Haven’t rounded up the Minutemen news for a little bit, but there are some stories out there worthy of me posting while simultaneously working, which is always fun. Chief among them is THE news for the Flagship this week, as the Minutemen have hired former St. Lawrence University hockey coach Greg Carvel to the same position in Amherst on a five-year deal.
Carvel becoming the new hockey coach at UMass is a great hire. He’s well-regarded and well-liked around the college hockey community and is a proven commodity, which is something UMass desperately needed in the wake of the disaster that was John Micheletto.
To recap the hiring from the hockey side of things, go and read the piece on Fear The Triangle if you haven’t already. I mean I can’t think why you wouldn’t have, but seriously, if you haven’t make sure you read it now.
I can’t do any better than the authority on UMass hockey so I won’t even try, but suffice it to say I agree wholeheartedly. Carvel is about the best hire UMass could hope for given the available candidates, and of course eliminating people who are obviously not in contention.
UPDATE Thursday 3/31/16 8:45am – Here’s the link you can follow for everything related to Coach Carvel’s hiring, along with the stream of the press conference that will begin at 10am.
I’d have been happy of Merrimack’s Mark Dennehy was the hire as well, but he and Carvel are basically equal in my mind. Both are younger coaches who have had recent success in difficult conferences, and both have had that success as a result of rebuilding programs. Both have ties to UMass, both are familiar with the area and both are good recruiters. Dennehy has had his success in Hockey East already, which does differ from Carvel, but Merrimack also took a small step back this season. It’s also not any kind of dealbreaker; the ECAC is no joke.
Like I said FTT recaps it better than I ever could, so my focus for this is going to be on AD Ryan Bamford.
The way Bamford took control of this hire, leading the search himself without the use of an outside firm, is a very positive sign for the future of the entire department. He identified exactly what he wanted in a coach and what the university needed. He went out and interviewed not only candidates but also other, respected members of the college hockey community to gain a better understanding of UMass’ place in the hierarchy and how they were viewed. He made sure that both the candidates for the job and the fans, students, and alumni that support UMass hockey knew that he and his department, along with the university, were truly invested in their commitment to the program. He’s made it clear since he arrived that he wants Minutemen athletics to challenge for titles, and he was true to his words with his search for a new hockey coach.
In fact, the school is so committed they’ve started a Hockey Excellence Fund to raise $75,000 for the program to help upgrade and update facilities. Something like that (which if we’re being honest isn’t terribly complicated) would have been unheard of during the previous administration.
This new Minutemen athletic department staff has said that the goal is for every team to compete for a National Championship in their sports. I like that commitment and dedication, and I feel that it will enhance the department as a whole to strive to be the best they can possibly be. However we must be pragmatic, some sports are far less likely to achieve that goal than others. That doesn’t mean they cannot and will not have success, but at different levels.
However, the way college hockey is at the current point in time, UMass’ hockey program has probably the best chance of any sport the Minutemen field of winning a National Championship.
Parity is all over college hockey right now. Providence College is the defending champion. Union College won it all a couple of years ago. We could very easily see Quinnipiac hoisting the trophy this year. If those schools can compete for and win titles, the flagship of the University of Massachusetts ABSOLUTELY can.
Now there are a lot of people who will laugh at that, mainly other Hockey East fans, because UMass’ program has been a dumpster fire for a while now. We can make no bones about it, we’ve been awful. But Union, Providence, Quinnipiac, those programs all rose up from obscurity to win or contend for a title, which means UMass can too. And none of those schools can boast the resources UMass can offer when the department is truly committed to the program.
That’s the rub. Previous administrators didn’t care about hockey, and we’ve all seen where that got us. Despite the potential in the program, despite the fact that it’s a revenue sport in the Northeast and in the best college hockey conference BY FAR, John McCutcheon couldn’t have given a shit less about it, which is just one more line item in a ledger filled with line items that shows McCutcheon was maybe the most incompetent fool we’ve ever employed at UMass.
Hiring Carvel is the first step to hopefully turning UMass into the contender we want it to be. There is legitimate “sleeping giant” potential with UMass if they can establish the right culture with the right coach and right institutional support. It’s not happening overnight, and you will hear a lot from other HEA fans that we’re insane, but keep the faith, because the rebirth of UMass hockey began yesterday.
In other UMass news, it appears that the Minutemen are close to finalizing an agreement to play the UMass-Lowell RiverHawks on the hardwood as early as next season.
It’s important to note that nothing has been formally announced, so when it happens is still up in the air, but the rumors have been out about a potential game(s) for a little while now.
That was January and February. Ryan Bamford confirmed on Twitter that a matchup is happening, but the details are yet to be released.
