John Micheletto makes coaching debut against UConn Friday

By Nick Canelas

Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto is approaching his first game as a head coach the same way his wife, a college professor, approaches exam day.

“Our work is predominantly done once we show up for the game,” Micheletto said. “Now it’s the guys showing what they’ve learned and what they know. So if you’re a (coach), your work has all been done in the week leading up to the game and the game is an opportunity for (the players) to express themselves.”

The first test for UMass is Friday at 7 p.m., when the Minutemen host Connecticut at the Mullins Center for the program’s first regular season game without former coach Don “Toot” Cahoon behind the bench in over 12 years after he stepped down this summer.

While Micheletto’s title may be different than any other he’s held before, he feels his over 20 years as an assistant coach at the collegiate level makes his job no different than his past experiences and that the ultimate goal is still the same. In fact, all he said he’s truly eager for is to see his players have success.

“When you get into coaching it’s not about you, it’s about providing guys with opportunities,” he said. “It’s what you do when you’re an assistant coach, it’s what you do when you’re a head coach.

“I think you’d like to think it’s just one guy pulling all the strings back there but it really is a staff. You take counsel with the guys that you trust and it’s usually more of a consensus than it is a one-man opinion.”

UConn makes its first trip to Amherst since the two team’s previous meeting back in December 2008, which UMass won, 5-1. However, no current player on either team’s roster was there at the time, leaving both teams with little familiarity with one another.

That will soon change when the Huskies join the Hockey East Association in 2014-15 after accepting an invitation to join the conference in June, something that Micheletto said could help stir up a rivalry that’s never really had a chance to develop on the ice.

“I think there’s no question that moving forward as they join Hockey East that it’s going to develop into a bigger rivalry hockey-wise than it has in the past,” Micheletto said. “I’m certainly learning from the greater UMass community and Amherst at large that UMass-UConn is already a pretty heated rivalry, so we’re certainly looking forward not only to getting on the ice but playing in what is going to be a big, big rivalry moving forward.”

The Minutemen can expect a fairly young Huskies team with four of its top five scorers returning from a 16-19-4 season a year ago. However, that one exception was the Huskies’ top scorer Cole Schneider (45 points), who left after his sophomore year last season to pursue a professional career in the Ottawa Senators organization.

UConn does, however, have its biggest strength still intact from last season: goaltending. Senior net-minder Garrett Bartus started 39 games for the Huskies last season, finishing with a 2.55 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.

Micheletto hasn’t seen any tape of UConn from last season and has no plans to view any of it before Friday. Instead, he plans to stay focused on the concerns of his own team.

“At this stage of the game, I think that the more you focus on your team on this opening weekend and get them to play the way you want them to play, I think that’s a much better way,” Micheletto said.

What Micheletto said he’s interested in seeing how the team handles adversity and how some players will handle being benched or seeing reduced playing time.

However, those lineups are not set in stone. And while Micheletto was uncertain early in the week about specific line combinations, he has an idea of how he wants them formatted.

“I think there’s some guys that have a lot of versatility and can play with a variety of different players and then usually find two guys that really have a connection,” Micheletto said. “We put the two guys with the connection with the guy with versatility. I think that’s usually a good way to build lines and find guys that gel together.”

What Micheletto can say for certain is that his team is ready to make a statement this season and overcome a stretch of losing seasons in four of the past five years.

“I don’t think anybody likes to be average, I don’t think you get into sports to do that,” he said. “I know I didn’t get into coaching to help guys achieve mediocrity. I think our guys are really hungry to prove that they’ve got more to show than they’ve shown in their careers here.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.