Cahoon Reacts to Departures
UMass Coach Confident Despite Uncertain Future
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
As the final seconds in Massachusetts' 5-2 loss to Boston College last Saturday night fell from the clock, UMass coach Don "Toot" Cahoon understood that captains Justin Braun and Brett Watson, among others, had played their final college hockey game. Replacing Braun and Watson will be especially difficult for Cahoon, who often praised the pair for their excellence on the ice and the way they led his team.
When sophomore Casey Wellman and junior James Marcou, his top two scorers in each of the last two seasons, left the ice, he also understood that he may have seen them both play their final college hockey game despite remaining eligibility.
Wellman forwent his final two years of eligibility on Monday afternoon when the Minnesota Wild announced they had signed the sharpshooting center from Brentwood, Calif., to a two-year contract. Wellman arrived in Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon and was in uniform during the Wild's pregame skate but did not dress for Minnesota.
The process was fairly short for Wellman, despite reportedly receiving interest from more than 20 NHL clubs.
"There was so much activity around the program throughout the year with his adviser and all the scouts looking to speak to him before and after [games]," Cahoon said in a phone interview on Tuesday. "We're not only program that goes through this, but, in our case, the program is trying to develop itself by getting players of that measure here. It's really difficult to watch these kids come in, and, within two year's time, be on their way."
In the case of Marcou, it took three years, but the departure is a certainty. According to Cahoon, Marcou, who committed to UMass at a very young age, has been up front with him about his career plans since before he arrived at UMass in 2007-08. In his three years, he led the Minutemen in scoring each season and finished this season as the program's all-time leader in assists with 96. At this point, it is unknown where he will sign. Several teams have expressed interest in Marcou. Some in Amherst believe that the fact that Marcou has yet to sign is a positive for the Minutemen. Still, Cahoon is not optimistic about having him in uniform next year.
"I've understood James' plan and what his thinking has been for a long time. He's not going to leave for the sake of leaving," he said. "He's only going to leave if the right opportunity comes along. I would be wrong to expect to have James in uniform next year. He has a plan, he's going to try to execute that plan. His adviser is a pretty wise guy, so I think that he understands what's in the balance here. I think there's a good chance James Marcou's going to be gone."
Without Marcou and Wellman along with the graduations of Braun and Will Ortiz, Matt Irwin, a rising sophomore defenseman with seven goals and 17 assists, is the returning leading scorer for UMass. However, late on Tuesday rumors began surrounding Irwin leaving the program to sign a professional contract as well.
While UMass' 2010 recruiting class is expected to be one of the program's strongest, replacing more than half of his offense and top three defensemen — Martin Nolet is also graduating — will be difficult for Cahoon who is uncertain about his future behind the UMass bench.
"I have no idea," Cahoon, who will be 61 in April, said in regards to the length of his stay at UMass. "The university will decide if it's time for a change, and I will also have a say in the matter in terms of what I choose to do. I've been doing this 38 years, so there's a lot of different ways to look at this.
"I graduate my kids. There are a lot of factors that go into being a college coach as opposed to a professional coach. I take those factors pretty seriously, and I think that they are a big part of my job as well. It's premature to think about [a possible departure], and I'm not in the least bit worried."
Since he arrived from Princeton in 2000, the Minutemen have qualified for the Hockey East Tournament in eight consecutive seasons after missing it in Cahoon's first two in Amherst. They have also played in one Hockey East Championship and advanced to the semifinals three times. In 2006-07, the Minutemen earned an at-large bid to their first ever NCAA Tournament where they defeated Clarkson before losing to Maine in the East Regional final.
The progress of the program seems to have leveled off recently, however, as the Minutemen have finished eighth, seventh and seventh respectively in each of the last three seasons and managed one postseason win — a Game 1 win against Northeastern in the first round of the conference tournament last season — in that time.
"We need more good players. We need more good players to stay longer," Cahoon said. "We need to build confidence, but the idea that this program has peaked is way premature."
Cahoon has also lost prominent commitments in recent years. In 2007-08, Cahoon signed a three-year contract extension through the end of the 2012 season. Later in 2008, the Minutemen lost the commitment of John Carlson who signed with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League days before his selection in the first round of the National Hockey League draft by the Washington Capitals. Luke Curadi, another prominent recruit, committed to UMass in the fall of 2008 only to de-commit from the program shortly after. Earlier this season, it was reported that Curadi had committed to play at Rensselaer.
However, it seemed as though Cahoon had very little to do with either decision. Carlson's choice to sign with the OHL had more to do with his future in the NHL, and Curadi, according to Cahoon, believed that he had made a decision too early in the process.
Despite the departures and consistent struggles, Cahoon is confident that the Minutemen are capable of becoming a stronger program that can compete annually with the power programs of Hockey East.
"How long I am here into the future remains to be seen," Cahoon said. "But this program has a foundation that 10 years ago it did not have. We've improved in terms of conditions, facilities, level of attractiveness to recruits and we're competing on a more consistent basis than ever before."