Baseball’s always held a special place in UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel’s heart


Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2023 5:32 PM

Baseball has always held a special place in UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel’s heart. It might ruffle Minutemen or Red Sox fans that come to see UMass play Boston College at Fenway Park on Saturday (6 p.m. NESN), but his greatest baseball memory involves Yankee Stadium.

Carvel needed open heart surgery when he was seven years old. The UMass hockey coach was born with a congenital heart defect. He had a hole in his heart, and Carvel was undersized for his age.

His parents took him to the doctor for a regular illness, and the doctor heard a heart murmur during the exam. The situation progressed quickly, and Carvel was scheduled for surgery in Rochester, N.Y.

“Open heart surgery in 1977 was a little more involved than it is today,” Carvel said.

The family planned for a several week stay in intensive care. His parents promised a trip to Yankee Stadium as a reward for enduring the ordeal.

“I was a baseball fan as a kid. When you’re my age (52), baseball was still king of sport,” Carvel said. “I kind of grew up nowhere, so I didn’t really live close enough to any team to have allegiance, so I guess I was a Yankee fan. I grew up in Northern New York State.”

Carvel received packs of baseball cards every time nurses entered the room to jam needles into his arm or take blood. The cards depicted the likes of Ron Guidry, the “Louisiana Lightning,” Mr. October Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. He’s kept them all these years – not entirely sure of where at the moment, but somewhere.

“Everybody says all that stuff is worthless, but I hold on to it,” Carvel said.

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BEST ABILITY IS AVAILABILITY – UMass expects forward Kenny Connors and defenseman Ryan Ufko to be available Saturday after they return from the IIHF Men’s Junior World Championships in Canada. They’ve missed the past three games helping the United States win a bronze medal after defeating Sweden on Thursday.

Both players will fly home Friday and should be ready to go for the second game of the doubleheader (UMass follows UConn vs. Northeastern).

“I'm not really communicating with those guys other than sending them some congratulatory texts along the way. I would imagine that they would be excited to play,” Carvel said. “We can get that game out of them. I will manage their rest through the month of January, but we need them for games and hopefully they're willing to play. I'm not sure why they would not.”

ICE, ICE, BABY – Amidst the pageant and grandeur of playing hockey in an MLB stadium, the Minutemen expect subpar ice conditions.

“Most outdoor games the ice surface is a big issue. Pucks don't play like they usually do. Keeping the puck in front of you and not trying to over handle pucks. Moving pucks up the ice and it's more of an almost positional game as opposed to a possession game,” Carvel said. “You want to get the puck out of your zone and into their zone as quick as you can and not think what we usually do is going to work on an outdoor ice surface.”

UMass has dealt with subpar ice before this season. The surface at the SSE Arena in Northern Ireland where UMass played during the Friendship Four in November also had bad ice. They’re different kinds of bad, but the Minutemen will be able to skate in the park Friday to get an idea.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>