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UMass Hockey Mid-Season Review: Historically Bad

Winter break is upon us.  The Massachusetts hockey team has played 16 games so far this season and after Christmas will play the remaining 17 before heading to the Hockey East playoffs.  The good news is the team has already clinched a post-season spot.  The bad news is the season so far has been bad.  Real bad.  Historically bad.  I know I keep using the historically bad description recently in posts, but that’s really all that keeps popping up in my thoughts.  The team has been more than bad.  It’s been more than really bad.  Historically bad is really the most fitting term I can find, though I would bet a lot of UMass fans would also say the season has also been embarrassingly bad.

Before we get into just how and why they’ve been bad, let’s back up a few months and understand expectations heading into this season.  I don’t think anyone expected this to be a dominant team in Hockey East.  I think fans were understanding that the team lost a lot of offense when guys like Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary graduated.  People knew that a 10 player freshman class would likely mean some growing pains.  Most Mullins faithful were even understanding to lower expectations when the jewel of the recruiting class, NHL draft pick Brandon Montour, ended up having to spend another semester in juniors to straight out NCAA clearinghouse issues.  Followers around the program just wanted to see progress.  Everyone had heard a lot about what would happen when John Micheletto had a roster full of his players that would allow him to play the up tempo system he’s wanted and that players recruited by Toot Cahoon, while talented, were not really allowing him to do so.  After winning just 12 and 8 games in his first couple seasons I think fans would’ve been happy to see UMass improve to 15 wins this season and at least get close to playing .500 hockey.

Instead the team has gone just 4-12-0 in the first half of the season, making any thoughts of .500 play a pipe dream.  Only one of those wins has come in conference and the team finds itself in last place in Hockey East, very unlikely to finish higher than 10th at best.  While the record itself is very concerning, the fact is the team’s play has been downright appalling at times.  There are statistical thresholds that this program has not seen in decades that they are now surpassing.  Obviously the main issue has been the inability to keep opponents from scoring.  UMass is giving up an astounding 4.69 goals per game, by far the worst defense in the country.  Next worse is Colorado College at 4.13 GPG and the closest among Hockey East teams is Maine at 3.72, nearly a full goal better than the Minutemen.  Last year the worst defensive team in the country was UAH with 4.37.  The 4.69 goals allowed per game is even worse than UMass’ very first year in Division I and Hockey East.  That team, which went 5-19-3 ONLY gave up 4.61 goals per game.  That team, thought they worked extremely hard, had a fraction of talent of this UMass team.

I could go on and on about all these mind-boggling statistics showing just how bad this team has been, but in the end it really just comes down tot 4.69 goals allowed per game.  This team is horrendous on defense.  They’ve played decent defensively at times, the series against Quinnipiac being probably the best example.  And they’ll play OK during stretches in games.  But all it takes it a couple odd man rushes, some laziness and distraction by the UMass players, and suddenly the opposing team has put five goals on the board in the matter of minutes.  I’ve never seen a team so bad at playing defense.  And, it’s been a total team effort.  Defensemen and forwards alike have been guilty of defensive breakdowns that lead to way too many quality chances by opponents.  Amazing, given the numbers, I’ve found it hard to put most of the blame on the goaltending of Henry Dill and Steve Mastalerz  during this first half.  Opposing teams are getting such great looks at the net, allowed to fire away from the slot or closer, that it’s tough to really gauge what saves the goaltenders should be making if any.

Ultimately the defensive problems come from Mick’s up tempo, offense first “system”.  Well, to be perfectly frank, I think the system sucks and is probably not viable in Hockey East.  In the prior two years, when the roster was still dominated by players from the last regime, the defense was not great but ok, giving up 3.00 and 3.12 goals per game.  This season that number ballooned to astronomical portions.  It has to change.  Major adjustments have to be made to the team’s strategy for the second half of the season.  Early on when the team struggled I think it made sense to preach patience given the large number of freshman that were trying to get acclimated.  That’s not the case anymore.  It has been 16 games and the team looked just as inept defensively Tuesday in the 8-3 loss to Northeastern as they did during the 8-1 loss to Boston University in the season opener.  Whatever Micheletto thinks he’s doing isn’t working defensively.  It has to change.  The goaltenders at times have shown that they are capable Hockey East goaltenders when given a chance.  But they cannot be successful against an insane number of odd man rushes or opposing players allowed to tee off two feet away from the slot.  Mick needs to change his ways, they’re not working.  They’re not producing results and are definitely losing fans and perhaps resulting in him losing some of his team.

Offensively, the team has been alright.  In all the season previews in September and October fans and the media wondered how they’d ever replace all that goal scoring that graduated last year.  Well, they’ve been just fine finding the back of the net.  So far this season they’re scoring 2.69 goals per game, 6th best among Hockey East teams.  That’s a big step up from last year when they scored 2.24 goals per game, second worst among Hockey East teams.  Yes, guys like Pereira, Sheary, and Branden Gracel were all talented players.  But, the team has made up for it with a legitimate Hockey East star in Frank Vatrano, who has scored 9 goals in the team’s last 10 games.  The duo of Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi are both building off of excellent freshman seasons last year and are by far the most consistent producers on the team.  Freshman Dennis Kravchenko and Patrick Lee have both made solid contributions on offsense so far, though Kravchenko has cooled off considerably in recent weeks and will be needed to get back on track in the second half.  Seniors Troy Power and Zack LaRue have come up with key points during the season as well.  This team has a lot of promise offensively and the goal scoring is something that should only get better with the addition of Montour.  But it’s all for naught if they continue to give up five goals a game.

It’s pretty evident from the comments on this blog, message boards, social media, not to mention actual Mullins attendance that the fans are quickly running out of patience with Micheletto.  Again, I don’t think expectations were through the roof this year, but it’s quite clear that the fans expect for the program to avoid becoming a laughing stock in the college hockey world.  But unfortunately that’s just what they’ve become through the first half of this season.  Micheletto hasn’t done himself any favors by not engaging more with the fans and surrounding community.  Maybe if he was more communicative with his vision for UMass hockey from the get go fans would be more patient, although I’m not sure the most extroverted coach could’ve prepared the fans for what has transpired this year.  Nonetheless, Mick has instead been standoffish and quietly gone about his work without prioritizing getting in front of the UMass fans (the last Meet and Greet even was December 2012). And I think this has really hurt him.  Without a personal connection to the coach fans only know Mick as the guy behind the bench leading the team to 8-3 losses.  Honestly, it’s probably too late for any kind of outreach effort from him so in the end it’s only going to be wins and losses that matter to the majority of fans.

I’ve said all along that Micheletto probably deserves four years to get this program winning, especially since he walked into a challenging situation based on the lateness of his hiring and the unbalanced recruiting classes ahead of him.  But I did not in my wildest dreams expect a single Hockey East win through the first half of the season and 75 goals allowed in 16 games.  Attendance is plummeting to all time lows, Pond Club events are sparsely attended, and general interest in the program is dwindling.  The “wait ‘til next year” mantra was fair in the first couple seasons, but that’s over.  It’s year 3, it’s time to start winning.  It’s all in Mick’s hands.  His players, his staff, his responsibility.  Maybe the hole is too deep and there’s not much to play for this season, but at the very least he has to do what’s necessary to get this program winning and at least show some evidence that he’s capable of getting it back on track.  Maybe wholesale success doesn’t happen until next year, but first he needs to show the program can at least be respectable and can be a point of pride for the university.

UMass hockey players have a history of getting involved in community related activities after they leave Amherst.  Recent examples include Peter Trovato’s Massachusetts Solidiers Legacy Fund and Scott Crowder creating the Pond Hockey Classic.  Anthony Raiola who graduated last year is the latest former Minutemen to take on civic minded activities as part BOKS:

Anthony Raiola ‘14 has made the transition from the hockey rink to the corporate world joining BOKS, Build Our Kids’ Success, an initiative of the Reebok Foundation. A Former collegiate athlete who experienced daily fitness in his formative years growing up in Minnesota and one who continues to work out daily knowing the importance of physical activity, Raiola is concerned that kids across the globe are not moving as much as prior generations. Inspired by BOKS Founder, Kathleen Tullie, Raiola sensed an opportunity to bring awareness and fundraising to the cause of BOKS and connected BOKS, Reebok Hockey and the NHL to collaborate on a special promotion in association with the marquee 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic ®

Learn more about BOKS and the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic promotion here.

