It’s true when people say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Despite talented – and still progressing – individuals that performed in big moments this 2011-12 season, the entire Massachusetts hockey program took a big step forward in the right direction.
Seniors T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs and Michael Marcou were unquestionably the leadership, talent and examples to follow for the rest of the team.
However, with those three departing along with senior Kevin Moore – a veteran goaltender who stayed on with the program for four years as an example for younger players – it’s time for the talented underclassmen to take the reigns going forward.
“We made a big step in the last month,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon following Saturday night’s 3-2 loss against No. 1-seeded Boston College, a game that ended UMass’ season.
The Eagles (27-10-1) grabbed a 2-1 victory the previous night in the best-of-three opening round series, advancing to the Hockey East Semifinals.
“There’s no guarantee, but it’s a building block,” said Cahoon of the team’s gritty performance down the stretch of the regular season, earning them a No. 8-seed in the conference tournament.
The seniors leave behind a program that won 13 games this year, more than double the amount from the 2010-11 season in which UMass won only six games.
“You couldn’t ask any more from three guys,” said Cahoon of Syner, Hobbs and Marcou. “[They provided] the leadership that we really needed with 20 freshmen and sophomores. We spent a lot of time from last spring, right through this year trying to package this team so it would play the way we’ve played over this last month.”
There are a number of underclassmen that made big-time plays in big-time moments over the course of this season.
The most notable may be sophomore forward Conor Sheary. Sheary bursted onto the college hockey scene, scoring eight goals and notching 25 points in conference play, nearly averaging a point per contest (0.93 points per game in 27 games).
Sheary often tag-teamed on the same line with fellow sophomore Michael Pereira, who made great strides in his overall game this season.
Known as a goal scorer who netted a team-high 12 goals his freshman year, Pereira followed it up with 17 goals and 34 points this season. His most notable outings came against Bentley (Oct. 14, 2011) and Providence College (Feb. 11) in which he recorded hat tricks.
Sophomores Joe Hanley (seven goals, plus-12 plus-minus differential), Branden Gracel (seven goals, 21 points), Troy Powers (nine points) and Conor Allen (14 points, hat trick against Holy Cross on Nov. 11) also helped the Minutemen take a step forward this season.
Above any other position on the team that required time and patience to find a comparable replacement, goaltending was the most difficult for Cahoon. Considering a four-year starter in Paul Dainton departed at the end of the last season, Cahoon ran with three different players, trying to find one guy that could take hold of the starting job and call it his own.
In the end, the result was that all three guys have just as good of a shot at gaining the starting role next season as they did going into this one.
Sophomore Jeff Teglia, who saw time in 2010-11 with an injured Dainton, saw time this year. However, freshmen Kevin Boyle and Steve Mastalerz saw just as much time between the pipes, helping UMass to wins over top-ranked BC and Boston University, as well as other key victories.
Despite the constant game-by-game rotation in net, the experience of playing in the toughest hockey conference in the country should pay dividends going forward.
“Hopefully, [the performance we got from a lot of contributors] will be a stepping stone of how we play into the future,” said Cahoon.
So, despite the departure of key cornerstones of the program, new cornerstones have been slowly carved out and molded over the last two-plus seasons, and that should help the Minutemen going forward as they fight to get back to an elite status among the nation’s best.
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.