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View From Section U ▲ Time For A Coaching Change

Let me start by saying that I think John Micheletto is a sharp, innovative hockey mind in the college game as well as a talented recruiter.  I have no doubt that he has spent the last three and a half years working hard to make UMass hockey successful in the competitive Hockey East.  I think he’s a well-intentioned individual who is trying his best.  I also believe that despite all those qualities he is not the right person to be head coach and after this current season, Athletic Director Ryan Bamford should look to someone new to lead the Massachusetts hockey program.

Micheletto came to Amherst after a 16 year career as an assistant coach in college hockey at Notre Dame, Union, and Vermont.  He was hired following a disastrous coaching search led by UMass’ previous AD, John McCutcheon, where McCutcheon was publicly rebuffed not once, not twice, but thrice by coaches whom he offered the job to.  Micheletto ended up being the “safe” pick for McCutcheon at that point since the career assistant would be unlikely to turn the offer down.

Three and a half years later it has become very apparent that Micheletto is not the right fit for this role at this school.  Not only has he been unable to turn UMass hockey into a winner, the case can be made that the program is in considerably worse shape than when he took over with no turnaround in sight.  Here are Micheletto’s coaching results to date in his fourth year at the helm:

Mick Table

What is most apparent is that the best performance under Micheletto, in terms of wins, win percentage, and Hockey East performance, came in his very first year.  That year his roster was made up entirely with players recruited by former coach Toot Cahoon.  Micheletto’s .350 career win percentage is 6th worst among active DI coaches.  Three of the coaches with worse records are in their first or second years with their programs.  Only C.J. Marottolo, in his 7th year at Sacred Heart, has a worse win percentage while being at his school longer than Micheletto has been at UMass.

Micheletto took over a team that had gone 13-18-5 the season before.  The 13 wins are a total that he himself has yet to match and it seems unlikely that he will do so this year.  The team he inherited had some considerable talent on it, most of it coming in the form of juniors or underclassmen.  Forward Conor Sheary is currently playing in the NHL and would end his UMass career 8th in total points and 15th in goals scored.  Conor Allen made his NHL debut in 2014 for the New York Rangers and is currently playing in the Ottawa Senators organization.  Michael Pereira, currently in the AHL, would finish his UMass career 4th in goals scored and tied for 6th in points.  Branden Gracel is 15th in goals for the program and 21st in points.  Defenseman Joel Hanley signed an NHL contract with the Montreal Canadiens this past season and is playing in the AHL.  Oleg Yevenko signed an NHL contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason and is playing for their AHL affiliate.  Except for Allen who left after his junior year, Micheletto had all of those players, some of the top producing players in UMass hockey history, to build around for his first two seasons and averaged just 10 wins with them.  He added his own NHL-level talent along the way, like Frank Vatrano, Brandon Montour, William Lagesson, and Ivan Chukarov, and has been unable to produce a winning record with them either.

The problems haven’t just been on the scoreboard however.  Attendance at the Mullins Center has plummeted under Micheletto.  The year before he took over the team averaged 4,612 fans per game and had drew greater than 5,000 as recently as 2009-10.  The team drew 4,209 in Micheletto’s first year, 3,891 in his second, and just 2,581 last season.  That was the lowest average attendance since 2001-2002.  That number has improved slightly this year to 2,930 but there are still a lot of games left and the team’s recent play is doing to be a tough draw.

The program has also suffered in the areas of fundraising and sponsorships.  Activity in the Pond Club, the booster organization for UMass hockey, is nearly non-existent.  The annual Reverse Raffle event was cancelled this past offseason and there are usually only a dozen members in the Massachusetts Room during intermissions at games.  That’s good news if you don’t like to wait in line for a beer, but bad news if you’re trying to run a Hockey East program competing against the likes of Boston College and Boston University.  A lot of the problems with fan and booster engagement fall squarely on Micheletto’s shoulders.  Since day one he’s been reluctant to socialize with fans or get to know the Amherst business community.  As a result a number of loyal partners for the program have swore off any kind of support and when Micheletto started to struggle fans were easy to dump on him.  Meanwhile, Toot Cahoon got a long leash from the fans despite some teams that underachieved.  Why?  Because most of the community had talked to him personally and gave him the benefit of the doubt.  Micheletto’s first mistake as head coach was avoiding engagement with the UMass community.  To this day he’s held exact two meet and greets for the casual (non-donating) fans and none since December of 2012.

