When the Massachusetts hockey season started on October 12th I was just happy to be able to think about hockey. After a tumultuous offseason it was great to finally see the team on the ice and stop worrying about everything that preceded. But while the season had some nice highs and achievements I think it’s safe to say that as a whole it was a disappointment. While I don’t think anyone expected this team to compete for home ice in the conference or even make a run at an NCAA berth, it was a pretty veteran club that didn’t lose a ton from the year before. I think it was a reasonable expectation that the team would at least match the results of the year before when they finished 8th in the league or even improve somewhat as the talented sophomore class became juniors and goaltenders Kevin Boyle and Stephen Mastalerz had a year experience under their belt. But that didn’t happen. Instead the team had less wins than last year and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02, the year before they made their first visit to the Garden. As many know, UMass hockey fans don’t have a lot of success or tradition to embrace, but it was sad to see that playoff streak end. Especially since next year with the addition of Notre Dame all teams will be part of the playoffs in true “everybody gets a participation trophy” form.
By The Numbers
If you’ve read this blog for four months or four years you know that I enjoy crunching numbers. So I want to start with that as they may help add context to what follows. UMass was 12-19-3 this year, 9-16-2 in Hockey East, finishing 9th with 20 points. Last year they had one extra win on the season at 13-18-5, and did slightly better in Hockey East with a 9-14-4 record finishing tied for 8th with 22 points. The team’s schedule strength was ranked slightly higher than average, 24th, according to the RPI model. However for much of the early part of the season UMass had one of the hardest schedules in the country.
Though coach Micheletto talked about implementing an up tempo style, and in watching the team this did seem to be the case, scoring was actually down dramatically from last year. This season the Minutemen scored 2.74 goals per game, good for 6th in the conference. Last year they scored nearly a half a goal more at 3.17, which was 5th. What’s interesting is shots on goal increased from 30.9 to 32.0 this year, but scoring decreased. The power play was up very slightly converting at 18.5% versus 18.2% last year. However relative to the rest of the league this was a big improvement as the team had the 3rd best power play versus 6th best last year.
Defensively the team improved from allowing 3.28 goal last year, 9th in the league, to 3.00 even, tied with Northeastern for 8th. On the penalty kill is where UMass made maybe their best improvement, from killing 76.1% of chances last year to 82.9% this year. That allowed the Minutemen to jump from the 9th best kill last year to 6th best this season. Honestly, there were times where the PK absolutely carried this team and I think the staff and players deserve a lot of credit for turning the PK into a true asset this year. The last time UMass had a penalty kill above 80% was 2008-09. It also didn’t hurt that UMass reduced their penalties in minutes per game to 12.9, 3rd best in the league, from over 14 minutes where they had been in recent years.
If you’re going to put together an ideal schedule for a new coaching staff who, due to circumstances out of their control, got a late start and had to acclimate a veteran group of players while getting used to new facilities and support staff, the 2012-13 UMass schedule probably wasn’t it. It started well enough with a 4-1 over what has ended up being a pretty decent UConn team. But after that it was just an unfair gauntlet that coach Micheletto had to face. From the opener until the traditional Turkey Tuesday Tilt against Vermont UMass would have to play Boston College, Boston University, BU again, New Hampshire, BC again, Providence, Maine, and Lowell. The team actually had a good showing against those teams going 3-5-1 including the game against UVM. That included an overtime loss against BC, handing UNH their first loss of the season, and a dominating 4-0 win over Providence.
On Thanksgiving the team was a respectable 4-5-1 despite the tough schedule. That weekend they would tie a Quinnipiac team who, unbeknownst to us then, was early into a streak that saw them go 21 games without losing and eventually afford them the top ranking in the country. After that game though UMass started to really struggle. They split a series with Northeastern and got shutout by Chris Rawlings at home in the process. The next weekend was one of the worst of the season, getting completely dominated at home by Colgate, a team that would finish second to last in the ECAC. A final lackluster effort at Yale would bring to close the first half of the season with the Minutemen compiling a 5-9-2 record and finishing on a 1-4-1 stretch.
