March 14, 2007
UMass's Anderson Savoring Every Minute

By Jeff Howe

Hockey East

UMass senior forward Matt Anderson.

National TV Schedule

It’s been four years since Matt Anderson has taken a lap at the Boston Garden. To him, it’s seemed like nearly two lifetimes.

The UMass redshirt senior captain, of course, will be taking the Garden ice Friday at 5 p.m. against Hockey East regular-season champion New Hampshire in the conference semifinals. The program appears to be on its way to its first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the Minutemen will be vying to win their first Hockey East title — two things Anderson has dreamed to accomplish during his days in Amherst.

The ultimate team player and a true extension of the coaching staff, Anderson would never want this weekend to be about him, especially while UMass is making its bid to rise to national prominence. But, this weekend is about Anderson in so many ways.

When he last touched the Garden sheet in the 2003 Hockey East semifinals, he admitted he was barely skating at 75 percent. Anderson suffered a shoulder injury during the first game of UMass’ quarterfinal sweep of Maine in Orono a week before, sat out Game 2, but played when the Minutemen fell to UNH, 5-4.
His shoulder was surgically repaired during the offseason, and he redshirted in 2003-04. When the Minutemen marched to their only appearance in the Hockey East championship, falling to Maine in a 2-1, triple-overtime heartbreaker in the longest contest in league history — Anderson was relegated to street clothes along with the other 17,000 fans in the building.

So, here he is, back on the big stage and ready for a bit of redemption.

It’s been anything but easy for Anderson over the last five seasons. After tallying 10 goals and 21 assists in his freshman season, he appeared to be heading down a path of tremendous success before he was derailed by that tough shoulder injury.

When he finally returned in 2004-05, he joined a team that was a mere shell of its former self, stripped of its two leading scorers — Thomas Pöck and Greg Mauldin. Their two-year run toward the top of Hockey East was over, and the rebuilding process recommenced.

The same could eventually be said for Anderson. On Dec. 9, 2004, Anderson was tagged along the boards during a 4-0 loss to the Wildcats at the Whittemore Center. His right ankle buckled awkwardly beneath him, shattering in the process.

Hockey East
Semifinal Capsules

No. 1 New Hampshire
29-6-3 (21-4-3 HEA)

Wildcat note: Kevin Regan became the first Hockey East goalie to shut out his opponent in two games of a quarterfinal sweep. He stopped 84 shots he faced in the sweep of Providence.

How UNH wins: The simple turnaround in last weekend’s sweep? “Goaltending,” coach Richard Umile said. It’s likely the team with the best goalie wins this weekend’s championship, and it shouldn’t be any different for the Wildcats, regardless of how proficient their offense may be.

No. 2 Boston College
Record: 24-11-1 (18-8-1 HEA)

Eagle note: Cory Schneider broke BC’s all-time shutout record by blanking Northeastern last Friday. Schneider’s 14th shutout topped Scott Clemmensen’s old mark of 13.

How BC wins: The Eagles have won a eight straight games and 10 of their last 11. Of course, that lone loss was against BU in the Beanpot final, but BC would probably take its chances with that exact same effort Friday night. The Eagles don’t need to change the way they’ve played over the last month; just control the tempo like they did in their last meeting with the Terriers, continue to pepper John Curry and pray he doesn’t stand on his head again.

No. 3 Boston University
Record: 20-8-9 (13-6-8 HEA)

Terrier note: Brandon Yip is the only player in Hockey East history to score two OT goals in conference playoff action. He tallied the extra-session winner in Game 3 against Vermont last weekend, and lit the lamp in last year’s championship victory over Boston College.

How BU wins: The Terriers seem to relish playing in the Garden, winning six in a row and eight of their last nine. They’ll need another heroic effort from John Curry to beat BC Friday night — or an epiphany from the offense, whichever comes first. The Terriers have scored 17 goals in their last seven games, and have only reached the four-goal plateau four times in their last 18 contests.

