Keeping Score: Nailed for a clipper at the Mullins Center

Friday, October 20, 2017

Good morning!

Sunderland’s Don Spearance grew up watching Julius Erving play basketball at the Curry Hicks Cage and cheered hockey’s rebirth after the Mullins Center opened in 1993. “I’ve been a UMass fan since my undergrad days back in the early 70’s,” he wrote. “Supported basketball and hockey through thick and thin, but not so much football. The last good game I went to was the Boardwalk Bowl in 1972.”

Last week, Spearance decided to watch the hockey team’s home-opener against AIC. He arrived before the 7 p.m. face-off, but the box office was ill prepared to handle the brisk walk-up business. “The lines for tickets were insane,” he wrote. “UMass staff outside said it looked like they’d sell out. By the time I got in, it was maybe half full.”

The second phase of the gauntlet was to get past the security guards at the turnstiles. “There was no advance warning, they just went through all my stuff and made me throw away a small pair of nail clippers. Others had to bring their backpacks back to their cars.”

“A woman sitting in the seats behind us told us that they took her ballpoint pen,”said Greenfield's Tony Worden, who purchased season tickets to UMass hockey. “She and her husband didn't get to their seats until mid-way through the first period.”

Greenfield’s Bob Weiss was in the building and waiting for his wife Carol to join him. “She didn’t get in until almost the end of the first period,” said Weiss. “She said the line was a mile long.” 

Echoing Spearance’s sentiment he added, “I don’t know why, the place was only half full.”

Not even half — the announced attendance of 3,662 was only 41 percent of the Mullins Center’s hockey capacity. “Lots of unhappy fans and I'm sure many will not return after that rude introduction,” wrote Spearance, “but at least they won.”

Spoken like a true UMass fan.

On Wednesday, UMass emailed fans to say they could purchase discounted hockey tickets online. A separate email was slugged: “New Mullins Center Entry Procedures.”

It listed items that wouldn’t be permitted inside the building, including spiked necklaces, knives, guns, chains and clubs.

Nail clippers and ballpoint pens weren’t on the list.

As Spearance alluded to, UMass did win its third straight game — splitting on the road against Arizona State, beating Union College in Schenectady, and knocking off AIC.

A year ago against the Sun Devils and AIC, they were 0-3 by a combined 11-2 count. This time, they won two-of-three with 10 goals for and eight against.  

Only four players remain from third-year coach Greg Carvel’s 2015-16 team. He’s stripped the program to its core and regularly emails a newsletter to the season ticket holders. In the offseason, he made himself available to virtually every civic group that asked him to speak.

Going into last night’s game, the incoming quartet of John Leonard, Oliver Chau, Niko Rufo and Mitchell Chaffee had accounted for nine of the team’s 15 goals and 19 of its 39 assists.

Its foray through non-conference competition ends this weekend against Ohio State, and the four-month grind against Hockey East foes begins with a home-and-home series against Merrimack next weekend.

Buy your tickets early and come dressed for the TSA search.

It’s Homecoming, the weather’s ideal and the UMass football team will get off the schneid with a resounding win today against Georgia Southern.

That’s my prediction.

With three weeks between games, defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham and his staff have had plenty of time to prepare for the winless Eagles (0-5).

The folks in Statesboro aren’t happy their team has hit the skids. On Tuesday, students held a fire-the-coach rally, and a week ago three Eagles were ejected during their loss to New Mexico State. Quarterback Shai Werts injured his shoulder and is questionable, and the two back-ups are both untested.

A disgruntled fan summed it up on savannahnow.com: “We can’t tackle, can’t cover receivers, can’t rush the passer, can’t block, can’t run the ball, can’t throw or catch…”

UMass opened as a seven point favorite and the line dropped to 6½ at midweek. This is the weakest team UMass has played since Coastal Carolina, and unless somebody knows something I don’t, it should be a Minutemen blowout.

Last Sunday in Sarasota, Fla., retired banker Ron Vandenlandenburg tipped back a beer and watched the Packers play the Vikings on the big screen inside his daughter and son-in-law’s screened porch.

The 80-year-old Green Bay native moved to the Sunshine State a year ago and has readily adapted to the high humidity and searing heat. “Eighty-four degrees is perfect,” he said.

Every autumn for 50 years, Vandelandenburg worked in the Green Bay Packers’ ticket office at Lambeau Field. He made it for all but one game, including the Ice Bowl in 1967. On that frigid, windy New Year’s Eve afternoon, the Packers beat the Cowboys in 15-below temps with a 36-below wind chill factor. 

“It was so cold we couldn’t sell beer. We sold two cases all day.”

After a half century, Vandenlandenburg has finally thawed out.

Imagine Casey Stengel’s reaction if he saw passengers cheering the Yankees from 30,000 feet over New York City. It happened on Tuesday aboard JetBlue Flight 1144 from Palm Beach to Hartford. The aircraft was filled with Yankee fans cheering and pumping fists after the Yankees took the lead against Houston in the eighth inning.

I’d moved down to the last row, which was empty, and strained to see the bright lights of Yankee Stadium. Alas, no luck, but what a way to watch a baseball game. It was the fourth inning when we took off and the ninth inning when we landed.

SQUIBBERS: Former Pats’ linebacker Chandler Jones knocked Jameis Winston out of Sunday’s loss to Arizona. “I’ve done had that injury before,” he said of his sprained shoulder. … The NHL Network’s Gord Stellick on the absurdity of replay: “We’re doing offsides like it’s a photo finish at Woodbine Race Track.” …  FoxSports 1’s Colin Cowherd concurred, comparing a cleat coming an inch off the bag and getting tagged out to getting a speeding ticket for going one mile over the limit. “It’s a double!” he screamed.  … Florida fans will have to live with last week’s two-point loss to Texas A&M. A Tampa radio station added it up and found the cost of dumping coach Jim McElwain and his staff would be $15 million. … Tennessee hasn’t scored a touchdown since its Sept. 23 game against UMass. The Vols are 34-point underdogs today in Alabama. The Crimson Tide has a 71-game unbeaten streak against unranked opponents. …  NBC Sports Boston’s Tony Massarotti on Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, et al.,: “If they weren’t wearing pinstripes, people here would be rooting for them. They are an easy team to like.” …  Don’t Bogart that Sign: Drivers in the high country have swiped so many “Mile Marker 420” signs that the Montana Highway Department has resorted to painting the number onto the highway. … Gotta love Nick Saban’s take on the negative impact the media has on his players: “All that stuff you write, it’s like taking poison… Like rat poison.” … Dartmouth (5-0) rebounded from a 21-0 deficit to beat Yale, 28-27, before 8,117 fans on Homecoming in Hanover last week. It was the biggest comeback in the Big Green’s history, and it sets the stage for today’s battle of unbeatens against Columbia (5-0). … The LA Kings are 5-0-1 with Jonathan Quick back between the pipes. …  Mark Durant’s Vegas Golden Knights are 5-0-1. His team MVP:  “James Neal, but Marc-Andre Fleury is a close second.” He also noted that former BC forward Alex Tuch scored goals in each of his first two games after being recalled from the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. … It was another steroid-free year of baseball. A reporter once asked Rickey Henderson if 50 percent of all ballplayers used steroids. “Well (I’m) not one of them,” he claimed, “so that’s 49 percent right there.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.