Time for a New Voice at UMass – The BF’s 3 Pronged Plan For Success in Amherst

The Modern era of UMass hockey has only been in existence at the D1 level since the program was reinstated in 1993. Toot Cahoon took over the reins from Joe Mallen (57-135-18) in 2000 and other than a few outlier success stories, a trip to the 2004 HE finals and an NCAA  berth in 2006-2007, the program has been a perennial non contender in Hockey East throughout its existence. A quick perusing of the programs timeline infers one thing; UMass is no longer in its infancy or even adolescent stage (approaching two decades). The training wheels came off when Joe Mallen’s contract was not renewed at the conclusion of the 1999 season and the adolescent years under Toot Cahoon have failed to elevate UMass hockey into adulthood.

Despite almost 20 years as a full fledged D1 program, the UMass hockey program may have hit the proverbial “rock bottom” this past weekend after an uninspired sweep at the hands of Hyphen University – aka UMass – Lowell. The reason this one hurts so badly is because it came at the hands of a school in the UMass system; albeit a satellite school. In a broader sense, Lowell has vastly outperformed its flagship in Amherst over the past 10-15 years which should exasperate the disdain of every devout UMass hockey fan. To put this in perspective on a national scope, it’s analogous to UNC- Asheville out dueling UNC or Western Michigan routinely out-recruiting, out- coaching and out – heralding the University of Michigan. Any sane, lucid collegiate sports fan would declare this preposterous; the rare exception, however, is the beaten down UMass hockey fans who have seemingly accepted their fate of mediocrity.

It is not solely the sweep at the hands of Lowell that spurs my “rock bottom” proclamation but more importantly the fact that this loss pretty much assures that the Minuteman will once again be relegated to, at best, a first round victim for one of the top HE programs. It is also evident that UMass is completely rudderless and that coach Toot Cahoon’s voice is clearly falling on deaf ears. Much like the football program’s shrewd hire of Charley Molnar, UMass hockey needs a new voice that will excite the stagnant fan base with the fervor and ingenuity that Amherst deserves.

Back before UMass reinstated their program, a Massachusetts’s blue chip hockey recruit had two rather fundamental decisions to make when committing to play in a top tier college hockey program. If you were intent on playing for a ‘rural’ university, you chose Maine or UNH. If your style and aspirations matched that of an urban school, you simply signed a letter of intent to suit up for either BC or BU. Given the history and success of all four of those programs they have created their own legacy and still to this very day, attract the elite recruits from New England and beyond.

Hockey East schools without the storied tradition will perpetually face this dubious recruiting battle (which includes recruiting against Beanpot participants). This doesn’t mean that the lesser knowns will not be able to achieve success and create their own legacy; it just makes it difficult to sustain a high level of success over a long period of time. UMass must find a way to create their own history and be in the discussion when a recruit is considering the ‘rural’ more traditional universities like UNH and Maine.

Where does UMass go from here?

The Beanpot Forum has layed out a three pronged plan for the future of UMass Hockey

1) Find a new voice

First and foremost, UMass must find a new voice for their program as its clear this current team has “tuned out Toot”. They lack discipline and structure, evidenced by their uncanny knack for taking untimely penalties (393 PIM’s this year, most in crucial moments) and lack the ability to finish of opponents in the 3rd period. I am not taking a myopic view of the coaching staff and basing my feelings purely on last weekend; it is on a macro scale, the lack of success over the last 10 plus years of this coaching regime that is the root of the issue.

Other than the “diamonds in the rough” that Cahoon has reeled in, namely Jonathan Quick and Tomas Pock, his recruiting has been lackluster and inconsistent at best. What makes this even more frustrating is that other lesser known institutions like Union (ECAC) and Merrimack for example have been able to out-recruit UMass in recent years (Merrimack by a considerable margin).

A flagship university with the history and acclaim of UMass should by default out recruit the likes of Merrimack, Lowell, Providence and perhaps Vermont. In an era of college sports where parity reigns supreme in most college sports; programs like Boise State (Football) and Butler (Basketball) have leveled the playing field so to speak with the big boys of their respective sports. Meanwhile, Toot resides at the helm of arguably the most

Butler coach Brad Stevens

influential state university in New England, in the S.E.C. of college hockey, and yet despite all of these resources, still can’t out duel the likes of Merrimack, Lowell and Providence. To reference a Slapshot reference from the illustrious Denny Lemieux, Toot must “Feel Shame”!!!

A 2009 article from the Inside College Hockey web site details the recruiting progress and overall philosophy Cahoon has used since he arrived in Amherst in the spring of 2000. The coach is described as being overtly “ambitious” and details Cahoon’s “history of postseason success” during his stint with Princeton. This begs the question as we stand here today, what happened to that ambitious stalwart whose BU pedigree would lead UMass into the upper echelons of Hockey East?

