only played in a handful this year which also saw him sit out with some medical issues along the way.  Personally, I’ve always thought he should’ve seen more ice time in his career here.  It always frustrated me to see him as a healthy scratch in the stands while “more talented” players were in uniform sleepwalking through their shifts on the ice.  Give me the effort guy who wants it more every time.  And that’s exactly what Shawn was in my eyes during his time here.

#15 Brian Keane
Keane came to campus with some high expectations after being a regular participant in a lot of the USA Hockey events while in juniors.  I think that always made it tough for him here because he wasn’t able to live up to what fans thought he would be, but at the same time maybe they’ve overlooked what he was doing to contribute all along.  This year however he has looked much more comfortable in his abilities and the role he was able to lend to the team.  That’s been one of a key defender who has also been able to throw the body around here and there during games, adding a physical dimension sorely lacking on this year’s squad.  He certainly had some highlights in his Minuteman career, like the overtime winner he tipped in against Maine his sophomore year just 11 seconds into the extra frame.  With such a large freshman class coming in I wondered at the beginning of the season if someone like Keane would see playing time.  But he’s made his case to be an integral part of the team and his effort on defense will be missed in the coming years.

#17 Chase Langeraap
Langeraap is another Minuteman who came to Amherst with high expectations.  But that’s what happens when you put up 60 goals in 98 junior games.  Unfortunately inconsistency and injury through the years didn’t allow him to put up those kind of numbers.  In fact he went without a goal in his junior year, his second season shortened by nagging injuries.  However, like Keane, he has probably saved his best season for last.  This year he has shown a lot of leadership, lifting the inexperienced Minutemen with key goals when needed.  His 8 goals this season matches the amount he had scored in his previous three seasons combined.  He has become a player that both fans and his teammates look to offensively and they’ll being doing the same this weekend against Maine.

#18 Doug Kublin
If this season has taught us anything it’s that freshmen will make freshman mistakes.  Especially on defense.  Adam Phillips, Joely Hanley, Colin Shea, and Conor Allen have all had their share of flubs, which isn’t a indictment on them specifically, it happens to all freshmen blueliners.  Except Doug Kublin.  From the first day he hit the ice as a Minuteman he’s been amazingly reliable.  I have no qualms in saying he’s one of the best pure defensive defensemen in UMass history.  Good defensemen are sometimes like referees, if they’re doing their job correctly you hardly ever notice they’re there.  And that’s certainly happened with Kublin who is surely taken for granted by the casual fan.  But every once in a while he’ll remind you of his constant presence with a key poke check, sacrificing his body in front of an opponent’s slapshot, or even playing goaltender when Paul Dainton is caught somewhere out of the net.  Though the team has been outscored greatly in his four years here he’ll be leaving with a very respectable +/- rating.  Also, it should be noted that UMass has never lost when Doug Kublin scores.  Here’s hoping he scores in every game he has left.  It’ll be strange not to see Dainton in the crease next year.  But it’ll be equally as strange not to see Kubby standing in front of it either.

#21 Marc Concannon
Concannon’s combination of speed and grit has played a key role in all four years he’s played here.  If the puck is caught up somewhere along the boards, he’s the player I want to see battling to get it free and out to a teammate.  Amazingly, my lasting memory of him will be one of skill though, rather than the grinder we’ve seen night in and night out for so long.  Coco hasn’t scored a lot of goals in his career, but surprisingly a number of them have been anything but the garbage goals you’d expect with his style of play.  The one that sticks out the most in my memory was in Providence his sophomore year when he skated in on the goaltender and roofed the prettiest wrist shot you’ve ever seen up into the top corner of the net.  The Friar goaltender had absolutely no chance and us UMass fans in attendance stood almost too dumbfounded to celebrate.  He has repeated those types of finesse plays in the years since to the point where we now know it’s not a fluke.

#25 Michael Lecomte
Unfortunately Lecomte’s story is one of what could’ve been.  He was well on his way to a good career at UMass after his two first years when injuries struck in his junior year, derailing him right when he was beginning to have a huge impact on the team’s results.  After missing this past fall recovering from surgery he appeared to be the missing ingredient on this year’s squad when he scored 2 goals in his first four games back.  But in the fifth game back he got banged up and unfortunately saw his last action as a Minuteman the next game against Vermont in Burlington during January.  Would this second half of the season have played out differently if Lecomte was still playing?  Most definitely.  For a team that has lost as many one goal games as this squad to have another guy who can find the back of the net could’ve been a difference maker.  Mike had one of his best games in what was probably the pinnacle for this senior class when he scored a goal and picked up an assist as UMass beat #4 Colorado College to win the Lightning College Classic in Tampa.

