For Greg Carvel, Head Coach of the NCAA Championship hockey team at UMass, the math for creating a high-performance team is simple: People provide character, character creates culture, and culture wins championships. On the latest Walker Webcast, we shared the insights that Coach Carvel presented at Walker & Dunlop's Summer Conference. If you're focused on building a culture of success, you won't want to miss it!
In this episode, Willy introduces Greg Carvel, head coach of UMassHockey team. The team was the worst in the league when Greg was brought on as the head coach -- in five years they went on to win the national championship. Greg says he does that through focusing on clarity of vision and quality people. People bring culture and vision, therefore, Greg believes when he’s bringing people into the hockey team, he’s not necessarily looking for the best hockey players. He’s looking for the best people.
Coach Greg believes in making sure each member of his team and staff feels uniquely seen and understood, which leads to them being more committed to the program. Together they build trusting relationships built on honesty. Even one person who has an arrogant mentality can bring down a team. Greg weeds this out using the rule of threes. Ones on his team are responsible on the team, in school and in life, so after one year, the coaching team doesn’t worry about them too much. Threes are irresponsible and don’t elevate the team, most of the time they end up being removed from the program. Twos are somewhere in the middle, immature with a bit of potential, Greg puts them through the squeeze. He and his coaching team put pressure on them to work harder and put on their “big boy pants.” Some sink down to threes and are removed, but some level up to ones.
Humility, Coach Greg says, is the foundation of character. He and his fellow coaches have to show humility because everything they do trickles down to their team. The team reflects the character of the coach, so at UMass freshmen don’t do all the grunt work, they see coaches carry bags, clear busses and pick up sticks and helmets. When their team wasn’t winning any games, he had to rally them around a common purpose. Greg chose the purpose of commanding respect. The team may not win every game, but they can play hard, never quit, get better grades, do more community service, and begin to command respect.
As the episode ends Coach Greg answers questions from Willy and the audience.
01:11 - Willy introduces Coach Greg
05:15 - Greg’s journey bringing his team from worst to first
08:15 - When things are going bad, Greg says “good”
12:20 - Vision and People
15:20 - The core values of UMass Hockey
20:07 - The rule of threes
28:21 - Character matters most
33:02 - Creating a common purpose
36:30 - Vulnerability and authenticity is essential to connection
43:42 - Question and Answer
Willy Walker: So, our next guest Greg Carvel is an old old old friend of mine. He is an exceptional, exceptional coach, an exceptional leader. And I have watched him coach and what has been so incredible to me to see is where Greg has focused his time and attention, as it relates to how he recruits athletes, how he trains those athletes, and how he leads those athletes. What I would put forth to you is that during the national championship game, the ESPN commentators throughout the game sat there and talked about the fact that UMass had a distinct culture. And they kept talking about UMass has a distinct culture on their hockey team. At the end of the game after they've won the national championship beating the two-time national championship who'd beaten them two years before in the national championship game. The ESPN announcer went up to the assistant captain of the team, and he said to him we're talking about the culture at UMass and what it is that makes it such a unique team, what is it? And this guy's just won the national championship. They're all out running throwing their gloves up in the air and on national television, he said, “oh that's really easy. Coach Carvel focuses on character over skill.” Just won the national championship, the most talented team in the country and the Assistant Captain says Coach Carvel focuses on character over skill.
I'm going to turn the MIC over to Greg Carvel to tell you exactly why he does that and how it's turned out for him. Greg, where are you. There he is, hey coach.
Coach Carvel: Thanks Willy. Alright, Willy said I've got a lot of experience as a coach, I don't have a lot experience as a speaker at conferences. This is the first one and Willy asked if we could start with a video.
[Carvel plays video clip on team growth.]
Coach Carvel: First, I just want to thank you Willy for having me here. This is a huge honor for me so thank you for having me, excited to be here and as you saw at the end of that video, I was a little emotional and Willy admitted to earlier. I almost likely cry before this over just giving you a heads up, this is a very emotional topic for me, what we what we've done at UMass has been very special.
Today my presentation we all hear about culture all the time, I don't know if we hear so much about the leadership of culture. So, I’m going to talk more so about the leadership of culture. Culture relies heavily on leadership and in my regard. I need to address one part of the UMass hockey culture before we get going, and that is humility. We put a premium on humility in our hockey program. For this conference today, for this presentation I’m throwing humility out the window. I’m just warning you it could be offensive by the end, so you've been warned.
Along the lines of humility in our team we follow the model let someone else praise your virtues. So, I don't want to be up here and preach. I’m going to attempt to let the words of other people explain how we do our culture, so I’ll start with one example. The challenge to my team early on, our identity as a team and as a program, is fast, hard, prepared, we want to play fast, hard, prepared. We want to do everything that way whether we're in the weight room, practice, wherever that is, fast, hard, prepared. So, my challenge to my team from early on was I want you guys to play to our identity so well that the opposing coach says our identity in the postgame press conference. Three years in, “They play fast, they play hard, they're detailed.” That was a victory for the players, prepared and detailed was close enough. That's an example of how I am going to run the presentation today. My belief is, if you do things well enough that other people can see, feel it, and say it back to you, you're doing things the right way.