It’s truly amazing what a fresh perspective will do for a stagnant program. There are several new faces behind the benches in Hockey East this season as Norm Basin (UMass-Lowell), Jim Madigan (Northeastern) and Nate Leaman (PC) have all been called upon to rejuvenate their respective programs. Interestingly enough, Leaman was brought in because of the success he had at Union where he transformed the Dutchmen into a national contender in 2010-2011 despite not having 1 scholarship to offer out.

Providence athletic director, Bob Driscoll had this to say about Leaman after he accepted the PC offer.

“I also coached at Union and I knew what he did there, given the fact they had no scholarships, was really, really special,’’ said Driscoll. “I had him at the top of my list for a number of reasons. But because of the fact I knew he had built something from scratch and the way he recruits and just how he conducts his business, I thought he was a perfect fit for Providence.”

UMass needs someone out of Leaman’s ilk, a builder who can turn even the obscure and largely irrelevant Union Dutchmen into an NCAA contender. Imagine what Leaman could do with the resources available at a vast institution like UMass.

2) Start small – Win the recruiting battles against the less prolific HE programs

I am not under the false allusion that UMass, with the addition of a more progressive, new coach would instantaneously morph into a revered program that could compete annually with the likes of BU or BC. Blue chip recruits with ties to the Boston area will inherently have an affinity towards the Beanpot schools in Boston or perhaps the more rural, traditional powers in Northern New England in Maine and UNH.

A flagship university with the history and grand feel of UMass should by default out recruit the likes of Merrimack, Lowell, Providence and perhaps Vermont. UMass has the facilities, the vast campus which has a frenetic, big-time collegiate energy level to it that these lesser know HE school’s simply can’t match. The Mullin’s Center, although not a state of the art facility, is a top notch athletic facility that despite its cavernous nature is far superior to the facilities of a Providence or Merrimack for example.

 Toot Cahoon’s statement (about UMass as a whole) to Dick Baker of the Springfield Republican in October of 2010 seems contradictory to his own recruiting efforts:

“I think the institution by its very nature is attractive because it has so many offerings. Amherst is arguably one of the great college towns in the country. So, I mean, we should be growing this program.”

Yeah, exactly…and you still have the program mired in a decade long slump despite being home to one of the great college towns in America. The fact that any recruit would walk into Lawler arena or even step foot in the city of Lowell and subsequently sign a letter of intent to play at either of these programs over UMass speaks to Cahoon’s weak recruiting acumen. If UMass can start small and simply outperform the bottom tier programs in Hockey East under the next regime that would be a good starting point in my humble opinion.

Alter the Recruiting Target Market

If you look at the success of the nontraditional Hockey East powers throughout the history of the league, there is one key element that all of these programs posess. In order to create a perennial powerhouse that attracts blue chip recruits, a school like UMass must FIRST create a winning culture. Recruiting prowess is predicated on sustained success that leads to program recognition.

In order to create a sustained winning environment at UMass, they must divert their focus away from Massachusetts and find pipelines and relevant connections in Canada and abroad. Northeastern found a small window of success in the 1980’s largely because Fern Flaman’s staff had a pipeline of sorts that was able to attract several French Canadian players to Huntington Avenue. UMass has a significant advantage in that the academic standards are considered less stringent than say BC or Harvard; this gives UMass the leeway it needs to take a chance on some fringe Canadian or even European players it desperately needs to reinvigorate the program.

I understand that in New England, it can be tough for public universities to attract the top prep school recruits because of the stigma that these elite circles can sometimes attach to public universities. I argue that prolonged athletic success can erase this stigma much like the schools of the Big Ten, for example, have done. Michigan and Wisconsin do not have this so ill fated reputation because each of these universities has thriving athletic programs and famed alumni that enhance the reputation of the institution.

Norm Bazin at UMass Lowell and his predecessors before him, including current UMass assistant Blaise McDonald, have turned to the non New England recruiting grounds in order to gain a competitive advantage. Bazin had this to say in a recent interview with the Sun blog that is spot on:

“You have to find your niche,” explained Bazin, a Canadian native and Lowell alumnus. “There are kids around Boston who are always going to look at BC and BU first because they get most of the exposure. We have done very well in the past exploiting areas that many others aren’t active in, and I think we will be strong in those areas. And we will compete for the odd, high-profile kid outside the region.”

UMass needs to examine the blue print created by programs like Maine for example which exploited the Canadian markets in the 1980’s and 90’s in order to gain some momentum. Patrice Tardif, Paul Kariya, Jean Yves-Roy are all prolific names that put the Black Bears on the map. Once a program is considered elite, then, and only then will the blue chip recruits come ‘a knockin.

Build the program through non-traditional channels and the local blue chip recruits will come.