Going into his season it seemed logical that it would be a make or break year for Micheletto.   The reasons listed above showed that UMass could not suffer another season of losses and poor gate receipts beyond this one.  It appeared that perhaps he had figured things out when the team started the season 4-0-1 and almost broke into the USCHO rankings for the first time in his tenure.  But the taste of early victories soured as the team has gone just 3-12-3 since.  As hard as I have tried to be patient and give him a chance, this past weekend was the final straw for me.  It’s bad enough that UMass got swept by Lowell to give the River Hawks their 5th straight Alumni Cup.  It’s the fact that they were so utterly dominated with UMass barely even able to muster up a fight.  The salt in the wound is the fact that backstopping both victories, with the latter coming via a shutout, was former Minuteman Kevin Boyle.  A player cut by Micheletto in his most public, but only one of many, miscalculations as UMass head coach.

There have always been reasons offered up as to why Micheletto has been unable to win games.  This past weekend it was that the team was shorthanded on defense with three key players injured.  This is not untrue.  But the problem is there are always reasons why Micheletto doesn’t win.  Before the injuries it was the tough road schedule.  Or it’s the team’s youth and inexperience.  They have too many freshmen.  He just needs “his” players for “his” system.  The incoming recruiting classes lacked depth.  The cupboard was left bare by the previous coach (I already proved that one false).  And through it all the team is treated unfairly by officials.  There’s always been an excuse why the wins haven’t come.  As I said before the season, the time for excuses is over.  And it is.  And that’s why Micheletto should be replaced at the end of the season.  New players.  Old players.  Drafted players.  Undrafted players.  His players.  Toot’s players.  The one constant seems to be that he cannot win with any of them and most of the time the team struggles to even be competitive with the better teams in the league.

Now is the time for Bamford to lay the groundwork needed to change the culture around the program and get them on the winning track.  Assemble a list of potential candidates.  Begin to think of who around the UMass community would make for beneficial search committee members.  Develop a plan to buy out Micheletto’s remaining year on his contract.  These are all important steps to take now.  We only have to look at the last debacle of a coaching search by McCutcheon to see what happens when you part ways with a coach while being totally unprepared.

Have I totally closed the book on Micheletto?  Of course not.  If he goes on a big run, gets to .500 in the league and has a good showing in thee league playoffs then I’ll have to reconsider my current conclusion that he’s not cut out to be the UMass coach.  But does anyone who watched either game against Lowell really think that’s going to happen?  This team has lost all measure of focus and effort and when listening to Micheletto’s exasperated and downtrodden postgame interviews it seems like even he is accepting of his fate.  If the team, nearly all “his” players, want to save his job, they know how to do it.  By winning and playing hard in the remaining games.  Maybe the balance of the season will be a referendum of just how much the players want him to continue on as coach.

This post was a long time coming.  I’ve had reservations about Micheletto for a long time and had serious issues with how he approached trying to win at UMass since his first season.  I didn’t like how he ignored the talent he was handed because they didn’t fit “his system”.  I didn’t like the cuts of talented and dedicated players at the end of his first year just to free up scholarships.  I didn’t like his total disconnect from the fans and the community.  I didn’t like other things going on around the program that I will not get into on this post.  The next couple months will be interesting.  I promise to do my best not to turn Fear The Triangle into firemick dot com.  This blog is about the hockey program, not the hockey coach.  I don’t think it would be fair to the players or my readers if every preview, recap, or other post turns into an extension of this one harping on the same points of why Micheletto should be removed.  But I probably will be exploring some of the reasons why I think a change is necessary in more depth from time to time.

