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December 28, 2016

Recruiting never stops for UMass hockey team

Maria Uminski/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s hockey team had a rare weekend off after their series with Boston College ended on Friday. While the players used it as an opportunity to get some much-needed rest, UMass coach John Micheletto hit the recruiting trail.

Micheletto had little time to digest the Minutemen’s hard-fought, 2-2 tie with the Eagles on Friday night. As soon as the team bus returned to Amherst, the second-year coach had his mind set on a 7 a.m. flight out of Hartford, Conn. on Saturday morning.

With practices all week and multiple games during the weekend, it’s not often that Micheletto has the chance to do some in-season recruiting. But as a former director of recruiting at Vermont, the experience was certainly nothing new for him.

“It’s what you do,” Micheletto said. “We gotta take advantage of those weekends. When you’re a head coach, you don’t get out as much as you used to. So when you’re off Saturday and Sunday and you have an opportunity to get somewhere, you gotta take advantage of it.”

On Tuesday, fans got a chance to see the results of Micheletto’s efforts, as the team announced that six players signed a National Letter of Intent to join UMass next season as part of the class of 2018.

The group includes Brandon Egli, a 5-foot-10-inch, 185-pound defenseman from the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League; Dennis Kravchenko, a 5-foot-9-inch, 176-pound forward from the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League; Patrick Lee, a 5-foot-9-inch, 154-pound forward from the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League; Maddison Smiley, a 6-foot, 181-pound defenseman who is a teammate of Lee’s on the Bandits; Brandon Montour, a 6-foot, 174-pound defenseman of the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks and 5-foot-11-inch, 170-pound forward Dominic Trento from the New Jersey Hitmen of the United States Premier Hockey League.

All six players were brought in to fit Micheletto’s fast style of play that includes being aggressive on both ends of the ice. With nine players and 16 upperclassmen on the roster, the Minutemen could use all of the incoming reinforcements that they can get.

“We’re losing a lot of numbers and a lot of guys who have put up points here,” Micheletto said. “We’re not eager to see those guys go, but at the same time, we’re excited about the guys we’ve been able to commit. They are a lot of guys forward-wise as well as from the blue line that have put up points, so I think they’ll continue to add to the offensive mindset while being able to play both sides of the puck.”

However, getting players to commit to a program requires much more than early-morning flights across the country (as well as Canada). It is the job of Micheletto and the entire coaching staff to sell the team as well as the school in general to the recruit.

According to Micheletto, one of the biggest selling-points of UMass is that a player doesn’t have to choose between getting a quality education and playing hockey at the highest level.

Micheletto also uses UMass’ location as a recruiting tool. He explains to recruits that they won’t have to deal with living in the middle of a busy city, but they will still get the experience of living in a lively town.

“For our guys that have come in, I think they’ve been surprised,” Micheletto said. “They either pictured us being Boston because we’re in Massachusetts, or they pictured us being out in the middle of nowhere.

“Either way, I think when they come here, they’ve been pleasantly surprised with what they have to offer. They don’t have as many negatives with being in the big city, along with the positives of still having things to do outside of sitting in your dormitory.”

The most important element, of course, is the product on the ice, and Micheletto can’t help but get excited when he sees the potential his future teams have with each commitment, let alone getting six players to sign at once.

“Recruiting is so year-round, and you get that little jolt of energy from guys when you get a verbal commitment, and you’re thinking about how you’re adding him to the mix and how the picture is rounding out for that class, what do you need next when you get that,” Micheletto said. “It’s good, but it is one at a time at that point. Now you’re getting everybody to sign and you’re seeing it as a whole class, and it’s a lot easier to find your excitement for the future and seeing all those pieces and how they fit together.”

There have only been 12 games this season, but Micheletto’s first recruiting class has already made its presence felt. Steven Iacobellis (seven points) and Ray Pigozzi (six) are fifth and sixth in scoring for UMass and have mainstays on the Minutemen’s most productive line, alongside Troy Power, this season.

Add that to the impressive first two career starts from goaltender Mac Haight over the weekend, which earned him Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors, and the sky-high expectations surrounding the debut of Frank Vatrano, and UMass appears to have plenty to look forward to in the future.

But with the departure of numerous key players at the end of the season and plenty of spots to fill, there’s no shortage of playing time to be had. And Micheletto is making that clear to his potential recruits.

“When you lose a (Conor) Sheary and a (Branden) Gracel and a (Michael) Pereira and a (Joel) Hanley and (Colin) Shea and guys that eat big, big minutes, now guys coming in—it’s not promised to them or guaranteed to them—but the opportunity to fill a role of guys that played in big situations and critical moments, that’s what they’re aspiring to,” Micheletto said. “That’s the hope from their standpoint. It’s certainly things that we point to like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna need guys to come in and play right away.’”

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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