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Minutemen beat Huskies in hockey opener

AMHERST — The largest home-opening crowd in UMass hockey history came to be entertained Friday night, and the Minutemen didn’t disappoint as they got their 2012-2013 season and the start of the John Micheletto head coaching era off to a rousing start.

Branden Gracel had a goal and an assist and Kevin Boyle made 24 saves as UMass took down future Hockey East rival Connecticut, 4-1, before a loud and appreciative 7,123 at the Mullins Center.

Colin Shea, Steven Guzzo and Darren Rowe added goals for the Minutemen (1-0).

“It was a good start, I was happy with our pace in the first 20 minutes and that got much better in the second period,” said Micheletto, hired in July after nine seasons as an assistant coach at Vermont to replace Don “Toot” Cahoon, who was in attendance Friday. “It’s pretty much the same job once you get inside the boards, whether you’re a head coach or an assistant. You’re in the moment as a coach, you’re trying to use the emotion appropriately.”

UMass dominated the territorial play and scoring opportunities, but Huskies goalie Garrett Bartus kept the visitors right in it until the Minutemen expanded a 2-1 lead with two more goals early in the third period.

Shea got the Minutemen on the board with the first goal of the new season, on the power play at 6:11 of the first period. With UConn’s Jacob Poe off for tripping, Shea connected on a blast from the midpoint, beating Bartus. Gracel picked up the lone assist.

UConn (0-1) used the man-advantage to get back to even after UMass’ Troy Power was called for boarding at 11:32. Just 24 seconds later, Tyler Helton nearly whiffed on his first try, then beat Boyle on the short side to make it 1-1.

Gracel put UMass back in front at 16:57, cruising the top of the crease and deflecting Guzzo’s rising shot from the midslot down past Bartus. Gracel’s stick blade nearly picked the puck out of Bartus’ glove when he made contact, prompting a brief video review before the goal was allowed.

“That’s never fun, waiting to see if it’s a goal or not,” said Gracel. “I was lucky I put it right down into the net.”

With just over a minute to go, the Huskies’ Alex Gerke narrowly missed tying the score when his slap shot pinged the crossbar behind Boyle and deflected straight down and out.

The penalty-kill units got a big workout in the second period, as both teams survived 5-on-3 situations for nearly two minutes each. Later, UMass killed off a 4-on-3 power play lasting 1:20. In all, the Minutemen were whistled for six minors to the Huskies’ five during the period.

“Our guys smartened up and we were able to play even-up hockey in the third period,” said Micheletto. “I appreciate the emotion of the first game, but we’ve got to be better at being unflappable -- that’s a word we need to learn and embrace.”

UMass jumped to a 3-1 lead at 1:53 of the third. Guzzo wheeled in front of the net from the right corner, and with a UConn defender draped on him and forcing him to the ice, he managed to sweep the puck through Bartus’ pads.

Rowe added the final goal on the man-advantage at 7:26, angling left to right through the low slot and then firing past Bartus from a sharp angle.

UMass outshot UConn 39-25 and went 2-for-9 on the power play, compared to the Huskies’ 1-for-8.

The Minutemen open Hockey East play Friday at 7 p.m. at home against defending national champion Boston College.

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