I heard a lot of great things about Raiola in terms of his character when he was part of the UMass team so it’s not a big surprise to see him involved in such a worthy cause right out of the gates after leaving school.

Anthony with BOKS class

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21 Comments

  1. Simple and to the point: 1-7 at home has chased the fans away. I’ve been to most games at home and most of these losses are like some I’ve never seen. Once every year or two I’ve seen teams stand around and look like they’ve quit. Tuesday night, the game against Vermont and the BU game at minimum fit that quit definition. Usually in losing teams, like this one, it signifies a divide in the team and it only take a few players. You named one of them in your Tuesday wrap up, a guy that took three too many penalties. And there are several others that don’t appear to be buying what Mick is selling. As you said, he has to get off his stubborn horse and change the system until the guys he appears to dislike and not play (based on games (not) played I would guess Auvenshine and the three too many penalty guy for starters) are gone. My guess from having dealt with players and teams like this is they are part of cancer that spreads through losing teams, especially when they’re not getting ice time. The math adds up. The radio guys said Busillo was a late add Tuesday. A late add to a team that that had TWO defensemen playing forward two nights ago??? If I’m Mike Busillo, I’ve had enough. You’re crazy if you don’t think there is a divide on this team. Those players voluntarily quit and it makes the guys who are trying to try look like they’re quitting. It’s the pedigree of a team that is not just bad, but as you said FTT, embarrassingly bad.

    Coach Mick, if you read this, please, switch gears for the second half of the season and give Vatrano, Montour Iacobellis and Pigozzi a reason to look forward to next year by stringing together a few wins and then you can see what ’15-’16 has to offer. The fans have already been chased away. Don’t do it to our best players too.

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    • Mel

       /  December 18, 2014

      Great post

      Like

    • Good comments. It’s kind of a chicken and egg argument, are the losses occurring because he’s lostthe players or has he lost players because his system is causing embarrassing losses?

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  2. Mel

     /  December 18, 2014

    Historically embarrassing?

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  3. gable

     /  December 19, 2014

    players quitting on coach = head coach should be let go asap..let miller run the team…how about a story on potential new candidates? lose to uconn 1-2-15 = release coach next day

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    • I totally understand why a good portion of the fans want to discuss the coaching situation. At this point I’m more interested in putting my energy discussing what Mick can do to right the ship for the remainder if the season. There will be plenty of time to talk about his status during the offseason.

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  4. George

     /  December 19, 2014

    Gable, Ryan Miller? No no.

    There are headline problems with this team noted above that we all have seen if we have actually used our season tickets. But some of the second tier problems are coaches that hire “friends” that end up being more yes men than guys that will offer constructive criticism. Are Gasparini and Miller good coaches? They could very well be. But their relationship with Mick goes back to Vermont These guys are blood. Families see things often through the same colored glasses. You need an “outside agent” many times to see the obvious in front of you that one of these three, that are acting as one, may not see.

    One of the things that baffles me as a fan, just looking at numbers and remembering what FTT and readers posted here or at UMass hoops when Mick was hired was, who is the real John Micheletto? I’m in my late 60’s so I probably lose many of you here, but it reminds me of the show “To Tell The Truth” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIUx0O6k8S8. Vermont HAD a pretty decent decade all things considered until the point when Mick left and the Catamounts had a record much like we might end up with in Hockey East (3-23-1). Is there a correlation? That’s what many posters wondered when it was announced Mick would be the lead candidate.

    So then, is Mick the guy that:

    A) Helped Kevin Sneddon author some pretty decent seasons at UVM in the 2000’s with a few visits to the NCAA and is worthy of a head coaching shot.

    B) Was a dynamic recruiter who, using just recent history, brings us Frank Vatrano (with luck, granted) and Brandon Montour.

    C) A career #2 guy that offers a bunch of insight but just can’t handle the rigors a #1 position demands (Romeo Crennel, Patriots Fans)?

    D) A&B.

    E) All of the above.

    Mick will obviously argue D, and listening to the Vermont series or a coaches show, I can’t remember, took full credit for recruiting the goalie tandem in Burlington. The majority of the public will say C on emotion, but it’s probably E. Who knows what ailed Vermont that 2011-12 season.

    Well whatever it was, it appears the sickness has spread south. Can the patient be saved or do we give it a UAB burial?

    Don’t laugh.

