Fear The Triangle was probably the best Hockey East blog going for a number of years, but this spring, he hung up his skates to focus on responsible adulthood. (Major bummer for the rest of us.) However, we were able to coax him out of retirement to help us preview the forthcoming BC-UMass series.
1. Any update out of Amherst on Mastalerz? How big of a blow would it be if he were out?
FTT: Coach Micheletto said on his radio show last night that Mastalerz has not been ruled out for the weekend and is considered day to day. UMass has always kept injury information very close to the vest, so it's tough to tell. It would be a huge blow if he were unable to play. Freshman backup Alex Wakaluk has pretty much had as bad as a college debut as you can get, giving up 11 goals in just over 60 minutes of play. He has yet to show in the two games he's seen action in that he can play at this level. Going up against a talented Boston College team that is scoring five goals a game is not a good situation to help him build back some confidence. Fellow freshman backstop Mac Haight did somewhat better in relief of Wakaluk on Saturday, but for the most part he wasn't expected to see much, if any, playing time as the third string golatender this year.
2. This is probably highly related to question 1, so you can feel free to answer them as a pair: what the hell happened against UNH?
FTT: Certainly the goaltending issues discussed above did not help, especially in Saturday's 9-0 loss, but they were without a doubt total team losses. The defense had a terrible weekend in front of the three goaltenders, giving up way too many odd-man rushes and letting the Wildcat forwards pretty much shoot at will. Micheletto's style is for aggressive, offensively-minded defensemen and it appears the current blueliners are having a tough time playing that way without sacrificing their defensive duties. On Saturday without a veteran goaltender those defensive breakdowns led to goal after goal. Add in players taking too many penalties and the inability to generate more than 23 shots on either night and it resulted in the team getting outscored 13-1 on the weekend.
3. UMass is 3-6-1 thus far. Is that around what you expected? Have any particular players overperformed or underperformed relative to what you expected before the season?
FTT: Yes and no. I think the record is about what I would've thought but their actual play has either been well above what I expected (dominating Michigan State in a weekend sweep and taking three points from Maine two weeks ago) or well below (the disaster that was last weekend where they looked completely inept and at times disinterested). The second line of junior Troy Power and freshmen Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi has been a pleasant surprise, putting up 20 points. good for 1/3 of the team's total so far. Mastalerz, when healthy, has been absolutely outstanding, already picking up a couple of Hockey East weekly honors. On the flip side senior forwards Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, and Brendan Gracel have to play better both offensively and defensively for this team to turn around their early season misfortunes. And the defense as a whole has been a disappointment.
4. How do you feel about the program overall right now in their second year under John Micheletto?
FTT: I'm disappointed that the coaching change didn't result in more immediate success, like that seen recently in Lowell and Providence with their coaching moves. But I guess I'm resigned that it'll have to be more of a long term turnaround and we'll have to wait for Micheletto to get the type of players that better fit his style of play before we seen more wins. He was hindered by the fact that he was hired so late into last Summer, making it a much more challenging transition and therefore not as likely to see more measurable success this early on. I was concerned that last year the team looked worse at the end of the year than it did at the beginning. This year my main hope is to see the team play some of its best hockey in February and March, even if by that point they're near the bottom of the standings. Some of the recruits Mick has picked up for the out years have given a reason to be optimistic.
5. We miss your blog. How goes fatherhood?
FTT: Fatherhood is going great! My wife and I welcomed a healthy baby girl to our lives over the summer and she's a lot of work but a ton of fun. She has already seen her first UMass hockey win at the Mullins. Well, she didn't really see it since she was asleep by the third, but close enough. I can't wait to take her to more as she gets older. I miss the blog at times too, but there's no way I would've been able to juggle it with everything else going on. I wouldn't have been able to keep it up to the standards I had set for myself.
6. I know you're a jersey nerd too - your love for the old UMass jerseys is right in your blog's name - so I have to ask: how do you feel about the Mass. state shield patches on the new UMass jerseys? Because I think that's phenomenal.
FTT: I love the jerseys as a whole. The old school look and striping are a little different but I think look good. I always like it when the athletic teams use "Massachusetts" on their uniforms instead of just "UMass". As the state's flagship public university the school has a chance to represent the entire commonwealth, not just Western Mass or alumni. Much like you see elsewhere in the country. So I love to see that on the front of the sweaters, the state seal (which is very close to the university's seal) on the shoulder, and even the state outlines in the red line at the Mullins (look for them, they're there!). To steal from Miracle, "Who do you play for? Massachusetts!"
7. What does UMass have to do to beat BC in this series?
FTT: The obvious answer is exactly the opposite of what they did against UNH last weekend. That may not even been enough though. With the way the Eagle offense is clicking UMass would have a tough time beating them even with a 100% healthy Steve Mastalerz. With him at less than 100% or out entirely, it's going to be an immense challenge. The only way I can see is if they're able to come out and take a quick 2-0 lead and then battle to hold on to it for the rest of the game. But to do so they'll have to completely retool what we saw from them offensively last weekend. BC is pretty much the last team I'd like to see them playing this week when they need to start to build back confidence. This could potentially be very ugly.
8. Any predictions?
FTT: I predict that I will be drinking some very good beer at the local establishments in Amherst, Brighton, and Brookline over the next couple days.