Hockey East Preview – University of Massachusetts Minutemen

By: Dan McLoone

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Head Coach: John Micheletto (4th Season)

Last Season: 11-23-2 (HE: 5-16-1, 12th Place)

Departures: F Emerson Auvenshine, D Mike Busillo, F Steven Guzzo, F Zach LaRue, G Steve Mastalerz, F Troy Power, D Oleg Yevenko, F Frank Vatrano, D Brandon Montour

Newcomers: F Ryan Badger, D Carmine Buono, D Ivan Chukarov, D Callum Fryer, F Kurt Keats, D William Lagesson, F Austin Plevy, G Nic Renyard, F Joseph Widmar

The Minutemen are taking baby steps back into Hockey East relevance. Micheletto’s squad improved winning three more games than last season, including one more in Hockey East. While the last place finish in the conference put a damper on the cause for celebration, the team knows that it is moving in the right direction. Now in the second year of the 12-team alignment, Micheletto will look to keep the ball rolling and avoid another finish in the cellar.

The biggest fix for the Minutemen will be figuring out a way to give up less goals. Massachusetts allowed 4.22 goals per game in 2014-2015, the worst total in the nation. Goalie Steve Mastalerz has graduated, but sophomore Henry Dill filled in well in the games that Mastalerz missed. While Dill may have the edge to start, incoming freshman Nic Renyard could push him and earn some starts. The netminder was named the MVP of the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season, leading the Okotoks Oilers to a 30-8-3 record with a .924 save percentage.

In front of the net, the Minutemen lost Mike Busillo, the hulking 6’7” Oleg Yevenko, and Anaheim Ducks pick Brandon Montour, who finished second on the team in assists despite only playing 21 games in his freshman campaign. Despite this, Florida Panthers pick Ben Gallacher returns for his senior season and is the heart of the Minutemen defense. Other significant returnees are sophomore Jake Horton and juniors Marc Hetnik and Brennan Baxandall. Buffalo Sabres draft pick Ivan Chukarov  and Edmonton Oilers pick William Lagesson will be expected to log big minutes in his freshman year, as will big defender Callum Fryer.

On the other side of the blue line, the Minutemen return six of their top seven scorers from last season, with the exception of Frank Vatrano, who led the team with 18 goals last season. Junior captain Steven Iacobellis, who finished third in scoring with 24 points will return and look to take another step forward this season. Sophomore Dennis Kravchenko put together a phenomenal freshman year with 10 goals and 23 assists, good for tops on the team.  Sophomore Patrick Lee, junior Ray Pigozzi and senior Shane Walsh round out the top returning attackers. Returning most of their offensive production will ease the pressure on the incoming freshmen. Still, Kurt Keats, Ryan Badger and Merrimack transfer Austin Plevy will look to contribute right away.

Bottom Line: The biggest positive for the Minutemen is that they return a  good portion of their offense from last season. With a talented crop of incoming freshmen joining the incumbents, the attack will look to net more than the 99 goals they scored last season, but will certainly feel the loss of Vatrano. If UMass wants to move up the standings, however, they will have to figure out their defensive issues first and foremost. Losing Yevenko and Montour hurts, but if either Dill or Renyard can step up in net, the Minutemen could pull a few upsets. While they could improve on their 5-win campaign in Hockey East last year, it is hard to envision Micheletto’s team finishing higher than 11th.

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