Rocco Carzo had a simple message for his teammates before his first game as co-captain of the Massachusetts hockey team against defending national champion Boston College on Oct. 19.
“Just keep it calm,” he said, “keep it on the ice.”
No one embraced that message more than the senior forward, who went out and scored two goals in the Minutemen’s 5-4 loss in overtime to the No.3 Eagles, marking the first multi-goal game of his collegiate career.
And while Carzo’s goals made for quite the accomplishment that night, he was more excited that he helped put his team up, 3-0, against one of the top teams in the nation at the time.
“It’s exciting. I wanted to start off good as captain, but the feeling that we were up 3-0 on the No. 3 team was even better,” Carzo said. “It’s better than the goals. It’s helping out the team that’s best.”
However, Carzo’s performance was overshadowed by BC’s four-goal third period that led to the eventual defeat. And as captain, it was his responsibility to hold the team accountable after blowing such a significant advantage.
“I think we might’ve gotten too comfortable out there,” he said after the game.
Carzo said it was “unacceptable” to lose the game in that fashion.
“I don’t know what to say past that,” he said. “There’s no excuses for that.”
Being one of four seniors on the UMass roster, Carzo came to campus in mid-August prepared to step in and take a leadership role.
There were no official captains on the UMass roster at the time and the departure of 12-year coach Don Cahoon in June delayed the possibilities of when one would be named. But Carzo and fellow senior captain Kevin Czepiel felt a responsibility as veteran players to plan practices and weight-lifting sessions, while keeping the team motivated going into the season.
Their actions made an immediate impression on first-year UMass coach John Micheletto.
“Rocco was definitely one of those guys who chipped in, asked questions, whatever he needed to do, he was willing to do it,” Micheletto said. “It helped me from the beginning.”
The Media, Pa., native considers himself the type of leader that sets an example for his teammates and shows them what to do on and off the ice and how to do it right, using the vocal aspect of his leadership only when necessary.
“I’m not a guy that’ll yell at you, a guy that’ll ‘rah-rah’ the team. I’ll be the guy that’ll go out and show you how to do it and show you through my play,” he said. “But if the time comes that I have to do some ‘ra-ra’ or talking to the team, that’s fine.”
Carzo believes his style of leadership is one that the team prefers based on his past experiences under different captains, despite never having been a captain before at any level.
“I’ve seen how the captains are in the past,” he said. “I’ve seen the good ones and I’ve seen the bad ones too, so I know how the guys like their captain.”
Micheletto said it’s not only Carzo’s versatility and work ethic as a player, but more importantly his ability to stay level-headed consistently that makes him a respectable captain.
“He’s the same guy every day and I think his peers respect that consistency in him,” Micheletto said. “He’s not a different guy because his day is going poorly or things aren’t going well for the team. His approach is very even-handed and that’s very important for us.”
While Carzo has received plenty of recognition for his leadership qualities, his achievements as a player so far this season have also reflected that of a leader. He has a team-high three goals, which is well on pace to surpass his career-high total in a season when he found the back of the net six times as a freshman and was named UMass Rookie of the Year.
One of Carzo’s three goals came on a penalty shot on Oct. 27 against Boston University – the first he’d taken in his playing career and the first successful penalty shot by a Minuteman since Jeff Turner did so in 2000.
Evolving as a player
After putting up respectable scoring numbers as a freshman (six goals, six assists), Carzo spent the next two seasons working on different aspects of his game to become a more well-rounded player, in turn sacrificing his ability to get more goal-scoring opportunities. He ended up with 17 points in his sophomore and junior year combined.
However, he feels that sacrifice has helped lead to his early on-ice success this season.
“I started working on my other side of the game on the back end and such, so I’m more rounded now,” Carzo said.
However, Carzo credits his success to his coaches and teammates for putting him in ideal scoring positions.
“The coaches are getting me chances to score more and I’ve been playing with great guys,” he said. “I give them all the credit. My first two goals were easy goals because my linemates set me up so I give credit to my coaches and teammates for obviously giving me the opportunity.”
High hopes for farewell season
It took Carzo until he was about 15 or 16 to realize he had that opportunity to make a collegiate career out of playing hockey. Growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, he had little exposure to major college hockey, so the possibility never really crossed his mind until midway through high school.
It was in the spring of his junior year when Carzo made his first visit to UMass and “fell in love with the campus,” he said.
Carzo didn’t hesitate to accept the offer despite garnering interest from other Hockey East schools, and to this day he still believes he made the right decision.
But Carzo still has high hopes for his team in his final season in Amherst. He said he thinks the Minutemen are good enough to get a top four seed in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, something that hasn’t been done in his stint with the team.
He also said he will continue to preach to his team the importance of taking the season one game at a time and approaching each game the same way.
But once again he deflects any credit being given to him and would rather credit his parents for his work ethic and his leadership skills.
“I just bring hard work,” Carzo said. “I’m always working hard on the ice and in the gym. That’s something I’ve always been taught by my parents so it’s something I’m always striving for – working hard every time.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas