Uncertain futures for Dainton, UMass
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. Paul Dainton’s career ended on the bench.
He stood at the end of the Massachusetts bench, staring at his six teammates desperately battling top-seeded Boston College for an equalizer. The Minutemen trailed the Eagles, 3-2, before Jimmy Hayes’ empty-net goal, his third of the game, clinched the win, the series and a berth in the Hockey East Semifinals next Friday night at TD Garden.
For Dainton, Hayes’ goal solidified the very thing he fought this weekend to delay: the end of his four years at UMass.
With 23.1 seconds remaining in the game and his club now trailing by a pair, UMass coach Don Cahoon took his timeout. All he could do really. Maybe something crazy will happen.
Two goals in 23 seconds?
The Minutemen had accomplished that twice in the last eight days. Against Maine, last weekend, freshman Mike Pereira and junior Danny Hobbs scored seven seconds apart, before repeating the feat in 18 seconds 24 hours later.
Both Hobbs and Pereira were on the ice for the Minutemen, but John Muse, Brian Dumoulin and four other BC players were as well. The game ended, 4-2, and Dainton’s head fell slightly, as he remained still on the UMass bench. Six other seniors, two out of uniform, repeated the action, forced, for the first time, to deal with the end of their collegiate careers.
As his teammates skated by, patting the head of their captain, a clatter erupted from a corner of Conte Forum. A throng of UMass fans chanting their appreciation for their goaltender.
“Thank you, Dainton,” they roared as their goaltender received a hug from Cahoon.
Their goaltender who arrived in Amherst four seasons ago expected not just to start, but to replace all-American Jon Quick, who led the Minutemen to their first – and only – NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007 before forgoing his final two years of eligibility to sign with the Los Angeles Kings.
“I looked up and saw our [fan] section, which was really nice – especially getting that support on the road,” Dainton said. “There’s a lot of friends, family and fans from back at school here, and we appreciate that support.
“It’s been a great ride,” Dainton continued, before pausing to gather himself. “It’s been a blast.”
“[Dainton’s] really elevated his game. He’s been a good goalie for us, and he’s had games like he played tonight and the second half of this year in particular. He hit stride in December, and he really never slipped very much.”
“He really grew in terms of understanding the position and what he has to do with his body type. So I think he took his game to a completely different level. He handles the puck, and he’s got that maturity; but he has patience now that he never had before. He’s not flopping around the way he used to be. He really developed, and I’d certainly like to have him for another year.
Much like the UMass program, it’s difficult to peg Dainton’s career. For him, of course, these four years were a success. The 21-year old who managed to get by on being a phenomenal athlete became a goaltender capable of keeping a team that played 11 freshman in at least 15 games from getting blown out.
There were some blowouts, though – the 11-2 loss to Merrimack on Feb. 5 stands out – and the Minutemen finished the 2010-11 season on a 14-game winless streak.
The nine-goal defeat against Merrimack stands out to Cahoon and Dainton as the ultimate teaching moment.
While the Minutemen still failed to win a single game down the stretch, they ended the season with five straight one-goal losses before the 4-1 loss in Game 1 and 4-2 defeat Saturday night ended their season.
“The huge turning point in our season, when guys really started figuring it out, was that Merrimack game,” Dainton said. “After that, if you look at all the games, guys were in it. They figured it out, and we didn’t have the wins to show for it this year. But those guys will figure it out, and they will be fine in the future. If you look at last weekend, with Maine, and their ability to respond being down and knowing that Providence was up.”
Smiling after the game, Cahoon refused to dub the season – his fourth consecutive finishing in either seventh or eighth place – a failure or a disappointment. With Dainton running the UMass locker room, players like Pereira, defenseman Adam Phillips, winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Joel Hanley became some of the league’s best young players.
“They’ve got athleticism. They’ve got speed. They’ve got puck skills. They have knack around the net,” Cahoon said of his rising sophomore class. “You look at freshmen, and you’ve got guys like Pereira with 11 goals and Sheary with six goals. Those are very respectable numbers. Pereira’s numbers are great numbers for a freshman, and I don’t think it happened by accident. I think they’ve been productive players all along.”
At this time a year ago, Cahoon was forced to deal not only with a loss to BC – the Eagles also swept the Minutemen out of the playoffs last year – but the departure of three underclassmen to the professional ranks. Junior winger James Marcou and sophomore defenseman Matt Irwin signed with the San Jose Sharks, while sophomore center Casey Wellman inked a deal with the Minnesota Wild.
