Keeping Score: Icy Rhodes and Frozen Fours

  • UMass men’s hockey head coach Greg Carvel, top, has expectations soaring around his Minutemen this season. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Head Coach, Greg Carvel, walking off the ice during a game against AIC at the Mullins Center on October 14, 2017. Photo by Caroline O'Connor.

Published: 10/12/2018 5:57:39 PM

Good morning!

The much anticipated UMass hockey season began Friday night against RPI at the Mullins Center. The two teams will meet again tonight in Troy, not far from Buffalo, where the 2019 Frozen Four will be played.

Geography isn’t the only reason that 48-year-old UMass coach Greg Carvel will be in a New York state of mind this season. Step by step throughout his career, he’s laid the foundation for where he is today and where he wants to be in April. Born and raised in Canton (N.Y.), he played at St. Lawrence University for coach Joe Marsh, a tough talker who quoted Lincoln and pushed the Saints to six conference championships and two trips to the Frozen Four. 

Carvel knew he had the brains to be a successful coach. He graduated magna cum laude and was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship. “It didn’t get very far, but the school appreciated I was nominated,” he told the College Hockey News, adding “It was fun being the hometown boy playing in Canton.”

While studying for his Masters in sport management at UMass, he met his wife Daina and assisted head coach Jack Arena at Amherst College. Arena won the Hobey Baker Award in 1983 and six months later became Amherst’s head coach.

When Arena kidded Carvel he’d only been nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship, he agreed it was only like winning a Division III Hobey Baker Award. 

Carvel wound up in the NHL, breaking down film and “creating practice” for the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators. “Joe (Marsh) helped me get into pro hockey,” he told CHN. “I learned a lot from the best coaches in the world. I worked with coaches who got fired, and understood the reasons why.”

He returned to his alma mater when Marsh was ready to retire, won 72 games in four years and won the Tim Taylor Award as ECAC Coach of the Year in 2014-15.

Meanwhile, 300 miles southeast of Canton, UMass was struggling under the weight of playing in Hockey East. John Micheletto was fired after winning two conference games in 2015-16 and in came Carvel, who promptly cleaned house. Only two players and one staffer remain from the old regime: defenseman Ivan Chukarov, forward Kurt Keats and equipment manager Josh Penn.

The Minutemen won five games in Carvel’s first year and 17 last year, when they went 6-4-1 down the stretch. They beat UVM in the opening round but were swept by Northeastern in the quarterfinals.

“My goal next season,” he said shortly afterward, “is to fill the Mullins Center.”

The last time that happened was March 10, 2007, when 8,062 watched UMass beat Maine, 5-2, in the conference quarterfinals. Last season they averaged 3,073, which was 26th of 60 teams in D-I according to

When he arrived in Amherst, Carvel told the assembled media: “The way we practice, the way we train, the way we do video preparation, my kids that I’ve had at St. Lawrence, when they go pro they say, ‘This is exactly the same thing.’”

The pro-style coaching strategy is likely why the Colorado Avalanche kept their prized first-round pick Cale Makar in Amherst. “NHL prospect experts say Makar and (Michigan’s) Quinn Hughes are the best two defensemen that aren’t in the NHL right now,” Nate Ewell of said on Sirius-XM.

Makar’s blueline partner Mario Ferraro was the San Jose Sharks’ second-round pick in the same draft. Ferraro played every game, was sixth nationally in assists by a freshman, and made the conference all-rookie team.

“Mario is an action guy with intensity and focus,” Carvel told Jake Maurer on NESN’s UMass Sports Insider. “Cale is the quiet guy, but when it’s time to get in the foxhole, he’s the one you want to be in there with.”

Junior center Niko Hillenbrand is team captain and Makar and Ferraro are the alternates. Hillenbrand played every game last season and his eight goals included two short-handed tallies and a game-winner. “Niko is the most vocal and leads his life on and off the ice the way we want for all our players,” said Carvel.

Forwards John Leonard (whose father was an assistant hoops coach at UMass under Steve Lappas) and Oliver Chau (an NMH grad) led the team in scoring and power play points, respectively.

Nine freshmen have taken “lots of coaching to get them up to speed with our system and how we play the game,” Carvel wrote in his group email. 

Their crucible was the United States Hockey League. The brothers Del Gaizo — Anthony and Marc — skated for the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Anthony was the USHL’s Player of the Year and Marc was the league’s leading goal scorer from the point. Defenseman Ty Farmer played for the Fargo Force and was the league’s second-leading scoring defenseman.

“Jacob Pritchard is a grad transfer from St. Lawrence Carvel’s high on,” said UMass radio color analyst Brock Hines. “He coached him at St. Lawrence his freshman season. … Bobby Trivigno’s a sleeper, a small forward from the USHL who’s gotten some mentions in our meetings the last few weeks.”

Now in his 26th season, Hines will be joined by play-by-play voice Donnie Moorhouse and rinkside reporter Adam Frenier. The games will be broadcast regionally on WHMP 101.5/107.5 FM and 1240/1400 AM.

Tickets start at $10 for general admission.

Goaltending will determine if Carvel can open the throttle on offense. Last year, he went with the hot hand until finally settling on Matt Murray over Ryan Wischow. Now Wischow’s gone and Murray is iffy after he let in some softies in the playoffs.

Consequently all eyes will be on Fille Lindberg of Finland, a country known for producing outstanding netminders like Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask and Joonas Korpisalo.

The one and only great keeper to play in Amherst was Jonathan Quick, who backstopped the Minutemen to within a game of the 2007 Frozen Four. That quest ended in Rochester, close to Buffalo which might become the honeymoon capital of UMass hockey.


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Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at

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