College hockey: The Mass Attack continues

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College hockey: The Mass Attack continues

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

On Wednesday night, UMass lost to Bentley, 4-1, in the UConn Toyota Classic. Give credit to the Minutemen that this game is considered an upset.

After being annually eclipsed by the big dogs in Hockey East -- BU, BC, UNH, Vermont, Maine -- UMass is stepping up as a force to be reckoned with. But the Minutement aren't content to compete only within the conference. On the national scene, just No. 5 Boston College and No. 12 UMass Lowell outrank the currently 15th-rated Minutemen among Hockey East teams.

This isn't UMass' first taste of hockey success. Massachusetts reached the Hockey East semifinals in 2003, the finals in 2004, and won a game in the NCAA tournament in 2007. But what this year's 11-6-0 record represents is the continued progress of an oft-overshadowed Hockey East program.

Doubters, and there are many, wait for the bottom to drop out. The Minutemen have come out of the gate quickly before, but usually suffer a post-holiday fadeout. When they went on a three game skid between Nov. 28 and Dec. 5, detractors assumed it was simply the same old story. So a Dec. 12 match up against Merrimack consequently became a must-win situation.

And win they did. Maybe proving the pessimists wrong helped to keep that fire roaring. Whatever the motivation, senior Will Ortiz embodied the chip on their collective shoulders, playing with purpose and scoring two goals. Sophomores Casey Wellman and T.J. Snyer were similarly inspired as both fought to find the back of the net. That game was meant to make a statement: Don't count out the Minutemen just yet.

They scored with the man advantage and they scored shorthanded. They were determined not to hit the winter break under the expectations of inevitable failure.

Such dogged resolution is what sets this UMass squad apart from those that have come before it.

We have good guys here, and good senior leaders who understand the game, fourth-year defenseman Martin Nolet said. Were pretty much all set that way."

This maturity and vision can be seen in an improved offense. After finishing 26th in the country last season with 2.87 goals per game, scoring has risen to a fifth-best 3.53. Junior forward James Marcou has a Division I-best tie 30 points on 5 goals and an astounding 25 assists.

Receiving plenty of Marcou's passes is Wellman, the nation's number two goal-scorer. He was the one who ignited The Mass Attack when facing a 3-1 deficit against No. 18 Union in the first round of the UConn Classic on Dec. 23.

"We weren't too happy with the first two periods. They out-battled us, and they outshot us," Wellman said. "The second intermission we came back and discussed what we had to do, and we executed it.

Wellmans first goal set that tempo. His second, at 15:21, sparked the comeback

So what about wednesday nights loss to Bentley? The final score doesnt tell the story. The teams entered the third period tied 1-1, and to say the Minutement outplayed the Falcons would be an understatement; they had a 43-16 edge in shots on goal.

But even a good team can outperform an opponent and lose. The important point to keep in mind is that UMass is indeed a good team.

The national ranking will likely suffer because of the loss, and the schedule doesn't get any easier: A matchup with defending national champion (though currently struggling) Boston University on Saturday, followed by a visit to Hockey East leader UNH next week.

Just dont wait for that fadeout. Whether people believe in The Mass Attack or not, its coming. And every season its a little more dangerous.

Red Sox will re-assess Rodriguez's progress after rehab start

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Red Sox will re-assess Rodriguez's progress after rehab start

CHICAGO -- Eduardo Rodriguez's return to the Red Sox rotation is going to take a little while longer.

Rodriguez will make at least one more rehab start for Pawtucket Sunday before the Red Sox re-assess his progress.

There had been some thought that Rodriguez would need only two outings on his rehab assignment. But the decision was made Wednesday to give him at least one more.

Rodriguez had a good outing for Pawtucket Tuesday night, allowing three runs on five hits in six innings of work.

All three runs came in the first inning, after which he showed improvement. "From the second to the sixth innings,'' said Farrell, "they were probably more crisp, more sharp. Looking for that to continue to advance."

Rodriguez, too, said he felt better than he did the first time out, when he allowed three runs in just 3 2/3 innings.

"I feel more control of the ball,'' he said. "I feel more comfortable throwing the ball in the game. Physically, I feel fine. I just see how everything goes every day like bullpens, running and everything. I just want to get back as fast as I can. But I want to get back 100 percent, I don't want to get back at 70 percent and go out there and don't do like I normally do."

Rodriguez, of course, has missed the first month of the season after tweaking his knee at the beginning of spring training.

"The first start I made in Pawtucket,'' recalled Rodriguez, ''I was thinking too much on my knee. Every pitch I'm throwing, I'm thinking like 'Don't push too much,' but (Tuesday) night it was every pitch I'm throwing just thinking of the game and not my knee."

After throwing 84 pitches Tuesday night, the Red Sox want him to get his pitch count over 90 in his next outing.

''I think with each outing he's getting, he's gaining more confidence and feeling more maybe natural and free on the mound," Farrell said.

 

Ainge: 'This offseason is bigger' than others for Celtics

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Ainge: 'This offseason is bigger' than others for Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. – There was very little sizzle in the moves made by Boston during last season, one in which they were hoping would be a summer full of basketball fireworks.

Well the bar is once again set relatively high for the Celtics this offseason, one in which the chances of making an impact, fireworks-worthy deal appear to be even better now than they were a year ago.

The Celtics have Brooklyn’s first-round pick in next month’s draft that has a 15.6 percent chance of being the top overall selection, and will be no worse than the sixth overall pick.

That’s just the first of eight picks for the Celtics in next month’s draft.

Boston has the potential to shed enough salary to offer a pair of near-max contracts to free agents this summer.

“We look forward to every offseason,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “This offseason is bigger. My expectations are high this offseason. And yet I also know that it takes good fortune.”

There’s the NBA draft lottery later this month.

“We need some ping-pong balls to bounce our way, give us the best opportunity,” Ainge said.

The Celtics own Brooklyn’s first-round pick courtesy of the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trade with Brooklyn in 2013. That pick will be no worse than the sixth overall selection this season but has a 15.6 percent chance of being the top overall selection.

“Whether we use that pick, trade that pick and … in free agency we have opportunities. That’s all we have,” Ainge said. “We have no guarantees of great things happening. We have a lot of hope. We have a lot of work ahead of us. We have to have Plan A through Z; usually it’s A through G.”