Coach John Micheletto embracing the task of taking over UMass hockey

Last modified: Monday, September 03, 2012

AMHERST - The University of Massachusetts hockey players had planned to return to campus early even before this summer's unexpected coaching change.

After two back-to-back difficult years, the Minutemen wanted to get an early start on the 2012-13 season and everyone agreed to show up early to begin preparing for what they hope will be a turn-around year.

But their mid-August arrival proved even more fortuitous for coach John Micheletto, the former Vermont assistant who was hired last month to replace Toot Cahoon, who retired this summer.

"It showed a real nice commitment and for me, rather than only knowing them from watching them from the opposing bench or talking to them on the phone, it's nice to have them around to develop a relationship that's a little more than just a phone call here and there," he said Wednesday. "Now the freshmen will start trickling in so it will be a smaller group that I have to develop a rapport with."

The rarity of a summer coaching change forced Micheletto to cram five months of tasks into less than two. But the first-time head coach is eagerly embracing the task.

"I'm trying to gather as much knowledge about all the different areas that the job requires from the get-go," said Micheletto, who retained all the incoming freshmen who had committed to Cahoon. "I'm going to eventually delegate some responsibility to other staff members, but I don't know if I could successfully run the program without having a good understanding, a good knowledge base of what goes on. I've gotta have a good understanding from the get-go in order for it to run smoothly and move on."

He assembled a coaching staff that has eased the transition. In addition to keeping Cahoon's top assistant Len Quesnelle, Micheletto brought on two men he worked with at Vermont - Joey Gasparini as his other assistant and John Gobeil as his director of operations. The combination gave him one guy who was familiar with how UMass works and two familiar with how he works.

"I've known Len for years. We've never worked together but that made for a pretty easy transition here. I'm turning to him for a lot of things. How does this work? What do we need to do here? In the early going that's been a huge benefit through my transition of just seeing how the university operates, let alone the hockey piece and knowing the guys and the recruiting landscape prior to my arrival," Micheletto said. "Knowing Joey as a person made everything smooth. He knows my personality, what my likes are in players and what I like to do in terms of systems. I know who he is. I trust him and I've seen him operate."

Having scouted the Minutemen for their three games a year against Vermont, Micheletto saw his new players operate as well. So unlike many new coaches he can't offer his players an entirely clean slate, but he's still offering them a fresh start.

"I have an idea of what they've done. What I'm asking our guys is 'What can you do?' I only know what you've shown up until this point," said Micheletto, who has watched "a little" video of his team since being hired. "Although I have an understanding of what their performance has been and what role they've played, is that who you are? Is that all that you are? And if it is, that's not a bad thing. There's a spot for that. But it's an opportunity for them to show that there's something more. I've tried to encourage them that you can write a new chapter. If that's possible, here's your opportunity."

Any new impressions will have to come quickly. The Minutemen have 39 days until their Oct. 12 season opener against Connecticut at the Mullins Center. The coaching staff can only work with players in small groups until Sept. 15 and then only two hours a week as a full squad before full practice begins in October.

While Micheletto plans to play a somewhat different style than Cahoon, he's focusing more on details than wholesale changes.

"It'll be a lot about tone and tempo. We'll use those two hour practices to teach the guys how we're going to go about getting better. We need to get guys to set habits and tend to the things that are going to make any system work. Any system you choose can work if you're doing it the right way. Nobody's invented anything that's fool proof. It's just how well you tend to the details within the structure," he said. "I don't want to have our guys overthinking. In the early going I want them developing good habits from work ethic to stick positioning, things that will make any system that we run successful. I want us to trust our instincts and focus on small details. The big picture stuff will come later on."

While there will be competition everywhere on his roster, the battle for playing time in net bears watching. Sophomores Steve Mastalerz and Kevin Boyle, and junior Jeff Teglia have all shown flashes of No. 1 goalie potential in their young careers, but not consistently.

"They're all eager to win the job which is a good situation. Competition always helps good players get better. Three guys that have proven at some point in their career that they can do that," Micheletto said. "That probably is as wide open a race as there is. It's an important position and we need to find guys that can put us in position to win every night and be a big part of what we're doing It'll be a fun competition. I think you'll find good programs have a guy down the stretch that they're going to rely on. The competition will keep the three of them fresh and healthy. Hopefully it will work itself out to where there's a guy we can rely on."

He said the staff and the players were all eager to get started.

"You don't get into coaching for the offseason. Once the guys get in that's really what gets that heart beating as a coach," Micheletto said. "My sense is that guys are excited. They're anxious, they're nervous. There's a lot of emotions that they're coming to grips with right now. They're hopeful. We're going to try to harness all of those energies and try to get them going in a positive direction."

Matt Vautour can be reached at Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at


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