AMHERST — University of Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto knew before the season began that he had a special collection of incoming recruits.
With eight freshmen in addition to transfer Ben Gallacher, Year 2 of Micheletto’s system offered a chance at a deeper, faster roster capable of rolling four lines comfortably. Through four games the system is producing, as 12 players have registered at least one point for the Minutemen (2-2).
Freshman Steven Iacobellis is leading the charge.
Iacobellis is tied for the team lead in points (four) and goals (three) and was at the forefront of Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Michigan State, scoring two goals and adding an assist. He’s already become a vital component of the second power-play unit on a team scoring on 32 percent of its power-play opportunities. The trio of Iacobellis, fellow freshman Ray Pigozzi and redshirt junior Troy Power have united to form a dangerous second line.
“I didn’t really expect” playing a lot on the second line, Iacobellis said. “Obviously, that’s what everybody wants. You come in somewhere, you hope to get a lot of minutes, you hope to play on the top couple lines, but I didn’t really expect it.”
Iacobellis scored the eventual go-ahead goal Saturday, taking a pass from Pigozzi in front of the net and beating Spartans goaltender Will Yanakeff from point-blank range.
“He’s found a way to be productive and get on the score sheet his first couple of weeks and have an influence on the game,” Micheletto said. “I think his speed naturally translates to this level. His aggressive mentality allows him to be a part of the action. I think he’s adapting very well. We’re very happy for him.”
Before enrolling at UMass, Iacobellis had an extensive junior hockey career, playing 155 games in the British Columbia Hockey League. Last season was his most successful, scoring 15 goals and adding 26 assists for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
Through two weekends, his transition to the college game has gone relatively smoothly, something Iacobellis attributes to the guys around him.
The college game “is like everything: faster, stronger, guys are better,” he said. “It makes it a little bit easier when you have some better skilled guys on your line and a team as a whole.”
He’s also adjusting to life as a student again, something he temporarily put on hold after graduating from Notre Dame Regional Secondary (Vancouver) in 2011.
“I’ve been out of a school for a couple years, it was a little tough at first,” Iacobellis said. “But it makes it easy, we got guys on the team that know exactly what’s going on. I’ve got buddies back home that play college, you talk to them and they fill you in with all the goods so they make it quite easy.”
The Minutemen spent the week preparing for Maine, where they’ll start the first of four straight games against the Blackbears Friday.
“Just gotta keep working hard,” Iacobellis said. “We talked a lot about finishing our chances and I think we did a pretty good job of that over the weekend from all lines.”
Friday’s game is at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. UMass faces Maine Saturday at 7:30.