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  5. ganderson9754

     /  December 19, 2014

    Rocks- I appreciate your emphasis on the positive- well, perhaps at least you insistence on the question of “what’s to be done now?” (And, just to establish my bona fides I can count on no more that 2 hands the number of home games I’ve missed since the very beginning of the D I era- and not a few away games as well.) Dunno, though, if this season is salvageable. My hopes were not high- having to do with youth, and what I’d seen over the previous two seasons; but this year has been an absolute disaster in way that I didn’t imagine at the beginning of the year. This team is lost at sea, and I fear that the coach is on the verge of losing the loyalty of BOTH his goaltenders- I think they are both competent HE goalies, who are being used as – what? motivational devices for the players? I’ve never seen so many goaltenders pulled in the middle of games as this year. It can’t sit well with either of them.
    My expectations for the program are not high ( this is not Minnesota, (who I also root for) or BC. UMASS is in a funny place- the flagship University in a hockey playing state, but it’s located in the part of the state where hockey is less popular, and there are a huge # of D I and DIIII teams that draw the New England talent. ( I know, unlike lacrosse, there are not a lot of DIII players who could play DI) My theory on this is that there are, in D I college hockey, two classes of teams, the Recruiters and the Deciders. The Deciders are schools like BC, MN, NoDak, etc, for whom recruiting is about, for the most part deciding who they wish to come, while the Recruiters are schools that have to fight for the rest. Sometimes a recruiter will have a run of luck- as when Mark Dennehy found Stephane DaCosta, and all those kids from Red Deer and made a couple of NCAA runs. Mark’s a good coach, but i wonder whether he can vault Merrimack into the ranks if the deciders- my money’s that he can’t! It’s be interesting to see about whether Union and Yale can maintain their sucess, too.
    Anyway UMASS is a Recruiter, and short of reanimating Herb Brooks, always will be. Toot put together a few good teams when he was here but was unable to sustain that success- but I think that’s pretty much what we can expect.
    So in short I’m not expecting the TD Garden every year, nor the NCAA tournament- but what I’m seeing now is a giant step back from the limited expectations that I had. I see no signs of this getting better. I overhear a lot of conversations- among non-dressed players, among parents, and among longtime habitués of the Mullins Center- none of it is positive! I’m the parent of two college athletes, and know from experience that parental bitching is always to be taken with a grain (or a bag) of salt. The bitching I hear is not about playing time- it’s about the direction of the program, not just the wins and losses, but the way the team plays. I don’t blame the kids- they are not getting the direction and motivation they need. And I don’t think a change in game tactics of systems will solve the problem.

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  6. ganderson9754

     /  December 19, 2014

    “game tactics OR systems” And to think I have the responsibility of teaching America’s youth!

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  7. All good observations from all those who posted. Today Vermont is doing very well. The last year that Asst. Coach Micheletto was with Vermont….. the Catamounts finished dead LAST in hockey east. The University of Massachusetts hired Coach Mick who then brought along a couple of his last place assistances with him, and now in Amherst we have a LAST place H.E. team. Coincidence….maybe….maybe not……
    Hopefully when the second half of this season starts Coach Mick will realize you can not run an “up tempo” system when you don’t have a defense and you have questionable goaltenders. And he gets to start the second half in his old backyard, Gutterson Field House in the Catamount Cup Tournament. That opening game with Air Force is definitely a MUST win game. Air Force who is presently in 9th place in Atlantic Hockey with an over-all record of 5-10-2 is the weakest team the Minutemen will face in the second half. With out a late Christmas Season miracle, there’s no way they beat Providence and Jon Gillies the next day. The rest of the second half just gets tougher and tougher as the Minutemen play numerous ranked teams.
    I hope they can turn it around, but righting this ship at this stage of the season is going to be a tall order for anyone to pull off.

    .

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  8. RDW

     /  December 19, 2014

    It is lights out for Coach Mickey Mouse and the two who have overseen him. One word to describe him and them: Disaster.

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  9. Mel

     /  December 19, 2014

    The comments on this post are outstanding!

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  10. Rocks- is there a way to add an after-the-fact edit function so that I don’t look so stupid when I post?

