UMass Rises to the Occasion
by Joshua Seguin/CHN Writer
HANOVER, N.H. Massachusetts has struggled to get on the national stage, and struggled to win even small championships. But something changed Monday night when UMass took on Dartmouth in the championship game of the Ledyard National Bank Classic. UMass looked like a confident bunch; a team with a new coach and a new mentality.
“It was disjointed, emotional and electric," said UMass coach John Micheletto. “Obviously its championship hockey, whether it’s in a holiday tournament or the end of the season there is a lot on the line. Both teams were fired up with good spirited play and it’s a good test.”
In the process, UMass knocked off a home team that had been red hot in the process, having just defeated New Hampshire in the semifinal. The Big Green were undefeated at home (7-0) and sat in a tie for second place in the Pairwise. The Minutemen were never bothered by this and for most of the game they were in fact the aggressors.
Micheletto, in his first season as head coach, wanted to instill a new mentality in his team upon arrival — a championship mentality. It can be said that holiday tournaments mean little, but in the grand scheme, even Boston College looks at winning championships as an important skill, no matter how big they are.
“The biggest thing we talked about coming into this thing was winning a championship,” said Micheletto after a win against Bemidji State on Sunday night. “It is a skill that you need to learn if you want to be in the midst at the end of the season.”
“The importance of holiday tournaments is that you learn how to play tournament style hockey,” said UMass goalie Kevin Boyle. “You learn how to play for championships and it definitely helps going forward.”
The win against Dartmouth on Monday night, locked up only the second holiday tournament victory in the program's history. It was a small step, but a giant step in some ways for the program. The interesting part of it was that it occurred in Micheletto’s first season as head coach.
“Validation is key and having guys buy in and believe,” said Micheletto. “I know those sound cliché but when you are dealing with 18-22, 24-year old kids it’s huge. You ride momentum, you feel good about yourself. Our job as coaches is to stay rounded and keep the team focused.”
“Winning even a holiday tournament is huge for us,” said UMass Forward and tournament MVP Branden Gracel. “The process of winning a tournament or winning anything is you learn things. It is the little things you learn that you have to take forward the next time you get an opportunity to play in a tournament.”
The weekend as a whole was a step in the right direction for a team that struggled into the break, losers of three games in a row. Few would have expected the outcomes over the weekend on the outside, but the UMass locker room knew exactly what they expected.
“Winning this validates a lot of things that we accomplished in the first half,” said Micheletto. “It is nice to be rewarded when you do things the right way. We have had our ups and downs but we have more ups than downs. I have told our guys all along that I don’t think our record reflects how well we have played.”
“Coming into the break we obviously hit a rough patch going 0-3 in our last three," Boyle said. “Coming out of the break to get a win, championship and to get the momentum going forward is huge for us.”
Sunday night showed character more than the win on Monday night. Bemidji State took a 2-0 lead on UMass in the first period, but UMass came storming back to win the game 4-3.
“This weekend was especially important for us because we had a tough finish to the first half, said Gracel. “We didn’t play terrible hockey but we came up on the wrong side of it. It’s really important we got these two wins to build confidence.”
The result against Dartmouth was in some ways not all that shocking as UMass handed UNH one of three losses early in the season and they also gave Boston College two scares. With a good number of their so-called “tough” games out of the way in Hockey East, UMass may be a team that makes a run for the fourth spot in Hockey East behind the likes of BC, UNH and BU.
“We have very high expectations of ourselves and of the team,” said Gracel. “It is important to bring the confidence of these games into our Hockey East play. I think we are going to be able to do that, we just have to stay even keeled.”
The win against Dartmouth will be viewed as the biggest victory in the young head coaching career of John Micheletto. It is the win that might bring him to the mentality that he wishes to instill in his players, but in the end winning a holiday tournament is just a step toward that mentality going forward. The final test will be actually be proving they can beat good teams down the stretch to put this mentality to the test when it really counts.