After a one year hiatus, one of my favorite hockey blogs out there, Fear The Triangle, is back for another year of talking UMass hockey. He was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the Minutemen as we look toward Saturday night's BC-UMass game at Conte Forum.
1. First of all, this isn't really a question, but it's great to have you out of retirement. How goes life and the return to bloggin'?
Thanks. It's good to be back. Glad to have the chance to help Massachusetts hockey fans and those from around the league follow the Minutemen again. Life is great! My wife and I welcomed a daughter to our family last summer which was why I put the blog aside in the first place. And it's probably a good thing I did since I never would've been able to keep up with the writing and adjust to the major lifestyle change that is fatherhood. But 15 months later my daughter is wonderful and has quickly developed an equally wonderful bedtime routine that leaves me some free time to write about hockey again at night. She's been incorporated into my passion for UMass hockey and already is a regular at the Mullins Center and well acquainted with Sam The Minuteman.
2. Let's start with the bad for UMass. That opening game against BU was horrible. What happened?
First, the game wasn't as bad as the final score looked. While BU controlled play for a good deal of the first two periods, the Terriers only led 2-1 going into the third with the Minutemen having a power play and chance to tie to start the third. BU killed the penalty and quickly increased their lead and that's when the wheels fell off. I'm still not sure what exactly happened. With UMass as young as they are (9 freshmen on the roster) I think they got a little shell-shocked and didn't really know how to respond to the adversity they were suddenly faced with. Add in a talented BU team that smelled blood in the water and you got a combination of factors that led to the jaw-dropping 8-1 result.
3. Things looked a little bit better against Michigan State over the weekend. Aside from playing what is likely a weaker opponent, what changed for UMass? What looked better?
Unfortunately I could only listen to the games over the weekend but I think the biggest difference was mental. Whereas against BU the team fell apart when faced with the first sign of adversity, that didn't happen out in East Lansing. On Friday, the team could've given up after being down 2-0 and losing one of their upperclassmen on the blueline (Ben Gallacher) to nasty hit from behind early in the game. They didn't, they battled back to tie the game at 2 apiece, ultimately falling 5-3. On Saturday the team again found themselves down but got two timely goals in the last five minutes game, including the game winner with 9.9 seconds left, and gained their first win of the season. In Saturday's win the underclassmen not only didn't fold as they appeared to do against BU, but they flourished, accounting for 11 of the 12 points on the night.
4. On the whole, how are you feeling about the team right now? Expect progress this season or are you feeling the despondency about the hockey program that seems to exist whenever I check in on the UMass message boards?
I have no idea how to feel about the team right now. Saturday's win certainly is reason for hope, but Michigan State isn't expected to do much in the Big Ten. I've predicted anywhere from 5 to 15 wins for this team and I'll stick by that wide ranging projection. The team is just way too young and is needing to replace too much scoring lost to graduation to know what to truly expect. I do like the talent of this freshman group even though they're not as heralded as some other classes. I think they could surprise some top teams on certain nights, have repeats of the third period against BU, and everything in between. This is Micheletto's third year but it also kind of feels like his first with all these new players.
5. What would you classify as the team's biggest strengths this year?
I think eventually the team has enough skill on offense where they'll end up being a better scoring team than most people expect. It just may take a couple months for that to happen as all the new players get used to each other. UMass fans got a little taste of what Micheletto's teams can do on offense by having the second best power playing the league last year. The hope is the newcomers catch on fast while scoring more consistently at even strength as well.
6. How has old friend Frank Vatrano looked as he starts his first full season with the Minutemen?
He has generated a lot of offense, leading the team with 12 shots on goal. But that hasn't translated into any goals or assists through three games. It's probably too early in the season to talk about disappointments, but I'm certainly surprised Vatrano hasn't made it onto the score sheet yet. With the team being so young and losing so much goal scoring to graduation Vatrano absolutely has to make major contributions if UMass is going to find any success this season.
7. Do you feel like Michiletto has a vision for the kind of team he wants to build/the kind of style he wants to play? Not to compare UMasses but it seems like Bazin at Lowell has implemented a system and focused on recruiting players to play that system, which has helped Lowell develop into a contender. How about the flagship?
Micheletto has a very specific style he's been trying to build at UMass. The problem is he hasn't really had the players to properly execute it. In his first two years he was only able to bring a handful of his type of players in because of how late he was hired and the unbalanced classes. With this freshman class of 9 players (eventually 10 when 2nd Round NHL draft pick Brandon Montour joins the team in December) he finally has the type of players he needs to play his game. You'll find those players are small, quick, and constantly pushing the puck and shooting. Forwards or defensemen, it's pretty much the same type of player. Small, quick, and offensive. You'll see that reflected on the roster as the only freshman who is over 6' foot or taller is goaltender Henry Dill, who picked up the win on Saturday. So far Hockey East Player of the Week Steven Iacobellis and fellow sophomore Ray Pigozzi have done well in this system over the last two years. Through three games defenseman Jake Horton (2 goals) and Patrick Lee who scored the last second game winner on Saturday have seemed to have picked up the system the quickest.
8. Lastly, any bold predictions for this weekend? And how about for the season? Where does UMass end up, and who wins Hockey East?
None. The team is too young, there are too many question marks for me to make predictions on a game to game basis. Boston College and Northeastern have experience and home ice on their side so it's going to be a challenge for UMass to come away with any points. But if they continue to build off this past weekend and get more confident, they might. For the season they could finish anywhere from 7th to last in Hockey East. It'll likely be an up and down season with a lot of growing pains along the way. But I think the team has enough skill that they should at least be exciting at times and maybe show some signs of good things to come.