Possibly the most shocking news in Hockey East this offseason came from Amherst, Mass., when coach Don “Toot” Cahoon tendered his resignation early in the summer.
Many felt that the Minutemen were on a positive-looking path, so Cahoon’s sudden decision to leave sent shock waves through the league.
After an exhaustive coaching search wherein reports surfaced that the school had offered the position to a number of candidates, only to be turned down each time, longtime Vermont associate head coach John Micheletto was selected as the new head coach for UMass.
Well thought of in the hockey coaching circles, Micheletto has been handed a team that was hotter than any in the close of the 2011-12 season but still has some issues to overcome if the program is to return to its level of success in the middle of the last decade.
“I’m excited, I’m really looking forward to it,” Micheletto said of the challenges facing him. “It’s exciting to finally be around the guys. As exciting as the press conference was and moving in is, it’s not like being around your players. Now we’re finally on the ice, you’re getting the rapport going with the guys.
“There’s so much you want to do, but you just want to get into the meat of the season.”
The meat that is on the bone for the Minutemen includes some key returning players. A year ago, then-sophomores Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira proved they are both worthy to be considered among the top forwards in Hockey East, while rookie netminder Kevin Boyle at times showed flashed of brilliance.
“I think we’ve got some talented players and some guys who work real hard,” Micheletto said. “The thing we need to focus in on is our consistency.”
Micheletto also said that he wants his team to be “better problem solvers,” noting that the frenzied pace of the game can sometimes keep a team from developing the necessary confidence.
“That’s what differentiates good teams and great teams,” Micheletto said. “Guys that really pick up the X’s and O’s, everybody is going to do that. But it’s when it’s something you didn’t talk about in preparation for that game, that you’re able to address it and adjust your game, that’ll really move us forward. That’s what my hope is for my guys.”
Micheletto’s adjustment in Amherst will be partially aided by the fact that he brought with him Joey Gasparini, a former assistant with him at Vermont, and can lean on Len Quesnelle, who had worked under Cahoon at UMass. These two coaching additions might be the most important parts of the UMass team this season.
“The combination of having a guy that I know and the kind of players I like [in Gasparini] and then having a guy who has been [at UMass] like Len Quesnelle and can help me navigate through some of the waters,” Micheletto said, “having both of those guys has made it easy for me and easy for the program.”
About the Minutemen
2011-12 overall record: 13-18-5
2011-12 Hockey East record: 9-14-5 (tie, eighth)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: eighth; Dave: seventh
Key losses: F T.J. Syner, F Danny Hobbs, D Michael Marcou
Players to watch: G Kevin Boyle, F Michael Pereira, F Conor Sheary
Impact rookie: D Connor Doherty
Why the Minutemen will finish higher than predicted: UMass was one of the hottest teams at the end of last season and gave the eventual national champs from Boston College everything it could handle in the playoffs. If they can pick up where they left off (easier said than done), the Minutemen could be successful.
Why the Minutemen will finish lower than predicted: With a first-year head coach behind the bench in John Micheletto behind the bench, there could be some growing pains.