Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian
Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian

From underdog to undeniable, Colin Felix slowly became UMass’ most consistent defender

‘He’s as important as any player who has come through here’

March 7, 2022

Clock winding down. Tie game, 10 seconds left. Anthony Del Gaizo skates into the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. The energy in Lawler Rink builds to a crescendo as Merrimack fans pour their passion into boos directed at the Massachusetts hockey team.

Six seconds. Del Gaizo sends a last-ditch effort pass that finds the stick of Colin Felix. Felix hardly takes any time to control the puck before flinging a desperation shot towards the net. The loud boos evaporate, replaced by shock and heartbreak as the goal light flicks on above the net and Felix punches the air. And the UMass bench erupts. Not for the quality of the play, but for the person who scored on it.

That tally ended 580 days without a goal for Colin Felix.

“It’s great to see guys get rewarded who don’t score often,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said after that game. “[But] it won’t mean anything to him because that’s not his game … he’ll come back tomorrow and be a good, hard defensive player for us.”

The impact Felix has on the Minutemen program stretches far beyond his on-ice capabilities. Goal-scoring doesn’t define him, nor does his defensive mechanics. Felix’s leadership and desire to help others shines through more than anything else.

One day early in the Minutemen’s offseason training program, Carvel put his players’ physical and mental strength to the test. If anybody failed the grueling workout, the entire group would have to start over from the beginning. Though Felix himself didn’t struggle, he took notice of one of the freshmen having a hard time getting through the drill. Felix’s leadership was soon put on full display when he gave everything he had left in the tank for the greater good of the team.

“Colin went over and literally got under him and put him on his back and held him up so the team could succeed,” Carvel said. “That’s exactly what he does, he has the courage and the selflessness to help others.”

Felix has never been a flashy player. On a Minutemen backend full of high-caliber offensive defensemen for his entire career at UMass, he is one of the few exceptions to that style. His impact is felt in his personality and leadership qualities. But before the senior wore a letter on his chest, played in two national championship games and hoisted the trophy in April 2021, there was some uncertainty whether he’d even make an impact at all in Amherst.

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Colin Felix grew up with a love for hockey inspired by his dad, Chris, who worked in the Philadelphia Flyers organization with their AHL affiliate. Chris passed away in 2017 after a battle with cancer but the positive impact he made on everyone around him will always be remembered, and his passion for the game of hockey was contagious. Colin grew up around the rink and as soon as he could walk, he was walking on skates. Felix’s mom, Kim Monteleone, would tape over the blades so they didn’t damage the floors and let Felix do laps around the house getting used to the feeling and “strengthening his ankles,” according to Monteleone.

Felix’s love for hockey only continued to grow. At two and a half years old he already learned how to skate and started playing hockey on a team with other kids around the Flyers organization. The older he got, the better he got and the more he travelled anywhere he could to keep playing hockey. When he got to eighth grade, his parents consulted an advisor and as a family decided that the next logical step for Felix was playing for a preparatory school. Felix found a mutual fit for him in Rhode Island at St. Georges.

St. Georges quickly proved to be the right choice for Felix. He was immediately thrust into a large enough role to gain some recruitment traction. He wasn’t a highly scouted prospect, but he was getting looks from John Micheletto and UMass, a team that at the time showed no signs of ever becoming a top hockey program. After his sophomore year, Felix committed to UMass under Micheletto’s coaching staff, hoping to slot in and make an immediate impact on a lower level Division I team. The natural next step was a jump to the USHL, but that path wasn’t exactly linear for Felix.

Felix was drafted to the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL entry draft, but didn’t make it more than a few weeks before getting cut loose from the team. He wound up finishing his senior year of high school while playing in the NAHL with the Janesville Jets about 170 miles south of Green Bay. After a season in Janesville, Felix was able to jump into the USHL league, bouncing around for a few months before finding his way back in Wisconsin playing for the Madison Capitals. When he got there, he made a splash posting 27 points on eight goals and 19 assists.

Joey Lorant/ Daily Collegian

For as tumultuous as Felix’s movement around the U.S. was during his journey in hockey, there were even larger things shaking up around him. During the time that Felix was gaining momentum in his junior hockey career and gearing up for the college level, one head coach was finding his footing on a new team: Greg Carvel.

One of the responsibilities Carvel and his assistants, Jared DeMichiel and Ben Barr, faced early in their tenure at UMass was assessing the pool of prospects recruited by former coach Micheletto. There were a few marquee names brought in by the previous coaching regime including Cale Makar. In that group, Felix went under the radar. Carvel wasn’t sure if the young defenseman would be a good fit for the style that he wanted to play with to build a winning program. But after positive conversations with the coaching staff, Carvel kept Felix’s commitment and brought him to Amherst for the 2018-19 season.

“I saw him play in juniors and I was a little uncertain about what he was going to bring,” Carvel said. “Jared and Ben did their work and said ‘everybody we talked to says this kids character is off the charts’, and we needed character … I was a little concerned about his feet and his skill level, luckily, I was wrong, and we were right to choose on character.”

Felix didn’t mind being cast as an underdog, he embraced it. After years bouncing around trying to find a permanent role, he was determined to make his stay in Amherst a long one.

“My whole game from the time I was in AAA until now has been trying to prove people wrong and trying to belong in the places that I’ve put myself in,” Felix said. “I pride myself on being a really hard worker and I know my role; I know my game … at the end of the day it comes down to how hard I push myself and how hard I work, and then let the chips fall where they may.”

