The Massachusetts hockey team looks nothing like it did just a year ago.
The Minutemen lost four of their star players to the NHL and others to graduation following last season’s campaign. Now, UMass will lean on its young core, which includes 13 freshmen to provide scoring on offense and leadership on defense.
Unlike last year, UMass coach Don Cahoon expects scoring to come from all of his forwards. With such a young corps, Cahoon will look to his few upperclassmen and select underclassmen to provide veteran-type leadership. Of the upperclassmen, seniors Marc Concannon, Brian Keane, Chase Langeraap, Mike Lecomte and Shawn Saunders will all share the responsibility of carrying the offense.
Last year as a junior, Lecomte proved to be one of the Minutemen’ s best centers through the first 20 games, scoring four goals and adding six assists, winning 53 percent of faceoffs. Provided he can stay healthy, Lecomte should expect a career-year statistically.
Juniors Danny Hobbs and T.J. Syner, who both played significant roles on the team last year as sophomores, were named co-captains coming into the year.
Hobbs played in 33 games last year, registering three goals and six assists. He is expected to log a lot of minutes this year as he anchors the offense with Syner.
Last year, Syner played on the same line with James Marcou and Casey Wellman, who were both among the nation’ s leaders in scoring and have since signed contracts with NHL teams.
Sophomore forward Rocco Carzo, who was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, is also expected to contribute this season. Carzo tallied six goals and six assists in 32 games last year on the team’s second power play unit.
Last year, Cahoon employed a rigid power play unit which featured various players no longer with the team. With a revamped roster, Cahoon does not have set power play units as of yet as the Minutemen have struggled to score goals on the man- advantage thus far.
“I think we’re going to have to make up for [the loss of our veterans] by committee on the power play,” Cahoon said. “I can’t see anybody coming in and doing exactly what [Marcou] and [Wellman] were able to do.”
As for the freshmen, there are a few who have made an early impression. Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary have played in each of UMass’ three games this season, both registering a goal and an assist. Brandon Gracel has also contributed early on with an assist. All have impressed Cahoon thus far and are expected to log substantial ice time this year.
Since 2000-01, when Cahoon began his head coaching tenure with UMass, he’s stressed the importance of the defense contributing offensively.
“We play five-man defense and five-man offense,” Cahoon said.
This year, Cahoon will look to junior defenseman Michael Marcou to lead the young defensive core as well as being a main blue-liner on the power play.
“Mike is certainly going to be given a big opportunity to contribute on the power play,” Cahoon said. “Mike has adapted to [our system] well and we started to really see him contribute on the offensive end of things last season and I think he’ll continue to do that.”
Sophomore defenseman Darren Rowe is expected to join Marcou for the majority of power plays. Described as a very gifted offensive defenseman, Rowe shares the team lead in scoring with two goals and an assist through three games along with Syner and Marcou.
Freshman defenseman Conor Allen has played in all three games this year, warranting Cahoon’s attention with his style of play.
“You can see the physical makeup of Allen just by looking at him,” Cahoon said. “He plays at over 200 pounds and he has attributes not so unlike Justin Braun. He handles the puck [well]. He’s in the initial stages of his college career and I think he’ll make a real nice fit.”
Going deeper in the defensive unit, Adam Phillips, who stands 6-foot-6, has gotten early playing time, but is expected to be further integrated down the road. Cahoon said he expected to work with Phillips as they try to add up to 20 pounds to his 180-pound frame in the next 15 months.
Perhaps the most comforting aspect of this year’s squad is its goaltenders. Senior Paul Dainton was named captain during the offseason and will return as one of the league’s premier netminders. With freshman Jeff Teglia opening eyes as his backup, the Minutemen are confident between the pipes.
On Oct. 9 against Minnesota, Dainton was injured and was relieved by Teglia, who came on during a 5-on-3 penalty kill. He went on to make 18 saves in the contest. In UMass’ last game against Boston University, Teglia received first star honors after stopping 31-of-33 shots en route to a 2-2 draw, as well as the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week by Hockey East.
“Dainton has been a real good goaltender for us for three years now and he’s certainly a huge piece to this program,” Cahoon said. “It’ s nice to know we have a backup guy in Jeff Teglia that can go on in and play at a high level as well.”
It is believed that Dainton will command the majority of the starts this season.
“I can’t make a statement on [Teglia’s role when Dainton comes back],” Cahoon said. “You watch these guys play day-in and day-out and you make a decision game-to-game based on their performances in practice.”
Kevin Moore is the team’s third goalie. Cahoon considers him more of a presence in the locker room as a superior leader and also received team votes for captain during the offseason.
Dainton holds supreme confidence in his young team this year.
“We do have a young team and there are some pros and cons to that. The cons being that you lack experience that an older team would have. But the pros would be that you don’t have that sense of entitlement. We’ve had the skill before, but it’s been that skill with an ego.”
With a young team fighting for ice time, Dainton believes that this could be the hardest working team he’s ever been on. Cahoon echoes that sentiment as well.
“Nobody is thinking that their role is less significant than anyone else’s role,” Cahoon said. “We don’t have that star quality. Some players might develop into star players, but this year is more of a group thing than it is an individual thing.”
Steven Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.