So, shortly after we won the national championship Willy reached out to me, and he asked if I’d speak at this conference, and my first reaction was well Jesus probably full of CEOs and CFO and COOs. And I’m a COACH I got too many letters in my title. I don't know if we're gonna be able to relate. I don't speak your language. I listened last night to all these terms. I don't know what they mean. But Willy said, just talk about the journey from worst to first. I can do that.
In college hockey there's approximately 60 division one teams it fluctuates from year to year. When I came to UMass, UMass had finished last place in the conference four years in a row and great job we kept that alive the first year, we kept the streak going. My first year we won five games, we lost 29 we lost the last 17 in a row. That was not a lot of fun, but we brought in our first recruiting class the next year. And we were the most improved team in the country. We went from five wins to 17 wins and we jumped up to 36, so we gone from worst to about middle of the pack by year two. The next year were the most improved team again. We went from 17 wins to 31 wins and we lost in the national championship game. So, it's a pretty quick rise, the fourth year was COVID. We had a good team, again, I thought we could make another run. Everybody's life got ended by COVID and in our fifth year we won the national championship.
So, the importance of leadership and culture. I’m going to start with a with an example that took place at the end of the year. As Willy said in 2019, we lost national championship game to the University of Minnesota Duluth. They were the benchmark of college hockey. When they beat us that was their second in a row championship. They played three years in a row in the national championship game. So, this past season, they were going for a three peat and four times in a row in the national championship game. So, we had a good team this year. But we had to play Duluth in the national semifinal. I was excited because two years previous they put us in our place and I took so much out of that game, and then we had two years to grow as a program and I wanted to see where we stood. I’m excited. It's a big challenge right. We got to knock them off the top of the mountain.
A week before that game my sports administrator calls me at 10pm at night. A call from your sports administrator at 10pm at night, not good news. No chance it's going to be good news. He says, “Greg we’ve got a little problem, one of your players has tested positive for COVID.” We hadn't had one player test positive for COVID all year. The kids did a great job staying safe. He said, “Well he lives with three other kids so you have four kids on the team who can't play against Duluth.” I said, okay who are they? One you're starting goalie. Our starting goalie was the best goalie in the country he hadn't lost the game in two months. Punch to the gut. Alright who else? You're leading goal scorer. He's six foot three, he just scored a hat trick in the last game. A hat trick is scoring three goals in a game, it’s hard to do. Six foot three and he's the heartbeat of our team. Another punch to the gut. Alright who else? Your biggest power forward. Okay. Duluth’s a big team, so we need as much size as we could get. He's gone. I said, alright who’s the fourth. He goes well, your other goalie. We have three goalies. So, we have three goalies two of them are out. Now I have to dress my equipment manager as a backup goalie in the national semifinal game. Okay, and so as the leader of this culture, this was my response, I swear to God. When he was done telling me I said, good.
[Carvel plays video clip on seeing the silver lining during hard times.]
Coach Carvel: That's it. I swear to God, I called my assistant coach I said hey we just lost four guys. He said to me good. Swear to God. That's our mentality. That's the leadership of our program. And a big point I’m going to make today is that leadership trickles down. I believe that fully, especially with the age that I work with 19- to 24-year-old kids. If you can get them to believe they'll follow you anywhere. So, we beat Duluth. We didn't have those four kids. It took us to overtime, we were down in the third period. It was a complete character win. In overtime, we dominated we all shot from 13 to two. It was just a matter of time before we beat them. So, what you do as a leader is really important.
Leaders are critical. The first thing they have to do is they have to have a vision. You have to have a blueprint, and it has to be right, and it has to be done well. So, you control your culture, you control the vision. That's the first thing that's important. I use the term “clarity of vision”. I have my vision, but I have to be able to articulate it and sell it to my staff, to my players, to the point that they fully believe it too. I call that clarity of vision because I have about 40 people, staff, players. And if I have all 40 believing and knowing exactly what the standards are and expectations, I consider that clarity of vision. There's not one person in my program who can say, “what do we do in this situation.” Every single person knows exactly what to do, what the expectations are, and when you get clarity of vision, you get belief and that's very powerful. So, after that, after you have a vision, it's about people. People are your biggest assets and you fight to bring good people into your program. You fight harder to keep them in your program. So, we win the national championship, my associate head coach, my assistant coach, unbelievable coach and, of course, he gets offered a head coaching job and another university, not unexpected. I fought like hell, to keep him. It may sound selfish, but it's not. I'm the custodian of this culture. I gotta fight like hell, to keep the good people in it. So, I offered him more money, I said hey, “Why would you leave this culture?” It's great blah blah blah. I fought. Ultimately, he left. It was a big step forward. I hugged him, cried, but he's moved on. But I fought. You got to fight to keep good people in your program because it's the people who provide the character. And the character builds the culture. So the leaders have the vision, then you have to bring in the people, and I always love this quote, People should be your greatest commodity, in a high performance environment, people are everything.” So, when we recruit, we don't recruit the best hockey players, we recruit the best people we can find. We try to amass character. I use the phrase cumulative character is the backbone of championship teams. I believe this fully. Due to the clarity of vision of our team, our players believe this as well. And Willy spoke about that, and this is the video that he's talking about.
