It’s not too often that Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi aren’t together. They’re roommates, they’re both freshmen and in a matter of weeks they’ve already become good friends.
One thing that brings the pair together is a very common interest: hockey. When they’re in their dorm room, they’re usually talking about it. When they’re not, they’re practicing and playing alongside one another on the same line for the Massachusetts hockey team.
In the Minutemen’s first two games this season, Iacobellis and Pigozzi were placed on the second line with redshirt junior forward Troy Power, and their immediate chemistry was already noticeable.
The trio accounted for two of UMass’ three goals this weekend in losses to Boston University and UMass Lowell.
On Friday at BU, Pigozzi moved well on the ice and made plays with the puck, while Iacobellis scored his first-career goal on the power play on a one-timer from the left circle.
On Saturday in Lowell, the trio struck on the power play again as both freshmen were on the ice for Power’s goal on a backhanded rebound bid after the initial shot by Colin Shea deflected off the pad of River Hawks goaltender Doug Carr and onto Power’s stick.
Iacobellis came close again on a power play in the first period, but his open attempt went just wide of the net.
Iacobellis and Pigozzi were certainly happy to be out there together to help create such opportunities, and Iacobellis thinks that their chemistry will be essential to their success this season.
“He’s hilarious,” Iacobellis said of his roommate. “I think being roommates goes into our chemistry on the ice. We understand each other, we understand the way we play and he’s got a lot of skill so it makes it so much easier. When we’re around each other in the dorms we talk about the game a lot. I think that also contributes to the on-ice chemistry.”
Iacobellis and Pigozzi may turn out to be a perfect match for the Minutemen, but their skill sets couldn’t be more different.
UMass coach John Micheletto described Iacobellis as a “high motor” player who can “make plays at the high end.” Pigozzi, on the other hand, plays at a slower pace and is more of a pass-first player who Micheletto said has “very good vision and good play-making ability.”
“It winds up being a good balance where Steven is pushing Ray’s pace and Ray is finding when it’s appropriate to slow it down,” Micheletto said.
Then, of course, there’s the veteran presence that Power adds to the line.
The redshirt junior’s season ended on Nov. 30 of last year after suffering a season-ending knee injury, but now he’s serving not only as a key contributor to the UMass attack, particularly on the power play, but also as a mentor to his younger, less experienced linemates.
“Whenever we don’t know something we go right up to Troy,” Iacobellis said. “‘Hey Troy, what are we doing? What are we doing here? What’s this?’ He’s quick on the rebound to help us out so it definitely makes it more enjoyable and makes it easier. I think that helps with the nerves as well. He’s helped us. He’s helped me tremendously in that sense.”
Pigozzi echoed Iacobellis’ sentiment, saying, “He’s been here a while, he knows how the game goes, he knows what the coaches want. He gives us little reminders on the bench, telling us what to do, so it helps watching the way he plays.”
Micheletto said that the line’s biggest strength is its ability to communicate. With a pair of freshmen on the line, Micheletto said that it can be rare for players to have such strong communication skills.
But that’s also what has set this group apart in the early-goings.
“At practice and on the bench in games they’re constantly problem-solving and talking,” Micheletto said. “That’s just natural to them. Some guys can be more quiet than others, but they’re developing a good chemistry in terms of their communication and problem-solving ability, which makes them a pretty effective line.”
Before the season, the Minutemen were hoping to find scoring depth outside the first line of Conor Sheary, Branden Gracel and Michael Pereira. Based on the opening weekend, there’s reason to believe that the second line could add to the attack both on even strength and the power play despite UMass still being winless.
Now it’s just a matter of progressing into a consistently-producing unit with Michigan State at Mullins Center for a pair this weekend.
“I thought we had some good chemistry going for the two games,” Pigozzi said. “We haven’t had much time together, but working together throughout the week I think we’ve got some good stuff going on. I think we had some stuff going on the offensive attack most of the time and I thought it worked out pretty well. Hopefully it’ll be even better leading into this weekend.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.