So will there be a coaching change at the end of the season?  I have no idea.  Since Bamford doesn’t have any history it’s tough to predict what he may or may not do.  If he’s leaning towards making a change, it doesn’t seem like he’s made that known to people around the program.  There are pros and cons to making a coaching change.  Most of the pros have to do with improving the image of the program, reversing the attendance trend, and just finding someone who will get UMass to reach its full potential as a hockey school.  The cons have to do with having to fund a buyout and taking the leap to start over all again.  It’s a complex move, but one I desperately think needs to happen.  I don’t want to be sitting by myself in Section U watching another disappointing team next year and writing recaps to relay that disappointment to the dozen FTT readers left.  UMass hockey fans have suffered greatly for over two decades with just a short four year period of bright success.  That’s unacceptable and we need to demand better.  And that starts with demanding a better leader of our hockey program.  Go UMass!

If you came here just looking for the usual Monday Weekend Wrap-around post, boy are you surprised.  Everything is pushed back a day this week so I could get my thoughts on the coaching situation written.  Weekend Wrap-around will post tomorrow with the weekly Recruit Update on Wednesday.

 

 

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32 Comments

  1. Mel

     /  January 18, 2016

    Great job making the case, Mark. We need a fresh start. Even if it means another year of losses, at least let it be with a coach who shows promise and has a chance to resurrect this moribund program.

    Like

  2. Bob

     /  January 18, 2016

    Mike Cavanaugh…..

    Like

  3. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    Yes I agree it is time to move on to someone who can not only recruit well, but develop a more competitive team. It is sad to watch teams in Hockey East not only develop faster from when they were a struggling team, but watch the struggling teams beat UMASS over and over again. There is also very little consistency in play. There appears to be a huge breakdown within the team play, which can happen anytime in the game.

    Like

  4. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    AD needs to send a message now…fire him today…let assistants take over and start the search asap….”downtrodden postgame interviews”….this guy has no intensity and it rubs off on the players….the worst is watching our opponents’ fans laughing at us….that is brutal for any UMASS fan….now – who is on the list of potential candidates??

    Like

  5. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    Great insight on the pond club. That used to be pretty fun, now the golf tourney is brutal too. Absolutely no former players go which is a sign mich just doesnt care. So much talent over the years wasted. I highly doubt Cavanaugh would leave Uconn so soon, unless the money was a lot more. The AD has his work cut out for him with this, hopefully he can handle in a timely fashion. Really sucks going to the mullins center and seeing 800 ppl there. It wasnt too long ago they beat BC at home and the place was jammed. Hopefully they can get there again. I really feel bad for the upperclassmen the last few years under micheletto. Great writeup.

    Like

  6. ganderson9754

     /  January 19, 2016

    Rocks- I don’t think I could have put it better, and while I was faster than you to hop on the “Fire Mick” bandwagon, I do have reservations anytime a coach is fired. I know and like both Toot and Joe Mallen, and while it may have been time for both of them to go I took no pleasure in it.
    However- I’m a long time season ticket holder- since day one in fact. I’m not a Dodgers fan, so arriving late and leaving early is anathema to me. These last couple years? Often late to the game, and I often leave early. I’m going to be out of town next weekend, missing two games, and I find myself not really caring. I haven’t been to an away game in 3 years. I have been a modest financial supporter of the program- not at the level of the big boys, but probably more than average. Not the last two years, though, and no one has even called me to find out why.
    As for the team- I really feel for the kids- I’m the parent of two college athletes, one on a top ten team and one on a bad team, Many of the things I see on my son’s bad team are the things I see at UMASS- the players are not well served by the coach, and as a result are losing heart and focus. It’s tough to watch. (Fortunately my son’s team has a new coach this year.)
    I hope AD Bamford reads this blog, and I would be happy to serve on any search committee. I lean toward cutting our losses and turning the club over to Miller for the rest of the year. Other than the money, which ain’t nuthin’, I know. what’s the downside?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    Exactly, inexcusable that nobody has contacted you about that. Pond club is a joke now and Mich has lost numerous supporters of the hockey program.