Winter break seemed to rejuvenate the team though as they beat Bemidji State and host Dartmouth to capture the Ledyard Classic Championship on New Year’s Eve. The win marked just the second time UMass had won an in-season tournament, the other being the 2007 Lightning College Classic. Dartmouth was one of the hottest teams in the country at that time, ranked #8 in the country and having only two losses to their name at that point. This was also when it was apparent that Branden Gracel was having a very special season.
But, the team would jump back into Hockey East play in January and would pretty much be Jeckyll and Hyde for the entire month. They followed up their huge tournament championship by getting swept in a home and home by Providence, with a jetlagged Jon Gilles getting both wins including a shutout on the Saturday despite just returning from his time overseas at the World Junior Championships. The team would follow up that disappointing weekend by beating #2 Boston College at Chestnut Hill for the first time since 2007. UMass desperately needed to find a way to sweep a struggling Vermont team in Burlington if they wanted to remain in the battle for home ice. The Catamounts came into the weekend on a four game losing streak and had just lost 4-2 to a Penn State program in their first year as a DI hockey program. The Minutemen would take the first game but Vermont would battle back to split the weekend series and a frustrating January ended that way.
Februarys have not been kind to Massachusetts hockey but the month started out well this year with a 5-1 win over #11 BU. After that the shortest, but cruelest month returned to form and UMass would drop a game to Merrimack, get swept in a home and home by Lowell, and even lose a midweek makeup game to Northeastern, twice giving up leads. The team was now 9-16-3 and quickly fading from the Hockey East playoff picture. They had a chance to get a big leg up on Maine though with the Black Bears coming into Amherst for two games. But they could only manage a split and Maine remained well within reach of the final playoff spot. In the final two weekends UMass would need some serious points in their consecutive weekend series against UNH and Merrimack but could manage just three. Maine on the other hand did not lose in their final four games, picking up six points, and securing 8th place with a game to spare. In the end the Minutemen could muster up one last charge, if only for pride and a chance to send the seniors off with a win, and dominate Merrimack in a 3-0 win to close out the 2012-13 season.
A few thoughts on each player’s performance this season, alphabetically:
I thought Allen was consistently one of the best UMass players on the ice this season and even one of the better defenseman in the conference. Defensively, he was easily the best player for UMass. He more than doubled his blocked shots from last year from 24 to a team high 57. He doubled his assists from last year, from 7 to 14, and added 5 goals of his own. Looking ahead to next year people are going to talk a lot about Mike Pereira and Branden Gracel returning, but Allen is just as important to next year’s squad as those two.
Auvenshine had the bad luck of suffering a concussion in this year’s exhibition game that prevented him from playing early on in the season. He did end up coming back to play in one game in February, but that was it for him. It’s unknown how much of him not playing was injury and how much was coach’s decision. Safe to say his place on the team next year is a question mark.
Boyle played roughly the same amount of time as he did his freshman year and with roughly the same results. He did lower his GAA from 3.00 to 2.73 but his wins (8) were identical and save percentage (.897) nearly the same. He was definitely the go to goaltender for the first half of the season, some of that due to Steve Mastalerz being injured, but played intermittently from January on with mixed results. Though he did have probably his best game during that time, a 37 save loss at Merrimack. If UMass wants to improve next year the team will need one of the goaltenders to step up significantly. Like he did last year, Boyle will have his chance to grab the starting spot.
Busillo played a lot like he did in limited action last year. Probably a little smarter. He’s not the type who is going to wow you with his play. He’s not really athletically gifted so he instead has to use his head and make sure he’s in the right position. And I thought he did that regularly and considered him one of the top six defensemen on the team. Unfortunately the coaching staff did not and regularly substituted others in his place. I thought this was a mistake. Busillo ends the year with the highest plus/minus for UMass defensemen and third best on the team with +5. He had a respectable 26 blocked shots in only 20 games played. And most importantly the team was 10-8-2 when he dressed and just 2-11-1 when he didn’t. Those numbers are striking. Without a doubt I think Busillo should play every game next season. Will he? Who knows.
