Greg Carvel built UMass hockey into a program to be proud of 

  • UMass coach Greg Carvel took over a team that finished last in Hockey East the two seasons before he arrived. The Minutemen won five games his first year. Now they're national champions. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass coach Greg Carvel, center, credits his assistants Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel for helping mold the Minutemen into national champions. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2021 12:37:05 AM

PITTSBURGH – Greg Carvel spent his last moments on the PPG Paints Arena ice after winning his first national championship picking up helmets.

UMass’ players threw those helmets, and their gloves, everywhere when the final buzzer of Saturday night’s 5-0 victory over St. Cloud State sounded. He was the last one off the ice, and Carvel made sure UMass dotted every I and crossed every T in its championship season, down to the last piece of equipment. The best architects need to both focus on the details and have a vision for the complete picture.

Carvel brought both to UMass when he was hired five years ago, inheriting a program that finished last in Hockey East the two years before he got there. The Minutemen only mustered five wins in his first season and ended 2017 on a 17-game losing streak.

He credited UMass’ sports psychologist Mark Randall, an old friend he brought over from St. Lawrence, and his assistants Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel.

“It's people and culture. That's why we were able to turn the program around,” Carvel said. “Right down the line from equipment manager to strength coach, to athletic trainer and hockey ops – just all people who understand the importance of high standards, just quality people and high standards. It's really what it is. It's who you surround yourself with, what you accept from them.”

Saturday’s game against the Huskies got out of hand quickly. The Minutemen led 2-0 after the first period and poured another two goals in the second. Carvel was still yelling at his team for being out of position with a minute left in the game when St. Cloud State created a breakaway.

“I tell them, right until the end, and they understand that,” Carvel said. “And I think that's why we're a good team, it’s because we're disciplined and understand the importance of it.”

Carvel isn’t an easy coach to play for. He’s demanding and asks a lot of his players. They appreciate that of him.

“He built this program from the ground up. The amount of work he puts in behind the scenes, recruiting players, pre-scouts, making sure all the boys are ready to play is unreal,” junior assistant captain Bobby Trivigno said. “He does a great job and definitely one of the best coaches I've ever played for.”

UMass senior captain Jake Gaudet was one of the first people Carvel sold the vision to. He was part of a 13-member recruiting class brought in after that initial five-win season. Four are playing professionally now: Cale Makar with the Colorado Avalanche, John Leonard and Mario Ferraro with the San Jose Sharks and Mitchell Chaffee with the Iowa Wild. Five remain, including Gaudet: Oliver Chau, Philip Lagunov, George Mika and Matt Murray. They saw the rebuild through.

“He's unbelievable at having a vision in the whole program. You can see it throughout the four years. He's really intense with our team. He pushes us to be the best we can be. But he also understands how to manage our team effectively,” Gaudet said. “And I think he's built a culture of like-minded people that work really hard and they're willing to push themselves and learn from mistakes and try and put the best product of hockey on the ice and in the community in Amherst.”

With a few minutes left in the game and a program-altering national title sectured, Carvel brought the Minutemen in close. He wanted to say something important to them before the chaos of the celebration took over. 

“You don't get that opportunity too often. I wanted them to come in tight and look each other in the eyes and try to remember the moment, because honestly it will be the best moment of their life,” Carvel said. “I just wanted them to hear that from me and hear my gratitude for all they've done.”

After the final horn sounded and the fireworks went off and the gloves were thrown, every member of the team and staff took their turn hoisting the trophy toward UMass’ fan section. Carvel went last. He thought about his family and the people that paved the way for him to reach that point. Maine coach Red Gendron, a former UMass assistant who passed away unexpectedly Friday, was one of those people. So was his father-in-law Edmund Gettier, who was a philosophy professor at UMass for 35 years and passed away two weeks ago.

“When I lifted that trophy I thought of people like that and former players. And I also think about how important it is for our university to have a championship like this and all the great people at the University of Massachusetts,” Carvel said. “I'm just happy for the people in the program right now, but so many people that this will trickle down through that they can take pride in it. My vision was never to win a national championship. My vision was to build a program that great pride could be taken in.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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