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  11. I know arguments can be made for and against my next thought, and I’m not sure how future scheduling may have affected this, but knowing the history of this team for the preceding two years, and knowing there were ten freshman coming in, I wonder if playing fewer H.E. teams as NC games might have benefited a younger team like the Minutemen? Playing in H.E. means you already have a grueling schedule almost every week-end.
    Possibly some… Atlantic Hockey and ECAC teams ….could have been scheduled.. Many of those teams are with-in reasonable driving distances, and this could have been done to some what balance the load. And that’s not at all to reflect poorly on those other two conferences, as we know the last two National Champions have come out of the ECAC, and the Minuteman are 2-2 vs Atlantic Hockey since the arrival of Coach Mick…
    The Minutemen played the least number of out of conference…..NC ..games this season which was (6), every other team in H.E. played between 8-14 NC games outside of Hockey East. Only Maine played (6) H.E. teams as NC games as compared to the Minutemen’s (5) H.E. NC games, but that was only because Maine played (14) NC games to the Minutemen’s (11) NC games.

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  12. Will

     /  December 22, 2014

    Was a bit sad when I moved out of MA because I couldn’t go see UMass hockey play… I guess I assumed that seeing them play would be enjoyable.

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    • Over the years there have been some individual real good games, but too ….many bad games. The ten seasons prior to this year the Minutemen had ….ONE…. winning season and that was 2006-2007 when the Minutemen had the eventual Stanley Cup winning LA Kings goaltender Jon quick playing goal. That was Quick’s Sophmore year, and his final year at UMASS as he left and turned pro after the NCAA playoffs that season. In fact as Hockey East wins and losses go the Minutemen have had only two winning season in the last 16 years..
      So the Minutemen have pretty much been near the middle to lower end of the ladder in Hockey East for a very long time. So all who have followed them for any period of time are not expecting a HE power house, but we should expect at least a competitive team that comes to play and gives the fans some exciting hockey, win or lose. It is nice to be in probably the toughest conference in college hockey, but would the Minutemen be more competitive else where?

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  13. George

     /  December 23, 2014

    “Over the years there have been some individual real good games”.

    That’s a great point.

    Unfortunately it seems this school/administration is satisfied with just that: A Steve Masterlerz shut over BC, a Casey Wellman’s OT winner against BC in front of a sellout at home or the Chris Capraro OT winner in the comeback against BU. Fans don’t want to hang their hats on 5-10 great games over a decade or two, they want to have at least 2-3 successful seasons.

    The triple OT year by the numbers and results was, but even 19-12-6 happened because two losses to Lowell were changed to wins by forfeit.

    But the off years were really off years where this team just couldn’t FINISH. Even the Quick NCAA year we struggled to score (just over 2.75 goals per game). I can’t emphasize it enough. My memory is still good enough to remember the Kevin Jarmens and Garrett Summerfields of the world and how they were supposed to save the day for UMass hockey.

    And I’ll also state that although I’m proud to say my school produces a Justin Braun and a Matt Irwin, we still have a predominately losing program. Add up the numbers.

    Don’t let a few great moments blind you from what really happened mostly in the Toot era. Go back and look at the results (especially in the second halves of seasons).

    To say Toot looks good compared to this current regime is still settling for a lot less than this program deserves.

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    • umassattack

       /  December 23, 2014

      George, Great memory of some good games. In fact the Capraro parents were sitting right beside us in Sec. D – Row 16 the night Chris sent the crowd into a frenzy with that OT goal. It is a shame that except for the NCAA year the fans have really put up with a lot of sub par hockey broken up by some moments of satisfaction.
      I remember coach “TOOT” Cahoon responding to an email one time, that we were not Maine, and that we couldn’t expect a winning season all the time because we made the NCAA’s one time. And his next response was, BUT have you seen our players GPA’s lately?
      Quite frankly if their GPA’s were good, great, but as a hockey fan driving from 25-30 miles away and paying for season tickets, we were looking to see some decent hockey, we weren’t really thinking about their GPA’s. So that told me where coach Cahoon was coming from. He had some very good talent through out his tenure, but he often didn’t get all the quality out of them. I don’t know if it was his style, but when some of his best players went on to the NHL or AHL, etc. they played much better than at the Mullins center.

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  14. Rex

     /  December 30, 2014

    Amazing that the team during wellmans last year had a 2nd half collapse like that. That team was loaded with talent and I think they went 0 for February or something.

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