Hockey East Preview – UMass Amherst Minuteman

By Joe Nolan

Head Coach: John Micheletto

Last Season: 12-19-3 Overall (9-16-2, 9th in HE, 1-2 vs. NU)

Losses: Rocco Carzo F, Conor Allen D, Kevin Boyle G

Additions: Brennan Baxandall D, Ben Gallacher D, Mac Haight G, Marc Hetnik D, Steven Iacobellis F, Ray Pigozzi F, *Frank Vatrano F, Brandon Wahlin F, Alex Wakaluk G

*Vatrano, a transfer from BC, will not be eligible to play during the regular season.

Mediocrity plagued the Minutemen in 2012-13 and they capped their season by going 2-7-1 in their last 10, missing the final playoff spot by 2 points. While the team tended to play with good speed and occasionally scored some upset wins, inconsistency prevented them from having any kind of sustained success. The team ranked No. 6 in Hockey East for overall offense (2.74 G/GM) and No. 8 for overall defense (3.00 G/GM). A group of talented forwards were the team’s biggest strength, most of whom return this season. Senior Branden Gracel led the team in scoring with 34 points, followed by classmates Conor Sheary (27pts) and Michael Pereira (26pts). It is worth noting also that Gracel was the best faceoff man in Hockey East, winning at a rate of 59.5%. The trio aim to again be one of the league’s most dangerous lines. Unfortunately, the team loses its next two best scorers; forward Rocco Carzo to graduation, and top defensemen Conor Allen a year early to join the New York Rangers organization. While the first line is expected to produce consistently, role players and newcomers will have to step up for scoring depth to not be an issue.

There was some uncertainty before the 2012-13 season as John Micheletto was hired in mid July, signaling an abrupt transition period with the new season less than three months away. The assumption is that better preparedness will lead to better results, since he now has his first recruiting class and done some personnel tinkering, including bringing in new assistant coach Ryan Miller. A notable change is the dismissal of goalie Kevin Boyle. Boyle and classmate Steven Mastalerz split time last season (8-10-2, .897%, 2.73GAA vs. 4-8-1, .898, 2.96, respectively), but Mastalerz’s stronger second half must have earned him the coach’s confidence. Two rookies will challenge the junior net-minder, with Alex Wakaluk seeming to have the more impressive resume. The bottom line is that the Minutemen’s biggest concern entering this season is their lack of a proven, reliable goaltender.

UMass-Amherst has already played two games, losing to both BU and UMass-Lowell, and showed more of the same issues as last season. They lost the first game despite out-shooting BU 40-24. Mastalerz earned both starts, but allowed a combined 7 goals on 57 shots. On the plus side, the second line of freshmen Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi with junior Troy Power showed their potential and claimed 2 of the team’s 3 goals on the weekend. To win this season, the team will need to find regular contributions on offense and consistent effort all around, at least until the goaltending situation solidifies. Otherwise, it will be a long year for the Minutemen.