For as hard as Carvel and the UMass coaching staff pushed Felix, he was pushing himself even harder the moment he stepped on campus. Felix understood his job wasn’t finished when he put on a Minuteman jersey. Even earning a roster spot was far from guaranteed. The freshman defenseman was stepping into a backend that included Makar, then-captain Jake McLaughlin and Mario Ferraro. Even within his freshman class, Marc Del Gaizo and Ty Farmer showed a lot of potential early on in their careers.

Felix didn’t care who was in front of him or behind him, though. One of the things that made him stick out was that he never needed those external motivations. He didn’t need to be chased by competition; he didn’t need to be healthy scratched from a game by Carvel. His hunger for success and fire inside was plenty to take him to the next level. And although Carvel still had concerns about his feet and skating ability, he took notice of the extra fire Felix played with.

“His first couple weeks were rough, I didn’t know if he would make it, but once he got into games you quickly see the competitive nature,” Carvel said. “He’s the kind of guy you don’t want to play against.”

Felix is calm and kind off the ice, but as soon as he steps onto the rink his aggressive side comes out. From finishing his body checks to pushing opponents around in the crease — and even getting into fights during his time at juniors when it was allowed — Felix used his size and physicality to make life difficult for any offensive player around him.

Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian

That impact quickly helped him go from a fringe talent to a consistent force at the blue line. He played in every game of his freshman season, scored his first collegiate goal in the Hockey East playoffs and helped the Minutemen complete a massive program turnaround, reaching the national championship game just a few seasons removed from being the doormat of college hockey.

Appearing in every game seemed like a small thing at the time. Only seven players including Felix accomplished that feat in the 2018-19 season, but it’s not like Felix led the Minutemen in points or any meaningful stat. He didn’t stand out on the ice, just continued to do his job to the best of his ability.

But the games added up.

Felix also played in every game of his sophomore year, but COVID-19 put an end to the season right before Hockey East playoffs. So, he and the Minutemen came back stronger in the 2020-21 season, still burned from their national championship loss and not having the immediate chance to avenge it. They pulled off another impressive campaign and proved that they belonged at the top of college hockey, coasting through the Hockey East and NCAA regionals on their way to another Frozen Four appearance with Felix leading the way.

“All he does is play in national championship games,” Carvel said. “A guy who I was concerned about whether he could help us, he absolutely helps us.”

Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian

On the same weekend of the Frozen Four, Felix had another very important obligation that he didn’t want to miss: his mother’s wedding.

Because of COVID-19 keeping the Minutemen shut off from anything outside of campus, Felix hadn’t seen his mom in person since his junior season started. And with the NCAA semifinal game in Pittsburgh and Monteleone’s wedding in Florida, there wasn’t a way to get Felix to the wedding in person even if the pandemic didn’t play a part in it. But April 7 was too big a day for the Felix and Monteleone families; Colin couldn’t miss it.

The next best option outside of attending in person was to hop on facetime, and that’s exactly what Felix did. He joined in on the ceremony virtually and had some of his teammates in his hotel room to celebrate the special night with him. Felix wanted to be present for Kim and Jim, and they returned the favor to him.

“The day after we got married, literally that morning at 8 a.m. we flew to Pittsburgh,” Kim Monteleone said. “It was incredible obviously, but not how I planned on spending the rest of my wedding and honeymoon … but it was a wonderful experience, and we would never have missed it.”

An excitement-filled week for Felix began with a wedding and ended with a trophy. UMass finally got it’s moment at the top of college hockey, and Felix was a staple of all of it. He skated alongside Marc Del Gaizo and the duo formed the Minutemen’s top shutdown defensive pairing. Even though he didn’t generate a goal in the NCAA tournament, Felix played a big part in only allowing four goals across the four playoff games.

Over the course of that winning season, Felix once again played every game. He turned what at one time was just a fun fact into an impressive streak of 124 straight games played to start his career. He avoided any serious injuries, dodged COVID-19 health and safety protocols and did whatever he could to keep that streak alive. And after all that, one thing did just enough to hold Felix out of a Tuesday game against Boston University and let his impressive game streak come to an end.

“I ended up getting a stomach bug,” Felix said. “There was nothing I could really do about it … I made some calls in the morning and was trying to play but at the end of the day it was just better for the team if I stayed away from the rink.”

Streak or not, Felix had already proven himself more than enough. He was a reliable defenseman and earned the trust of all of his teammates. That made it an easy choice when it came time to vote for captains, and UMass decided that Felix should skate with an “A” on his chest during his senior year.

“From the time I got here I just wanted to be a big impact guy,” Felix said. “To wear a letter for a team that has had so much success in the past couple years, it means a lot. I hope I can leave a lasting impact on the guys that are younger than me and all the guys that come through this program.”

Now Felix stares down his third straight postseason appearance — and he likely would have four NCAA tournaments on his resume had COVID-19 not cut his sophomore year short. Through every moment under the brightest lights and every high and low of his career, Felix has remained consistent.

At one time Carvel didn’t know if Felix could play for his team. Now, Colin Felix is the perfect embodiment of UMass’ culture. When most people picture UMass hockey they’ll think about Cale Makar and Bobby Trivigno. But Carvel will always think about Felix.

“He’s as important as anybody who has come through here,” Carvel said. “I probably have as genuine a relationship with him as I’ve had with any player … I really love him … we’ve built a bond that will last as long as we’re both alive.”

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.

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