BUFFALO, N.Y — As UMass prepares for its initial venture into the uncharted waters of Frozen Four play, coach Greg Carvel was asked to describe his favorite moment along the journey to get here.
It was a seventh-month odyssey that included nearly 40 games, countless travel miles, a first-ever Hockey East regular-season title, and a championship in the NCAA Northeast Regional, which included victories over the nation's most renowned academic institution (Harvard) and a university with the most storied sports program (Notre Dame).
"Favorite memory? That's a tough one. There's so many things," said Carvel, whose Minutemen take on perennial college hockey power University of Denver tonight (8:30) in a national semifinal at the KeyBank Center.
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"I think my favorite memory will be coaching Cale Makar. It's been a special opportunity. He's a really special kid. I hope he's rewarded (Friday) at the ceremony, because I think he's everything that you want out of the Hobey Baker winner."
Carvel, a former NHL assistant (Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks) who earlier this week was named this year's winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year, said the relationship has been beneficial for both sides.
"I'm excited that in the two years, again, it's gone exactly as I hoped it would for him, but it's gone exactly as I hoped it would for us, me and Cale," Carvel said. "I really like the relationship we have, the trust that we built, the way that I've been able to coach him, him coach me at the same time. Other than winning championships, helping Cale develop and -- again -- not getting in his way, but helping him become the player that he is. I'm just really excited to watch him at the next level because I've coached at that level, too. He's phenomenal. He's going to be a hell of a player.
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"I really like the fact that my 6-year-old son (Drew) knows him. He knows Cale Makar, and he talks about Cale. He says things like, 'Dad, look at my cheeks, they're red like Cale Makar's,"' Carvel said. "Cale doesn't want to talk about the future. He's very much in the now. ... I think being able to always know that we had an impact guy that's going to be really, I think, a superstar at the next level has been memorable."
Makar, the odds-on favorite to be presented the annual Hobey Baker Award on Friday night at the Harbor Center and the No. 4 overall pick by Colorado in the NHL draft two years ago, said he came back to UMass this season not only out of loyalty but from a sense that something special could happen. Makar leads the Minutemen in points (48), assists (32), shots (132) and plus-minus (plus-32), all replete with a world class skating ability.
"In 3 years, we've gone from 5 wins to 30 wins. It's extremely rewarding because we've put in the time and the effort and, as I tell our kids, you get what you deserve... It feels like that was the case this year." - @coachcarvelum @UMassHockey #NHLNow pic.twitter.com/EAVGI0SoFF— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) April 9, 2019
"Yeah, from the beginning, my goal was to go play college for two years. I had some stuff I wanted to work on coming back. I really felt our team could make a run at it this year. We would have the opportunity to play in the Frozen Four. I think it's just a testament to the teammates, everybody coming back, working hard, everybody making each other better like I touched on earlier," Makar said.
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"Yeah, I think (I needed) more experience. There are aspects of my game that needed more work. I felt coming back for another year at this level would ultimately tune those up in order for me to play pro. I feel like I'm getting to that level and I'm being more consistent now."
Makar's teammates recognize his unquestioned value.
No one more deserving 👏— UMass Hockey (@UMassHockey) April 4, 2019
We are pleased to announce that our very own @Cmakar16 is a Hobey Hat Trick Finalist
📰: https://t.co/5Lsx3i7sy2https://t.co/kUeiEK7Ptm#HobeyNeedsMoreCale #NewMass | #Flagship 🚩 pic.twitter.com/v3WSAQzKo6
"Yeah, not to pump his tires too much with him right here," senior forward Jacob Pritchard said with a smile during Wednesday's press conference. "Obviously he's a pretty special player. When he's on the ice, you know there's a pretty good chance we're going to possess the puck. Makes things a lot easier."
Added sophomore defenseman Mario Ferraro: "Like Pritch said, it's obviously really special to be able to play with a guy like Cale. He's a great player, great person off the ice. He pushes you to be better. That's what he's done for the team all year. It's going to continue into this weekend. We're happy to have him on our team."
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Carvel said he relies on Makar as much as the player relies on the coaches.
"He's kind of like a barometer for me. At times I'll get too excited on the bench, too emotional, too loud, too something," Carvel said. "He'll look at me, might say something to me. Just keeps me in check. He does a great job.
"He's a very even-keeled kid. That part I respect. He's one of these kids, as a coach, when you go up to the board, try to explain something to the team, he gets it instantly, the message, whatever it is. So I'll bounce things off of him. He'll let me know, 'Coach, I don't think they got that'. He usually gets it.
"But other than that, he's extremely respectful young man. He's a leader on the team. ... He tells you what you need to hear. Again, we all do that. It's a nice part of our team. We're extremely honest, we communicate a lot. Sometimes it's not what you want to hear, but it makes you better. He buys into that fully.
This article is written by John Connolly from Boston Herald and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.