UMass head coach Greg Carvel is the master of the three-year plan. It took him only three years to get his St. Lawrence Saints into the ECAC Championships in Lake Placid after taking the reins in 2012-13. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when Carvel accepted the challenge of the UMass job, inheriting a 24-loss team. In 2018-19 he has miraculously guided the Minutemen to their first-ever Hockey East title, once again in three short years.
Carvel was clearly more iron fist than velvet glove when he arrived in Amherst for the 2015-16 season, eliminating every upperclassman from the Minutemen roster, brushing off the astonishing 29 losses that first year merely as growing pains. The next autumn, as his newbies became men, a kid with a reputation as vast as the Canadian Rockies sauntered past the Amherst pyramids. Carvel had reeled in his biggest catch, and the Cale Makar era began in Amherst.
In year two, the UMass win total jumped from five to 17. Carvel lost a recruit to Maine and discovered that it was the age-old nickname—“ZooMass”—that offended the recruit’s parents. Carvel immediately introduced another moniker, “NewMass,” and it stuck. The hockey culture in western Massachusetts was experiencing rapid change under Carvel, and the wins continued to mount. This year the Minutemen lead all Eastern teams with 26 victories and counting. If you graph those wins—five to 17 to 26—it would look like a rocket ship’s liftoff.
The Makar era at UMass hockey will end either in March or April, his signing date with the NHL Avalanche dependent on whether the Minutemen reach the Frozen Four. The sophomore defenseman from Calgary is a once-in-a-decade talent, an obvious front-runner for the Hobey Baker Award. It surprised all the “experts” when Canada’s World Junior gold medalist returned for a sophomore year of college hockey, but it paid off handsomely—Makar jumped from the 20th-ranked NCAA prospect to No. 1 this season. He embraced every coaching lesson the UMass staff preached: in-zone defending, defensive gapping, playing without the puck and, of course, the intangibles, details and habits.
College hockey observers knows that each of Makar’s remaining games is precious. He intends to compete for a championship in Buffalo because he’s desperate to etch his name into the NCAA’s historic roll call.
Surprisingly, the UMass power play, firing at nearly 30 percent efficiency, does NOT revolve around Makar. Their star has only one power-play goal, and of his team-leading 42 points, only 13 were generated while a man up. The UMass power play does its damage down low, outnumbering their opponents deep along the goal line, and crashing the pipes.
Astute college hockey observer Tim Lovell feels that the Hockey East championship comes down to the weapons race between UMass and Northeastern. Carvel has a cache: Makar is a weapon, Mitchell Chaffee, Marc Del Gaizo and John Leonard are all weapons. And don’t forget Jacob Pritchard, the graduate transfer that Carvel brought over from St. Lawrence.
The Minutemen should make short work of UNH in the quarterfinals, and set off a massive celebration by all the UMass alums living in the Boston area. They haven’t seen their alma mater on Boston Garden ice since 2007. The Carvel three-year-plan marches on.
Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.