Canton-born Greg Carvel left his job as head coach at St. Lawrence University in 2016 with a vision of what he could do as head coach at the University of Massachusetts.
The vision he had has developed much faster than he expected, especially after starting with a 5-29-2 record in the 2016-17 season.
But now, Carvel is gearing up to take the Minutemen to an NCAA Frozen Four for the second time in a row, as his squad, which is 18-5-4 this season, will face two-time defending champions Minnesota on Thursday at 9 p.m. Duluth. a national semifinal. If UMass wins that game, it will face St. Cloud State or Minnesota State in the national championship game at 7:00 PM on Saturday.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened, Carvel said. I came here with a vision. I went to St. Lawrence with a vision. I have enough experience at different levels with different people to have an idea of how a program should run. It’s not always about how good your players are, it’s about how strong your culture is and how committed your players are to playing the game the right way.
Carvel, who is 50, certainly had a strong coaching background before ever getting his first job as a head coach at SLU in 2012.
He played for Saints coach Joe Marsh for four years, graduated in 1993 and has been a coach at some level since 1994.
He spent nearly a decade as an assistant to the National Hockey League, working with the Anaheim Ducks in 2003-04 and then with the Ottawa Senators from 2005-11, including on the bench during the 2007 Stanley Cup final.
He came back to Canton to work for Marsh in 2011, but when Marsh suddenly retired with a health problem, Carvel found himself running his alma mater, a job he kept until he left for UMass in 2016.
Just two years after his 5-29-2 team, the Minutemen became a national power, finishing 31-10 in 2018/19, losing 3-0 to Minnesota-Duluth in the national championship game. Now they are back.
It’s really special in this crazy year that this group of kids has been able to do what they have and they are being rewarded with what should be a really great experience in Pittsburgh, Carvel said. Seven thousand fans in the building will be strange. We were used to there being no fans in the building. I look forward. Hopefully there is a bit of that buzz in Pittsburgh. It really is a special opportunity to make the Frozen Four. I think our team is in a very good place. The experience of two years ago will be crucial to help us. We have to play against the same tough team again. Last time we played Duluth it wasn’t close. I expect an equally tough challenge this time.
UMass is one of the country’s hottest teams on its way to the Frozen Four. The last time the Minutemen lost was a 4-3 loss in extra time at Boston University on January 18.
The main goalscorer for the Carvels team is a player he recruited from SLU, Carson Gicewicz, who left the Saints after last season and passed. He scored 17 goals and added seven assists in 27 games, including three of those goals in a regional final against Bemidji State last weekend.
(Defense) has been a focus that goes back to my vision of what I wanted the program to be, Carvel said. You don’t win if you’re not a good defensive hockey team. We have children who are very good and dedicated to defending very well. They are all good two-way players. Were in no way a super skilled team. The kids are determined to play what I think is the right way, limiting teams and frustrating teams and being opportunists. We don’t lean back. We play the game hard forward and hard to come back. It’s how I want my teams to play. We’ve done a good job here by really refining it here.
Carvel never got a second chance to compete in a Stanley Cup final after Ottawa lost to Anaheim in 2007. He will be given a second chance at the Frozen Four and will apply lessons he learned last time this week.
We were a tired team entering the (2019) championship game, said Carvel. We’ve talked about whether we’re lucky enough to move on, that recovery is our priority. We learned that we had to do what’s best for our players first. Last time I don’t think we did that well enough.