The dean of Hockey East blogging, the oft imitated and never duplicated Fear the Triangle, took the time to chat with BC Interruption about his UMass Minutemen in preparation for tonight's game.
1. You came out this week and called for the firing of coach Micheletto. Was there a last straw that made you come to this conclusion?
FTT>> Yes and no. I've had concerns about his ability to lead the program from early on. He was handed a talented (though not overly deep) roster that included NHLers Conor Allen and Conor Sheary as well as some other skilled players like Joel Hanley and Mike Pereira. But instead of trying to make the most with what he had, he instead tried to institute an insane system that pretty much abandons any semblance of defense. Those guys would end up making big contributions (Sheary and Pereira are in the top 10 in all time points at UMass) but the team would lose by pretty big margins. Fans were told once he had "his players" for "his system," they would win. Well, he's had mostly his players for the last two years and UMass continues to find itself at or near the bottom of the Hockey East standings. The team has won just 3 of its last 18 games and was outscored 9-1 in a sweep this past weekend at the hands of Lowell and River Hawk goaltender Kevin Boyle, a player that Micheletto cut to free up his scholarship. He doesn't look any closer to turning things around than when he took over three and a half seasons ago.
2. What do you think is the best case scenario for the rest of the season and what needs to happen in order for UMass to achieve that best case scenario?
FTT>> Just to get a few more wins under their belt and hope the young players can develop despite the current negative atmosphere around the program. When the season began there were hopes that the team would at least finish with a winning record. Then when they began to struggle the hope was to finish at .500 and host a first-round series. Now the hope is just to stay out of the Hockey East basement. To do so they'll need to get healthy, though. They're currently missing three players on defense, including Oiler draft pick William Lagesson, and Dennis Kravchenko at forward. However, even when all those players were in the lineup in November and December, they still weren't playing all that well so health alone may not make the difference.
3. Who have been some of the bright spots or pleasant surprises this year for UMass?
FTT>> Without a doubt Shane Walsh has been the biggest bright spot. He had a relatively quiet career for his first two and a half seasons, but starting last January he has exploded offensively. He has 27 goals over his last 41 games. He's currently tied for 8th nationally with 15 goals scored. Because of Micheletto's system and the goals allowed it produces at first glance one would assume the team is void of talent on defense. But that's not the case. In addition to Lagesson, freshmen Ivan Chukarov and Callum Fryer have done well in their first years in Amherst, with Fyrer especially playing well in recent games in terms of his positioning and providing some physical play that the team overall has lacked. Freshman goaltender Nic Renyard is trying to become the first Minuteman goaltender with a save percentage in the .900s since Paul Dainton in 2008-09.
4. What has been the team's biggest flaw?
FTT>> Everything has been a problem at different points in time during the season. The team was scoring at a good rate when the season started in October but from Halloween onward they're scoring just 1.72 goals per game with a power play of 7.5%. They're not getting any production outside of the Walsh-Steven Iacobellis-Ray Pigozzi line. The team had a few flashes of playing decent defensively but, in what's become a Micheletto team trademark, UMass is currently dead last among Hockey East teams in goals allowed with 3.61. In the end, the biggest flaw appears to be coaching.
5. Do you think UMass will move on from Micheletto after the season if they continue to struggle? What type of profile would you be looking for in a new coach?
FTT>> It's tough to tell since he does have one year left on his contract. UMass Athletic Director Ryan Bamford only started this past Spring so he doesn't have any history regarding what prompts him to make a coaching change. I would think it would be a distinct possibility given Micheletto's .350 career win percentage, the dwindling crowds at the Mullins Center, and the increasingly louder calls for his head from the remaining fans and boosters. I would like the school to bring in a coach who has proven success as a head coach (think Nate Leaman with Providence) or a top assistant at a high level program (Cavanaugh with UConn). They could even reach into the pro assistant ranks like Boston University did. No matter who is selected I think it's important that the new coach immerse himself into the UMass community. Micheletto has never made much of an effort to engage the fanbase or the Amherst community and that has exacerbated the problems with attendance, fundraising, and sponsorships. Building a successful college hockey program is more than just assembling a team of players.
6. Any predictions for UMass's two games this weekend?
FTT>> It's tough to expect UMass to be competitive against BC on Friday considering how the Eagles thrashed the Minutemen 7-0 back when UMass was playing much better hockey in early November. I just hope not to see a 3-on-0 "Flying V" breakaway this time. I'm not sure what to expect against Vermont. UMass played them tough earlier in the season, coming back late to secure a tie up in Burlington. And the Cats are coming off a poor showing against Providence at home. But Micheletto is winless in his last 6 games against his former team, so I'm not overly optimistic.
Thanks again for agreeing to do this Q&A and for all the great work you do covering UMass hockey!
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