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Darren Rowe making the most of fresh start for UMass hockey

AMHERST — When University of Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto told his players that a new coaching staff meant a new opportunity for each of the players to prove themselves, Darren Rowe was one of the players he had in mind.

When Rowe heard the message, he was motivated to take advantage of it.

For the first three years of his career, Rowe, a 23-year-old defenseman from Simi Valley, Calif., showed flashes of being the puck-moving offensive catalyst from the blue line that are rare and coveted.

Butformer coach Toot Cahoon never trusted him enough defensively to keep him in the lineup. Rowe played 26 games as a freshman and saw opportunities to dress for games diminish each of the next two years, falling to 20 as a sophomore and just 14 games last year.

The new coaching staff and an added year of experience appears to have energized Rowe. He’s expected to be in the lineup tonight at 7 against New Hampshire at the Mullins Center and Sunday at Boston College, which will make six appearances in six games.

“Coach has got a new outlook and I thought, ‘Hopefully I can prove myself right away and hopefully get to be an everyday guy so I can build some confidence and be an impact player and help the team win,’” Rowe said.

Rowe made an impression on Micheletto when he was a junior player for Cedar Rapids and Micheletto was an assistant at Vermont.

“I’m a big fan of Darren’s. I was a big fan of his in junior. I thought he was one of the top offensive defensemen available that year out of the USHL, which is generating unbelievable college players,” Micheletto said. “He was a guy that we talked about. Let’s get him to where he was with that offensive swagger. I don’t know that he’s 100 percent there, but we’ve been really excited about the way that he’s played up until this point. He’s been a real boost to us with his puck-moving ability.”

He’s got two goals already, one against Connecticut and one against Boston College.

“Coach has given me the freedom to do what I want. My confidence has been up. It’s really helped me play to my best,” Rowe said.

Said junior Branden Gracel, “It’s great to have a guy like Darren back there. He’s got more skill than anybody I’ve seen. He’s not afraid to make a play at the blue line and get the puck through. You know he’s going to be a big offensive D-man for us this year.”

The challenge for an offensive defensiveman has always been knowing when to jump into the offense.

“The right decision making is still something I’m working on, when to jump,” Rowe said. “The right time in the game, the score, the situation. It’s something I’m looking to get better at too.”

Rowe’s defense, which cost him playing time earlier in his career, has improved but still has room to grow.

“There’s a risk reward to everybody’s game. As long as the reward from what you do is greater than what you can’t do, that’s what we’re looking for. We want everybody to be adequate in every facet of their game, but sometimes guys have strengths and those strengths have to overcome whatever weaknesses they have as part of their games,” Micheletto said. “The value is maximizing what their strength is. That’s where Darren’s game is right now. We’re squeezing more out of him offensively and then trying to get his defensive game up to where it’s adequate. I think he’s doing a good job of that.

“It’s a confidence thing,” Micheletto continued. “I think Darren was back on his heels, playing flat-footed a little too much, being afraid to do the things he’s really good at. I hope everybody feels like they’re going to benefit from (assistant coach) Joey (Gasparini) and I coming on board. But you’ve seen a spike in Darren’s game based on what the recent history is. I don’t think he’s satisfied with where he is. We’re going to continue to push him to make more of an impact.”

MOVEMEBER — Micheletto started growing a mustache Thursday as part of his sixth year participating in the annual Movember event to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer research. He encouraged people to join him Thursday on Twitter. He tweeted: “Proud to start 6th yr supporting @Movember - help raise awareness & money for prostate cancer. Will be growing #MOustache all month.” He followed that tweet with: “Knowledge is power, #MOustache is king. Please donate to my @Movember efforts at mobro.co/CoachMicheletto #beatprostatecancer.”

US.movember.com described the movement as follows: “During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives.”

Several players tweeted their intentions to participate with mustaches of their own.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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