#31 Paul Dainton
What I personally want out of a goaltender is for them to go into every game and play well enough to give their team a chance to win.  Sure it’s nice to have a guy like Jon Quick who’s able to play well enough so you can win despite how good or bad the guys in front of him are playing.  But those Vezina candidate type guys don’t come around very often.  No, I just need a guy who is dependable, trustworthy, and keeps his team in the game.  In other words, I just want a Paul Dainton.  Dainton will leave campus playing in the most games, accumulating the most minutes, registering the most saves, winning the second most (or most?) games, and being behind only Quick for save percentage and goals against average in UMass history.  First or second in every major career goaltending record in UMass history.  Why?  Because he has gone out there every night, from his freshman year on, and been a damn solid and reliable goaltender.  Every.  Single.  Night.  What’s just as remarkable  as Paul Dainton the goaltender is Paul Dainton the person.  Last night on the radio show they remarked that they wanted him on the show since he just broke Brian Regan’s save record last weekend, but he couldn’t attend.  Why?  Oh yeah, he was busy teaching psychology.  In addition to his studies he has given back to the surrounding community by taking part in the Big Brother-Big Sister program, something that got him nominated for the Hockey Humanitarian Award this year.  The captain’s “C” can look a little out of place on a goaltender’s jersey during those rare times you see it in the sport of hockey.  But those who have watched Paul play and had the chance to hear him speak will tell on his jersey, it’s well deserved.

Ladies and gentlemen, those are your 2010-2011 UMass Minutemen seniors.  Please make sure you do whatever you can to get out to Amherst on Saturday to thank in person these fine student athletes who have sacrificed their time, energy, sweat, blood, and so much more representing our state university for the past four years.

UMass has gained a committment from Mike Busillo, a 6’2″ 195lb defenseman currently playing for the Junior Wolfpack in the AtlJHL.  He’s due to arrive in Amherst this fall.  In addition to his decent size, Busillo has been the top offensive blueliner for his team with 8 goals and 19 assists in 41 games.  Busillo made the AJHL All-Star Squad this season.  He’s considered a bit of a late bloomer because he ended up playing high school hockey for longer than you usually see.

Here’s the press release from his junior team on his committment.

This December edition of USA Junior Hockey magazine has a feature on him where one of his coaches calls him a diamond in the rough and mentions he was being recruited by some of the top DI schools in New England.

I also got an email from a friend of the hockey program today who has seen recruit Steve Mastalerz play and had some positive things to say about him   And I trust this person’s opinion very much on this matter.  So legitimately we may have a three way battle for the goaltending spot, or goaltending rotation, next season.  It should be interesting to say the least and I still think competition for the goaltending spot is only a good thing.  The person was also nice enough to share some of Mastalerz’s stats for the prep regular season; goals against average of 1.63 (uh, that’s pretty good, huh?) and save percentage of .923.  I’m still not sure of his exact record but I do know Kimball Union went 24-7-4 with Mastalerz in net for nearly all of those games.  KUA played Kent tonight in the first round of the prep playoffs.  No information on how they did as of yet.

I’m behind on updating the recruit page with Mastalerz and Busillo.  Bear with me!

Dick Baker has an interesting post on the Mullins Center staff getting their asses in gear for the game (OK, he says it nicer than that).  It certainly was frustrating that they couldn’t get the scoreboard working since many of us were counting down until Dainton broke the saves record, but Toot had more reason to be pissed since his players couldn’t see when penalties were expiring.  From scoreboard malfunctions, to bad ice, to security staff who do nothing, to dirty (seriously dirty) banners hanging from the rafters, the operation of the Mullins Center has always left something to be desired.  They’d be best to take it away from the third party operators and at least give it to Isenberg’s sport management department to run.

Baker also says Gustav Nyquist is worth the price of admission.  Agreed.

People in the past have argued that Merrimack should be kicked out of Hockey East since they played in the equivalent of an MDC rink.  That’s not the case anymore.  People in the past have argued they should be kicked out because they, frankly, suck.  That’s also not the case.  I think some people will still argue that they should be kicked out because of this God awful youtube video.  They might be onto something.