Q&A with UMass Coach John Micheletto
by Nick Canelas/CHN Reporter
John Micheletto spent the last nine seasons at Vermont as recruiting coordinator and an assistant coach to Kevin Sneddon. In his time, he helped the Catamounts in their transition to Hockey East in the 2005-06 season, while overseeing NCAA Tournament teams. Now, he takes over Massachusetts, his first collegiate head coaching job. Micheletto brings with him former Vermont player and assistant Joey Gasparini, while inheriting Len Quesnelle from former coach Don "Toot" Cahoon's staff. Quesnelle is entering his ninth season as an assistant coach for the Minutemen.
The 46-year-old Micheletto takes over at UMass after Cahoon stepped down this summer following 12 seasons in Amherst. Micheletto inherits a team that went 13-18-5 last season, good for eighth in Hockey East. But with only three seniors on the squad and four losing seasons in its last five, UMass is picked to finish ninth in the preseason polls.
In his time at Vermont, 12 different Catamounts were drafted to the NHL, including Viktor Stalberg of the Chicago Blackhawks. Micheletto was also an integral part of the Catamounts' appearance in the 2009 Frozen Four. Prior to Vermont, Micheletto also served as an assistant at Union and Notre Dame.
Micheletto reflected on his time in Burlington, spoke of the transition to UMass and more in a recent interview with CHN.
CHN: First and foremost, how's the overall transition to UMass been for you?
Micheletto: I think its been, from a work, a hockey and a team standpoint, pretty smooth. You find that the biggest thing is trying to get your personal life settled in in terms of buying and selling homes and settling in with your family. Our guys have done an unbelievable job of making that transition easier for me. They came in in great shape. They came in committed to what we want to do. All of those things are falling in line mostly because of the players' dedication.
CHN: What are your personal thoughts and feelings heading into your first season as a head coach at the collegiate level?
Micheletto: It's exciting to say the least. I think that word can certainly be overused, but obviously it's exciting when you work very hard to do the best that you can every in stop along the way when you're in this profession. I've always viewed my career as trying to be in the moment and not working to be somewhere five or 10 years down the road. I've always thought that cheated the players at the program. You just focus on the day to day and you work very hard and certainly hope that someday you have the opportunity to run your own program. To say that (UMass) is a great opportunity is an understatement in my opinion.
CHN: What was the whole interview process like to get this opportunity at UMass?
Micheletto: Obviously like most people I sent my information in and reached out to the people (at UMass) and got some positive initial feedback. Eventually, as they moved through the process I came down and spoke with (Associate Athletic Director) Rocko DeLuca and (Athletic Director) John McCutcheon and had a nice time spent with them sharing my ideas and their vision for the program. Not too long after we met, John McCutcheon called me up and offered me the position. It didn't take very long for me to say 'yes' at that point.
CHN: So I'm assuming once the head coaching spot opened up you jumped on the opportunity pretty quickly.
Micheletto: Yeah, I did. You see a lot of programs and people and rinks when you're an assistant coach. I've always been impressed with the atmosphere at the Mullins Center and support that the students and the local community have given the program. The people I've known within the program have always impressed me. You have no idea when a job's going to become available and for one reason or another this certainly looked like a great opportunity at the time, and I was eager to put my stuff in and try to be a candidate.
CHN: How valuable is having Len Quesnelle still in the program been in this transition for you?
Micheletto: Strictly from my perspective, it's helped me navigate the waters. Some of the difficult things in changing jobs is just learning the landscape of how things operate. The way in which people do business, that's different everywhere. Having him around has really been helpful and made a lot less bumps in the road for me.
CHN: What's your take on the history of the hockey program at UMass?
Micheletto: I've been impressed with the alumni group. There was a gap between when we first had the program and then we didn't and then we brought the program back. I think in some communities in similar situations the alumni group isn't as active as ours is. We've got guys from the early days who are committed to helping and supporting the program, and you've got the more recent guys who are starting families and careers, they've really reached out to me. I'm looking at the guys who built the foundation of this program that they feel good about it and continue to be apart of it so that our current players learn from them and develop relationships with them.
CHN: What's your assessment of the team you have right now based on what you've seen so far?
