UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel takes in Stanley Cup Finals featuring ex-Minutemen Conor Sheary, Justin Braun

  • San Jose Sharks' Justin Braun (61) plays against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final series Monday, May 30, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Keith Srakocic

  • Pittsburgh Penguins' Conor Sheary (43) plays against the San Jose Sharks during the first period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) Keith Srakocic

  • Greg Carvel speaks at a press conference as the new head coach of the UMass hockey program. GAZETTE FILE

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 6/3/2016 10:02:15 PM

AMHERST — Outside of Pittsburgh, where Steel City sports fans are celebrating the Penguins’ 2-0 series lead over San Jose, there aren’t many people enjoying the Stanley Cup Finals more than UMass hockey fans.

There are UMass players on either side of the showdown and so far of the eight goals scored in the two games, three of them have come off the stick of former Minutemen. Pittsburgh forward Conor Sheary has one goal in each game, including the overtime winner in Game 2, and Sharks defenseman Justin Braun had the only San Jose goal Wednesday.

Not that long ago, none of this would have meant much to Greg Carvel. But in the two months since the former St. Lawrence coach was hired to lead UMass, he’s spent a fair amount of time reaching out to alumni, including Sheary and Braun.

“Right after I got the job I reached out to both of these guys. I texted them,” Carvel said. “They were both real good about getting back to me. Conor especially.”

Carvel said having two players in the Stanley Cup Finals is naturally good for recruiting. His comments came during the first intermission of Game 2 before each alum notched a dramatic goal.

“The timing is good. Anytime you can connect the NHL to help your program is good,” said Carvel, a former Penguins draft pick who coached in the NHL for Anaheim and Ottawa. “The fact that I coached at that level for a number of years, I bring that up a lot. Players I coached at that level, recruits like to hear that stuff. Having these two guys in the finals is a huge asset in recruiting.”

On Wednesday, Carvel, assistant coach Jared DeMichiel, director of hockey operations Brennan McHugh and equipment manager Josh Penn gathered in Carvel’s third-floor Mullins Center office to watch Game 2. Another assistant coach, Ben Barr, was elsewhere and did not attend.

The coaching staff is spending a lot of time together these days. Carvel’s wife and three children are still in northern New York until the school year ends.

After a long day of work that included hosting recruits, the staff unwound by reconvening to watch hockey.

NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire was an assistant coach at St. Lawrence early in Carvel’s playing career there. In addition to their friendship, Carvel likes the added attention the announcer gives the players with NCAA backgrounds.

“Pierre likes to mention the college guys. We have two of them out there so we’re getting a lot of attention,” Carvel said.

While most fans watch games fixated on the puck, the coaches watched systems and formations. Most of the first period was an on-again off-again discussion of the Penguins defensive positioning in their own end.

Carvel even grabbed a napkin, left over from Athena’s Pizza, to sketch the formation.

“As a coach, you have a style of play, but you’re always trying to find improvement,” Carvel said. “Creating offense is such a big issue. I like to watch teams to see what they do to create offense. But every part of their system, at both ends and on special teams, is what I like to watch.”

Nobody has a strong rooting interest for one team or the other. With a family and a program to run, Carvel pays only occasional attention to the NHL during the college season, and only a little more during the postseason.

“It’s mostly guys I know and teams I worked for. I pay pretty close attention to Ottawa. Until recently Brian Murray was still the GM there,” said Carvel of his former boss. “The people I worked closely with and the teams they spread to is where I lean my interest.”

Penn is now working for his third UMass coach. His institutional memory has been valuable.

“As much time as we’ve spent recruiting, I’ve spent as much time getting to know people. Because I didn’t play here I have to earn that trust,” Carvel said. “Josh Penn, who has been here for 12 years, has been a big help.”

Carvel said he likes what he’s encountered from his players on a personal level, but he still hasn’t thoroughly evaluated them on the ice.

“My summer will be a lot of breaking down old film from the past year. Right now, trying to get everything else in order. In July I’m going to hideaway with a computer and do a lot of video stuff,” said Carvel, who expected his family’s Maine getaway next month would be a working vacation. “While my kids are out doing their activities, I’ll spend the first half of the day doing work. It’ll be a lot of video breakdown.”

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




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