January 11, 2006
Minutemen Discover Winnning Formula

By Jeff Howe

 Hockey East Notebook

UMass defenseman Marvin Degon is the Hockey East Player of the Week.

National TV Schedule

The 1-7 start to the season was, to put it nicely, less than desirable for the Massachusetts Minutemen, especially when they were moving into 2005-06 with a clean slate and trying to put the tumultuous 13-win season from a year ago behind them.

They were heading into a Nov. 12 matchup against Boston University with a six-game slide that weighed on their shoulders as though it was the 28-story UMass campus library, and the two weeks ahead didn’t look any more comforting. Dates with Vermont, Colorado College and Denver were looming.

But that is where the story changed. A 4-2 win over BU launched a three-game winning streak, and after the home-and-home sweep of Merrimack last weekend, the Minutemen have put together a 7-4 mark since Nov. 12, including a 5-2 record against Hockey East competition. In two months, UMass has made the leap from being a last-place squad to holding a four-point edge for seventh place and sitting just four points behind Maine for fourth place.

UMass senior captain Marvin Degon, who was named Hockey East Player of the Week for scoring four goals and adding two assists this weekend, has figured out the reason for the turnaround.

“I think our team has really figured out what our identity is,” Degon said. “We’re a grinding team. We’re going to get into the corners, and we’re going to beat you down low. I think it’s really important because the sooner your team figures out what your concept is, the better you’re going to be down the stretch, so I think we’re going to be alright.”

With the mix of tougher, physical players like Degon, Topher Bevis and Stephen Werner and smaller, finesse players like Matt Anderson, Chris Davis and P.J. Fenton, the Minutemen need to be grinders in order to mesh the group’s talent together to pick up victories.

“It shows us that we have to be a grinding team at this point,” Degon said. “That’s our strength. There have been spurts this season of us playing really well at that type of game. But in some of the games that we have lost, we have gotten away from what we were taught and what our coaches were trying to tell us what our strengths were.”

Degon’s four weekend goals vaulted him to the top of the Hockey East list for goal-scoring defensemen with seven lamplighters, and his 16 points have him one point shy of former Cushing Academy teammate and UNH blueliner Brian Yandle for the league lead. And speaking of former teammates, Degon’s hat trick in Saturday night’s 4-1 victory means that he is only the second Hockey East defenseman in the last eight years to score three goals in a game. The other is former Minuteman and current New York Ranger Thomas Pöck, who did so against Providence on Jan. 5, 2003.

“I think more important [than the accolades] is that I was able to contribute enough to help our team win this weekend,” Degon said. “Granted, I scored a few times, but the team realized at the same time that we can score goals now. I think it’s really important that myself, Stephen Werner and Matty Anderson step up these next couple weeks to keep this going. We’ve won three games in a row, and we should go on a pretty good run here and take a shot at getting home-ice advantage in the playoffs.”


Swan Song – Maybe the headline should instead read, “What Won’t Be Seen and Heard In Hockey East”. Last week, the popular Ram Jam rock song “Black Betty” was blackballed at UNH games since the NAACP contacted athletic director Marty Scarano to address concerns that its lyrics were offensive.

A staple at the Whittemore Center since 1993, when Robert McGary was put in charge of redesigning the arena’s soundtrack, “Black Betty” was a huge fan favorite, and it was played before the start of the second and third periods when the Wildcats skated onto the ice among countless other times throughout the course of games.

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Maine at Boston University (Fri.-Sat.)
In the series of the weekend, Maine travels south to Boston University for a pair on Friday and Saturday. The Black Bears hold a one-point edge on BU for fourth place in the Hockey East standings, which is significant because the No. 4 seed in the playoffs hosts the three-game series with the No. 5 seed in the first round. While defending their home ice for the two-game set is important for the Terriers’ swagger, it is more vital that they take at least three points because they have already played two more league games than Maine.

While You’re There: After the game on Saturday night, find a sports bar (Boston has one or two) and check out the scene while some of the craziest fans in football root for their New England Patriots, who take on the Denver Broncos at 8 p.m. in the AFC Divisional Round.

Stick Salute

UNH forward Josh Ciocco may have found a true calling if this hockey thing doesn’t quite work out. Ciocco and NESN hooked up for an intermission segment during last week's Vermont-New Hampshire game. Ciocco let viewers into his off-campus crib, where he showed off things like the kitchen, or “the cleanest room in the house”, teammate Brett Hemingway’s “Jungle of Love” and his Honda, which he dubbed as “the fastest car on campus.”

Bench Minor

Northeastern has been shut out four times this season, the most times the Huskies have been blanked since 1970-71. They have been outscored 67-37 in 18 games this year and are averaging a smidge more than two goals per game. Thus, the Huskies have still gone winless since Nov. 11.

But that will be no more; not in Durham and maybe not anywhere else in the other nine Hockey East venues, as league commissioner Joe Bertagna sent a letter to the rest of the schools’ athletic directors asking them to halt the music, too.

While a majority of hockey fans and music lovers alike have no idea what “Black Betty” is even about, the NAACP believes the lyrics are offensive since they talk about a black prostitute who finds herself getting pregnant. And this was enough for Scarano to remove the song from the PA system’s jukebox, as to not start a public battle with the NAACP similar to that of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb’s battle with the group just last month.

As Ram Jam once wrote, “The damn thing gone wild.”


• UNH bench boss Richard Umile coached in his 600th game on Friday night, a 2-1 victory over Vermont. Now in his 16th season as Wildcat coach, Umile boasts a 364-180-58 record.

• Maine easily swept aside Lowell this weekend by a combined score of 10-2, and the couplet of victories extend the Black Bears’ winning streak over the River Hawks to nine games. Maine outscored Lowell 19-4 this season, 12-3 in last year’s first-round sweep in the Hockey East playoffs and 47-14 over the nine-game stretch.

• Boston University has followed each of its last three losses with four-goal victories, including this past weekend’s 4-0 shutout of Northeastern the night after a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Friars.

• In a battle between two teams tied at the top of the league standings on Saturday night, Boston College flexed its muscle and brushed aside Providence 4-1. It was just the first home loss of the season for PC in its 20th game. Last season, the Friars dropped their first home game on Nov. 5, 2004, in their sixth contest of the year.

• Merrimack’s Bryan Schmidt needs just one goal to tie Mike Boyce’s program record of 32 goals by a defenseman.

• Nineteen of Merrimack’s 37 goals this year have come via the power play, and Matt Johnson’s 10 power-play goals are tied for the national lead.

• UMass’ home-and-home sweep of Merrimack marked the team’s first home-and-home sweep since Nov. 7-8, 2003, against none other than Merrimack.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.