His team created so much history in a year no one in Amherst, Mass., and across the Commonwealth will ever forget, winning both a Hockey East postseason championship and the NCAA Division I men’s national championship.
Those are among the many reasons that Massachusetts head coach Greg Carvel has been named USCHO Coach of the Year, as voted upon by the men’s Division I writers and editors at US College Hockey Online.
Carvel brought a program that, as recent as three years ago had never so much as tasted success, going from a five-win team to the best in the game. And he did it the right way.
Along with associate head coaches Ben Barr and Jared DeMichiel, Carvel built this team from the ground up, recruiting high-character players able to play at the top level, while also finding ways to add depth players who transferred to UMass this year from other programs.
At the end of the day, UMass may not have had a single Hobey Baker or Richter Awards finalist on its roster. It wasn’t a team of superstars, though names like Bobby Trivigno and Filip Lindberg and beginning to become household names in college hockey. But it was, indeed, a team in every sense of the word.
The turnaround for UMass was one for the ages. When Carvel arrived in in 2016, the program was coming off an 8-24-4 season and hadn’t finished above .500 since 2006-07, coincidentally the program’s only NCAA tournament berth to that point.
Things were hardly easy at the start going 5-29-2 in Carvel’s first season, but he had a vision on how he wanted to build this team and program.
“My vision was never to win a national championship,” admitted Carvel. “My vision was to build a program that great pride could be taken in.
“We say this all the time: It’s easy to go from the bottom to the middle and even close to the top. It’s really hard to get to the top and then even harder to sustain it. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
It likely would be easy to forget that, as great as this year’s UMass team turned out, there were major losses along the way. 2019 Hobey Baker recipient Cale Makar along with fellow defenseman Mario Ferraro, and forwards John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee all could have been on this year’s roster had they not successfully matriculated to the National Hockey League.
Imagine what kind of a powerhouse team Carvel and his staff could have been coaching.
“Jared and Ben have brought in some great players,” said Carvel. “To think that Cale Makar, Mario Ferraro, John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee were supposed to be on this team — and I understand every school loses good players to the NHL — but Jared and Ben brought in [not just] great players but good, quality people. It’s people and culture. That’s why we were able to turn the program around.”
Now that Carvel has brought UMass hockey to the promised land, the next step is to build upon success. Though no easy task, athletic director Ryan Bamford, who led the charge to hire Carvel in 2016, knows he has the right leader.
“[Carvel] is a tremendous hockey coach. We’ve got a tremendous hockey staff,” said Bamford. “We’ve built [the hockey program] it in a real positive way, thinking of every single angle of what a winning program looks like.
“We want to win national championships here. It’s really important for us to continue to make the investments that allow us to do that and [Greg Carvel] is certainly the right leader.”
And now that leader is the 2021 USCHO Coach of the Year.