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UMass could have some strong candidates for hockey coach

  • Union head coach Rick Bennett directs his during team during practice for the NCAA men's college hockey 2014 Frozen Four tournament. Bennett could be a candidate for the vacant UMass coaching job. AP FILE



@MattVautourDHG
Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Despite the UMass hockey team’s recent struggles, the vacant head coaching position is still viewed as a good job in college hockey circles and is expected to attract some quality candidates.

UMass is a well-resourced Hockey East program. Unlike many college hockey programs, the Minutemen pay their athletes full cost of attendance proportional to the percentage of scholarship a player receives. The Mullins Center is still one of the sport’s best facilities and the new coach can expect a salary that’s among the upper echelon in Division I.

So unlike in 2012 when a variety of factors contributed to UMass struggling to find a strong candidate willing to commit, new athletic director Ryan Bamford should have strong options to choose from.

In Monday’s teleconference, Bamford mentioned how quickly Nate Leaman turned Providence from a middling Hockey East program to the 2015 national champions.

“Providence was in the bottom half of the league with us for a couple of years. They made a commitment, hired a new coach, Nate Leaman, a couple years ago and won a national championship last year,” Bamford said.

There are a handful of Leaman disciples on the following list of candidates who could be involved:

Rick Bennett, Union College head coach — If he’s interested, Bennett is almost certain to be a candidate. The 48-year-old Springfield native led Union, which is Division III in all sports except hockey, to a national championship in 2014. Union just completed a down season (13-14-9) after four-straight winning campaigns. The Dutchmen’s down year could work in his favor. If UMass likes him, it could move quickly toward hiring him while other candidates are still competing. He was Leaman’s top assistant at Union before succeeding him there.

Greg Carvel, St. Lawrence head coach — Carvel has local ties. He earned his master’s degree in sport management from UMass and worked as an assistant at Amherst College in 1996.

The Saints were 27-41-8 in the two years before he arrived, but he’s built them into an annual contender in the ECAC. He was the league’s 2014-15 coach of the year. Given his and Bamford’s father’s affiliations with the ECAC, the UMass AD almost certainly has a good feel for Carvel.

Carvel is a St. Lawrence alum, which might make leaving a little more emotional, but the move would be considered a step up.

Mark Dennehy, Merrimack head coach —Dennehy was Toot Cahoon’s right-hand man during UMass’ last run of success. He’s built Merrimack from a Hockey East also-ran into a credible program. He wasn’t interested in being a candidate the last time, when he would have been replacing his friend and mentor. Could a new administration convince him to head west?

Bill Riga, Quinnipiac associate coach — Riga has been a key part of two major building jobs. He was an assistant with Leaman and helped turn the Dutchmen into a power and is currently the top assistant for Rand Pecknold, who has turned Quinnipiac into the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

When UMass was searching in 2012, it made a hard run at Pecknold. This time Riga could make sense. He was in the mix when Princeton was searching for a coach last year and is considered a likely candidate to land a head job shortly. If the Minutemen are willing to pursue someone who isn’t a head coach, Riga could be a strong candidate.

Darren Yopyk, Minnesota Wild scout — Yopyk is a former graduate assistant under Cahoon at UMass. He’s a Canadian citizen which complicates things somewhat as UMass would have to sponsor him for a work visa, slowing his hiring process. But the Princeton alumnus is widely considered a likely future college head coach.

Ben Barr, Western Michigan associate head coach — Another former Leaman lieutenant, Barr is the top assistant for the Broncos. He’s just 32, but he’s looked at as an up-and-comer.

Kyle Wallack, Vermont associate head coach — Schools rarely hire a coach who resembles the one they just fired. Wallack replaced Micheletto as an assistant on the Vermont coaching staff when Micheletto was hired at UMass, which could make him unlikely. But Wallack worked at Yale when Bamford was the senior associate athletic director there. So a familiarity and comfort level could work in his favor.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage