UMass changed culture for better in championship run

  • Massachusetts players react after losing 3-0 to Minnesota -Duluth following the third period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts forward Jacob Pritchard (14) and Minnesota-Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) collide during the third period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) makes a save against Minnesota-Duluth during the second period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts' Marc Del Gaizo (2) defends against Minnesota-Duluth' Parker Mackay (39) during the second period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Minnesota-Duluth forward Parker Mackay (39) celebrates his goal during the first period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game against Massachusetts, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Minnesota-Duluth forward Parker Mackay (39) puts the puck past Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) during the first period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts forward Kurt Keats (7) stick checks Minnesota-Duluth forward Billy Exell (16) during the second period of the NCAA Frozen Four men's college hockey championship game, Saturday, April 13, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • UMass defenseman and Hobey Baker Award winner, Cale Makar, hugs head coach, Greg Carvel after losing the NCAA Ice Hockey Championship title to Minnesota-Duluth, Sat. April 13, 2019, at the KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

  • UMass defenseman, Cale Makar, skates with the puck in the Bulldog's defensive zone during the NCAA Ice Hockey National Championship game against Minnesota-Duluth, Sat. April 13, 2019, at the KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

  • UMass defenseman, Cale Makar, skates with the puck in the Bulldog's defensive zone during the NCAA Ice Hockey National Championship game against Minnesota-Duluth, Sat. April 13, 2019, at the KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

  • UMass head coach, Greg Carvel, left, and players, Cale Makar and Kurt Keats, right, speak at a post-game press conference about the loss to Minnesota-Duluth, Sat., April 12, 2019 at the KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst sophomores Anna Crosby, left, and Julia Lima, watching the NCAA National Championship Game at Berkshire Dining Commons, get back to day-to-day life as Minnesota Duluth hockey fans (on screen) celebrate the third goal of the Bulldogs' 3-0 win over the UMass Minutemen on Saturday, April 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass hockey fans gathered at the Spoke in Amherst watch the Minutemen face off against Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA National Championship game televised from Buffalo on Saturday, April 13, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/14/2019 5:40:18 PM

BUFFALO, N.Y. — No one is laughing about UMass hockey anymore.

Two years ago, the Minutemen’s season ended with 17 straight losses to punctuate a five-win campaign. The national championship game was something most assumed UMass would watch on television for the next few years. The thought of actually competing in it was a pipe dream at best for even the most ardent Minuteman supporters.

Yet on Saturday night, UMass was wearing its maroon sweaters in front of thousands of fans who made the trek to western New York to watch them compete for a championship. There were tens of thousands more who tuned in to ESPN2 with bated breath as their Minutemen were one of the last two teams standing in the country.

It was far from the Minutemen’s best performance and the 3-0 loss to Minnesota Duluth will sting for a long time, but that didn’t stop UMass from recognizing the impact the 2018-19 season had on the program’s image. For better or worse, the Minutemen will enter next season as the hunted after 25 years of being the hunter.

“The bar has been raised and it’s not going to be easy to keep it there,” coach Greg Carvel said. “What we view as successful has changed for sure. It’s just part of how people view our program, I don’t think anybody is going to laugh at us anymore or disregard us or disrespect us.”

Saturday night was probably too soon for UMass to fully reflect on its accomplishments this season, but there was certainly an understanding of the significance of the moment. Even as tears streamed down faces in the locker room and the frustration seemed to set in, the players were cognizant of just how special the season that just completed was to the school.

The program-record 31 wins energized a dormant fan base to follow the team wherever they played. No matter if UMass played in Boston, Manchester, New Hampshire, or Buffalo, New York, it was followed by those thousands of fans who made it feel like the Mullins Center. It was no different Saturday night as the Minutemen were serenaded by one last “Let’s Go UMass” chant before they headed off the ice after the final buzzer.

It’s a stark contrast to when sophomore defenseman Cale Makar first committed to UMass and he said he appreciates the effect this season had on the reputation of the program.

“It’s tough right now, I’m pretty sour,” Makar said. “But you look back at the two years that I’ve been at this school, especially this year. The amount of respect that we’ve created for this emblem of Massachusetts and UMass, it’s just amazing. The group of guys we have in that room are just a testament to the character guys we’re going to be bringing in in the future, as well.”

The change all started with the culture Carvel instilled in this team, the one that allowed the Minutemen to believe they belonged on the biggest stage. Even if their youth and inexperience showed in the title game, there was never a doubt in the group that UMass belonged on this stage.

For a player like senior Kurt Keats, the only Minuteman to survive from John Micheletto’s tenure to play Saturday, the transformation is even more special. He said he was grateful to be part of the team that ultimately changed the course of UMass history.

“When Coach Carvel came in (and we) talked as a group (at the) beginning of every year, last year and this year, ... we said ‘wouldn’t it be so special if 10 years from now UMass hockey was a national powerhouse year in, year out, contending for a national championship, and we were the group that turned it around,” Keats said. “We definitely brought respect to UMass hockey this year. I think the group’s in great hands moving forward.”

UMass would have much preferred to win a championship Saturday, but the loss only serves as fuel to a fire that was stoked in the group long before the Minutemen arrived in Buffalo. The Minutemen will lose just three seniors off this year’s roster in addition to Makar, who signed with the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday and will play in the NHL playoffs on Monday. That leaves most of the core that led them to this point still intact. And that group has gotten close enough to the mountaintop to know exactly what it takes to return to this stage a year from now.

Anything short of lifting that trophy in Detroit next year is not acceptable for UMass hockey.

“Next year, we’re not done,” sophomore defender Mario Ferraro said. “We plan to be back here next year and redeem ourselves and win a championship – not only here but also Hockey East. We have high standards here, we’ve definitely raised our standard of play and we still have goals to win a championship, so we’re going to keep our focus on that.”




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