2015 was a pretty good year to be a follower of New England’s sports teams. Especially if you’re a fan of the New England Patriots.
Thanks to Tom Brady overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit and Malcom Butler etching himself into New England sports lore with a game-saving interception, the Patriots won their fourth Lombardi Trophy in 13 years, defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24.
The Boston Celtics managed to squeak into the playoffs in spite of not having any game-changing superstars, and played tough despite getting swept in the first round by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The year was not as great for the University of Maine hockey team, the Boston Bruins or the Boston Celtics.
The UMaine hockey team struggled to a 10th-place finish in Hockey East and fell in the first round to Vermont, losing the final game in overtime. The Bruins faltered at the end of the year and missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The Red Sox finished in last place in the American League East for the third time in four years, the one exception being a smoke-and-mirrors World Series triumph in 2013.
A New Year always equals a fresh start, whether it be in fitness, sports, or anything in general. We all make New Years Resolutions, and I’m certain the coaches of all of these teams thought long and hard about theirs. Here is what the coaches of the Black Bears, Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics should hope for in 2016:
For University of Maine hockey coach Red Gendron: A couple of signature wins, some snipers and some speed.
The Black Bears are struggling once again this year, and sit at 4-11-4 and are in a dismal 11th place in the 12-team Hockey East. Maine looked punchless in its most recent defeat, a 7-0 shellacking to rival New Hampshire, the Black Bears’ worst loss since 1997.
We all knew Maine was going to be offensively challenged this year with Devin Shore and Ben Hutton departing to sign with the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks, respectively. The Bears have only registered 35 goals through 19 games, an average of 1.84 goals per game. That’s not going to get the job done.
Gendron has been recruiting bigger defensemen since he arrived in Orono in 2013, but he should hope for some quickness in the future, along with a sniper. There is hope in the pipeline as three members of Maine’s 2016 recruiting class were selected in the NHL Draft last summer. Only two members of the current Maine roster, sophomore Nolan Vesey and junior Blaine Byron, are NHL draft picks.
While Maine has struggled this year, the Black Bears should hope for a surprising upset of a top-tier team at some pointha in the second half of this season. That may signal to the rest of the country and to Hockey East that the program is turning around, and that’s what the Alfond Arena faithful deserve.
For New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick: A clean bill of health.
The Patriots are in prime position to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs should they beat last-place Miami to close out the regular season. New England has been riddled with injuries to key players such as Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Legarrette Blount, Sebastian Vollmer and Rob Gronkowski. All those players have missed at least one game this year due to injury, and Lewis, Blount and Solder are all on injured reserve.
But the two constants are Belichick and Brady. As long as the latter is healthy, the Patriots will be the favorite in the AFC. The other quarterbacks currently in the AFC playoffs: Brock Osweiler, Alex Smith, A.J. McCarron, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Weeden. Of those five, only Smith has won a postseason game.
Edelman, Amendola and Vollmer will all be back for the playoffs, and Gronkowski is fine after bruising his knee in a loss to Denver. When healthy, the Patriots are the best team in football. They just need to take care of business on Sunday.
For Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens: A game-changing superstar.
There’s no question the Celtics are among one of the more balanced-scoring and top defensive teams in the NBA, but they don’t have that go-to player they can count on in the fourth quarter of a postseason game against the likes of Golden State, Cleveland or Chicago. Fortunately, Danny Ainge has enough flexibility in terms of draft picks to make a move in the second half of the season. Let’s see what Trader Dan has up his sleeve.
For Boston Red Sox Manager John Farrell: One more quality starting pitcher.
First of all, Red Sox Nation is blessed that Farrell has a clean bill of health after battling cancer last season.
Dave Dombrowski has put a big stamp on the Sox this offseason, improving the bullpen with the acquisition of Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, which will put former closer Koji Uehara into the setup role. But his biggest move was the signing of ace David Price to a 7-year deal. It’s clear the Sox are going all in this year in search of their fourth World Series championship since 2004. Ohh, and this also marks the final season for franchise icon David Ortiz.
While the Sox finally have their ace in Price, the guys in the middle of the rotation will have to step up. Can Clay Buchholz stay healthy? Can Rick Porcello rebound after an inconsistent 2015? That’s what Farrell needs to hope for if the Red Sox are going to return to October baseball.
For Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien: Consistency.
I don’t know what to make of this Bruins team aside from the fact that they are streaky. One night, they look like a Stanley Cup contender, and the next night they look like a last-place team.
The Bruins got off to a shaky start, found some consistency in November and December but looked listless in a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium. The loss is the most lopsided in the history of the annual New Years Day outdoor classic, which started in 2008.
If the Bruins are going to make a postseason run, the blue liners need to be more consistent in front of Tuukka Rask. Rask also has to find a way to be mentally right against the Canadiens, whom he has struggled against his entire career. Should the Bruins make the playoffs, they will probably see Montreal.
Happy New Year!