Last is never a fun place to finish. Generally, however, last-place teams receive the hidden “benefit” that not too many eyes are upon them.
That didn’t prove to be the case last season for Massachusetts, which drew enough attention of NHL teams that redshirt sophomore Frank Vatrano and single-semester freshman Brandon Montour were both lured away by pro contracts, leaving significant holes on a team that didn’t exactly have upper-echelon talent.
That’s the bad news for coach John Micheletto. The good news is that there were a handful of good young players, including leading scorer Dennis Kravchenko. Statistically, in fact, six of the club’s top seven scorers last season were underclassmen (including Vatrano and Montour), which does place some hope that those players will improve.
“I’d like to see our young guys continue to develop,” said Micheletto. “We had a freshman class last year of 11 guys. You’re going to ride the wave a little bit of highs and lows. But the way that they played in the second half, in spite of having to play big minutes in big situations, I was excited.”
Although this team again will be made up primarily of underclassmen, one player Micheletto hopes can take a big step forward with his game is senior forward Shane Walsh. Walsh was fourth on the team in scoring a year ago with 14 goals and 22 points. His growth could be a major part of this team’s offensive success.
“Shane has had an interesting career,” said Micheletto. “He had to find his way and his role as a younger player. Finding that consistent competitiveness is always tough for guys, especially those with a good skill set who haven’t been pushed to do some of the details of the game.
“But we saw that turn in Shane’s game at the halfway point last year and now the natural skill set is able to come out.”
A glaring question may be in net for UMass. Henry Dill is the sole returner with significant game experience, a position that wasn’t consistent last season.
“Henry Dill had to play more and earlier than we wanted him to [last year],” said Micheletto.
He will be joined by the MVP of Canadian junior hockey a season ago in Nic Renyard, someone Micheletto hopes can take on significant minutes as a rookie.
All of those aspects give UMass and its coach the hope that it can rise from the league’s bottom.
“We’re on a good path,” said Micheletto. “This year is another stop forward for us.”
11-23-2, 5-16-1 (12th) in Hockey East. Lost to Notre Dame in the Hockey East first round.
Names to know
Last year’s rookie phenom Kravchenko leads all returning scorers for the Minutemen and will have both Steven Iacobellis and Walsh, each proven scorers, to help pace this Minutemen team.
1. Is this team deep enough? That has plagued the Minutemen. They always have some offensive talent, but is there enough talent there to be competitive for three-to-four scoring lines?
2. How much will Montour be missed? He played only 21 games for UMass a season ago but the team arguably played its best hockey over that stretch. Can someone fill that hole left by the one-semester rental?
3. Will this team receive consistent goaltending? That was a burning question last year and the resounding answer was no. Dill is the one experienced returner and at times looked solid a season ago. This team may go only as far as its goaltending can carry it.
Jim Connelly (12th place): You don’t expect the last-place team to lose talent to the pros, especially not two underclassmen. But that’s what happened to UMass, which could make for a long season ahead.
Dave Hendrickson (12th place): The cupboard appears very bare. It’s hard to see this team avoiding another last-place finish.