No. 4 Massachusetts
Record: 20-11-5 (15-9-3 HEA)

Minutemen note: UMass is riding a six-game winning streak, the second longest active mark in the country. This is also the third trip the Minutemen have made to the Hockey East semifinals, and they have played UNH each of those appearances (1-1).

How UMass wins: The Minutemen have found a few ways to win over their last six games, and not all of them have revolved around budding superstar Jon Quick. UMass has outscored its opponents 23-11 during the streak. It has come from behind four times and led wire-to-wire twice. The offense is getting production from all four lines, and the defense closes in quickly in front of their sophomore netminder. Scary thing is, as coach Don Cahoon said last weekend, the Minutemen aren’t even playing their best hockey of the year despite the results.

He spent nearly a year and a half of rehabilitating his shoulder, all for just 18 games. For a hockey player, a member of the coaching staff, a regular fan of hockey or anyone with a pulse, it just didn’t seem fair.

But again, Anderson came back.

“I just think it’s a terrific testament to his will to stick to it, and his ability to just be resilient overall because it’s been a challenge for Matt, emotionally as well as physically,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to have two injuries that almost become career threatening. The second one, the ankle injury, it really looked like at one point in time that he would never skate again.”

It took him awhile to get back into a groove. He showed brief flashes of his former self last season, scoring 20 points for a UMass team that finished in eighth place in Hockey East before being swept by Boston University in the quarterfinals.
Things were different this season, though. He wasn’t looked upon to be the team’s prime offensive option. While he was still trying to find his way on the ice, he didn’t have the constant spotlight on him. When his line didn’t produce last year, the Minutemen tended to struggle. This year, there are four balanced lines.

As UMass has heated up, though, so has its captain. After notching 13 points in his first 29 games, Anderson has scored four goals and two assists during the six-game winning streak.

“For him to battle through and end up bringing his game back to the level it is at right now is really a great thing for all of us to watch because it wasn’t easy,” Cahoon said. “He challenged himself, and it really wasn’t until the last month or so to being the Matt Anderson of old — making plays, having fun out there, not squeezing the stick so hard and making it difficult on himself, but really enjoying every moment and being the good hockey player that he is.”

Anderson especially enjoyed last weekend’s sweep of the Black Bears at the Mullins Center in front of a record crowd for a two-game quarterfinal series. Even better, he skated one last time in front of the largest crowd (8,062) to ever witness a Hockey East quarterfinal game.

He didn’t let any of it pass him by, either. During the second intermission, he took one last slow lap around his home ice, gazing up at the crowd and taking every bit of it in.

“I knew this was going to be my last shot and my last game here,” Anderson said. “I really took advantage of it. It’s just so cool. It’s an opportunity few people get to experience.

“It’s pretty special to walk out in front of 8,000 people. In between the first and second period, I walked out a little late, and that’s what you think about at night when you’re dreaming — the crowd going crazy as you come out on the ice. It’s a pretty special feeling.”

A complete turnaround from back-to-back eighth-place finishes, this season has been the most consistent put forth by UMass since entering Hockey East in 1994-95. The Minutemen won 20 games at the Division I level for the first time in school history.

It’s all been a part of the process.

“When you’re having some success, there is a lot more positive energy,” Anderson said. “But, if you’ve only had success in your life, you wouldn’t appreciate it. When you’re down and out, that’s what makes you who you are. What makes us really appreciate what we’re doing around here is the tough times. That is what life is about, how you bounce back from whatever it may be. If everything was roses all the time, you wouldn’t appreciate it.”

And, when it’s all said and done, Anderson knows he’ll appreciate every moment he spent in Amherst. There aren’t any cries for what could have been, no pity requests while he was shelved with a pair of devastating injuries, and no complaining when the team wasn’t winning. He just hopes he helped start something that will last well beyond this one season.

“I hope that some people can follow in our footsteps,” he began, “to have the same opportunity that I did.”

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jeff Howe can be reached at