ALBANY — Based on cherry-picking specific years, UMass hasn’t necessarily “always been a tough game,” as UAlbany head coach Scott Marr asserted this past weekend.
After all, the Great Danes scored 25 goals on UMass in 2014.
But it has been a tough game for UAlbany recently.
And it promised to be so again on Tuesday, even before UAlbany was slapped with one-game suspensions to three players for a fight that happened against Binghamton on Saturday.
UAlbany has played a non-conference game against the Minutemen every season since the program moved to the Division I level in 2001, with Marr as head coach for that entire stretch.
The Great Danes enjoyed a six-year winning streak from 2013-18, during which UAlbany outscored UMass 102-48, a dominating average of 17-8 that was actually skewed in the other direction a little bit by a 10-9 UAlbany win in 2015.
The last two seasons have been a different story, though, and UMass has responded well to a long delay to its 2021 season with convincing wins in the last two weeks. So a strong UAlbany team coming off a convincing win of its own is bracing for a difficult assignment against the No. 13 Minutemen at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Fallon Field.
“UMass has played us every year since the inception of Division I [at UAlbany],” Marr said by phone on the ride back from the Great Danes’ 19-7 win at Binghamton on Saturday.
“This is the longest-running rivalry that we actually have. It’s always a tough game. UMass is very similar to us, a blue-collar-type team, a state school, so we’re ready for a battle. I think they’re coming in and out of quarantine and have played only a couple games, but they’ll be ready to play.”
Following the altercation that occurred with eight minutes left in the UAlbany-Binghamton game on Saturday, the conference said it had “conducted a thorough review of the incident, including an examination of available video and officiating reports along with discussions with the league’s Coordinator of Officials and administrators from both institutions.”
The review led to a two-game suspension to Binghamton’s Nicholas Imburgia, and one-game suspensions to UAlbany’s leading scorer, Tehoka Nanticoke, junior defenseman Elijah Gash and Steve Ramirez, along with Binghamton’s Patrick Murad, Jarrett Piccione, Kyle Tiernan and Max Verch.
In a text on Monday night, Marr said he had no comment and was “still processing what has transpired.”
UMass beat UAlbany 14-8 in 2019, and 17-12 last year. The Great Danes’ Tehoka Nanticoke, who passed the career 100-goal mark on Saturday, has done well against the Minutemen, with 13 goals and four assists since 2018.
Once UMass was able to actually get a game this season, the Minutemen proved to be ready to play.
They beat Fairfield 13-9 on March 14, outscoring the Stags 7-3 in the second half, and beat Drexel, which has garnered some votes in the USILA coaches poll, 13-7 on Saturday.
UMass was scheduled to start the 2021 season on Feb. 23, but had its first four games postponed, including this one against UAlbany, which originally was to have been played on March 9.
After wondering whether they’d even have a season, the Great Danes aren’t about to have any gripe with a quick turnaround from Saturday to Tuesday.
“For us, it’s kind of one of those games where we’ll take [Sunday] off and do treatment, then we’ll do a quick scouting report on Monday and just go out and play. They’ll [UMass] do the same thing,” Marr said.
“It’s kind of one of those games where we roll the ball out and see how we do. But I love getting the quick turnaround and having another chance to play a good team.”
Despite the positive signs from the win at Binghamton, Marr said the Great Danes are still trying to find some continuity and cohesiveness on offense, a process that typically would take place with extended preseason work, including scrimmages, but has been stalled by pandemic-related schedule disruptions.
“I think we’re untapped offensively, and 19 goals [against Binghamton] is great, but we can play better,” he said.
“We played as a team and stuck up for each other. You started to see that team chemistry that these guys really want to play for each other and do the right things, like moving the ball and being unselfish. You’re still trying to find an identity, but we’re working hard at it. I love the team, I really do.”