UMass hockey looking to veteran sophomore class to make an offensive impact this season

Last modified: Tuesday, November 04, 2014

AMHERST — As a true freshman playing in his first game last year, Steven Iacobellis scored his first collegiate goal in a 3-1 loss to Boston University.

That night set the tone for a solid first season for the UMass men’s hockey center, who finished with 11 goals and 10 assists.

Iacobellis and fellow sophomore Ray Pigozzi (five goals, 13 assists) were bright spots last year for the Minutemen (8-22-4, 4-13-3 Hockey East) and are the top two returning scorers. They’re ready to be heavily relied upon when UMass opens the season against Boston University at 7 p.m. Friday at the Mullins Center.

“I’m definitely more comfortable,” Iacobellis said. “We were in a lot of difficult situations and big game situations. Having those experiences is going to pay off in the end. I gained some confidence from last year for sure.”

Pigozzi, a forward, echoed his linemate.

“We lost a lot of older guys. Everyone from freshman to senior needs to step up. Playing the amount I did last year, and personally I feel I played pretty well, I want to take on a leadership role,” he said. “When you come in as a freshman you’re always a little hesitant, but after playing 30 or so games, you get a sense of what the league is like and how you can play in it. I think I’ve improved and I think my game will be good this year.”

UMass coach John Micheletto liked the way Iacobellis and Pigozzi learned from Troy Power, who’ll be the captain this season, and impressed the need for them to become leaders this season.

“I think we’ve made it clear to them that’s how they should feel. Those guys benefitted a lot from having Troy Power on their line. We saw firsthand how valuable having that mentorship was for them to become acclimated to college hockey,” Micheletto said. “We’ve talked about them establishing themselves, not just as good, contributing players, but guys who have a voice and an influence in the (dressing) room with the young guys.”

Micheletto put talented freshman Patrick Lee on a line with Iacobellis and Pigozzi, and charged them with mentoring him the way Power did last year.

“They’re doing everything they can to make sure he can have as big an impact as a freshman as they did,” Micheletto said.

Frank Vatrano is the team’s third sophomore forward who could someday be the best of the bunch. Vatrano was originally bound for Boston College, but withdrew after what he called “an admission problem.” He enrolled at UMass in January, 2013, and sat out a year (the spring and fall semester) under NCAA transfer rules.

An NCAA decision extended his ineligibility for the remainder of the 2013-14 regular season because of what UMass called “an admissions documentation discrepancy at his previous institution.” UMass is prohibited from discussing the decision because of privacy rules. The NCAA did not respond to requests for clarification.

Vatrano was allowed to practice last season and play in the exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 Team. He made his debut during UMass’ Hockey East tournament game against Vermont. On Friday, the former standout from the prestigious U.S. National Development Program, will finally embark on a full collegiate season.

“I feel more like a veteran because I’ve been here so long,” said the East Longmeadow native who earned Hockey East all-academic status last year. “It feels awesome. I’ve been dreaming of playing college since I was a kid. It’s nice for me because I already know the system.”

Vatrano’s instincts are to be a leader, but he had to suppress them some until now.

“I’ll be able to play in all the games and be more of a leader now,” he said. “By playing I’ll be able to have an input. I think in the locker room, it wasn’t my place to say much because I wasn’t playing in the game. Now that I’m playing, I can give my input much more often.”

Micheletto said Vatrano, who’ll play on a line with Power and promising freshman center Dennis Kravchenko, was already a respected member of the team.

“I think everyone views him as a veteran, but they forget this is going to be his first full season of college hockey,” Micheletto said. “He’s a big personality in the room. He has a lot of influence with our guys, both from our skill set and who he is as a person. I think he’s better equipped to handle some of the adversity and potential pitfalls. We’re leaning on him more like a veteran than a first year player.”

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


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