I’ve already written a lot about Rocco in my Senior post as well as my Awards post, so there’s not a lot more to say. Flat out, Carzo gave the team quality two-way play consistently throughout the season. His nine goals equaled the amount he scored in the three prior years combined. Three of the goals came on the power play where he saw extensive time. He scored on 12% of his shots. His performance definitely exceeded my expectations going into the season.
”Holyoke” played hard and played a grinder type role well, just as he has for the prior three seasons. His eight points were a career high and he had some key assists during the season against tough opponents. His 14 blocked shots were more than he had in the prior three seasons combined. Czepiel delivered exactly the type of performance that was needed from him this season.
DeAngelo had a strange season. Basically the odd man out among forwards, he played just six games in the first half of the season after playing 23 total the year before. But halfway through the season he made the transition to defense, not something you usually see from a 5’7” player mid-season. To his credit he didn’t look totally out of place back there. It was definitely apparent at times that he was still learning the position and he did have some breakdowns, but at the same time I wouldn’t say he was a liability out there. With an offseason where he can continue to work on the blueline, it’ll be interesting to see what he’s able to do in his new position next year.
Filiou was a regular player in the first half of the season but was injured during midseason. He came back for a couple games at Vermont but then was reportedly a healthy scratch for the balance of the season. Filiou would end with just a goal and assist in 16 games, down from 2 goals and 5 assists the year before. It’s unknown what kind of role he may play in his senior year.
It’s safe to say Gracel was the team’s MVP this year. The numbers speak for themselves. He led the team in goals (14), assists (20), plus/minus (+7), game winning goals (3), and shots (104). His total points were 6th best among Hockey East players and he was 9th in goal scoring. His 59.5% faceoff winning percentage was technically second in the conference behind UNH’s John Henrion, Gracel was at the dot 682 times compared to Henrion’s 153. Gracel’s 406 faceoff wins was 10th best in the country. Gracel’s season was spectacular and sets him up for a big senior year.
Guzzo had a bit of a sophomore slump. After scoring 10 goals to go with 10 assists in his redshirt freshman year, he managed just 5 goals and 9 assists this past season. He did not score a goal at all in the last 11 games he played. One bright spot was that he did improve on already good faceoff numbers, winning 53.9% of chances. But overall fans will hope to see him rebound offensively next year.
I think at the end of last season or at the beginning of this one I predicted that Hanley was on the verge of being an All-Conference defenseman. That didn’t happen. Hanley’s play was one of the major disappointments on the season for me. Defensively he did not look as sharp as past years. His production was down, scoring two less goals than last year and registering nine less points. And he uncharacteristically took some really bad penalties, getting two misconducts on the year. I’m not sure if he is having problems adjusting to a new style of play or what, but it’d be great to see him return to the level of play seen in his sophomore year.
Kiley really started to play some good, smart hockey in the second half of the 2011-12 season and by the end of the year was a key player on the team. But despite playing more games this past season, he never really looked comfortable out on the ice and wasn’t nearly as much of a presence this past year. His offensive output was cut to just one goal and three assists after scoring four goals to go with four assists last year. His plus/minus dropped from +2 to –6 as well. It’d be good to see him return to form as an agitator with some offense next year.
LaRue didn’t do much his freshman year with just a single assist on the season and it looked like it was going to be the same after sitting much of the first half of this season. But he scored his first goal of his career, a game winner, against Bemidji State in the Ledyard Classic and contributed regularly after that. He would score another big goal against Maine later in the season and finish the season with seven total points. He showed good year over year improvement that hopefully continues into next season.
Though his four wins were the same as his freshman year, Mastalerz probably improved his game more from his first year of play than Boyle did. However, he probably was a little behind Boyle coming into the season in the first place. His GAA dropped from 3.37 to 2.96 and his save percentage rose to .898. He fought some nagging injuries through much of the season but looked pretty healthy in the last two weekends when he played his best hockey of the year. He and Boyle will battle it out again next year and we’ll see if either one grabs the starter job in net.
