Frank Vatrano excited to boost UMass hockey

By Jason Kates

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Photo by Cade Belisle

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

After the Massachusetts hockey team fell to Vermont in the first round of last year’s Hockey East tournament, forward Frank Vatrano was already looking toward the next season.

For the redshirt sophomore, the loss was the only game he participated in during the entire 2013-2014 campaign due to NCAA rules that prohibited him from playing in the regular season following his transfer from Boston College.

Now, after a long and difficult wait, Vatrano can finally hit the ice for his first full season as a member of the Minutemen as a stronger person, not just physically, but mentally as well.

“I think that was the biggest thing I needed to work on, especially sitting out for that long,” Vatrano said. “I think there were times when I got away from that, and it was tough to get mentally ready when you sit out for an extended period of time like that.

“I think from doing that it’s made my mindset a lot better. I’m excited to finally get a full year under my belt.”

Growing up, Vatrano said that he always had a dream of competing at the collegiate level.  Now, he will finally get to showcase his talents in a loaded Hockey East.

“It feels awesome,” he said. “Unfortunately I had a bit of a delay to that, but now I’m finally excited to get started.”

Vatrano said that he focused on improving many areas of his game in the offseason, as he prepared for a rigorous UMass schedule which includes games against Boston University, Providence College and his former school, the Eagles. He spent an ample amount of time improving his conditioning.

“I think just getting faster and getting my conditioning up,” Vatrano said. “You know hockey is a really fast game, so with better conditioning and the faster you are, the easier the game comes to you.”

Minutemen coach John Micheletto praised his young forward regarding his development in the offseason and said he believes Vatrano can have the breakout year that everyone is expecting.

“Nobody has worked harder than Frank Vatrano in a no-carrot situation like he’s been in,” Micheletto said. “He knew that he wasn’t gonna be in the lineup and a lot of times not having that carrot dangling in front of you puts you in situations where you have highs and lows with your effort and focus.

“That never happened with Frank last year and to his credit, he worked harder than anybody to try and get better, despite not being able to play in any games. I think we saw on Saturday night that although it’s not a finished product with Frank right now, he’s in a good spot.”

Micheletto said that having a player of Vatrano’s caliber on the sidelines for an entire season makes him excited to watch him perform immediately this year.

“It’s huge,” Micheletto said. “We were hopeful that things work out differently last year and that we would get him for at least half the year. That was a disappointment and certainly hurt our lineup, but to have him now for a full season, not only what his skill set is but what he brings to the rest of the team is important as we continue to build a championship team.”

As an offensive player, creating chances and scoring goals is something Vatrano said he prides himself on, as well as using his shot to set up his teammates when they enter the offensive zone.

With UMass losing its top three leaders in points last season due to graduation in Conor Sheary, Michael Pereira and Branden Gracel, Micheletto said he believes a player like Vatrano could step up and fill the void as an offensive threat.

“The pedigree that he (Frank) comes with and the productivity he’s had in years past will certainly put him in a situation where he can make up for that,” Micheletto said. “Hopefully at some point he exceeds that sort of production. As we look at it right now, he’s certainly a guy we will turn to and he’s gonna carry a big load for us.”

In an exhibition against Dalhousie on Saturday, Micheletto placed Vatrano on the starting line with senior captain Troy Power and freshman Dennis Kravchenko. The three combined for five points, with Vatrano tallying a goal and an assist.

“I think we’ll stick with it for a while,” Micheletto said. “Obviously, you never know how things are gonna work out, you see guys continue to mesh and mature together.

“Right now their skill sets complement each other and personality-wise it seems to be a good fit, so I think we’ll stick with it.”

 

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @Jason_Kates.