    Like

  8. rich

     /  January 19, 2016

    Certainly a tough time to be a fan. My family has been a seven ticket season ticket holder for over twelve years. With my son now playing High School Varsity hockey, we found last year we missed multiple games due to scheduling conflicts. But as long time fans, we kept our seats and went when possible. We were ticket holders who sat down on the UMASS net end, on the glass. When coach tried to shake up excitement, and move the students and switch ends to shoot at, our really good seats became, pretty crappy ones. When I asked to relocate they put us directly behind the visiting bench with all the visiting fans. It was insulting really. Then the product on the ice was tough to handle. But loyal is what makes fans so we toughed through it. Every year I always took my wife on a special UMASS HOCKEY trip. For the away double header. It was a fun weekend away. We have not done this in three years now. And yes we went out to watch Quick and crew in Rochester, New York in the tourney. (A trip that was a challenge as I produce maple syrup, and that was in the heart of the season.) This year however, there was no struggle on what to do with our season tickets. We simply did not renew. There is no payback from the team, not in results, not in heart, and not in the community. My son grew up with Toot and the crew on the ice with them at the Amherst youth hockey practices. Heck Red, used to run most of them with his players helping out. That was when the coach and team were committed to the community. Maybe the winning wasn’t consistent then either, but we as fans overlooked it some, for the atmosphere and event of going to the Mullins. Now it’s sad. My father and I love the team, and sport. My son and wife play, so they love it too. But the drive and commitment to go to the games has diminished greatly. Because I don’t donate my heart earned money to the program you have disected in your article, I am forced to park out of the lot, and walk through a completely empty parking lot in the cold, rain or snow to watch a talented team, underperform. It’s too much to ask, if this is what we are treated to on the ice. Too bad really. Excellent column, thanks for the read.

    Like

  9. Will

     /  January 19, 2016

    You may not always get comments, but many of us are still here reading. Thanks for the continuous coverage.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    Does the AD read this site? Would love to hear his take on the excellent comments written above and obviously the write up. Rich well done, I feel for you and can definitely relate.

    Like

    • I hope he reads it! But I would understand if he doesn’t comment on the coaching situation until after the season however. He could start the wheels in motion behind the scenes though.

      Like

  11. Anon

     /  January 19, 2016

    So FTT – I agree with a coaching change being necessary. But who? That has always been the issue. I just read an article that outlined a whole list of great assistant coaches that are ready for the next step. They were all “great recruiters” from “winning programs” – Sorry – I don’t think that will cut it. I think this program, unlike BU, BC, etc needs a real marquee name to attract players here. I know you are compiling your list. When you do that, it would be great to see some out of the box type names.

    Like

  12. Bill C.

     /  January 19, 2016

    While the D1 team is trying to figure things out, all fans are welcome to come watch the UMass ACHA D2 club team which is currently ranked #4 in the Northeast (16-6-1-2) and is working toward a berth in the ACHA National Tournament in March. Admission to all home games is FREE and the quality of hockey is excellent. So you can either come for the start of a game or stop by to catch the 3rd period after the D1 game on some nights.

    The remaining home games will be played at the Mullins Practice Rink as follows:

    vs. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) on Sat Jan 23 at 8:00 pm
    vs. Northeastern University (NU) on Sat Jan 30 at 8:00 pm
    vs. Holy Cross on Mon Feb 1 at 9:00 pm
    vs. Montclair State University (MSU) on Sat Feb 6 at 8:00 pm
    vs. University of Connecticut (UConn) on Fri Feb 12 at 8:00 pm

    You can also follow the team on Twitter @umassachad2

    Like

  13. I knew this article was coming and I think you’re absolutely correct. I was a graduate student in 1994 when the hockey program was reborn. I was excited but knew that UMass would be the whipping boy for the HE heavyweights in those first years under Joe Mallen. When Toot arrived and there was that great period of success in 2004-2007, the Mullins was loud and they had a chance to beat BU and BC every night. Sadly that’s all a distant memory.

    Where have you gone Thomas Pöck? A discouraged fanbase turns its lonely eyes to you!

    Since supporting this program for 20+ years, I am hoping for a fresh start and that McCutcheon is gone. He attitude of complacency for the hockey program did everything to see it go downhill. You’re right about the three coaches who turned down the job, and that says something right there. And the way Cahoon left in the summer didn’t go down well at all. It’s a shame knowing every year now that UMass has little or no chance of making it to the TD Garden, when may fans and alumni in Eastern Mass always made the place jump when they were in the HE Tournament. Fans like me would have a hard time justifying the trip to the Mullins, or to watch them get slaughtered at Agganis or Conte Forum when playing out here.