Micheletto: We've had a small handful of short practices, but my initial impression is that I've been really impressed with our guy's ability to pick up (the new system). I guess you could call that coachability. I'm certainly a different personality than Toot. It's going to be different for the guys no matter who comes in here, but they've adjusted very well to what the message has been and the pace at which we've practiced. It's certainly been an adjustment for them, but they've handled that adjustment very well. I've been most impressed with their work ethic and their ability to learn new things, and I think they'll have success at what we're trying to do.
CHN: What do you feel you bring to UMass?
Micheletto: Mostly I think the guys will be able to comment on the energy, which we approach every day and approach every practice. It's a matter of saying that our time on the ice, and (the player's) time is valuable. I want to maximize what we're doing during that time. You know, I think it's important for our guys to not take for granted every minute or second that their on the ice whether it's in practice or a game. We have to set that tempo right now that everything they do out there matters.
CHN: What's your approach to the recruiting process and how do you plan on using it at UMass?
Micheletto: First and foremost you've got to be on the road, and you've got to be visible. You've got to let people know you're in the building. That buzz gets around with prospects and prospects' coaches that 'Hey, UMass is here again.' Joey (Gasparini) and Len (Quesnelle) have done a great job. They've been circling the globe in the early months of the season. The second thing is developing relationships. That's what the recruiting process is, making sure players know what UMass has to offer and how it's going to benefit them over the course of their four years.
CHN: Is there anything in particular that you can take from your time at Vermont that you feel will be beneficial starting out?
Micheletto: I have a lot of respect for Kevin Sneddon for the job that he did there. I look back on our initial days there nine years ago and how he set the culture that eventually led to the Frozen Four appearance (in 2009) and a lot of success in the program. It's important for any coach coming into a new program to set that culture from Day 1, so having gone through that with Kevin at Vermont, it's certainly valuable experience for me, something that I'm certainly doing now at UMass.
CHN: Are there any moments from your time at Vermont that stand out to you more than anything else?
Micheletto: You don't get to very many Frozen Fours. I've only been to one. That experience was certainly one that I'll remember. That regional game that went into double overtime (a 3-2 win over Air Force) the way in which we won that game will always be remembered. Certainly there are the day-to-day activities and the relationships that you develop with the people you work with. Much like any stop along the way that I'll look back on, I'm proud of the work I did at Vermont and really excited for the successes that we had there.
CHN: Do you think it's easier having already coached against and prepared for Hockey East opponents the past few years at Vermont?
Micheletto: It's no question that it's a benefit to me, Len Quesnelle and Joey Gasparini. We all have knowledge of the league. The way that people play, the personalities involved in the league. But we know the rinks, we know the travel arrangements. All that stuff allows us to focus in without a real learning curve. No question that knowing the league and knowing how competitive it is on a night-to-night basis is going to really help us moving forward.
CHN: The team is picked to finish ninth in the Hockey East in the preseason polls, what are your thoughts on that? Do you take any of that into consideration?
Micheletto: Personally, I don't. I know it's a nice thing for the public to generate some discussion in the early part of (the season). That's not something that our guys or our staff are looking to put a lot of stock in. We've got a lot of internal motivation and a lot of personal pride that's going to compel us to the best that we can this year. The external thing is not something we really lean on or put much credence to to try to drive us.
CHN: What are your expectations for this year as well as the coming years?
Micheletto: I told the guys that the most important thing is that we get better. As the season wears on, if you look at any championship program over the past few years you'll notice teams are playing much better in late March than in October. That's a really important thing for us to understand that it's a process from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. I always want us to be a better second-half team. Having said that the biggest thing that we're focusing on is being a more consistent team. I want us to be the same UMass on Friday as we are on Saturday. Those are our immediate goals. Our overall goal is to win a national championship as it is every year, but, along the way, we're going to focus on the process to try to get us to that bigger goal.
CHN: So as a coach how do you make this happen?
Micheletto: If I could sum that up in 10 words or less, I'm sure it's a book I'd like to sell. Again, it all starts with these early (practice) days with the guys and making sure that they believe and that they're buying in. When that starts and you start giving the players the tools to have success and prepare with that belief and that buy in then it becomes a little confidence and that confidence becomes swagger. It's also about preparing the guys for the bumps in the road that are inevitably going to happen and that they're prepared to handle those and work through them and overcome them. We're trying to put those foundation blocks in place right now and I've certainly been impressed with what our guys have been able to do, so I think we're well on our way now to building that solid foundation.