John Calipari took the same approach in his early years at UMass as he broached nontraditional markets and took some chances on low risk, high reward recruits. Marcus Camby (Hartford, CT) had a checkered background and players like Camby and Lou Roe help put the Minutemen on the map at that time. Only after that successful period would blue chip Massachusetts recruits like Monty Mack and Jonathan Depina (Jeremiah E. Burke) enroll at their state university.

I repeat, build the program through non-traditional channels and the local blue chip recruits will come.

Esteemed UMass blogger and NESN contributor, Fear The Triangle, wrote a very telling piece a few weeks ago detailing the home state of every player hockey player that has ever called UMass home. What I found incriminating was the fact that 70 of the 173 players available in the database, were from Massachusetts. We all know that the only Massachusetts players UMass attracts are second tier at best which is why I am urging the next UMass regime to reduce the percentage of home grown players by a considerable margin. Since 1993, UMass has only been able to lure 16 players from the hockey hotbed of Ontario where the concentration of talent is immense. Not every one of these Ontario natives ends up in the OHL, there has to be some residual talent to pick from in this region. These Canadian kids have no sentiment whatsoever towards the Beanpot and largely hail from rural, farming communities…hmmmm, sounds very similar to the rural landscape surrounding a town called Amherst.

If we look at the top echelon of the Hockey East standings this year, you will of course see the traditional powers BC and BU; and you will also see a few surprises in Merrimack and UMass-Lowell. Let’s examine the rosters of the latter schools and see what correlation we can find.

UMass Lowell:

1 Marc Boulanger So  G 6-0

185

21 Olds, AB / Olds Grizzlys (AJHL)
2 Malcolm Lyles Jr  D 5-10

181

21 Miami Garden, FL / Vernon Vipers (BCHL)
3 Chad Ruhwedel So  D 5-11

180

21 San Diego, CA / Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
4 Tim Corcoran Sr  D 6-1

190

23 Milton, MA / Bay State Breakers (EJHL)
5 Derek McCoy So  F 6-1

200

21 Newburyport, MA / Valley Jr. Warriors (EJHL)
6 Daniel Furlong So  D 5-11

180

20 Stoneham, MA / Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
7 Shayne Thompson So  F 5-11

190

22 Stittsville, ON / Brockville Braves (CJHL)
8 Colin Wright Jr  D 6-0

186

22 Burlington, ON / Burlington Cougars (OPJHL)
9 Terrence Wallin Fr  F 6-0

180

19 Yardley, PA / The Gunnery
10 David Vallorani Sr  F 5-8

180

22 Hamilton, ON / Milton Ice Hawks (OPJHL)
11 Stephen Buco Fr  F 5-8

175

21 North Providence, RI / Boston Bulldogs (AJHL)
12 Josh Holmstrom So  F 6-0

175

22 Colorado Springs, CO / Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
14 Joseph Pendenza So  F 5-11

190

21 Wilmington, MA / Boston Jr. Bruins (EJHL)
15 William Eiserman Fr  D 6-0

200

19 West Newbury, MA / Tri-City Storm (USHL)
16 Riley Wetmore Jr  F 6-0

195

22 Swanton, VT / Green Mountain (EJHL)
17 Matt Ferreira Sr  F 5-11

178

23 Brampton, ON / Brampton Capitals (OPJHL)
18 Michael Budd Sr  F 6-0

187

22 Burlington, ON / Burlington Cougars (OPJHL)
19 Mike Conderman Fr  F 5-9

165

20 Rochester, NY / Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
21 Dmitry Sinitsyn Fr  D 6-2

200

17 Moscow, Russia / Dallas Stars U-16
23 Scott Wilson (PIT) Fr  F 6-0

173

19 Oakville, ON / Georgetown Raiders (OJHL)
24 Micki Mihailovich Fr  D 6-0

175

21 Westland, MI / Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
26 Tyler Brickler Fr  F 6-0

185

21 Riverwoods, IL / Westside Warriors (BCHL)
27 Zack Kamrass Fr  D 5-11

185

21 Atlanta, GA / Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
28 Jake Suter Fr  D 6-0

200

21 Flambeau, WI / Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
29 Derek Arnold So  F 5-8

165

21 Foxboro, MA / Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
30 Brian Robbins Fr  G 6-0

170

20 Scotrun, PA / Capital District (EJHL)
31 Doug Carr So  G 6-2

200

22 Hanover, MA / Cornwall Colts (CJHL)

Merrimack:

