UMass picked ninth; changes coming to Hockey East
John Micheletto speaks Monday after being named new University of Massachusetts ice hockey head coach at the Mullins Center. Purchase photo reprints »
John Micheletto fields questions after being named the new University of Massachusetts ice hockey head coach Monday during a press conference at the Mullins Center. Purchase photo reprints »
BOSTON — Commissioner Joe Bertagna jokingly referred to Hockey East media day as “Groundhog Day” because of the event’s similarity from year to year.
There’s always a new coach or two among the handfuls of legends and mainstays, but it’s a similar collection of media in the same location (The Legends Club in TD Garden) usually noting that Boston College is picked to be the top team in the conference’s preseason poll.
But that’s about to change. This is the final season before the there’s considerable upheaval. Notre Dame will join Hockey East for the 2013-14 season followed by Connecticut in 2014-15.
The additions will alter the schedule, the conference tournament, league rivalries, travel, the television contract and maybe even media day.
Scheduling will be among the biggest changes as the league switches from teams playing each other three times to twice beginning next year. After playing seven nonconference games for almost 20 years, teams will have 14 next year followed by 12 in 2014-15, which will be the standard once the league reaches its full 12 teams.
Bertagna said that created opportunities and hurdles.
“We think the opportunity could exist to partner up with some of the leagues and do some sort of challenge with Big Ten or one of those conferences,” Bertagna said. “Going from seven to 14 and then 12 next year is a huge difference. The coaches are having mixed results sculpting the nonleague schedules they want as they try to get teams to come into their buildings.”
Bertagna said teams will each play 11 home and 11 road conference games. There are no plans to split the teams into divisions at this point.
This season will be the last with the postseason tournament in its current format where the bottom two teams don’t qualify and the remaining eight play quarterfinal series at the site of the higher seed. The revised structure will have all 12 teams making the field with the top four receiving byes in the first round. The top three will receive byes in the 11-team field in 2013-14.
“It’ll be complicated scheduling-wise, but the additions of Notre Dame and UConn are going to make our league that much better,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. “And it’s a great league as we all know.”
PRESEASON POLLS — UMass was picked ninth in both the league’s official poll voted on by the coaches and new Hockey East media poll.
John Micheletto of UMass has only been a head coach for a short time, but he dismissed the relevance of preseason polls like a seasoned veteran.
“I think the external stuff is not as big of a motivator as the internal stuff,” Micheletto said. “We have enough motivation. I think as a competitor, as an athlete or a coach, it’s about your personal pride.”
He said he’s liked what he’s seen from his team so far in their workouts.
“It’s been great. We’ve been on for four sessions with limited time. There’s a learning curve for them and for me. They’re learning my style and the tempo of practice. I’m getting to know them without having to look at what number is on the back of their helmet,” Micheletto said. “I’ve been really impressed with their work ethic and their coachability. It’s been really productive.”
The Minutemen and everyone else in the conference will be trying to unseat Boston College, the defending national and Hockey East champion which was picked to win the conference in both polls. BC earned nine of the 10 coach votes in the official poll.
Coaches aren’t allowed to select their own team so New Hampshire’s first-place vote came from BC coach Jerry York. The Eagles got 21 of 25 No. 1 votes from the media.
Both polls had the same top four teams. Despite York’s optimism for the Wildcats, UNH was No. 4 behind No. 2 Lowell and No. 3 Boston University.
The two rankings diverged from there. The coaches had Maine at No. 5, Northeastern and Providence tied at No. 6, and Merrimack No. 8, while the media had the Friars sixth followed by the No. 7 Warriors and the No. 8 Huskies.
Vermont was picked No. 10 in both places.
SNEDDON ON MICHELETTO — Kevin Sneddon, Micheletto’s former boss at Vermont, was glad to see his former assistant leading his own program.
“It’s good for him. He’s earned this opportunity. You always want to see your assistant coaches move on and become head coaches. It’s a great thing. I think he’ll be a great fit at UMass,” Sneddon said.
LOCKOUT — In the past, the captains of each team attending media day will often peak into the Garden’s arena if the Bruins have any kind of team skate underway. But with the NHL in a work stoppage, the next hockey seen on Causeway Street might be in March with the Hockey East tournament semifinals.
While the coaches all seemed to agree that the NHL lockout was bad for hockey long term, it could have short-term benefits for the conference.
“I think it’s certainly going to move some NHL fans to perhaps follow college hockey a little more closely,” Micheletto said. “Hopefully it puts a little more focus on our game. But past that, I don’t know that it’s going to have a huge impact. It may slow down the cycle of college players leaving early to sign pro contracts. We want to provide our guys with the opportunity to play as long as they can, but if it means they stay in school and get closer to getting their degree and contribute to the school and the hockey program, that’s certainly a plus for college hockey.”
Added Bertagna, “We don’t want to project any glee about the situation. In the long term I don’t think it’s good for anybody in hockey if the NHL is not playing. But in the short term maybe NESN or NBC Sports televise more games. The last time we sold out both nights (of the Hockey East semifinals and finals) here was, not coincidentally, during the last lockout. By the time we got to March people wanted to come to Causeway Street and see hockey. ... But I’m not happy or looking forward to this because I don’t think it’s a good thing.”
The coaches were also hopeful that the next collective bargaining agreement might have some safeguards in place that might slow the tide of undrafted players leaving school early for free agent contracts. Representatives of College Hockey Inc. are lobbying both sides to have the college game looked after in the negotiations.
“Hopefully there’ll be some more protections built in for college hockey like there are for other developmental leagues in Canada and Europe,” Micheletto said. “Now that we have College Hockey Inc. as our point person in those discussions, hopefully it can move toward a little bit better situation for college hockey.”
SCANDAL BEHIND THEM? — A campus report was released earlier this month detailing Boston University’s “culture of sexual entitlement” following several incidents of sexual misconduct and alcohol abuse by members of the team. BU coach Jack Parker hoped the scandal was behind them with the season about to start.
“We certainly don’t need any more events. We can’t control everything but we’re hoping that we’ve covered all our bases. You don’t want to get a phone call at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Parker said. “Other than that I’m looking forward to this year.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.