Keeping Score: Game on
The Mullins Center was as desolate as a midnight bus station on Tuesday when the UMass hockey team hosted the University of Denver. The head count was 428 that turned out to see the Minutemen play the alma mater of such NHL greats as Peter McNabb, Keith Magnuson and Kevin Dineen.
“Game still on?” I’d texted UMass radio analyst Brock Hines before leaving Northfield.
“Yes it is,” he replied. “Usually takes a state of emergency and not the meteorologist hype (to postpone).”
The trip down Route 63 was like dogsledding over a frozen river. The swirling snow kept timid types home. There were no panic-stricken drivers going 15 mph with their emergency flashers on, only a pickup truck that blew by me spinning up clumps of snow.
“Hockey weather,” smiled Greenfield’s Todd McDonald, who was standing near the only concession stand that was open. Inside the arena the campus police settled in for an easy night and an usher smiled and said, “Sit anywhere you’d like.”
The virtually empty arena made it easy to hear the crunch of blades on the ice, the thwacking of hockey sticks and players hollering for the puck. The only ambiguity was the PA announcer bellowing out his script like it was a packed house. Less hype was the order of the night but he just didn’t get it.
A few of the locals had stayed home-- Bob Weiss, Frank and Maryanne Ciesluk and retired sheriff Fred Macdonald and his wife Paula weren’t in their usual places but a few NMH teachers had made it and between periods Greenfield’s Phil Corrinet and Matt Bete encouraged me to write that six players from the Franklin County Hockey Association had moved up to the college level.
I got out the notebook and jotted that Bete’s son Brandon is skating at Assumption College, Pat Arena is playing for Amherst College, Amanda Fontaine is a goaltender for Sacred Heart, Matt Dory is at WNEC and Derek Pratt is in the USHL, bound for UConn next season. “I got my outdoor rink in again,” said Bete. “This is the 18th year. You’d think I’d give it up but it’s like farming, it keeps me busy.”
After the game started Dick Baker walked out from under the grandstand and up the aisle. Baker has been the longtime hockey writer for the Springfield Republican and he was scowling. “My wife left the power cord on the kitchen table. I have 40 minutes of power to write the story.”
Former UMass assistant coach Len Quesnelle was sitting under the press box scouting for Detroit, and Lou Reycroft was bird dogging for the New Jersey Devils. Reycroft was the goalie for coach Bob Merriam at Deerfield Academy and later played at Brown University.
During the second period I settled in next to Bill and Kate Wardwell four rows from the ice. Wardie’s an avid golfer who collects vintage hickory shaft clubs made prior to 1935. He told me that he and Bill Conant had won the Virginia Hickory Golf Four Ball at the Fredericksburg Golf Club last summer. “It’s the most fun we’ve ever had golfing,” he said.
Retro golf requires players to wear shirts and ties, knickers and long socks. “A lot of smaller courses have come into vogue because the balls don’t go as far,” said Wardwell. “Northfield Golf Course is the absolute perfect golf course for hickory golf. That place is sweet, as good as it gets. The greens are great and the fairways are absolutely beautiful.”
The Minutemen lost, 5-3, snapping their three game winning streak and putting them at 6-12-2, but the team is hustling. Underclassmen Steven Iacobellis and Troy Power have combined for 15 of the team’s 41 goals and next year they’ll join forces with Frank Vatrano, the Boston College transfer who’s watched every game from the seating area. His first opportunity to play in a UMass game will be January 12 in an exhibition game against the U.S. Under 18 team.
If the program wants to be a national contender coach John Micheletto will need to find a five-star goaltender. Less than two minutes into Tuesday’s game goalie Steve Mastalerz let in a softie, and nothing crushes a team’s confidence like giving up an easy goal. At Providence, 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore Jon Gilles has the Friars atop the Hockey East standings. Gilles is a third-round draft choice of the Calgary Flames, and the only time UMass made the NCAA tournament was when future Vezina Trophy winner Jonathan Quick anchored the pipes.
Snowplows had backed up traffic during the ride home and I got off in Greenfield and went around the rotary four times. The trucks were gone when I got back on the highway. UMass hockey’s gone in circles for a while, but now they too might be getting somewhere.
Butch Plifka played in David Ortiz’s charity golf tournament at Punta Espada Golf Course in the Dominican Republic last weekend. The event raised $350,000, split between hospitals in Boston and the D.R.
Plifka lives in Winchester, N.H., and owns Kulick’s Plaza and the Dominican Republic is his warm weather hang out. “I went down early with (Jim) Rice and we played a couple of days on our own.”
“We won,” Kulick said of the 4-Ball Scramble. “I played with Ivan Rodriguez, Craig Sager, and Mark Garnett (of the PGA Tour). We came in 18- under. We blew the field away. I beat Lawrence Taylor on a closest-to-the pin with a 4-iron over the ocean on a 190-yard par 3. The prize was a gift certificate for a 40-inch flat screen.”
Plifka said other prizes included a $500 bottle of scotch and a set of TaylorMade irons.
“I had breakfast with Ortiz but he didn’t play. Let’s just say he’s a better baseball player than he is a golfer.”
The hard part was the flight back to the States and landing in Philadelphia. “It was a full flight and we’ve gotta go through customs and they had one agent working the desk. Another guy was sitting there eating a doughnut. You think he’d open up? So I missed my connection. I had to pay for a hotel and cab. Welcome back to reality.”
On the editorial page of Wednesday’s Hartford Courant, a reader named Dawn Cooper tweeted why Michelle Obama was bothered by her husband taking a photo of himself next to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the attractive prime minister of Denmark.
“Michelle was upset because Obama went off his diet. He reached for the Danish.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.