The waiting game
The UMass hockey team opened the 2013-14 season at BU last night seeking its first winning season in seven years, but that’s not going to happen. The season will be a success if it wins 10 games. Its best player is redshirt freshman Frank Vatrano, a local kid whose family owns a pizza shop in Greater Springfield. According to one insider, Vatrano is “a level above everyone, you notice him every shift.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is that because he’s a college transfer (from BC), he won’t be eligible until the first game of the Hockey East playoffs. More bad news is that the Minutemen play 20 games away from the Mullins Center and only 14 at home. Its schedule is among the toughest in hockey with 12 games against opponents ranked in the top 15 by USA Today/U.S. Hockey.
It’s been 21 years since the Mullins Center opened but the hockey program still sits on the launch pad, tethered by an athletic department that’s never considered the sport to be a top priority. Couple that with two terrible coaches and the results have been nil.
In 1993, Joe Mallen was entrusted with making the program a national powerhouse. The program was fully funded, playing in a new building and in a hockey-crazed state. Mallen lasted seven years and was replaced by Don “Toot” Cahoon who was so bad he made Mallen look good. Consequently, in two decades of UMass hockey there have been no Hockey East titles or Frozen Four appearances, and only one trip to the NCAA tournament.
Under athletic director John McCutcheon, the program had deteriorated so badly that when the job went up for bid a year ago last spring, nobody wanted it. Finally, John Micheletto agreed to clean up the mess that had festered while McCutcheon was busily turning the football program into a laughingstock.
At Micheletto’s first home game a year ago, Cahoon was leaning against a pillar behind the net, like a ghost of losing seasons past. This year he has eight new players, including Vatrano and freshman goaltenders Mac Haight of Washington and Alex Wakaluk of Alberta. Junior Steve Mastalerz got the call between the pipes last night, but Wakaluk was MVP of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League last season. It’s only a matter of time before either he or Haight gets the call.
The Minutemen open the home season on Friday with back-to-back games against Michigan State. The Spartans won the national championship in 2006-07, but are 33-41-7 the last two seasons under head coach Tom Anastos.
Win or lose, watching UMass hockey at the Mullins Center is a bargain. Seats are $12 ($10 for seniors), with $2 increases for games against Michigan State, Boston College and Boston University. Look on the good side, it’s quality hockey with lots of elbow room.
The UMass football team is a 31∕2-point favorite to win today’s game against Miami of Ohio at Gillette Stadium. UMass is last in the FBS in scoring, averaging 7.0 points per game, and Miami of Ohio is next-to-last with an 8.8 average, yet the over/under is 451∕2. Go figure.
Both teams are 0-5 overall and 0-1 in the MAC. Red Hawks coach Don Treadwell was fired this week, UMass coach Charley Molnar is still standing. Good seats are still available.
GHS hockey coach Mike Duclos spotted Nate Coffin Monday at Hickory Ridge in Amherst and welcomed him to the fraternity of local high school hockey coaches.
“Congratulations on getting the (Turners Falls) job,” cracked Duclos. “If you need anything give me a call. Let the war begin.”
Former major league slugger Frank Howard talked baseball with Ed Randall and Rico Petrocelli on Sirius/XM last Saturday. Howard stood 6-foot-7 in the batter’s box, weighed 255 pounds and hit 382 home runs, mostly for the L.A. Dodgers and Washington Senators between 1958 and 1971. He was a first baseman but was really the prototypical designated hitter.
“My gloves were made by U.S. Steel,” he joked.
Howard spoke of the time Ted Williams chastised him for not taking enough walks. “You have 44 home runs and 54 walks,” said Williams, who was managing the Senators.
The remark put Howard on the defensive. “I try to be aggressive,” he said.
“You’re a Bible hitter,” smiled Williams.
“What’s that?” asked Howard.
“Thou shall not pass.”
Howard hit the longest home run I ever witnessed at Fenway Park, a parabolic blast over the left field wall off Bill Lee, the one and only Spaceman. Warren Zevon wrote a song about Lee’s counterculture behavior, his claim of sprinkling marijuana on his pancakes and so forth, but he won 94 games in Boston and was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
He lives in Craftsbury, Vt., and I phoned to ask if he remembered Howard’s home run. There was no answer, only a message that said: “It’s October first. Brilliant day. Opening day of partridge season. The government’s shut down, and so are we.”
There were 243 extra inning games in 2013, a new record. The aforementioned Petrocelli remembered a 15-inning game against the Angels and claimed that Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan both went the distance.
I looked it up on baseballreference.com and Petrocelli was close. The game was in June, 1974, and Tiant went 14 1-3 innings and took the loss. Ryan left after the 13th inning. The game took four hours and two minutes; Tuesday’s nine-inning game in Tampa lasted three hours, 49 minutes, pitching changes and TV commercials being the biggest culprits.
Thanks for nothing: Nelson Cruz returned from a 50-day suspension to go 0-4 and make the final out of the season during the Rangers’ one game play-in loss to the Rays. ... Tampa right fielder Wil Myers was 2-for-20 with seven strikeouts and had that perplexing missed ball in game one that opened the Boston floodgates. ... After the Braves’ Dan Uggla had Lasik eye surgery he batted .122 and was left off the playoff roster. ... On the flip side, Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig is batting .471. And just so you know, Yasiel’s not the first major league player named Puig. In 1974, Rich Puig had 10 at-bats for the New York Mets, the extent of his big league career.
Speaking of which, it’s hit-the-mute button time when the ad appears for the pickup truck with the macho cowboy behind the wheel. ... “A man. A man and his truck. A man and his truck and his son ...” and the other version ... “A man. A man and his truck and a lost calf.”
Whoa, how did the guy doing the voice-over not burst out laughing?
Squibbers: Ray Dorhamer looked up from his coffee at Adams Donuts to say he still has the ticket stub from his trip to the 1946 World Series at Fenway Park. “Behind first base, $6.60,” he said. ... Floyd Mayweather landed 232 punches to Canelo Alvarez’s 117 yet one of the judges scored it a draw. Joe Louis made judges irrelevant. The Brown Bomber would hold up his right hand and say, “This is my judge.” ... Shelburne’s Skip Smith was working the TV camera inside the third base dugout for both games at the Trop. “Going to be a long day,” he emailed before Tuesday’s game. “Camera guys are in at 2 p.m. and we all suspect it will be roughly 4 a.m. before we leave.”... The Globe’s account of Joe Castiglione being re-upped for two more years in the Red Sox broadcast booth caused “Goonfromgreenfield” to comment on Boston.com: “Comparing nasal Joe’s talents to (Ned) Martin and (Jim) Woods is like comparing (U.S. Senators) Scott Brown to Ed Brooke.” ... The Tigers went 257 at-bats without homering until Jhonny Peralta went deep on Tuesday, followed by Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera on Thursday, three dingers in 30 ABs to help the Tigers win the last two games of the AL Division Series. ... At the Springfield courthouse last Friday a bedraggled defendant walked through security using two canes. He was dressed in black shoes, black pants and a black T-shirt that read, “I Didn’t Do It.” Tell it to the judge.
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.