The 2009-10 Massachusetts hockey team was a unit with an identity.
Offensively, UMass was at its best when on the power play and feeding the puck to James Marcou and Casey Wellman. Those two elite scorers were the focal point of the Minutemen offense as well as opposing defenses.
Marcou and Wellman had monster seasons, putting up 51 and 45 points apiece, respectively. Behind them, defensemen Justin Braun (31 points) and Matt Irwin (24 points) would come up to the offensive end to help production, particularly on the power play. Those things, coupled with the breakout season of Will Ortiz (26 points), encompassed the bulk of the Mass Attack on offense.
Those top-five point-producers from last season, however, are long gone.
Now, UMass coach Don Cahoon must find a way to make up for the loss of Marcou’s passing wizardry, Wellman’s offensive rush, Irwin’s slapshots and Ortiz’ speed. That, along with the countless things Braun and forward and former captain Brett Watson did on both ends of the ice.
When addressing the team’s new approach to offense, Cahoon used a term that’s going to be used quite often this season: “by committee.”
While the Minutemen lost point-scorers one-through-five, they retained five-through-nine and a solid amount of experienced depth behind them. They also bring in 13 freshmen this season, who are going to do a whole lot of growing up, whether they’re ready or not.
Heading into the season, the Mass Attack is not going to have any “stars.” There’s no one player that’s going to keep coaches up late at night. No one knows who’s going to step up and score on a particular night.
That, however, is UMass’ strength.
While Cahoon loses his top scoring threats from last season, those losses open up the options of what he can do on offense. He does retain his fourth, fifth and sixth-ranking scorers last season in T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs and Michael Marcou, who made their roles quite apparent, making the three the team’s assistant captains.
Their role, however, will not involve trying to replace what the team lost. Instead, their focus will be to incorporate as many other players in the offense as possible. This means incorporating sophomores Rocco Carzo and Darren Rowe in the offense more than they were during their freshmen seasons. It means making sure senior forwards Mark Concannon, Mike Lecomte and Brian Keane get to use their experience. Most importantly, though, it’ll mean that freshmen forwards Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, Eric Filiou, Conor Allen and others get their looks on the offensive end.
While the new infusion of forwards will set the pace on the offensive end, Cahoon preaches a “five-man offense, five-man defense” philosophy that features a lot of movement on the ice. While the Minutemen lost Braun and Martin Nolet, they retain a solid group of blue-liners that make up for their lack of size with a wide skill set.
No longer “the other Marcou,” Michael Marcou will take the A on his jersey that his brother wore last year and lead a defensive unit that will put the emphasis on putting pressure into the offensive zone. Marcou, along with Rowe, who have already put up three points apiece this season, bring the ability to perform on both ends of the ice to make up for the size that the unit lost with Braun and Nolet.
The key for the defense, though, will be in maintaining communication and working within Cahoon’s philosophy of working both ends of the ice along with rookies Anthony Raiola, Colin Shea and the 6-foot-6 Adam Phillips.
The chances of the Minutemen producing a Hobey Baker Award winner aren’t great this season. Goalkeeper Paul Dainton is the closest thing the Minutemen have to a star on the roster. But on the flipside, the huge class of freshmen and attitude of the team has done wonders in the locker room.
The team’s leaders have noticed a change from the sometimes-cliquey atmosphere that has existed in the past. Such a thing is easier when the spotlight’s nice and wide like it is right now. It works for Cahoon, who says he’s going into this season with whatever guys emerge as his top 20.
NHL prospects for the Minutemen are down this season. However, it may help them focus on their prospects in the Hockey East.
Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.