Olczyk was not an everyday player for the previous two years but he was this season and I think the team was better for it. His smart play contributed to the defensive improvement by the team since last year mentioned earlier. He had the most blocked shots (22) of any non-defensemen on the team. He also had some very key goals on the year, especially the shortie against Dartmouth where he was part of the Ledyard All-Tournament Team. I personally really enjoyed watching how much his play improved this year.
Pereira’s offensive output was down from last year tallying 13 goals and 13 assists after 17 and 17 of each last year. He was expected to have much higher numbers and lead the team offensively and that didn’t happen. The good news is he put up much better numbers in the second half of the season than the first half and was playing his best hockey right up until he suffered a concussion in the second to last weekend. Another positive is that Pereira made great strides in becoming a better all-around player. In the second half of last season you could see him start to improve defensively and his play on that end was noticeably better all this year as well. This was part of the reason his plus/minus actually increased from +4 to +5 despite scoring less than last year.
While DeAngelo was making the transition from forward to defenseman, Phillips was doing the opposite playing forward for the first time since juniors. It worked for him. Phillips rebounded from a very disappointing sophomore season and had six goals to go with seven assists. He had three multi-point nights on the season including a one goal, three assist effort in a loss to Colgate. It’ll be interesting to see just how he fits into the offensive picture next year as he could play a variety of roles.
Power was looking good playing on the top two lines to start the season and had put up two goals and four assists in 11 games when he hurt his leg at the end of November. He’ll apply for a medical redshirt to try to get this season back.
Raiola played 12 games on the season after appearing in just 4 last year. Overall he seemed to fill in nicely when called upon. He may not necessarily be an everyday starter next year but will likely see time on the ice since he rarely looks out of place.
As I mentioned in my Senior post, no one likely benefitted more from the coaching change than Rowe. Under Toot Cahoon it didn’t look like Rowe was going to play much in his senior year. But being a smaller, quicker offensive minded defenseman is very much what Micheletto’s style calls for and so Rowe was given a chance and he made the most of it. His 6 goals and 10 assists were career highs. He had one of the biggest goals on the season, the overtime winner against UNH last fall. He still struggled defensively as his –18 plus/minus was the worst on the team. But when he had it going offensively the team seemed to succeed.
Shea’s play this season seemed a bit erratic. Some nights he looked good, others not so much. Defensively he seemed to struggle as he went from a +3 last year to –6 this year. However his 46 blocked shots were a big improvement and second best on the team. Offensively he was about the same as the prior year with 3 goals and 10 assists. But overall he just didn’t seem quite as sharp as his sophomore season.
Sheary seemed to be on the verge of a huge season after accumulating 35 total points his sophomore season, just behind T.J. Syner for the team lead. But that didn’t happen. Sheary only had 27 total points this year with both his goals (11) and assists (16) declining from the previous year. Like Pereira, Sheary was very quiet in the first half of the season, scoring just two goals before New Year’s Eve. But he did end the year playing much better, something that hopefully bodes well for next year. One area where I thought Sheary excelled was playing point on the power play, where he had five goals.
Stack played four games early in the season and then suffered an injury. He never played after that. It was never reported if he missed the rest of the season due to the injury or coach’s decision. It’s too bad because he was one of the more mature freshman and seemed like he may be able to contribute right away. But it’s unknown what type of role he play next year.
Teglia played in just one game this season, a start against Lowell in November that seemed both puzzling and cruel. The team was playing pretty well at that point, beating UNH, narrowly losing to BC, shutting out Providence, and then tying Maine when Lowell came to town for a Sunday game. For some reason Teglia got the start and the team in front of him was completely flat. Three goals against and 16 minutes later and Teglia’s afternoon and season was done even though the loss was a total team effort. I don’t think you can expect him to do anymore than backup Boyle and Mastalerz next season.
