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By BOB YORK
Greg Carvel called a timeout before time ran out.
The University of Massachusetts hockey coach requested the stoppage in play with just under three minutes remaining in the championship game of this year’s NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament. With his Minutemen up on St. Cloud State by a 5-0 score and just moments away from chalking up their first National Championship, Carvel summoned his players together at the bench and gave them one last directive: embrace the moment.
The veteran mentor, who fell in love with the game as a kid while playing youth hockey in Canton, N.Y., learned long ago that hockey teams rarely enjoy the opportunity of basking in a 5-0 lead in the closing minutes of a game – much less a National Championship game. “So,” explained Carvel during a post game interview with ESPN, “I just told the kids to enjoy the moment … to soak in the last three minutes of the game.
“I wanted them to come together and to remember the moment,” added Carvel, “because I knew this would be one of the best moments of their lives. I wanted them to hear that from me. Plus, I wanted to express my gratitude for everything they’d done for the program.
“I’m very proud of everyone in our program, where this program was five years ago and now we’re National Champions. These kids have done it all. I’m so proud of them … so thankful … so grateful,” continued Carvel, who, it turns out, is well versed in being a part of successful hockey programs in the western New England area.
In addition to the numerous team and personal accomplishments Carvel has already chalked up during his brief five years as a mentor in Amherst, he left quite a name for himself as a player at The Hotchkiss School (’89) in Lakeville, Conn., as well. During his rookie (junior) season touring New England’s prep school icehouses, his scoring touch helped lead the Bearcats to their best season record ever (24-1-0) and a top seed in the 1988 New England tournament.
“Unfortunately, we got upset in the first round of the playoffs by Tabor Academy, who went on to win the title that year,” remembers veteran Hotchkiss mentor Jeff Kosak, and despite posting New England championships in 1992 and 1995 and a runner-up finish in 1997, the coach still gave Carvel and his 1987-88 teammates a high-five by rating them as “one of the very best teams we ever had here.”
And, according to Kosak, Carvel was one of the big reasons why this was one of the very best teams he ever presided over during his 14 years as the head coach at Hotchkiss.
“He was our go-to guy,” said Kosak of Carvel, who landed first team All-New England Prep School laurels for his play at Hotchkiss, and it wasn’t just because he was one of the team’s leading scorers both seasons he was there. “It was about the way he played the game ... in addition to being an outstanding athlete, he had a tremendous work ethic. At practice, he was always the first guy on the ice and the last guy off it. He never stopped working to improve his game.
“And believe me, we took advantage of that talent and work ethic as much as possible,” Kosak quipped. “We used him during any and all situations on the ice … we used him five-on-five, we used him on the power play and we used him on the penalty kill.”
Kosak even used his high-scoring forward on defense, “but only because I had to,” he explained. “During Greg’s senior season, we had a shortage of experienced defensemen to start with and after some injuries depleted the unit even more, I moved him back to the blue line and he did an excellent job there.
“Although he was looking ahead to a college career, Greg never once complained about the move and I never expected he would because a solid character was one of his distinctive qualities,” added Kosak. “He’s was a totally unselfish player who always had a team-first attitude and that’s one of the reasons why he was a unanimous choice as captain his senior year.” And despite the move to defense, Carvel still managed to lead the team in scoring.
“Having seen the way Greg approached the game of hockey as a player during the two years he was at Hotchkiss, it’s easy to tell from watching the way his teams play the game today that he’s approaching it the same way as a coach,” said Kosak. “He always believed in hard work, always played disciplined hockey, always played the game hard but played it clean, and that’s the way he’s got UMass playing the game. Plus, he’s bringing in kids just like him … kids with a lot of character.
“And to be totally honest,” added Kosak, “I’m not the least bit surprised Greg’s the coach of a National Champion team. I am surprised, however, that it took him only five years to do it … how far he’s taken UMass in that short a period of time is really incredible.”
While Kosak had plenty of positive attributes to point out about his former charge, it didn’t take long in conversing with Carvel to realize that more than 30 years after the fact, there’s a mutual admiration society here and it’s alive and well.
