Keeping Score: UMass lives up to the standard

Published: 4/16/2021 8:21:04 PM

Good morning!
Garrett Wait’s shot heard ’round the Commonwealth hit the back of the net at 12:13 a.m., and it rocketed the UMass hockey program into another galaxy. The national championship game two nights later was like the USA versus Finland, except coach Greg Carvel didn’t need to pull a Herb Brooks and remind his players, “If you lose this game you’ll take it to your bleeping graves.”

Thus ends the myth that UMass couldn’t win without Cale Makar, could never break the stranglehold that Boston schools have on Hockey East, that if Toot Cahoon couldn’t win nobody could … 

In two nights the state’s flagship campus got more national exposure than the football and basketball teams have garnered in two decades. Congrats signs are up on the interstates, the ESPN ratings were huge, there’s even talk of a parade some day when it’s safe to march about Amherst.

Two years ago in this space, readers were introduced to the man that AD Ryan Bamford had hired from upstate New York. Born and raised in Canton, 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.

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.”

At St. Lawrence, he met his wife Daina, whose father taught philosophy at UMass. After a year of playing pro hockey in Sweden and a year of teaching and coaching at the Canterbury School in Connecticut, Carvel came to UMass to get a master’s degree in sport management.

One day he called Jack Arena, Amherst College’s hockey coach since 1983. A former NCAA Division III Player of the Year, he took the reins the same year he graduated. “He reached out and asked if he could help, and we brought him on,” said Arena. “I sensed, and knew, Greg was a bright guy, passionate about hockey and focused and driven. Whatever route he took he was going to do well.”

Before he landed in Amherst, Carvel got in the proverbial 10,000 hours. “This has been a long run,” said Arena. Over the next 18 years, Carvel went from being director of hockey operations for the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters to the Anaheim Ducks scouting director and from there to being an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators. He was in his fifth season coaching at St. Lawrence when Bamford came calling.

UMass hockey was a three-legged dog with fleas, almost a nuisance to administrators infatuated with basketball since the day Julius Erving walked into the Curry Hicks Cage.

UMass had three winning seasons in 22 years, had burned through three coaches and had produced only a smattering of talent good enough for the NHL. Its best player, goalie Jonathan Quick, went to UMass after his first team of choice didn’t want him.

“Greg wasn’t unhappy at St. Lawrence,” said Arena. “He expected to be there a long time.”

“I wouldn’t be here if Jack Arena hadn’t told me he thought we could win at UMass,” said Carvel.

Shortly after he was hired, Arena called Carvel and invited him to lunch. “He texted me, he was in Alberta. He said, ‘I’m watching this kid play hockey. You would pay to watch this kid.’”

That kid of course was Cale Makar, the eventual Hobey Baker winner and future NHL Rookie of the Year. Makar had been recruited by Carvel’s predecessor John Micheletto, and he told Carvel he’d honor his commitment to play in Amherst.

Meanwhile assistant coaches Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel were out in the hinterlands finding more talent. After Carvel cleaned house it took less than two seasons to show results. Since Feb. 6, 2018, UMass hockey is an eye-popping 78-29-8.

Makar was the quintessential player for a coach who cares as much about off-ice behavior as on-ice talent. “Greg doesn’t believe in success at any price,” said Arena. “Culture and character is every bit as important to him as talent. You watch a team on a roll like UMass this year and you saw how much they believed. They had all the other pieces. Talent was just a part of it.”

After the Minutemen beat Minnesota-Duluth, I emailed Carvel and reminded him of something he’d uttered to WHMP’s Brock Hines earlier this season. “We have standards,” he said, and last week he elaborated.

“To be a good coach you have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate it,” he replied. “Have standards and not only hold players accountable to them but also yourself. Treat people fairly and honestly. Be hard and demanding when the situation calls for it, compassionate and vulnerable at other times. Be consistent in everything you do. The standard is the most important thing. Can not be compromised by anyone.”

Carvel and his staff earn considerably less than the football and basketball staffs. He could probably earn 10 times more money coaching in the NHL. Currently though, said Arena, “There’s no place better in college hockey than UMass.”

ESPN analyst Barry Melrose summed it up best. “Great hockey team. Great coach. Great program.”

Anyone who felt badly for not being in Pittsburgh to see the hockey team make history won’t have to wait long for another opportunity. The next two Frozen Fours are in nearby Boston and breezy Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, the marketing department has a winning slogan to put on T-shirts: “UMass Hockey. We Have Standards.”

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 at
chipjet95@yahoo.com




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