Saturday’s Northeast Regional Finals win a ‘peak’ for UMass coach Greg Carvel

Minutemen bench boss leads team to first ever Frozen Four birth


(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

MANCHESTER—The 2007 Massachusetts hockey team made history when it qualified for its first ever NCAA tournament. That same year, Greg Carvel was behind the bench during the Ottawa Senators’ Stanley Cup run as an assistant coach.

Twelve years later, No. 4 UMass is heading to its first Frozen Four appearance in program history with Carvel leading the way.

The Minutemen topped No. 12 Notre Dame, 4-0, Saturday night in the Northeast Regional Finals to advance to the 2019 Frozen Four in Buffalo, New York.

“It’s emotional, everything that you go through, the day to day, you rarely get to these moments,” Carvel said. “I’ve coached in Stanley Cup finals, but this is a peak for me because I’m the head coach and I’ve got a tremendous group of people that I get to work with.”

Two seasons ago, UMass (30-9-0) won five games. It ended the season on a 17-game losing streak. Spirits were anything but high during Carvel’s first year at the helm and significant success seemed distant.

Fast forward to 2018-19 and the Minutemen now have a chance compete for the biggest prize of them all: a national championship.

“One of my great mentors was, Joe Marsh, who I played for at St. Lawrence, he took his team to a Frozen Four one year and he said something to the effect of, ‘St. Lawrence being in the Frozen Four is akin to some of you photographers getting a photo of Bigfoot’. I can’t help but feel the same way, UMass in the Frozen Four, somebody probably thought they would’ve seen bigfoot before that happened,” Carvel said.

The UMass faithful have taken notice of the turnaround in Amherst and have turned out in droves to watch the Minutemen’s postseason march. Saturday at SNHU Arena, a raucous UMass crowd fueled the unprecedented win.

“When they are announcing the starting lineups and you can hear our crowd overwhelmingly out cheering their crowd, it does it, it felt like a home game,” Carvel said. “This is one of the many things I’m extremely proud of, when I came into this program one of my biggest goals was to bring pride to all the former players who wore the sweater. To build pride throughout the alumni, the university, our athletic department and first and fore most in our locker room.”

“When I took the job, everybody wanted to talk about the sleeping giant, and I said, ‘well, if we can put a team on the ice that people can be proud of and entertaining to watch, then we’ll wake that giant,’ and obviously this year we’ve done that.”

Perhaps the key to this entire, season-long run UMass has put together is its unwavering self-confidence that was instilled from day one.

“We realized early in the season that this could be a possibility and luckily the coaches didn’t mess it up,” Carvel said. “Cale Makar, Mario Ferraro, Mitchell Chaffee, John Leonard, Jacob Pritchard, so many special kids, talented kids, and there is not attitude on this team, they are all one unified group. We preach culture and standards, everything we preach these kids follow it and they live it, we all live it, it’s really the secret to everything that goes on with our group.”

Twelve years ago, the Minutemen were happy to be in the NCAA tournament.

With Carvel leading the charge in 2019, they’re ready to put UMass hockey on the map.

“I’m extremely proud of this group, staff, players, administration, this is a first for our program and we didn’t stumble into this, we knocked the door down, and we’re headed to the Frozen Four flying high,” Carvel said.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.