Third time’s the charm: Greg Carvel prepares for his biggest season yet By Mollie Walker

Photos by Collegian Photo Editor Caroline O'Connor and Collegian Staff.

Massachusetts hockey coach Greg Carvel has essentially kept the same coaching staff since his days as head coach at St. Lawrence University. One of those staffers, peak performance consultant Mark Randall, is always telling him it takes three to five years before you can see a significant change in a program.

The 2018-19 season marks Carvel’s third year with the UMass hockey program, and he is ready to see that significant change.

“This year is huge,” Carvel said, “it was the same at St. Lawrence in my third year, the team took a big step forward. I see a lot of similarities and we're preaching the same things and actually doing things at a higher clip here.”

Carvel took over as the St. Lawrence head coach in the spring of 2012, taking on a team that lost five of its first six games of the previous season before finishing below .500. In the 2014-15 season, Carvel’s third year with the program, the Saints went on to win 20 games, including a trip to the semifinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament.

In three seasons, he had three players signed to NHL free agent contracts and coached four All-Americans. At one point the Saints had the No. 1 ranked power play in the country and the No. 1 goal-scoring forward and defenseman in the country, and six of Carvel’s players were invited to NHL development camps in 2015.

When Athletic Director Ryan Bamford first hired Carvel, the former NHL staffer felt as though there was a “pall” over the program, which rubbed him the wrong way. He came in understanding there was a lot of work to be done, a culture to be adjusted and a new standard to be set.

And he dove in, head first.

“I walked into the locker room one day and I said, ‘this program is not Zoomass, — we’re Newmass and we’re going to lead the way,’” Carvel recalled. “We want to be the team on this campus that leads the way, elevates and plays at a certain standard.”

In just two years with UMass, Carvel spearheaded the largest one-year turnaround in program history; a 12-win improvement, the biggest in Division I hockey for the 2017-18 season. The program hosted and won its first postseason series since 2007 and recruited a top-three nationally-ranked freshman class in 2017-18, all under Carvel’s leadership.

"I walked into the locker room one day and I said, 'this program is not ZooMass -- we're NewMass and we're going to lead the way." - Greg Carvel

Last season, the Minutemen led the nation in freshmen scoring, accumulating the most goals (67) registered by a UMass freshman class in the Hockey East era, topped off with program second-best marks in assists (102) and points (169).

“I like our gradual move up the ladder,” Carvel said. “I’ll take sixth in the [Hockey East 2018-19 Preseason Coaches’ Poll.] I think that’s where we deserve to be. We have to prove a lot more.”

“I think this team could do great things this year. Last year, we could sneak up on teams, that won’t happen anymore.”

The current Minutemen roster is made up of 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders, returning 17 players from last seasons’ 17-20-2 squad. Niko Hildenbrand, Kurt Keats and Ivan Chukarov are the only members who weren’t recruited by Carvel and his staff, but he says that he doesn’t think they feel a difference.

“It does help when you have kids that you recruited yourself, there's a different connection with them,” Carvel said. “But everyone who is on this team right now, I don't think anyone feels like outsiders. There's been enough kids that have left the program that if you're still here, you deserve to be here.”

Whether it’s because Carvel is extremely familiar with this team, feels as though there’s been significant improvement or just has good history with his third year in a program, he feels much more comfortable heading into this season.

Before his first season in 2016, Carvel said he “knew what was coming,” of the inevitable 5-29-2 team. When year two rolled around he remembered feeling very hopeful, eventually believing the year went as it was supposed to.

The New York native is expecting this upcoming campaign to also go how he predicts. He believes the team will be solid and competitive, with a strong chance to win every single night. He mentioned how he feels he has a group of players who are truly committed to the culture he instilled when he first took over.

“The freshmen and the sophomores, [this culture is] all they know,” Carvel said of his eight freshmen and 11 sophomores. “We're in a really good spot as far as the chemistry of the team and the culture of the team. Our standards are well known and the guys do a real good job living to those standards."

Jacob Pritchard, a senior transfer from St. Lawrence who played under Carvel in his freshman season, remembers these set of standards very well. He said coming back to play for Carvel was an easy decision for him.

“I just think coach Carvel builds an absolute great culture and it's something that you can thrive under individually but more so as a team,” Pritchard said. “I think he really just builds a culture that you just love playing hockey and when you love playing hockey and coming to the rink, you're going to be successful on the ice.”

Carvel doesn’t think onlookers would have ever expected how solid of a program UMass would become in the short time that is has. John Leonard, who became the first UMass player since 2007 to be selected in the NHL Entry Draft following his freshman season, says Carvel is to thank.

Leonard appreciates Carvel’s effort in diligently working with the team each and every day to improve. To the sophomore, Carvel is “the guy who does it all behind the scenes.”

“At the end of the day, we are getting better every day and every year,” Leonard said, “and I think we're going to have a real strong year.”

Carvel’s coaching ability speaks for itself in the awards he’s won and in his team’s records, but when it comes to the UMass squad there are two important components that he knows have made a significant impact: sophomores Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro.

Referring to the duo as “future NHL players,” Carvel credits Makar and Ferraro as major factors in the Minutemen’s successes. Combining for nine goals and 35 assists (44 points), the two have made their presence known on the ice.

“If we didn't have them I think we'd still be on a good progress and we'd be moving at a good clip,” Carvel said. “But those two guys have really escalated the process.”

Over the summer, Carvel spent his time deliberating on how he could get more out of Makar and Ferraro, who combined for three assists in the team’s 6-1 exhibition victory over the Royal Military College of Canada. He claims the coaching staff have made the necessary changes to the team’s style of play to make that happen.

Last season, Makar and Ferraro — the No. 4 and No. 67 picks, respectively, in the 2017 NHL draft — played side by side for a powerful defensive first line that combined for just under 100 blocks along with their point production. They were a force on the ice that were originally supposed to be separated, but were too effective to keep apart for the team’s needs last season.

The exhibition game saw the two separated for the first time since their first games in maroon and white. Ferraro was paired with Ty Farmer for the starting defensive pair while Makar skated with Marc Del Gaizo.

Along with adjustments to improve their power play, penalty kill and goaltending situation, Carvel feels these are the finishing touches the program needs. These improvements will ensure the first and second round draft picks have the puck more often than not, particularly in the offensive zone.

“I mean these kids have entrusted me,” Carvel said. “The staff at Colorado and San Jose have entrusted us with [Makar and Ferraro’s] development and so I take that very seriously. Those two kids, they have special assets that we have to get the most out of.”

Makar’s coast-to-coast goal at the end of Game 1 against Vermont in the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament ran on highlight reels everywhere, including NHL on NBC Sports.

While Leonard’s double toe-drag in Game 3 of the same series headlined on NESN.com and appeared on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays, rounding out the attention-grabbing season that Carvel left off on.

The concept of "NewMass" has acted as Carvel’s theme for the rebuild of the UMass hockey program, and anyone can look at the team that he inherited three years ago and truly understand how new this 2018-19 team is.

If history has a habit of repeating itself, then this year will be something special and unlike anything that UMass has seen before. The moment Carvel stepped foot in Amherst, people took notice of what was brewing in the Mullins Center. Now it has become an expectation, one that Carvel and everyone else is anticipating will be met.

“My daughters’ kind of gauge it for me,” Carvel smirked. “They tell me stories of when I coached at St. Lawrence, you go to the grocery store and you know everybody. My first year [in Amherst] my kids would say ‘hey, we can go to grocery store and no one will bug us.’”

“But now I go to the grocery store and people will start to say hello and say they’re excited for the hockey team. I love it, that’s what college hockey is all about.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at molliewalker@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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