Ryan Bliss makes smooth transition to coaching role at UMass


Staff Writer
Published: 2/24/2020 8:19:45 PM

AMHERST — Ryan Bliss came to UMass with the faint of hope of maybe salvaging his playing career.

The defenseman arrived in Amherst last January as a graduate transfer praying his body would rehabilitate and hold up for one last go-around in college hockey. Unfortunately, the back injury he suffered at Cornell after his sophomore year would end up ending his career, but not his involvement in hockey. Bliss stayed at UMass this season as a volunteer assistant coach, a position he had basically been preparing for while rehabbing his injury.

“I kind of had a couple of years to slowly transition to this, and I’ve been interested in this kind of position for awhile now just having been injured and having to watch so much hockey,” Bliss said. “It’s been fun and definitely something I want to continue.”

Bliss made a big impact in Saturday’s 5-3 win over UMass-Lowell in helping UMass win 42 of 59 faceoffs in the victory over the River Hawks. Coach Greg Carvel gave Bliss all the credit for the Minutemen’s dominance in the faceoff circle because the coach said he worked extremely hard preparing the centers for the test against UMass-Lowell’s talented centers.

Entering last weekend, the River Hawks ranked eighth nationally in faceoffs with a .538 winning percentage while the Minutemen were 35th at just under 50 percent. Yet UMass won the faceoff battle both nights largely due to the information Bliss was compiling behind the scenes and transmitting it to the players.

“He does a lot of video,” junior center Jake Gaudet said. “He’ll scout out the other team and on top of that he analyzes the faceoffs that we lose, the faceoffs that we win. He looks at what’s important, what’s the key and where the room is for improvement in our own game in the faceoffs.”

Carvel said one of Bliss’ strengths as a volunteer assistant is that he has been trained by some of the best coaches in the country from an early age. He was part of the U.S. National Development Program and played alongside current NHL players such as Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews and Charlie McAvoy. He then played for two seasons at Cornell under Mike Schafer, who has the fifth-most wins (477) among active Division I coaches.

All of that experience comes in handy as Carvel searches for the slightest improvements and different methods to work on skills or convey messages to the team.

“He’s got a lot of experience, he played in the U.S. national program, he played at Cornell, so he gives me insight in how things could be done differently,” Carvel said. “Ryan was an elite player, so he was developed as an elite player, so we’ve been able to glean a lot off of him.”

Unlike many new volunteer assistants, though, Bliss had a built-in advantage of having been teammates with a majority of the players he’s now helping to coach. Although that could have made for a bumpy transition, Bliss has fit in well with the staff and been able to act as a conduit between the players and coaches. Carvel said he thinks Bliss handled the transition as smoothly as he could, and the 23-year-old has become a mentor to the young defensemen on the UMass roster.

The opportunity to work with mostly freshmen and sophomores on defense – senior Jake McLaughlin is the only one not in his first or second year of college hockey – was a perfect opportunity for Bliss. He said he enjoys working with the next generation and helping to mold them into the potential stars of the future.

“It’s actually been nice that we’ve had a younger group of defensemen,” Bliss said. “There’s a lot of room, a lot of potential to be filled there and we can work with them a lot. Just helping them understand that game and transition into college hockey, it’s been nice to help out in that as well.”

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