College Hockey:
Micheletto, UMass hockey both set out to find their place

New Massachusetts coach John Micheletto wasn't the first one offered the Minutemen job, but he says it's time to move forward.

The search that ended with John Micheletto being named Massachusetts’ new head coach on Monday was not an easy one for the school.

Micheletto, a former assistant coach at Vermont, Union and Notre Dame, wasn’t the school’s first choice. That fact, though, was hardly a deterrent for the man they call “Coach Mick.”

“You don’t always get a chance to marry your first girlfriend,” Micheletto said. “I don’t know what happened [in the interview process]. But at this point, like it’s going to be for our players moving forward, it’s about the opportunity. I was given it and what I do with the opportunity that the university has given me is what I’ll be judged on.”
With that opportunity, however, comes expectations. In 12 seasons under former head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon, UMass rose from the cellar in the always competitive Hockey East to a marquee program in recent years.

“I think UMass has a lot of good pieces in place. What Toot did for 12 years has put [the program] where it is today. Now trying to sustain that at a national level, that’s really the goal here.”

– John Micheletto

A trip to the Hockey East finals, the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance and the development of some top-notch NHL athletes has placed expectations high for this program.  

Not high, however, is the priority that men’s hockey takes on the athletic landscape on the Amherst campus. The school has always placed higher emphasis on the men’s basketball program, which went to the Final Four in 1996 under head coach John Calipari. And last season, UMass moved its football program from the Football Championship Subdivision to the bowl-eligible Mid-American Conference.
According to multiple sources, the combination of the school’s desire to be competitive in men’s hockey and the sport’s smaller stature on campus has been a sticking point in the past and may have been a factor in the decisions by Rand Pecknold, Paul Pearl and Mark Carlson to turn down the chance to be the third Minutemen head coach since the program was resurrected in 1993.
But that can’t be Micheletto’s sticking point. If anything, it has to be his mission, his challenge. UMass has enough resources athletically to compete in multiple sports and hockey has the benefit of playing in a top-level facility like the Mullins Center.
“I think that the general premise that because you have big-time football that you have to downgrade other programs is false,” Micheletto said. “The one thing I learned in my previous experience, certainly Notre Dame being one of them, is that if you have a program that is the showpiece and the revenue earner, you have to feed that program and then feed off the resource that provides [all other sports].
“I hope football is given everything they desire. I hope men’s and women’s basketball is given everything they want, because that will only make the hockey program stronger.”
All of that said, nothing is simple in Hockey East. Two seasons ago Merrimack was the prince of the ball, making the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance since joining the league. Even early last year, the school earned its first No. 1 national ranking but then lost out on home ice in the Hockey East playoffs, failed to make another appearance at the TD Garden and missed the NCAA tournament.
To survive in Hockey East shouldn’t be difficult. But to consistently succeed is extremely challenging. Micheletto knows.
Micheletto was a major part of the architecture that brought Vermont to its second Frozen Four appearance in school history in 2008. A year later, Vermont returned to the tournament despite finishing eighth in Hockey East. It was easily a story of a small program winning big. That’s what Micheletto hopes he can bring to UMass.
“I think UMass has a lot of good pieces in place,” Micheletto said. “What Toot did for 12 years has put [the program] where it is today. Now trying to sustain that at a national level, that’s really the goal here.”
To achieve that, Micheletto will call on the teaching of his past, having worked under well-known head coaches including Stan Moore, Dave Poulin and Kevin Sneddon.
Taking a little bit from each will be his goal as he finally has a program’s reins in his grasp.
“You take a piece of each guy who you learn from to really kind of piece together what’s right and isn’t right and make my own strategy,” Micheletto said. “You can never stop learning as a coach. It’s about achieving and having that inner desire to get better yourself and make the people around you better.”
When Micheletto met the media on Monday, he called the UMass program a “sleeping giant.” Now it’s his time, his turn to do everything he can to awaken this team.