Hobbs, who recorded 24 points this season, is the lone UMass player who has been drafted, and there are no undrafted underclassmen that impressed as heavily as Marcou, Wellman and Irwin did last season season. At the very least, Cahoon, who signed an extension to remain the coach of the program through the 2012-13 season in September, knows who returns next season. Of course, some players could surprise him, but it’s unlikely any current UMass underclassman will be playing professional hockey this spring.
Dainton, who was not drafted, will likely sign a contract with minor league club in the next few weeks.
The space he vacated at the Mullins Center, however, must be filled.
Unlike Dainton, the young man who replaces him will not be following an all-American goaltender. He will, however, be charged with being the calming presence on the club that, even next year, will still be younger, smaller and slighlty less talented than their opponents. Currently, freshman Jeff Teglia, who struggled in his first season at the collegiate level, is the likely choice, but two goaltenders, Kevin Boyle of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Westside Warriors and Stephen Mastalerz of Kimball Union Academy (N.H.), will join the Minutemen as freshman next September.
“We’re going to be really young and inexperienced in that position,” Cahoon said. “Hopefully we’re going to have some depth. That’s all I can say right now. It would’ve been great if Teglia came in here fully developed and a pro caliber player, as Paul is leaving, but that’s not the way it is. Hopefully, Teglia has learned a whole lot this year. He went through a lot, and he was thrown into the fire a couples times.”
While Teglia will draw the most attention from UMass goaltending coach Mike Buckley, Dainton knows the element of Teglia’s game he needs to improve the most to be a successful goaltender at this level.
“He needs to improve his skating, which he has been working on in the last couple months,” Dainton said of Teglia. “He has to work on his efficiency getting from spot to spot. He has the natural skill and the athleticism more than any goalie that I’ve seen. At times, that can hurt you, because you can throw yourself out of position, and he does a great job of working on his skating in practice. It showed how much he’s worked on it in how much cleaner and efficient his movements were. That will show next year.”
Off the ice, the “C” sewn on Dainton’s left shoulder will fall to another player. Based on Cahoon’s words about his now-former goaltender, that hole may prove more difficult to fill.
“He’s not some boy. He’s a real man. He ran that locker room like a tight ship,” Cahoon said. “He didn’t say too much, but when he spoke, everybody listened. He’ll be sorely missed, but he set a great example for the younger players to see someone of that merit conduct his business that way.”
Eventually, Dainton did leave the bench Saturday night. He drifted toward his teammates, where he embraced fellow seniors Doug Kublin and Chase Langeraap, before entering the line to wish BC well moving forward. The group, which also includes Brian Keane, Shawn Saunders and Marc Concannon, never reached the latter rounds of the Hockey East Tournament. They never won a major championship or hosted a Hockey East playoff game. They did what they were asked and will leave Amherst of proud examples for future Minutemen to look to.
“They did a great job with the younger kids, and I’m not just saying that,” Cahoon said. “It was unbelievable how they weren’t threatened by them, and they encouraged them. They knew they needed them.”
For Cahoon, though, there is no moving on. Like he said after the game, the four years since UMass’ last appearance at the TD Garden is the longest in he became UMass coach. Next year’s Minutemen will likely feature more underclassmen than the the 2010-11 Minutemen did. There is no question that the talent level has increased since Cahoon came to Amherst. The standards have as well. Every UMass fan expects the team to qualify for the playoffs, however, there hasn’t been another step in some time. The Minutemen earned at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2007, and haven’t managed to be a team under consideration since.
It’s difficult to think about the big picture for the Minutemen at the moment. Their season ended Saturday night. As did the careers of players who left college hockey as better players than they were when they entered it.
For Paul Dainton, the final minute of his career that was spent on the bench lasted forever. In an instant, forced to face his past and future, while reacting to the present, he shook the BC players’ hands and embraced BC goaltender John Muse before heading off the ice. At this point, there’s a level of uncertainty for Dainton, as is the case for the dozens of other Division I hockey players whose careers will end in the next few weeks.
Unfortunately for Dainton, Cahoon and those UMass fans who were sure to thank their goaltender Saturday night, uncertainty is a word still associated with the UMass hockey program, as well.