The state of the Massachusetts hockey program has fallen on such hard times in recent years that some have said it will take an act of God to turn the program around. Well athletic director Ryan Bamford has chosen a Saint to elevate UMass hockey to the promised land that has mostly eluded the program in its history. Today Bamford announced that Saint Lawrence head coach Greg Carvel is the new coach of Minuteman hockey, signing a five-year deal to oversee the program.
Carvel will officially be introduced as head coach at a press conference in Amherst Thursday morning at 10am. He is not unfamiliar with the campus however as he holds a masters from the Isenberg School of Management which he received in 1996. Carvel returns to UMass from Saint Lawrence, his undergraduate alma mater, where he was the head coach for the past four seasons. Carvel took over in Canton for his old coach, Joe Marsh, and has helped revitalize the Saints program in his time there. Carvel has posted winning seasons in three of his four years and has a career record of 72-63-15. In his third season the Saints were picked to finish 11th in the ECAC ahead of the season and ended up going 14-7-1 in conference play, good for 2nd place. It was the Saints’ best finish since 2007. For that Carvel was named the 2014-15 ECAC Coach of the Year.
While Carvel has not gotten SLU into the NCAA tournament in his time there, he’s been on the bubble each of the last two years. This season the Saints’ final Pairwise ranking was 19. Last year it was 21. And in the prior two years it was 33 (2013-14) and 26 (2012-13). As you can see Carvel has had the Saints as one of the top half teams in college hockey and one of the tougher teams to play in the ECAC. It appears that Carvel could help alleviate the defensive issues that plagued UMass under former coach John Micheletto as his squads has been among in the stingiest in giving up goals in the last couple years. This past season his team gave up 2.27 goals per game, 12th fewest in the country, and in 2014-15 they gave up the 4th fewest with 2.03. Playing a big part in those numbers is the goaltender he recruited to play for him in the North Country, Kyle Hayton. His teams were in the top 25 in goal scoring in both years as well.
Coincidentally, I started keeping an eye on Carvel’s career in the early part of this season though not because I thought he’d eventually be named UMass coach this Spring. In an effort to have a baseline to measure Micheletto’s coaching performance against, I looked at the careers of the other three coaches hired in the 2012 offseason. One of those was Carvel. I had meant a couple times to write a compare and contrast of their results through 3+ years but by the time I had the chance to it was easier to just write why I thought there needed to be a coaching change at UMass, which I ended up doing in mid-January.
Before becoming head coach for the Saints Carvel was an assistant there for a year, where he ended up sharing head coaching duties when Marsh had to take a medical leave. Before that Carvel had an extensive coaching career in the NHL encompassing 7 seasons in total with the Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators. He has coached in multiple Stanley Cup Finals. I think the pro aspect to his background is key. Not only will it help long term with recruiting, but it could help retain the current roster of players. You would think that current pro prospects William Lagesson and Ivan Chukarov, among others, would be willing to stay knowing their new coach has so much top notch NHL experience. Their draft teams, the Oilers and Sabres respectively, probably feel they’re in pretty good hands and are less likely to suggest they exit Amherst. Carvel also has international experience, assisting with the US National Team this past summer.
This hire came a bit out of nowhere. During the season when I was putting together a list of prospective candidates, even though I was already following his career to compare against Micheletto, I didn’t think Carvel was a viable option. One reason was the fact that he was coaching his alma mater, the school where he was a decorated player for the Saints and the college located in his hometown. The second reason was that he signed a contract extension with SLU in December.
The Gazette’s Matt Vautour was the first to link him to the UMass opening shortly after Micheletto was let go. But at that time it seemed like all the focus was on whether Bamford could pry Rick Bennett away from Union. Early on I heard that Carvel had indicated he may be interested in the job, but that was it and then his name kind of faded away as a multitude of rumored candidates came and went and sometimes came back again. This past weekend it seemed like it had come down to a two man race between Harvard assistant Paul Pearl and Merrimack’s Mark Dennehy. I didn’t hear Carvel’s name again until early this morning and even I wasn’t sure he was the pick until the news finally broke publicly. I’d trust Ryan Bamford with all my bank account and credit card numbers because very little information about this search ever made it public. There was a ton of speculation all along the way but very little in terms of hard facts. He can keep a secret.