2 Mike Wills Fr  D 6-0

195

21 Oakwood, ON / Lindsay (OJHL)
3 Kyle Bigos (EDM) Jr  D 6-5

235

22 Upland, CA / Vernon (BCHL)
4 Jordan Heywood So  D 6-0

195

21 Regina, SK / Victoria (BCHL)
5 Simon Demers Sr  D 6-0

195

24 St. Etienne de Lauzon, QC / Sherbrooke (LHJAQ)
6 Tom McCarthy So  D 6-0

175

22 Maple Grove, MN / Bismarck (NAHL)
7 Karl Stollery Sr  D 5-11

170

24 Camrose, AB / Camrose (AJHL)
8 John Heffernan Jr  F 6-2

200

22 Scituate, MA / Bridgewater (ECHL)
9 Carter Madsen Sr  F 5-11

168

23 Calgary, AB / Okotoks (AJHL)
10 Quinn Gould Fr  F 6-3

195

21 Fort McMurray, AB / Westside (BCHL)
11 Elliott Sheen Sr  F 5-9

168

23 Lethbridge, AB / Okotoks (AJHL)
12 Brandon Brodhag Jr  F 6-0

190

23 Brooklyn Park, MN / North Iowa (NAHL)
13 Mike Collins So  F 6-1

185

21 Boston, MA / Vernon (BCHL)
14 Kyle Singleton Fr  F 6-2

190

21 Beaverton, OR / Westside (BCHL)
16 Jesse Todd Sr  F 6-2

190

24 Calgary, AB / Camrose (AJHL)
17 Shawn Bates So  F 5-9

175

22 Fort Saskatchewan, AB / Bonnyville (AJHL)
19 Rhett Bly So  F 5-10

185

22 Regina, SK / Weyburn (SJHL)
20 Ryan Flanigan Sr  F 6-0

175

23 Rochester, NY / Baystate (EJHL)
21 Clayton Jardine Fr  F 5-10

170

20 Lacombe, AB / Camrose (AJHL)
22 Brendan Ellis So  D 6-2

210

23 Kelowna, BC / Westside (BCHL)
23 Josh Myers Fr  F 5-11

175

21 Colorado Springs, CO / Langley (BCHL)
25 Connor Toomey Fr  F 5-11

175

21 Billerica, MA / New Hampshire (EJHL)
26 Dan Kolomatis Fr  D 6-0

170

20 Basking Ridge, NJ / Tri-City (USHL)
27 Justin Mansfield Fr  F 6-0

205

21 Arlington, MA / Junior Bruins (EJHL)
28 Jeff Velleca Sr  F 6-1

195

24 Waterbury, CT / New Hampshire (EJHL)
29 Nick Drew Jr  G 5-7

165

21 Andover, MA / Tilton Academy
30 Sam Marotta So  G 6-4

200

21 Bridgewater, MA / South Shore (EJHL)
32 Rasmus Tirronen Fr  G 6-3

200

21 Espoo, Finland / Topeka (NAHL)
35 Joe Cannata (VAN) Sr  G 6-1

200

22 Wakefield, MA / U.S. Under-18 Team

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine the correlation between the success of Merrimack and Lowell this year. Both rosters are littered with players of Canadian, and in some cases European descent. Both Lowell and Merrimack are astute enough to realize that their respective programs must reach beyond the provincial Massachusetts region in order to bring in the talent necessary to compete in Hockey East. Lowell currently has 8 non- Americans including 1 Russian on the 2012 roster while Merrimack has 13 non-American skaters.

Merrimack, under the leadership of another former member of the UMass-Amherst coaching staff, Mark Dennehy, has done a superb job of exploiting nontraditional markets in the last few years. Their most notable recruit was without a doubt, Stephane Da Costa, who Dennehy stole from the hockey rich city of Paris, France.

I am excited at the prospect of UMass hockey finding that “new voice” and initiating the complete paradigm shift the program so desperately needs. My hope is that the panache we have seen in the early days of the Charley Molnar project will through osmosis have an affect on the recruiting efforts of the hockey program. UMass basketball and football are seemingly on the rise, it is time for the hockey program to get a fresh start as well.

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5 Responses to Time for a New Voice at UMass – The BF’s 3 Pronged Plan For Success in Amherst

  1. Great post — still digesting it.

    • beanpotforum says:

      I just reached a point where I needed to get my angst down on paper. This program is not where it should be at this point on the timeline. I follow you on Twitter and look forward to the Football and Hoops information. Please give me a follow on Twitter @beanpot_forum

  2. R. R. says:

    OMG There is finally a voice not blind the obvious facts that have been apparent for so long.
    Maybe the tide will swing and we can move on from the apologists of the current program and regain some excitement for Umass hockey. Toot played his role of elevating the program from 9th to 7th but it’s time to aspire for 5th. As a former LONG time season ticket holder I look forward to rejoining the fray under new leadership and not sit home under protest. I don’t feel I’m alone.

  3. R. R. says:

    Northeastern……another tough example of the interesting and frustrating characteristics of this team. I think the Providence game next weekend goes along way in determining their playoff fate.
    Can home ice advantage save them. The beat goes on……..

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