There has been some dissent in the ranks over on UMassHoops about playing the RiverHawks in basketball. Some feel that it’s a lose/lose situation because UMass-Lowell isn’t very good, and if they somehow beat us it makes us look terrible. Some feel we’re too good to play them.
Others, like myself, welcome the chance to play UMass-Lowell and hope the games become a yearly occurrence because it becomes a rivalry game quickly and piques interest. I also don’t see the percentage of living in fear of freaking UMass-Lowell basketball as they are far away from the stage where they’d be able to defeat even a down UMass team in any more than a one-off fluke.
I’ve expressed this point of view on the board, but this medium gives me a chance to expound on it even further.
Firstly, we’re going to play a handful of teams with terrible RPIs every year. Without fail, every single year. Teams whose RPIs are above 250 at the least. Since were are going to be doing that anyway, the teams we end up playing (when possible) should have some sort of potential to be interesting.
Last season we played #343 New Orleans, #338 Central Arkansas, #328 Howard and #254 LIU-Brooklyn (we also played #219 Central Florida, #215 Florida Gulf Coast, and #196 Boston University, just for reference). UMass-Lowell was ranked #261 last season.
The games against UCA and Howard were part of the Vegas MGM tournament, but that does not change that they were against bad teams. UMass goes out of its way to try and play in an early season tournament yearly, and games like those are part of every tournament, so it’s the same as if the Minutemen scheduled the matchups themselves.
We also had to scramble a bit to add LIU-Brooklyn to the slate, as if I recall correctly that was the final game added to last year’s schedule.
What it boils down to is that no matter what, UMass is going to be playing at least three teams who are not very good. If given the option, I would rather those teams be local or quasi-local, as that at least has a chance to increase interest in what are traditionally non-interesting games.
I think much of the consternation from some fans comes from the belief that UMass isn’t scheduling “better” teams they way they would like to see, or the way they did in the glory days. That an understandable concern, but I think it’s separate from us scheduling easy games.
I’d like to see the team do what they can to get good games against good teams on the schedule. They’ve got a good series going with Providence which is a plus, they usually end up with a couple good games from the tournament they play in, and they have a home and home starting next season with South Carolina. They’ve been playing Harvard regularly or trying to as well. The thing is that the higher-up teams have to want to play UMass too, and that’s not always the case.
I’ve got no doubt they are trying to get good non-conference games on the schedule, but it’s a separate issue to schedule weaker teams as well. Everyone has a few bunnies. If we can get those games to potentially be interesting, that’s the real win.
I’d love to play UMass-Lowell every season. I get the sense it’s a distinct possibility too, as we’ve got a system president in Marty Meehan who’s a UMass-Lowell alum and who is a big supporter of college athletics. I’d imagine we’d play them in Amherst for a couple years and then return a game at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, then repeat the pattern (Amherst/Amherst/Lowell/Amherst/Amherst/Lowell, etc).
The Tsongas is a nice arena that would allow fans in the EMass area an opportunity to see the team closer than the Mullins. Playing at Harvard the past two years has been a UMass home game both times, which has worked out well, and until Boston College decides to sack up, the opportunities to play outside the 413 in Massachusetts are limited. The Tsongas is a good opportunity for that.
All in all I just hope people get on board with playing UMass-Lowell, because it’s obviously happening. Replacing a game with LIU-Brooklyn or Middle-of-Nowhere Tech with UMass-Lowell is a good thing for both basketball programs. That’s a game I’ll certainly try to get out to when we find out the date next season, not to mention it will be the debut of our stellar recruiting class.
UMass and UMass-Lowell already play in many other sports that don’t get a lot of press. Women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and field hockey have faced off with UMass-Lowell this season or last. UMass baseball is traveling to Lowell this season. Once UMass-Lowell jumped their athletics to Division 1, games between the schools were bound to happen. In fact, one sport where they have not played where I know I would like them to is men’s lacrosse. Having game #14 this season against UMass-Lowell would have been a nice breather and boost to UMass’ record. Maybe next year.
People should get behind playing games with UMass-Lowell in basketball because I’d bet it becomes a regular occurrence. Given the fact that we have a legitimate, if currently one-sided rivalry with the RiverHawks in Hockey East, playing them in basketball has the potential to be a draw for students and fans. I’m looking forward to it.
In other news, football will be hosting a Junior Day on April 9th which will be larger than the one they hosted a little over a month ago. It should have a further reach than just New England, and I will do everything I can to make sure I get a list of prospects attending to pass on to anyone kind enough to read these ramblings.
The athletic department has also begun a new video series called “Made at Massachusetts”, and the first subject is football cornerbacks coach and former Minutemen CB Steve Costello. It’s very cool and the first of many, so make sure to check it out.