And I think that’s the way Bamford wanted it. He wanted to make a splash. He wanted people to stop and say “wow, really?” when the announcement came out. And he got that. At the same time it was obvious he wanted an experienced head coach. And he got that. One with a lot of pro experience on top of it. The ECAC has been a very competitive conference in recent years, grabbing two national championships and perhaps on the way to a third with Quinnipiac, and UMass now has the coach of one of the better ECAC teams during that period.
I like this hire a lot and feel there’s a good chance it leads to a very successful era for UMass hockey. Once it was clear that Bennett was staying at Union I kind of went back and forth between wanting a long-time established head coach or an up-and-coming assistant to take over. Carvel seems to be both of those things. He’s an up-and-coming head coach. He has shown that he can help turn around a program at a smaller school in the competitive ECAC. Let’s see what he can do with state university resources in Hockey East. He has shown to be a strong recruiter at Saint Lawrence and seems to have the pedigree of a good bench coach.
Beyond problems with on-ice performance, we know that Micheletto struggled to develop relationships with the fanbase and surrounding community. From what I hear, that won’t be an issue with Carvel. It helps that he already has ties to the community. In addition to his masters from UMass his wife is originally from Amherst. When he was going to graduate school he was an assistant coach at Amherst College for longtime coach Jack Arena. Carvel will also be supported by an engaging and energetic leadership in the athletic department. How engaging? They’ve already created a Hockey Excellence Fund. Bamford and his team will not be sitting idle in their offices on Commonwealth Ave waiting for people to come to them. If you’re a UMass fan I would expect to see Carvel a lot because I think he and his boss understand the importance of interaction with the alumni, fans, and Amherst community.
This is a great day for UMass. The feedback I’ve heard publicly and privately has been overwhelming positive. Outside of perhaps a random crank on UMasshoops.com and maybe a couple Lowell fans, I think everyone seems to think this a a great move for UMass that will ultimately lead to success. As someone who spends a lot of time following college hockey what’s important to me is that the ECAC media have had nothing but glowing things to say about Carvel. He is well respected as a hockey coach and as a person. He is taking over a Minuteman team that may be lacking in confidence but is not lacking in talent as much as most people think. I’m optimistic that coach Greg Carvel can change the fortunes of this program and its players. I’m optimistic for the rebirth of UMass hockey. I’m optimistic for next season. Is it October yet?
It was ESPN’s John Buccigross who first broke the news earlier today:
Both SBN College Hockey’s Jeff Cox and College Hockey News’ Josh Seguin reported that Carvel will likely bring assistant Jared DeMichiel, an RIT grad, with him from Canton to Amherst. Carvel will then fill the second assistant role at a later date, with familiar names like Topher Bevis, Eddie Olczyk, and James Marcou among the rumored candidates.
The current UMass hockey squad isn’t known to be overly active on social media, but freshman Kurt Keats did post this on Twitter:
Here’s Matt Vautour’s article on the hiring in the Gazette. He also has this reaction piece from former coach Toot Cahoon and Amherst College coach Jack Arena, whom Carvel coached under in the 90s. Cahoon predicts Carvel will surpass the accomplishments he achieved while in Amherst while also having some good things to say about Bamford.
Here is Cox’s story for SBN College Hockey on the hiring, which he praises. Along with Vautour Cox was one of the first to suggest Carvel for the UMass opening.
How secretive was Bamford with the process? Apparently it was a surprise to his dad, a former AD himself:
Over the Boards, who you know I refer to a lot when it comes to recruiting, had good things to say about the hire:
Chris Peters who covers hockey for CBS Sports and used to run the excellent United States of Hockey blog had this to say:
I will have a lot more coverage of Carvel’s hire. I’m sure we’ll see additional stories tomorrow and then on Thursday there will be the official introduction and dual meetings with the media in Amherst and Boston. So there should be a lot of material in the days ahead.
I wanted to pass along a couple non-Carvel stories.
First, speaking of Topher Bevis, he was recognized today by the USPHL for the job he has done coaching the U16 Junior Bruins:
The second story is this piece by the NY Daily News on former Minuteman KJ Tiefenwerth on how his move to Quinnipiac after being cut by Micheletto essentially saved his life. It’s an amazing story that I highly suggest reading. And I wish Tiefenwerth well in a couple weeks as his Bobcats head to the Frozen Four. Like Kevin Boyle at Lowell, Tiefenwerth has made the most out of a bad situation and has become a key part of at Quinnipiac squad that could win it all.