“Jeff Kosak was the most outstanding coach I’ve ever played for,” said Carvel. “I came to Hotchkiss from a small farming town in upstate New York and quickly learned that a prep school environment is truly unique and it’s really important to develop strong relationships with your fellow student/athletes, as well as your teachers and coaches and it was coach Kosak who instilled such values as integrity, discipline, philosophy and focus, not only in the way we played hockey, but in the way we approached academics and everything else we did and I still look to those very same qualities today.”
Although he was named league MVP following his junior season at Canton High School, Carvel was entertaining aspirations of playing on the Division I collegiate level and therefor, “I felt a need to play at a higher level to prepare myself for that. The reason why I chose Hotchkiss was because two or three of my buddies in Canton attended Hotchkiss and had good things to say about the school’s academics and its hockey program.”
The move to Hotchkiss paid dividends, as Carvel accepted an invite to play college hockey at St. Lawrence University back in his hometown of Canton. There, where everybody already knew his name, he helped the Saints win an ECAC crown his junior year and as a senior, earned his first national prize: The Outstanding Defensive Forward Award. Despite his flare to defend, however, Carvel still completed his collegiate career with nearly a point-per-game average, ringing up 123 points in 131 games on 38 goals and 85 assists.
Although Carvel was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, no contract was ever offered and so he spent a year playing professional hockey in Sweden before donning his first assistant coaching cap. Ironically, that cap was offered by a former prep foe: Canterbury School.
“It turned out to be a great first step,” said Carvel. “They gave me a lot of responsibility that season and it really helped get my coaching career off to a fast start. What’s more, Canterbury won a New England championship the previous year so it turned out to be a great way for me to get my feet wet.”
That 1994-95 season at Canterbury kicked off a 16-year climb through college and professional coaching staffs – highlighted by two treks to the Stanley Cup finals via the Ottawa Senators (2002-03) and Anaheim Ducks (2006-07). Then in 2012, Carvel got the nod to take over the St. Lawrence program where he posted a record of 86-82-18 and was the recipient of the 2014-15 Tim Taylor Award as the ECAC Coach of the Year.
“I really liked UMass’s leadership,” said Carvel of Athletic Director Ryan Bamford and Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy when asked what sealed the deal for him to take over the Minutemen hockey program. “They made it clear that they wanted to see the hockey program head in a positive direction and they said the pieces and the recourses to accomplish that would be available.
When asked how he might have responded during that introductory press conference if someone had told him he would be a National Champion in just five years, “I would have said it’s impossible … I would have said it’s something I would never have even dreamed of,” said the Minuteman skipper who has rung up a 74-70-6 record since coming here, but who has gone 69-41-4 following a 5-29-2 debut.
“There wasn’t much in place when we got here,” said Carvel, who, in addition to hoisting this year’s NCAA Championship trophy, has now taken his club to the past two Frozen Four finales. He also has the 2019 Hockey East Championship and 2021 Hockey East Tournament trophies tucked away in the Mullins Center.
“We’ve been very fortunate, however, we’ve been able to recruit outstanding hockey players who work hard both on and off the ice and who are very deserving of everything they’ve achieved.,” added Carvel, who in addition to owning the Tim Taylor Award, and as of 2019 was named winner of the Bob Kullen (Hockey East) Coach of the Year Award, the Clark Hodder (New England Div. I) Coach of the Year Award and the Spencer Penrose (NCAA Div. I Coach of the Year) Award.
Of the players on this year’s roster whom Carvel described as being deserving of a National Championship, five were former NEPSAC skaters, as was assistant coach Jared Demichiel (Avon Old Farms). The five former prep standouts were Oliver Chau (Northfield Mount Hermon), Jerry Harding (Noble and Greenough), Carson Gicewicz (Nichols), Zac Jones (South Kent) and Colin Felix (St. George’s).
Despite the plentiful honors and accompanying hardware that have come Carvel’s way since taking up residence at the Mullins Center, the veteran mentor still enjoys reflecting on his prep school playing days back at Hotchkiss. He does that by frequently gazing at one of his all-time favorite photographs he proudly displays in his office.
“I was voted the Connecticut prep school player for the month of January during my senior year at Hotchkiss,” explained Carvel. “Because of that honor, I was invited to attend a luncheon in Hartford where I got my picture taken with Gordie Howe … it’s a real keepsake.”
Now he has another memento to cherish: The 2021 National Championship trophy.
Photos courtesy of UMass Athletics
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