Massachusetts will need contributions from freshmen to move up in Hockey East

Massachusetts lost seven of its top nine scorers from a year ago (photo: Melissa Wade).

Massachusetts coach John Micheletto summed up how last season was by talking about his summer.

“When you win eight games, it’s not a very good offseason,” Micheletto said with a wry smile.

And it probably wasn’t that great of a season in Amherst, Mass., where the Minutemen struggled in many facets of the game and couldn’t advance past the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs.

The good news is that a new season is about to begin. The bad news is that last year’s UMass team lost a significant amount of its scoring and defense to graduation.

Not surprisingly, the Minutemen locker room will feature nine freshmen hoping to step in and have an impact, something this team likely will need if it is to move from the bottom echelon of the league.

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Micheletto said about his freshman class. “It refreshes your older guys and puts them into a different dynamic of helping guys make the transition, but they also feed off that excited energy of Christmas morning that your new guys have.”

The one place you may not see too much of a difference for UMass is in goal. Steve Mastalerz carried the large part of the workload last season and will get the chance to play that starting role again as the 2014-15 campaign begins. If there is going to be success out of the gate for this team, expect Mastalerz to play a big part.

“Steve carried the bulk of the action last year, and any time you have a guy coming back who played 30-plus games last year, it’s his job,” said Micheletto. “But as we talked to [sophomore] Alex [Wakaluk] and [rookie] Henry [Dill] coming in, we told them, ‘You have a chance to earn a job.'”

At the same time, UMass will lean heavily on fifth-year senior and talented goal scorer Troy Power not just to provide offensive firepower for the Minutemen but also leadership as he takes on the role of captain. Power is coming off a campaign in which he netted 10 goals after scoring just four times in his previous two-plus seasons.

“Troy has done a great job in the early going bringing positive energy,” Micheletto said. “He’s done a great job of welcoming these new guys all on his own.”

But it likely will be a rookie or two, possibly forwards Dennis Kravchenko or Patrick Lee, proven winners at the junior level, who will provide the offensive spark needed to lift UMass.

About the Minutemen

2013-14 record: 8-22-4

2013-14 conference record: 4-13-3 (10th)

2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): 11th

Key losses: F Conor Sheary, F Michael Pereira, F Branden Gracel, D Joel Hanley

Key returnees: F Troy Power, F Steven Iacobellis, D Oleg Yevenko, G Steve Mastalerz

Why the Minutemen will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: Goaltender Steve Mastalerz was solid at times last year and could steal a few games this year. Similarly, Steven Iacobellis proved he can score goals, something UMass desperately needs this season.

Why the Minutemen will finish lower than the coaches poll: A pretty dismal team a year ago, the Minutemen lost most of their key players, including seven of their top nine scorers. If they can’t replace that offense, scoring goals will be a major issue.