Another Collapse, More Frustration for UMass
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
BOSTON Since 2007, when Massachusetts earned its first and only trip to the NCAA Tournament and last advanced past the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, the optimism surrounding the program has grown each season.
Despite four forgettable years since, the coaches of Hockey East always point to Don Cahoon's group as one they expect their clubs to struggle with. The Minutemen are almost always a fast team, small — but stronger than they look. And they always play well for a portion of a game or a season or a period. Before everything they did correctly becomes everything they're doing wrong.
It's become a truth. At some point in every game and every season, Cahoon's team will collapse. Not a few bad minutes or games — the stretches every club experiences at some point. An all out collapse. Complete with finger pointing and excuses. Questions and concerns. Saturday night resulted in UMass' latest episode, a 5-4 overtime loss to Boston University — a game the Minutemen led, 3-0, after the first period. Friday night in Amherst, UMass held a 2-0 advantage before surrendering a pair of goals and leaving with a tie.
UMass has played six games in the 2011-12 season. No one in Amherst, especially not the club and its coaches, is prepared to succumb just yet. Forgive everyone else, though, if the dismissal of the Minutemen as a team no one should worry about becomes common thought.
Embarrassed. Frustrated. Poor. Confused.
These are all words Cahoon has used over the years to describe his team's inability to finish anything. Another should soon enter that combination — inevitable.
At some point in the game or the season, the Minutemen will stop playing.
"Incredibly disappointed with our inability to sustain a level of play that we work so hard to create," Cahoon said Saturday night. "A lot of lessons that we've been working like hell to try and impart on these guys, and sometimes I think it's really taking effect and other times it's falling on deaf ears. BU is a fine team with a lot of really good players, but we managed to beat ourselves along with [BU] picking it up."
Entering the weekend without a win in conference play, the Minutemen positioned themselves to collect four points this weekend. Instead they limp back to Amherst with one and even more questions to answer.
Pointing to one area and naming it as the cause is never easy. Saturday night was no different. UMass' lead came with a little luck. An odd bounce on a clearing attempt led to UMass' second goal, the first of sophomore Troy Power's career, and the Terriers hit a post or two. Still, the breakdowns that gave BU its goals were bred less of truly great BU play and more of inexcusable mistakes and irresponsible play from the Minutemen.
The game-tying goal — a shorthanded strike from Charlie Coyle — came off a two-one-one borne of careless work from sophomore Adam Phillips. As the puck went the other way, things didn't get any prettier for the Minutmen. Sophomore defenseman Colin Shea took an equally bad angle on Coyle, allowing Matt Nieto to make an easy pass to his streaking teammate. Typically hesitant to point a finger, Cahoon let loose on his young blue liners.
"I'm really disappointed with my defensive corps on many levels," he said. "On that particular play, Adam Phillips is trying to do way too much — just a whirling, swirling play on the blue line. It's not the first time. We've talked to him about it a little bit. I think Adam, quite frankly, had some success scoring goals last year, and he's just trying to force things. All he did was just force a really bad turnover. Then, the defenseman played the two-on-one about as bad as you can play it. It's something we work on all the time. You've got two guys out there that have done a really nice job for us, developing themselves, and then the lights went out and, you know, no school's all school."
Blaming youth and inexperience won't suffice for UMass' other failures to complete a game this season. In the opener at Northeastern, junior Rocco Carzo's failed clear gave the Huskies one final chance to tie the game, which they did — with three seconds remaining in the game. Another point gone. The total is at three to this point. Had they managed to win those games, UMass would currently be tied for third in the league with Maine.
Instead, it sits tied for seventh in the league with New Hampshire, who it plays for the first time next Friday night in Durham.
The six UMass defensemen dressed for Saturday's game deserve a portion of the blame. Still, the season is seven games old. Twenty-seven remain for the Minutemen. Between now and UMass' next game, Cahoon and his staff will work to correct their club's issues. The latest of which he named on Saturday. Youth is not something he considers a valid excuse at this point.
"It's early in the season. I won't buy into that this is an extension of a year ago," he said. "A year ago, we were physically weak. A year ago we were really immature. No, maybe we're just too pigheaded. Maybe we think we have to play a certain way to succeed. When we stop playing so pigheaded, and we start playing more for each other, maybe we'll win some games."
Removing that element of stubbornness from their game and making simple plays may solve some problems. Playing the puck up the wall instead of forcing a shot, taking a line change instead of extending a shift with a three-goal lead, just a couple of the most basic parts of the game the Minutemen failed to execute Saturday night. Cahoon said avoiding those things will help his team win some games — maybe.
Well, with UNH and Boston College on the schedule next week, and Northeastern and Holy Cross after that, now would be a good time to make those changes. Inevitably, though, something else will come up.