The past four seasons have not been kind to the University of Massachusetts Minutemen or their fans. In 2012, UMass looked to spark their hockey program by hiring former Vermont Associate Head Coach John Micheletto to their Head Coach position. While Micheletto brought a sense of optimism to Amherst, from his first season onwards the results on the ice were far below the expectations of Minutemen faithful. UMass never had more than 12 wins overall during any of those seasons, with that 12-win season being Micheletto’s first in 2012-13. That season also saw Micheletto’s personal high in wins within Hockey East, with 9. His teams were perennial basement-dwellers in the standings, finishing 9th out of 10 teams once, 10th out of 11 teams once, and 12th out of 12 teams twice. During the 2015-16 season, his squad mustered only two wins against Hockey East competition in what would turn out to be his final season at the helm of UMass. Micheletto was fired shortly after the NCAA hockey season ended, and a wide search for his replacement saw former St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel travel from upstate New York to western Massachusetts to take the position.
Carvel comes to Amherst after 4 seasons leading the Skating Saints, including two consecutive winning seasons, where the Saints posted 20 and 19 wins, respectively. In both of those seasons, he had St. Lawrence competing for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. In his years at St. Lawrence, Carvel coached talented hockey players including two now-professional players who were four-year standouts in Canton, Kyle Flanagan, and the program’s first Hobey Hat Trick Finalist, Greg Carey. The hiring of Carvel was met with widespread acclaim from those who cover college hockey. It also provided “a buzz around the program from fans, players, alumni, staff, and administration that was sorely lacking in recent years,” in the words of longtime UMass blogger (and inspiration for this very blog) Mark Coogan (@FearTheTriangle on Twitter). I too was very supportive of the hiring, claiming Carvel has the potential to turn the UMass program around and in time begin competing for more in-state talent against the likes of Northeastern, UConn, and New Hampshire. Time will tell if Carvel proves the optimistic observers right or not, but his hiring alone gives UMass fans reason to be excited for their future.
Looking ahead to next season, Carvel will have his work cut out for him immediately. The team’s statistics under Micheletto do not paint a pretty picture for the Minutemen. UMass allowed over 100 goals to be scored against them in each of Micheletto’s seasons at the helm, including more than 100 in Hockey East play alone during each the last two years. In those four years they never cracked 100 goals scored by their own team, although they came very close, with 99 in 2014-15, 93 in 2012-13, and 88 in 2015-16. UMass had a number of players dismissed from the team during the offseason, including talented forward Dennis Kravchenko, and as a result returns only 50 goals total to the team this year, and only 30 goals from Hockey East play. Goal scoring will continue to be a question mark for UMass this year, as they will be counting on major contributions from their freshmen this season. I will touch on notable freshmen later in this post.
UMass returns only 11 forwards and 7 defensemen to team, with 2 returning goalies. They return 7 of their top 10 scorers, including their top scorer overall (Ray Pigozzi, with 30 points), followed by totals of 24 (Austin Plevy, sophomore), 21 (Steve Iacobellis, senior, captain), and 17 (Dominic Trento, junior). On defense, highly-regarded defenseman and Buffalo Sabres draft pick Ivan Chukarov returns with the most points scored (8), closely followed by Edmonton Oilers draft pick and player for the Swedish U20 international team William Lagesson (7 points). Looking towards the net, the picture is again ugly- their best returning netminder is Nic Renyard, who recorded an .898 save percentage last season, coupled with a 3.65 goals against average overall- his numbers are near identical when counting only Hockey East games. UMass also had the worst penalty kill in the conference, and had among the worst powerplay units (10th in Hockey East play, 14.7% conversion rate). They do return three of their top four faceoff men, including Iacobellis who won over 50% of his face-offs- this experience in the faceoff dot could lead to improved zone possession time if the rest of the team can improve. A final note of interest this writer found is that the top two shot generators of the 2015-16 team are gone (Kravchenko and Shane Walsh to graduation), so new players will have to step up to fill that role and drive the offense.
When looking at the recruits Carvel brings in for his first season as UMass Head Coach, two observations jump out. The first is the size of the class- UMass brings in 9 players in total, with 6 forwards, 2 defensemen, and 1 goaltender joining their ranks. The second observation is a number of players who were previously committed to St. Lawrence by have followed Carvel to Amherst. Clearly these players believe in Carvel enough to follow him to a new school and to a rebuilding program, and the chemistry between these players and their coach will hopefully transition onto the ice. Notable players in the UMass incoming class are:
- Jack Suter: One of six players coming to UMass via the United States Hockey League, Suter played with the Sioux Falls Stampede as an overaged forward. Born in 1995, Suter racked up 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points in 60 games, and has a history of being a scorer in his younger days playing in Colorado. Suter was originally committed to Air Force. Suter will be expected to bring experience and a scoring touch to the Minuteman lineup, and will be counted on almost immediately to play and contribute.
- Griff Jeszka: Another overaged forward, this time coming via the Brookings Blizzard in the North American Hockey League, Jeszka is another ’95 birth year who scored 48 points in 59 games for Brookings. He saw a major points increase from his first and second years to his third in the NAHL, so Carvel is counting on finding a late bloomer, diamond-in-the-rough type with this 6’1’’ playmaker.
- Shane Bear: Voted Defenseman of the Year for the Brooks Bandits of the American Junior Hockey League, Shane Bear continues the Brooks-to-Amherst pipeline and will be counted on to add some firepower to the points-starved UMass blue line corps. Bear tallied 11 goals and 31 assists for 42 points in 59 games in the AJHL, clearly demonstrating the ability to lead 5-vs-5 and powerplay units to success. Bear is also the youngest member of the UMass class, coming in at 19 years old when the season begins.
- Ryan Wischow: The player I personally am most interested in for UMass is Wischow, a late commit to Amherst who was previously committed to St. Lawrence. Wischow is a ’96 birth year that would qualify as a “late-bloomer,” and had a good year for the Fargo Force in the USHL. Wischow had a 2.29 goals against average, coupled with a 91.7 save percentage, both of which would have been the best marks on UMass by a wide margin last season. He played in 53 games, and posted 5 shutouts, leading the USHL. He also played with fellow UMass commit and incoming freshman Jake McLaughlin (another former Saints commit). Expect Wischow to challenge Renyard for the UMass starting position immediately once practices begin.
I expect the UMass program to be on the rise over the next few seasons. I think very highly of Greg Carvel and believe he was a great hire by the UMass Athletics Department. Unfortunately, there will be growing pains as Carvel beings to implement his systems, gets his players through the door, and Micheletto’s players exit the program. I expect UMass to once again contend for the cellar of Hockey East in 2016-17, being among the bottom four teams in the conference. There is nowhere to go but up for a program that has finished dead last two consecutive seasons, but I do believe that in 2016-17, UMass will be fastened to the 10-12 range in Hockey East.
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