Steven Iacobellis ready to assume captain role for UMass hockey

By Jason Kates

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The role of team captain is one of the most sacred positions in all of sports.

It’s the leader. It’s the one who younger guys look up to. It’s the player who must pick the team up if things aren’t going the right way.

For Massachusetts hockey forward Steven Iacobellis, his time to lead has come.

At last year’s end-of-season banquet, coach John Micheletto announced that the rising junior was voted by his teammates to take the reins for the Minutemen following the graduation of former captain Troy Power.

With the overwhelming support of his teammates and Micheletto, it was clear the right choice had been made.

Collegian Graphics

(Collegian Graphics)

A NEW OPPORTUNITY

Iacobellis can’t remember exactly when he started playing hockey. What he did recall, however, was whether it was in an ice rink or on the street, he always had a stick in his hand.

“When I started skating I think I was about three or four, and I think I started playing hockey maybe when I was five,” he said.

A Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, native, Iacobellis grew up playing several sports. His father, Saverio, was a professional soccer player in Canada, so there was a chance he could follow in his dad’s footsteps. Iacobellis also played lacrosse, but as he got older, he realized neither of those two were for him.

His home was on the ice.

“I think I was grade eight or nine at the time and I had to make a decision on whether to stop playing soccer and other sports,” Iacobellis said. “I didn’t even know what a scholarship was at the time but my dad had told me that there’s a thing called a scholarship and I could get schooling out of it.”

When he heard that, his mind was made up.

“Ever since (my dad) told me that, it was in the back of my mind,” Iacobellis said. “When I started to realize what it was in the middle of high school, I fully understood what it meant to play Division I hockey.”

 

INTANGIBLES FROM THE START

Consistency is the key to becoming a great athlete, and that is what drew Micheletto to recruiting Iacobellis.

“He was the same player every time we saw him,” Micheletto said. “You don’t get that very often from guys at the junior or prep school level. If you get three or four evaluations and get two good ones and maybe a night where he’s not so good you can kind of write that up, but because of his competitiveness that just lent himself to great consistency.

“At that point we were trying to attract guys that took care of business and did it the right way. We were really fortunate that that one fell our way.”

After going through the recruiting process and being looked at by several schools, Iacobellis decided to take his talents to Amherst, a major boost for Micheletto and his staff.

“It was simply because when I first got here, the players and the entire organization right from the top treated me very professionally and made me feel at home,” Iacobellis said. “They kept their word that I would get a chance to prove myself and play. I couldn’t really say no to that.”

“We were really excited,” Micheletto recalled. “You try to recruit intangibles as much as hockey skills. Obviously he comes with a great set of skills on the ice, but you have a sense that this is a guy that could wear a letter for us at some point.”

Two years later, Micheletto’s hunch has come to fruition.

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian) 

THE RIGHT CHOICE

When it was revealed Iacobellis would be the captain for the 2015-16 season, he said it was a huge honor that his teammates felt confident in his ability to lead the team.

“I was very thankful,” he said. “There’s no question that there’s 25 or 26 other guys in that room that could be wearing this letter, it just happens to be me and I’m very honored.”

Junior Ray Pigozzi, who is one of Iacobellis’ best friends on and off the ice, believes all his teammates will follow the lead of their new captain.

“I don’t think the captain should be judged by age, but by who’s best fit for the spot,” Pigozzi said. “He’s a good guy, all the guys like him and I know we’ll all rally around him this year out on the ice.”

Shane Walsh, who’s one of two Minutemen entering his final year at UMass, agreed.

“It just shows you what the guys in the room think about him,” Walsh said. “I don’t think there’s anybody else that I’d rather have lead this team. He’s a great character guy that leads by example and I think he’s gonna make a great captain for sure.”

There are several qualities that a captain must embody if he wishes to maintain the trust of his teammates. According to Micheletto, many of these traits are visible in Iacobellis, and he believes his players chose the best option.

“With your peers, it’s important to be both well liked and well respected and that’s hard,” Micheletto said. “I think sometimes guys defer and won’t have a hard conversation when one is required, but because he handles his business the right way, Steve has a tremendous amount of respect.

“The way the vote went, I think it was a pretty easy choice from the guys’ perspective and certainly one that we thought was the right one. I’m excited for him and for the guys to have a leader like Steve.”

Regarding his play out on the ice, both Pigozzi and Walsh acknowledged Iacobellis’ hunger to succeed as a valuable attribute.

“He brings a lot of drive and a lot of passion,” Pigozzi said. “I’ve noticed over the years that you can tell he definitely cares about everything we do each day and it’s definitely something you want in a captain.”

“Anyone you ask up and down the locker room, you know that he comes to work every day and works as hard as he can, on and off the ice,” Walsh added.

 

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Despite defeating Notre Dame in the first game of their first-round best-of-three series in the Hockey East tournament, the Minutemen lost the following two games, crashing out of the postseason in a 7-0 defeat that ended their season.

Iacobellis admitted that those last two contests against the Fighting Irish left a bitter taste in his mouth, but also looked at it as something to build off of entering this season.

“It took a toll on us and we just couldn’t rebound the way we would’ve liked to,” he said. “It’s definitely something that we look at and we know that we had the character in the room that could do stuff like that.”

In the preseason polls, UMass was once again picked to finish in the cellar of the conference. For Iacobellis and his teammates, these early predictions are not something they are too worried about.

“We’ve been notified and guys have seen that, but we don’t want to take that personally,” Iacobellis said. “They’re preseason polls for a reason, but at the same time it’s a way for us to really surprise people and go out there and give it everything that we have every night.”

With Iacobellis getting ready to begin his third year with the program, Micheletto believes the junior has gained the step in his play that he lacked when he first arrived for his freshman year.

“The great thing about Steve was that his effort always made up for being maybe a quarter step shy,” Micheletto said. “In his third year I think he’s gained that step in his stride efficiency, which in addition to his effort is really going to make him a tough guy to defend around the Hockey East circle.”

With the regular season set to begin Friday against Colorado College, Iacobellis discussed his goals for the upcoming campaign.

“It’s a cliché, but just for the team,” he said. “Every night we’re going to take it game-by-game and we’re not going to look past that. Every game is going to be as important as the next, and that’s all we can do.”

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