The 2012-13 Massachusetts hockey team already has a different feel to it from last season.
Coming off a 13-18-5 season that saw a bunch of up’s and down’s and ended with a share of eighth place in the Hockey East Assocation, the Minutemen made their first big move in the summer, as longtime coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon stepped down and Vermont associate head coach John Micheletto was brought in.
“It’s exciting to say the least,” Micheletto said. “I think that word can certainly be overused, but obviously it’s exciting when you work very hard to do the best that you can every stop along the way when you’re in this profession.”
The transition may not come easily for Micheletto, as he joins a team that was predicted to finish ninth in the Hockey East preseason polls. Fortunately, UMass returns two of its top three scorers from last season in junior forwards Conor Sheary (35 points) and Michael Pereira (34 points), and will be looking for both guys to lead by example once again.
“I think a lot of us who have been here for a couple years now have gained the part of being a leader,” Pereira said. “Showing some of the younger guys what it takes and you know it’s new for us too, but to help them and the learning curve of college hockey is a big slide from what they’ve come from.”
The Minutemen come into this season with a lot of experience, as only four freshmen on this year’s roster.
This experienced team also has a 9-4-3 home record under its belt, which could come in handy since the team went a dismal 2-13-2 on the road last season.
The Minutemen open up this season with 11 of 16 games at home before the winter break, meaning that success at home early can put the team in a good spot heading into the second half of the season.
“I always want us to be a better second-half team,” Micheletto said. “Having said that, the biggest thing we’re focusing on is being a more consistent team. I want us to be the same UMass on Friday as we are on Saturday.”
Last season, UMass struggled against unranked opponents, like Providence, but would then defeat teams like Boston College, which went on to win the national championship.
One major question mark that hangs over this year’s squad is in goal.
Micheletto is looking for all three goalkeepers — Kevin Boyle, Steve Mastalerz and junior Jeff Teglia – to make it difficult in naming a starter.
“I think having three guys battle really hard, because they’re all aiming just to get minutes, is always a good situation,” Micheletto said. “It’s going to be interesting to monitor the situation throughout the year and see if one guy emerges or if we are going to stay into some sort of rotation giving the start to whoever wins the job in any given week of practice.”
The Minutemen open its season on Friday at home against Connecticut. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.