    UMass will never out-recruit BU and BC. I get that. But there’s no way Lowell or Providence should be way more competitive and at such a higher level than a the state’s flagship university. It all starts at the top, and to see PC and Lowell nationally ranked and competitive makes it hard to swallow. They’ve done their homework and made good hires. Can’t say the same in Amherst. Let’s hope Bamford has the smarts to surround the program with good personnel who will recruit, and also reach out to the community and the alumni. As you say, let’s make the program great again.

    Like

    • RDW

       /  January 20, 2016

      McCutcheon and Kenney and company ran a dysfunctional athletic department. Little effort was exerted for anything, hockey or any other sport. You are now seeing the results. The Stony Brook AD candidate was stunned at what wasn’t being done at UMASS. Bamford got the job, and the honeymoon is over, for many. Expect a new hockey coach and a new women’s basketball coach for starters. More staff will be shown the door. The real problem with hockey is no financial supporters, they are all gone. This makes things difficult.

      Like

  14. George

     /  January 19, 2016

    Can’t have this environment continuing beyond this season. Building is a morgue. If Bamford can’t figure this out and doesn’t eat the contract, that will be red flag #1 for UMass sports and hockey fans.

    Regarding above…we may not be able to OUT recruit those two schools, but we can recruit with them. Get a coach that’s New England or ideally Massachusetts born/based. Look around the NHL and/or NCAA hockey. They’re out there. You might have to pay. That’s why we have these search groups. Now to just eat danish at a board room table, but to put hard work in to find the guy. So many people down sell UMass, especially against BC and BU. I get it, it’s a ton of tradition to overcome. But it’s worth trying here in hockeyville New England. And I bet cheaper and better for the school than dumping money into a sport that we see will not work here in New England. We’ll see how dedicated the new administration is to the once former buzz sport on campus.

    Like

  15. ganderson9754

     /  January 19, 2016

    George. I largely agree with your comments however, I would make one small observation. It would be great to get a guy from New England to coach the team, but what we want is a guy who could coach the team and make them competitive and filled the building with fans . Whether he comes from New England, New York , Minnesota, or Tierra del Fuego, we want the best guy that we can get here. And Rich ,your story sounds painfully familiar.

    Like

  16. Anonymous

     /  January 19, 2016

    Maybe it’s time the program look to its own to take this over. Other programs around the country look to their former players to come back and take team over.
    This program has been around long enough to have some quality options out there. I think it’s time we look to have someone who knows UMass. Nothing seems to have worked to date. Time for a change.

    Like

  17. Mel

     /  January 20, 2016

    Love the comments and love to see there are still a bunch of us who care so much about UMass hockey. If Ryan Bamford is not reading this, clearly someone has told him about it. However, he doesn’t need to read this to know the situation. He just needs to go to a game at the Mullins Center.

    Like

  18. Anonymous

     /  January 21, 2016

    hire Thomas pock with tj syner assistant

    Like

    • Section U Oldtimer

       /  January 21, 2016

      If we were looking for an ex-Minuteman as candidates, I would look at Dean Stork (he has head coaching experience in the ECHL) or someone like Darren Yopyk (who was a candidate for the Princeton job a couple of years ago and has NHL scouting experience).

      Like

    • Anonymous

       /  January 21, 2016

      I think syner is still playing, isnt he?

      Like

  19. Anonymous

     /  January 21, 2016

    heard a rumor that bamford was in locker room after one of the games last weekend. no idea what that means. good point on the financial support, micheletto did nothing to keep relations with those guys.

    Like

  20. Flag Guy

     /  January 21, 2016

    Let’s hire Jerry York before Friday and give him a chance at his 1000th win behind the UMass bench…. wishful thinking?

    Like

  1. Recap ▲ UMass Gift-Wraps 1,000th Win For Jerry York, Falls 8-0 | Fear The Triangle - UMass Hockey Blog
  2. View From Section U ▲ Potential Coaching Replacements | Fear The Triangle - UMass Hockey Blog
  3. IT’S OVER: Micheletto Era Ends At Massachusetts | Fear The Triangle - UMass Hockey Blog
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