By building the right culture, Greg Carvel brings national title to UMass
When Greg Carvel took over behind the Massachusetts’ bench, he was taking over a team that had eight wins the year prior.
They took a step backwards in year one of the Carvel era, winning just five games.
But while Carvel’s first season with the Minutemen was one to forget on the ice, off of it, it was one that set the tone for what has happened in Amherst over the last three seasons.
Carvel wanted to surround himself with likeminded people, ones that bought into the same core values as his.
He did just that.
“I got lucky with the people I surrounded myself with, starting with Mark Randall, our sports psychologist and an old friend. And he really helped me build a culture. And all of us hockey coaches, we know the game but you gotta know how to build a culture,” said Carvel.
Carvel quickly brought in the right people, laying the foundation of a successful college hockey program.
“And then my two assistant coaches were outstanding. Ben [Barr] and Jared [DeMichiel]. And then right down the line from equipment manager to strength coach, to athletic trainer and hockey ops -- just all people who understand the importance of high standards, just quality people and high standards. It's really what it is. It's who you surround yourself with what you accept from them,” said Carvel.
With Barr and DeMichiel in the mix, they were able to help bring several key recruits to Amherst, ones that helped turn things around for the Massachusetts program.
“Jared and Ben have brought in some great players. To think that Cale Makar, Mario Ferraro, John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee were supposed to be on this team,” said Carvel.
“I understand every school loses good players to the NHL -- but Jared and Ben brought in great players but great, good quality people. And, again, it's people and culture. That's why we were able to turn the program around.”
Carvel’s vision came to fruition in 2018-19 when the Minuteman won 31 games and made it all the way to the national championship where they lost to Denver.
Last season was no different for the Minutemen who won 21 games, finishing second in Hockey East before COIVD canceled the remainder of the NCAA season.
Navigating their way through a season being played in the middle of a pandemic was no easy task, but the Minutemen did so successfully. After winning the Hockey East Tournament for the first time in program history, they clawed their way back to the national championship.
This time, with a better result: a 5-0 victory over St. Cloud State.
“We say this all the time: It's easy to go from the bottom to the middle and even close to the top,” said Carvel. “It's really hard to get to the top and then even harder to sustain it. So we'll have our work cut out for us.”
Like many who were involved with college hockey this season, COVID made getting through the season a tiring effort. It didn’t matter if you played one playoff game, or like the Huskies and Minutemen, advanced to college hockey’s final game of the season.
Carvel was emotional following Saturday’s win, and rightfully so. On top of the challenges this season brought, he recently lost two men close to him
“When you win your first national championship, you really want to think about the people that laid the foundation and yesterday was a bit emotional because [UMaine head coach] Red [Gendron] (who passed away unexpectedly Friday) was one of those people,” said Carvel. “And I loved Red. When I lifted that trophy I thought of people like that and former players.
And I also think about how important it is for our university to have a championship like this. And all the great people at the University of Massachusetts and one of them was my father-in-law, who was a philosophy professor for 35 years at UMass. He passed away two weeks ago. And he was a great supporter of mine.”
It was the icing on the cake on what has been five amazing years for Carvel at UMass, and boy, is he only getting started.
“And to talk about my vision, and my vision was never to win a national championship. My vision was to build a program that great pride could be taken in,” said Carvel. “And I feel like we won this the right way. We didn't take shortcuts. We didn't cheat the game at all. We did it absolutely the right way. And for the last four years we've gotten better and better every year.”
The Minutemen have undoubtedly gotten better with each year, finally reaching the top of the mountain Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
But thanks to Carvel’s vision, the culture he created and the buying in he’s gotten from his players, this certainly won’t be Carvel’s and the Minutemen’s last trip to the mountain’s peak.
“I'm very, very grateful for the people who laid the ground work so we could get to where we are,” said Carvel.
“That was emotional for me right after the game.”