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  • BJeffMD

    Excellent article that highlights the potential for the UMass program and the opportunity Micheletto has in hand. Given the variety and quality of the academics, the campus and the Mullins Center, UMass has a chance to become the #1 state school option in Hockey East. Like other major state universities, UMass is fielding big time football, basketball and hockey programs. And like Michigan, Wisconsin, and many others they will succeed at this combination. All major universities that feature DI football, basketball and hockey prioritize football and basketball because of the television revenues they generate. With the new alignment of the major hockey conferences and the television packages they have with NBC Sports Network, and regional sports networks like NESN in New England, hockey has augmented what was previously a gate revenue only based contribution to the bottom line. The UMass hockey program benefits from one of the largest operating budgets in Hockey East. Virtually all of their games are on television and this coming season will all be broadcast in HD. The expectation among the school’s administration is that the hockey team is the best and most likely program to win a national championship in the near future. That doesn’t sound like a program that isn’t a priority. What was not noted in the article is that hockey is far and away the number one sport on campus at UMass. Student and community is loud and involved. Let’s see if they can get the program to the next level.

    • Joseph Crowley

      As a BU fan, alum and long time fan of college hockey, Hockey East in particular, I can say that while UMass has improved and become a strong member of Hockey East, it is not elite. The chance that it will become the #1 state school option in Hockey East is remote at best.

      Maine, with its national championships and sustained success, holds that spot and needs to be knocked off the pedastal. (I know that some fellow posters like to attack their current coach, but I think he is doing just fine)

      Vermont and UNH have programs with Frozen Four experience and repeated NHL-caliber talent coming through their doors.

      Lowell has had as much success as UMass, if not more. UConn has as much potential for success as UMass, with much higher name recognition for recruiting in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

      I am happy that UMass has had success. They should feel very proud about having a former player be the reigning Conn Smythe winner. But there are three other state schools with a lot more history which equals a greater chance to recruit.

      • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

        I stongly disagree with you Joseph Crowley UMass is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program.

        • Joseph Crowley

          I think nearly every program in Hockey East is top-notch. Some have had down years, but as Merrimack has shown us, rebounding is very possible. They all perform at a high level based on the size of each school. I was not disputing that UMass could be a top-notch program. In fact, I said “improved” and “strong member”, which are true considering the growth since the program got revived in 1993.

          But my post was in reply to the assertion that UMass could be the number one state school in Hockey East. Men’s hockey is the highest profile program at Maine, UNH and UVM. Perhaps skiing is bigger at UVM. Even so, the hockey team is the national face of those three schools. UNH and Maine played in the National Championship game against each other. UVM was in the Frozen Four three years ago and their assistant coach just got hired by UMass.

          UConn and UMass both have the potential to be elite programs, a status that would equal Maine, UNH and UVM as elite state programs. As Union and Ferris State showed us, you can compete nationally with a good coach and good recruiting. I would be most pleased is UConn and UMass continue their border war from other sports on the rinks and push each other to elite level. But I still doubt that UMass would be the dominant state school in Hockey East, given the fact that Maine, UNH and UVM have multiple Frozen Four experience. It is not an indictment of UMass, but rather, proper Hockey East respect to Maine, UNH and UVM.

          • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

            Joseph UMass is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program.

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

      I completely agree with you BJeffMD UMass is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program.

  • Really

    Since when has UMass Amherst’s hockey program become a “marquee” program? Sorry but Amherst has been mediocre at best over the last several years. Hockey falls far behind basketball and football on that campus.

    • bronxbomberz41

      Yeah never a “marquee” program. They have had a couple nice years under Cahoon where they were fairly competitive in Hockey East. But come on. They barely contended for the top 4 in the league a couple times.

      • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

        The UMass Hockey Program is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program.

