John Micheletto senses progress, confidence following win over UNH

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team appears to be turning a corner. It’s unclear what the size of that corner is, or whether the improved play will continue. But considering what they once endured, any kind of progress is a welcomed sight.

UMass is 3-3 since returning from winter break following its 6-4 victory over New Hampshire Friday night. The Minutemen are allowing a respectable three goals a game in that stretch, but more importantly, aren’t wilting or shying away from conflict when other team’s strike offensively.

They did it twice against the Wildcats, re-taking the lead twice in the third period after UNH scored potentially deflating goals.

“We had some hard lessons that we had to learn,” Minutemen coach John Micheletto said.

“I think we’re getting good leadership not just from the seniors, but the guys that mature in those roles. The sophomores and the junior are stepping forward not only as players but as voices in the room. We certainly know we can score goals if we do things the right way. Obviously, we don’t want to be in a position to continue to answer but it’s also a sign of our confidence that we can continue to do that when needed.

Micheletto is seeing a team which is finally coming around.

“I think we know how we want to play the game,” he said. “I think that you’re seeing that again. The lows don’t stay for four, five, six minutes where we lose our energy and can’t regain some semblance of our identity.

And that’s a really, really important step for a program to take. You’re going to be who you are and you’ve got to own that and stick to it, no matter what the circumstances.”

There were tough losses at the beginning of the season. UMass lost 8-1 to Boston University in its season opener and was swept by Maine in a weekend series in which the Black Bears outscored the Minutemen by two total goals.

It got worse in November, when Vermont beat UMass 11-1 in Amherst. At one point, UMass lost seven of eight games and ended the first half of the season with a thud, falling to Northeastern 8-3 at home.

Yet Micheletto didn’t sense a locker room mired in despair.

“Our locker room’s been good,” he said. “There were times at the first half of the year that were real low points, there’s no question about it. But I give our guys credit, it’s something that we talked about.”

He looked back to his first career loss as UMass’ head coach, a 5-4 loss to Boston College in 2012. He walked into the locker room the following day and heard no music or laughter from his players.

His message to them? It should sound much like it does after a win. The focus, no matter a win or a loss, remains the same and a championship program must only move forward. It’s a message he believes players on this year’s team took to heart.

“I don’t know that there’s been a huge, huge weight on our shoulders,” Micheletto said. “At least I haven’t felt it when I’m in the room.”

UMass’ success to start the second half of the season – And more specifically its conference schedule – comes against a UNH team also near the bottom of the Hockey East standings. But there’s no denying that improvement is evident.

“I’m happy with how we attacked the second half of the year,” Micheletto said. “To be able to kill four third penalties and come away with a victory against a very good offensive team is a real nice start to the second half of the league schedule for us.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.