A Big Leap

Ryan Thomas

These are things that the University of Minnesota has to deal with, not UMass Boston. At least that’s how assistant head coach Jeff Pellegrini sees it.

When UMass Boston’s leading scorer, and arguably their best player, Adam Larrabee, left to go play professional hockey in Finland mid-season, assistant coach Jeff Pellegrini likened it to something a Division I program like the University of Minnesota would have to deal with.

Just days prior to the Cod Fish Bowl, Pellegrini said that Larrabee came into the hockey office and told both him and head coach Pete Belisle that he couldn’t practice that day. “We were both like, ‘What happened?'” Pellegrini remembers saying to his young star. Larrabee went on to tell Jeff and Pete that he signed a contract to play hockey in Finland and that he was leaving the twenty-eighth of December. “So that was that,” Pellegrini explained.

Adam thought long and hard about his decision to leave the Beacons mid-season, but he finally made up his mind. “I … wanted to tell [the coaching staff] before I told the whole team because he [head coach Pete Belisle] was very good to me for the time I was there,” Larrabee said in an e-mail interview.

Pellegrini’s primary job is to scout and recruit players just like Adam Larrabee. So when one of his recruits decided to pack up and play else where, he said that his first reaction was shock. “[After that, it] was, ‘How could he do this to the team?’ Then, you know, you have to live with the decision, be happy for him.”

And live with it the Beacons did. In their first two games without Larrabee, the Beacons won the Cod Fish Bowl for the first time in 11 years, beating Suffolk University in the first round and Fitchburg State College in overtime to capture the championship. Belisle couldn’t have been happier with the outcome in the face of adversity. “[Larrabee’s departure] was disappointing, but I was so proud of our guys; we played our best hockey without him.”

Larrabee explained that he doesn’t have regrets, other than leaving his team mid-season. “It was probably what made my decision most difficult,” he said. Aside from the cultural adjustment period, Larrabee says he’s happy with his decision and he wishes his old team the best. “The team is a great bunch of guys and I know they will do great things.”

In the eight games Larrabee was with the team, he scored five goals (two on the power play) and assisted on six others.

What made Adam such a great player, Pellegrini says, was that he was “an offensive player on the ice every shift” and that he provided a legitimate scoring threat every shift. Since Larrabee has left, other players Jeff has recruited have stepped up both their game and their on-ice intensity.

In the games following his departure, the Beacons tried to put his decision behind them and just play good hockey, which they did. After seven games without Larrabee, the Beacons were 5-2. They were playing better without one of their best players.

The difference was clear early on. After Adam left the team, players started skating with more intensity, attacking the net with increased fervor, and they understood that in order for the team to win, they needed to become more aggressive offensively. Two guys who have made much of the difference, and made the clock known as the men’s hockey team tick, are Eric Tufman and recently-anointed captain Kris Kranzky.

“Eric Tufman has taken that scoring-threat-every-shift mentality,” Pellegrini explains. “And obviously Kris Kranzky, every shift [as well].” In the games since Larrabee left, Kranzky has a 12-game point streak and Tufman has recorded a point in 10 of those games. Oddly enough, the man with the big shot has become the facilitator, collecting 12 assists over that span, while Tufman has scored 10 goals, seven of them on the power play.

Kranzky knows that Larrabee leaving created a void, but he sees his teammates stepping up. “Dennis [Zak] and [Vinnie] Jacona have been playing real well lately. They’ve really picked it up lately. They’re real talented goal scorers, but first half of the season, they just couldn’t find the back of the net. Now they’re starting to pick it up.”

Life without Adam Larrabee hasn’t been bad, but it could be better with him still there. Could he have helped out during the team’s recent four-game losing streak? “I don’t know,” says Kranzky. “I’m sure he would have helped with a couple goals here and there.”

The Varkaus Eagles, the team that Larrabee is playing for in Finland, announced the signing December 11 in a press release on their website. Keith McAdams, the Eagles’ head coach said in the release that he was excited to add a player with a work ethic like Larrabee’s. “The Eagles need more players like Larrabee who will work hard on offense and defense. Adam has been a strong leader and a scorer on every club he has played on,” McAdams said.

Larrabee knows that it will be hard for him to adjust to a new culture and type of hockey, but says he’s up to the task. “The competition out here … [is] much harder than Division III college hockey. The guys out here are much stronger and move the puck incredibly well. It is definitely a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I feel like I am adjusting well to the level of play.”

Larrabee has only appeared in one game so far for the Eagles, but don’t expect that trend to continue. “I’m sure he’s gonna do very well in Finland because wherever he is, he’ll thrive,” Pellegrini says.