The Massachusetts men’s hockey team lost pivotal players from their offense last year. T.J. Syner, a junior forward from Springfield, Mass. hopes to be a spark for the Minutemen, having skated with and learned from two of the top players in the nation.
James Marcou and Casey Wellman accounted for 96 of the entire team’s 289 points last year. Marcou had 40 assists, easily the highest on the UMass roster, while Wellman led the Minutemen with 23 goals, 10 more than his nearest teammate.
“You’re talking about [two of] the best offensive players in college hockey,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “Marcou led the nation in assists per game and Wellman was the leading goal scorer in the country for much of last season and ended up in the top 10 percentage of goal scorers throughout the year.”
Syner played with Marcou and Wellman along the forward line last year and saw his two teammates tally much of the team’s statistics. Now he is ready to step his game up and be a catalyst for the offense.
“This year, I will try to shoot more,” Syner said. “Playing with Marcou and Wellman last year, it was kind of just race around getting the puck; give it to them and getting open. But this year I’m trying to create our offense a little bit more by shooting the puck and creating opportunities for my other two linemates.”
Syner has taken a team-high 11 shots this year and is tied with sophomore Darren Rowe with a team-high two goals in just three games into the season. Last season, Syner had seven goals, tied with two other players for sixth on the team in goal scoring.
“That’s one thing I’ve spoken about with my coaches, just getting a little more confident around the net,” Syner said. “If a play is not there, don’t force it, [rather] throw it on net and try to create something off of it. I think it’s worked out pretty well so far.”
“[Syner] is one of the top performers in the league and that makes him one of the top Division I players in the country,” Cahoon said. “His [next] step to make is with the bottom line production, his ability to score a few more goals over the course of the year than he has in the recent past.”
While Cahoon anticipates Syner’s goal scoring statistic to jump, he knows that what Marcou and Wellman cannot be replaced. However, Cahoon considers the value that Syner offers in other areas of the game to be equally important.
“He’s been a great performer for us, but he hasn’t had the tag of ‘goal scorer’ or the responsibility of being one of our most productive players,” Cahoon said. “[While Marcou and Wellman] were putting up big numbers, he was making a nice contribution and probably doing a lot of the grunt work quite frankly.”
This grunt work means executing the little nuances of the game that get unnoticed: the back checking, the fore checking and getting on loose pucks. That aspect of the game does not get credited on the back stat sheet but can be just as important.
So far this season, Syner has almost one-third of his total goals from last year. His three points in three games is well on pace to double his 13 total points from a season ago.
Now, as an upperclassman on the forward line, Syner is hoping to make his own mark by the end of the season.
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.