        • bronxbomberz41

          Say that a few more times ~_~

          I think any program has the potential to be a top notch program if they get the right mix of a coach and recruits and support from the school, plus a little luck. So I’ll give you that. They could do what Merrimack or Lowell have done to come out of nowhere and have great seasons. But they could also continue to stink. Unlike BC or BU, this is a program that is going to be more prone to cycles of good and bad because its so hard to reload with top talent now every year, except for a few schools like BU and BC (11 combined NHL draft picks this year, almost as much as the entire WCHA). Even once marquee programs like UNH and Maine have had some down seasons and haev a hard time keeping up with the Bostons. Maybe this guy can do for UMass what Enrico Blasi did for Miami, and build a perennial contender. But that remains to be seen. Its much more likely that he won’t.

          • Joseph Crowley

            I was at the 2009 Frozen Four. There, I saw a UVM team that was just as good as BU, BC or any other team in the nation. Stahlberg (sp?) was an awesome talent and Madore was a great freshman goaltender.

            Last season, BU played Vermont at Gutterson on a nationally televised snoozefest. Madore was the best UVM player by a long shot, left hanging out to dry. Only my BU jersey keep me from changing the channel. BU managed to do well enough to get to the NCAA tournament and play a much better Minnesota team. UVM did not make the Hockey East tournament. I completely agree about the cycles.

            I would add UNH and Maine to the list of programs that routinely reload talent. We simply must not forget that Notre Dame will be coming soon. BU and BC will dominate recruits in Massachusetts, like they always do. UConn will probably recruit better (in my opinion) in CT, NY and NJ. This will probably affect BU/BC more than UMass.

          • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

            I strongly disagree with you bronxbomberz41. UMass will still recruit effectively and get great recruits from CT, NY and NJ and will recruit better in my opinion in CT, NY and NJ than UConn will. UMass will affect BU/BC more than UConn can and ever will. UMass will get recruits that UConn wants in CT, NY and NJ.

          • bronxbomberz41

            UMass can only hope to get the second tier players from Mass, and hope they develop into Tier 1 players, kind of like what most schools in HE have to do. Sometimes they will be lucky enough to land a top talent, but most of those guys will prefer other more prestigious hockey schools. UNH has got one top recruit in the last like 6 years (Van Reimsdyke), Maine (Nyquist), Vermont (Older Stahlberg) also don’t attract the recruits like BC and BU do. Bobby Butler was a hobey candidate his senior year, and it was only because he developed at the next level. That is was Micheletto will have to do.

          • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

            I strongly disagree with you I think John Micheletto will do similar to what Enrico Blasi did for Miami, and build a perennial contender for UMass. Only time will tell. I am very optimistic that John Micheletto will build a perennial contender for UMass and at UMass.

          • bronxbomberz41

            Well, i’m not saying he will turn UMass into a top school, but i guess anything is possible right? More than likely, things will stay the same in HE, even with ND coming over. I was just using Miami as an example of a perennially middling program that maybe had a few decent years here and there. Now they are a contender every year. I think the biggest difference here though is Blasi came from another marquee-type program in Denver under George Gwozdecky. UVM and Kevin Sneddon are not at that level, so the pedigree is definitely different.

          • cthompson1983

            I think UMass and John Micheletto will surprise you a lot bronxbomberz41. Only time will tell if you are right or if I am right. I strongly believe that UMass will be better and a lot better under John Micheletto on a consistent basis than they were under Toot Cahoon. Nobody including you is going to change my opinion.

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.thompson.5439 Colin Thompson

      The UMass Hockey Program is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program.

  • Chris

    For what it’s worth, last season UMass actually had a higher average attendance for hockey(4,612) than it did for basketball(4,279).

  • jsiiter55

    UMass will never be anything more than a typical irrelevant Hockey East also-ran

    • cthompson1983

      I strongly disagree with you jsiiter55. UMass is a sleeping giant with the potential to be a top notch Hockey East Program. I strongly believe that and nobody is going to change my opinion.

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