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Carvel comes home to lead St. Lawrence

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CANTON — Greg Carvel has truly returned home.

During a tumultuous 2011-12 campaign in which the St. Lawrence hockey team endured a range of emotions and adapted to life without legendary coach Joe Marsh behind the bench, Carvel and the Saints players carried on and persevered.

Carvel, who was hired as an assistant coach entering last season, was thrust into the role of a co-interim coach with fellow Saints alumni Mike Hurlbut, after Marsh was forced to take medical leave. Marsh eventually retired after the season because of health problems after 26 years as St. Lawrence’s head coach.

“It was definitely a difficult time, and when ultimately Joe decided to step aside, it was a huge transition for this university and this hockey team,” Carvel said. “Because St. Lawrence hockey is Joe Marsh and I don’t know of any coach other than him or Jack Parker at Boston University who is the face of their hockey program.”

Now Carvel, a former St. Lawrence standout who went on to the professional ranks as both an executive and assistant coach, finds himself following Marsh, as he’ll embark on his first season as head coach when the Saints begin their season with a two-game set at Western Michigan Friday and Saturday.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to coach this team,” Carvel said. “We have a tremendous hockey tradition here and we’re going to strive to continue this tradition.”

But when the Canton native returned to St. Lawrence University as an assistant coach last year, no one could have foreseen what would transpire last season, the changing of the guard of one of the nation’s prestigious and oldest men’s hockey programs.

“It was hard, because I was excited to come back and work with Joe and we never really worked together for a single day,” Carvel said. “It was a process for all of us in having to adapt to the situation and we just tried to do the best we could.”

“He did a great job last year,” junior winger Greg Carey said of Carvel. “He kind of took us in a direction that we’ve never been before. We weren’t really a systems kind of team, we were more of just a hard-working team. He really kind of changed our team culture, but in a good way.”

Carvel, who starred at St. Lawrence as a defensive forward and served as team captain as a senior (1992-93), helped lead the team in his junior season to the ECAC championship in the 1991-92 campaign along with senior Chris Wells, now head coach of the university’s women’s hockey team.

“When you grow up in this town, any dreams of making it to the NHL is second in your mind compared to St. Lawrence,” said Carvel, the 13th head coach in the program’s history and the second Canton native to hold the position, following Paul Patten. “This is a special place, that’s for sure.”

Carvel returned to St. Lawrence in 2011 after a 15-year professional coaching career in the NHL ranks, first with Anaheim as a scouting coordinator, video coach and eventually assistant coach to Mike Babcock. He then served as an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators under Bryan Murray. In each case his team reached the Stanley Cup finals.

“I had been in pro hockey for a long time and I always figured that the longer I stayed the better my resume would be to help me get back into college hockey,” Carvel said. “ ... so when the (assistant coaching) position became open, (Marsh) gave me the opportunity to come back here, so I’m very fortunate that he did so.”

While Marsh showed plenty of emotion and passion through the years in leading St. Lawrence to five ECAC titles, Carvel takes a more calm-and-calculated approach to coaching.

“There’s a difference, Greg has been in the NHL as a coach and is more of an Xs-and-Os kind of guy,” senior forward and team captain Kyle Flanagan said. “Joe was more of a motivator who had more emotion. But this team knows what to expect from Greg and we want to keep moving forward.”

“Joe coached with a lot emotion and I coach with a little more structure,” Carvel said. “Joe got everything out of his guys, because he got them to play so hard. I try to add a little more structure to the game plan and it took a while — but by the end of the season we were playing pretty well.”

One of Carvel’s visions in making the transition to a new coaching era was fulfilled with the renovation of the facilities at Appleton Arena, including a new video room and a transformation of the locker room, complete with St. Lawrence University’s logo etched into new carpeting.

Carvel helped guide St. Lawrence to an eighth-place finish in the ECAC with a 10-11-1 record, which included a five-game winning streak down the stretch, and a home playoff series, where the Saints (14-19-3 overall) were swept by Dartmouth in the first round.

“We have a real focus as a team,” Carvel said. “They saw at the end of last year that when they can play together and play hard and play with emotion that they’re capable of winning hockey games.”

Now with 18 returning lettermen, including their top two scorers — senior captain Flanagan and junior Carey — along with a balanced defensive corps and the return of junior Matt Weninger who will again start in goal — Carvel is optimistic about the Saints’ chances this season.

“We don’t want to miss this opportunity to take a step forward and work our way up the ladder in the ECAC,” Carvel said.

Carvel, who aspired to play hockey at St. Lawrence ever since he picked up a hockey stick as a youngster, has truly returned to his hockey roots.

“I am home,” Carvel said. “I grew up here for 20 years and I went away for almost 20 years, so I definitely am home.”

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