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UMass hockey takes down UConn 4-1 in season opener

AMHERST — It would have been impossible to tell by watching John Micheletto after the game, that the new University of Massachusetts coach had just won his first game as a head coach.

As the final seconds ticked off his team’s 4-1 season-opening win over Connecticut Friday, Micheletto shooks hands with each member of his staff, smiled, clapped toward his players and walked toward the postgame handshake line like he’d done it many times before.

“With the emotion of the day for (the players), we were trying to counter with a calm demeanor,” Micheletto said. “It’s pretty much the same job once you get inside the boards whether you’re a head coach or an assistant.”

Colin Shea put the Minutemen ahead 1-0, 6 minutes, 11 seconds into the game. He collected a pass from Branden Gracel on the power play at the middle of the blue line and rocketed it past UConn goalie Garret Bartus (35 saves), who was screened on the play.

The Huskies tied the game on the power play with 8:04 left in the first period when Tyler Helton grabbed the long rebound off of Cody Sharib shot with the UMass defense out of position and snapped it by Kevin Boyle to make it 1-1.

Parked off the right post, Gracel put UMass back ahead when he redirected Steven Guzzo’s shot out of the air past Bartus with 3:03 left in the first period to give the Minutemen a 2-1 lead. The officials reviewed the play to see if his stick was high, but ruled in UMass’ favor.

“It might have be going into his glove,” Gracel said. “I just got a stick on it and was lucky to put it right down into the net.”

UMass couldn’t convert a lengthy two-man advantage in the second period, as neither team scored in a middle frame that was dominated by 13 Bartus saves and 11 penalties. The teams might not be rivals yet as UConn doesn’t join Hockey East until 2014, but the players squared off in shoving and jawing competitions after the whistle throughout.

“In the second period we let our emotions take over a little bit,” Gracel said. “The refs didn’t help. They called some stuff that might not get called later in the season.”

Micheletto hoped the period wasn’t indicative of his team down the road.

“The power plays and penalty kills were excessive due to the emotion of the game for our guys,” Micheletto said. “We don’t want to get into situations where we’re playing special teams that much. It takes us out of our flow. I think we’re going to be a very good five-on-five team. ... We have to be better at being unflappable. That’s a word we have to learn and embrace. Tonight we were too emotional.”

After the ugly second period, Guzzo delivered the game’s prettiest goal early in the third. After gathering the puck in the right wing corner and skating toward the front of the net with a defenseman trying to hook him, Guzzo swept a backhand in a rowing motion past Bartus to make it 3-1 just under two minutes into the third, cementing UMass’ control of the game.

“It’s always nice to score early. When we come out after intermissions, one of our goals is to score early and step on them early so we can get a hold on the game,” Gracel said. “It’s easier to play with a 3-1 lead than a 2-1 lead.”

Darren Rowe flipped a shot past Bartus as he cut through the slot, adding an insurance power-play goal with 12:34 left.

UMass converted 2-of-9 power plays and killed 7-of-8 penalties in the game. Boyle made 12 of his 24 saves short-handed.

“He was bolstered by the fact that we played pretty solid defense in front of him,” Micheletto said. “He wasn’t terribly tested out there. He made the saves we needed him to make.”

The Minutemen return to action Friday when they host No. 1 Boston College, 7 p.m.

“It’s something to build off of,” Gracel said. “We have a bigger game coming up next weekend with BC. We know they’re going to be a challenge. We have to bring what we did today and keep building off of it.”

CAHOON IN THE CROWD — Former Minutemen coach Toot Cahoon, his wife and granddaughter were among the 7,123 in attendance. To avoid taking attention away from his former team, he sat in section LL, an upper-level corner, and declined to be interviewed after the game. His former goalie Paul Dainton was also in the crowd.

The 7,123 in attendance included 4,200 students. It was the largest home-opening crowd in program history.

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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