Fans had high expectations for Tiefenwerth. Here was a late addition to the recruiting class who had formerly committed to Boston College, was one of the top scorers in the EJHL, and had just spent the summer at Islanders Development Camp. But he just never developed into an impact player. In the end he had just two goals and four assists in 30 games, well below what many thought he would put up. Why he didn’t put up more points is a mystery to me. Hopefully we’ll see more next year.
Walsh was certainly the best freshman on the squad. He had three goals and eight assists in 28 games. He missed five games due to injury. He played well offensively, picking up key goals throughout the season, but also did well defensively. Walsh will have a key role as a two way forward next year and may even see some time on the top two lines.
Yevenko played much like he did his freshman year. He was solid in a lot of games, though sometimes his skating or late reactions got him in trouble. He still suffers for being so tall as every hit he throws is automatically elbowing in the eyes of the officials. All in all a solid year for him, though I had hope he would’ve developed a little more.
Let’s face it, Coach Micheletto was charged with a very difficult task this season. Hired in late July he had very little time to get situated in Amherst, assemble a staff, get to know his team, and then start the season. He was further challenged with a tough schedule early in the season where he’d have to play defending champion Boston College twice, Boston University twice, and New Hampshire right out of the gate. However, he did have some things in his favor. First, he didn’t lose any players during the offseason despite a publicly mishandled coaching transition. Second, the team returning to Amherst was a fairly veteran one with the junior class accounting for much of the key offensive and defensive players and two goaltenders with at least 10 collegiate starts under their belts each.
Micheletto did have some fine wins on the season, both literally and figuratively. He led the program to just its second in-season tournament championship ever (against his alma mater no less). He had a number of wins over ranked teams and even beat Boston College in Conte Forum which hadn’t happened in what seemed like forever. In terms of the moves he made, some worked quite nicely as well. Phillips moving to forward and having Sheary on the point on the power play worked out quite nicely. Having faith in Olcyzk and Rowe brought some key wins to the team. What stood out especially to me was the fine play from the special teams. A number of times during the season the Minutemen were able to completely shut down some of the best power play units in the country.
But I think Mick had some serious misses as well. Despite the promise for a more up-tempo style the team scored nearly a half a goal less than last year and struggled mightily at times five on five. The decision to start Teglia that Sunday afternoon against Lowell puzzles me still and seemed to disrupt momentum the team was building. I’ll never understand why Busillo wasn’t in the lineup on a regular basis, especially when all the numbers and my own eyes screamed for him to be in there. And there were many times during the season when Micheletto looked very much like long time assistant turned rookie head coach. Minor things like lineups, time outs, pulling goaltenders, and other in-game aspects seemed to be mismanaged. But it’s a learning process for him just as it is for the players so those things are only a problem if we see them in the following years.
What worried me most about this season is the team played worse as the season went along. Even if he took over the team last March there was going to be a learning curve as the players get used to him and his style early in the season. That factor was exaggerated when he had to start in July instead. So I guess I expected a disconnect between the players and staff in the Fall. But from January on this team was just plain bad some nights. Sometimes they looked completely disorganized as if none of the players had ever been on the ice together before. It worries me that the more exposure the team had to the staff the worse their record became and the further they fell out of playoff contention. It worries me that so many of the key players on the team like Pereira, Sheary, Hanley, and Guzzo had their numbers drop dramatically from the prior year.
This season was a disappointment. The team had a lot going against them with the late coaching change and the circus that came with it and a tough early schedule. But I think the talent was there to fight through that adversity and still compete in Hockey East. This team should have at least made the playoffs. This was a down year for the league with only three teams currently on track to make the NCAA tournament. But despite that UMass could not finish among the top 8 for the first time in 11 seasons. This team was likely not going to compete for home ice no matter who was coach, but a 9th place finish means the team underachieved.
So there’s my season recap. Probably tomorrow I will be positing my thoughts on the current state of the program. So please come back for that.
Here’s (if link works) an update on the team from the Gazette that also talks about next year’s schedule.
The Collegian takes a look at the season as well.