[Carvel plays video clip on the importance of character.]
Coach Carvel: So, he said character, more than skill, we have a hell of a lot of character, that's cumulative character. And I’m happy to be a part of it. That's belief.
So, I’ve gotten so many comments about that one statement. And again, that's not coming from me, that's coming from the players. They are fully bought in to the clarity of vision which is so important to what we do. Alright, so now we've got the vision. We've got the people which provides the character and now we have to start building the culture and, of course, the core values are at the beginning of any culture.
I’m going to use the word unique a lot today because I think we have a unique culture. We do things uniquely at the College level and how I introduce our core values is unique. So, this just happened a week ago, yesterday. All our freshmen come to campus for the summer to train. It's the first time I have all them in the room, together, half of them have their parents with them and I'm introducing them to UMass hockey. Talking about our standards, expectations and then out of nowhere I'll just stop. And I’ll go Willy, do you see me. You can see me. You sure you can see. Okay.
I see you. I C U. I CCC U. I integrity, C commitment, C compete, C connection, U unity. So that's our introduction to our core values and I’ll tell you what you can call any person in my program right now, randomly pick any person, I'll come up hey what are our core values. Everyone knows our core values. I demand that. Which one's, the most important?
Coach Carvel: Connection’s correct, for me. My vision of the program connections the most important because it's a connection that we build. We use connection to build relationships and I have to build a unique relationship with every player and every staff member on the team. If I do that something happens, I call it being uniquely seen. If I'm a player on the team, and I feel like I'm just another number, I’m number 22, I play right wing. That's not what I want. I want every kid on my team to feel uniquely seen. Coach knows who I am, he knows what makes me tick, and when you feel uniquely seen, understood, valued, and appreciated it will hook you into being committed to the team, the leader, and the program. It's my job to make every kid and the team, every staff member feel uniquely seen. In this quote when you feel uniquely seen you become committed. We now have gone from character to commitment. We've got the vision, we've got the character, and we've got commitment. And now, your culture is really starting to go.
Everybody has a culture every company has a culture, whether they like it or not, whether they're trying or not. We're very deliberate and trying to build our culture. We call our culture, a peak performance culture. We describe it in a certain way. We call it a high trust zero bullshit culture. So the trust part is the building the relationships, being uniquely seen, having that kind of connection with your coach and the zero bullshit is the high standards, clarity of vision and accountability, that is the responsibility of the leader. Alright, so another term that we use talent matters but culture wins. Before every game, we spend all week getting ready to play an opponent, we practice hard, we do video, we have a game plan and the last thing that the players hear before they go out on the ice, they don't hear, “we're better than these guys, we’ve got more skill.” The only thing they here is our culture beats their culture. That's what they hear when they go on the ice. The same day that we do that introduction to the core values that I just ran through with Willy I gave them a book called Legacy and inside that book, so we had 10 new guys on Monday, I handed out 10 books. They weren't all the same book. The difference between all the books was that I wrote a personal message inside each book, for each player. Right from there we're starting to find that uniqueness that I talked about earlier. So, each book and this book Legacy has a unique message to them, so they already start to feel uniquely seen. Now we have a book club all summer with that book Legacy. It's a great book it teaches you how to be a good teammate. But for me it talks about how to build a value based and a purpose driven culture.
I just want to discuss a couple of the chapters in this book. The first chapter is a word (WHANAU), it's pronounced “for now”, I’m not even sure what the language is. And I'm sure you're reading the bottom line, more so than the top line. But this is one of the first chapters of the book and how important it is to have no Dickheads in your in your program. When we were five and 29, we had a lot of “Richard heads” on our team. We have no bad kids on our team. I believe strongly that even one selfish mindset will infect a collective culture. There's a great quote by Muhammad Ali in this chapter, it says, “It's not the mountain in front of you that wears you down it's the pebble in your shoe.” Along those lines it's better to have 1000 enemies outside the tent than one enemy inside the tent. The one thing I've learned in the last couple years is that high functioning people really struggle with low functioning people. And if you're trying to build a peak performance culture, and you have these high character kids you can't bring them down by having even a couple low functioning people in the program. We operate under the rule of threes at UMass.
If you're a one you do everything right. You train right, you eat right, you do well in school, you know how to play hockey the right way. Your low maintenance, we don't worry about you. If you're a three your pain in my ass, you're always in trouble, you can't figure things out, and before long we move you along, you're not part of the program anymore. The key is the twos. The twos are the kids that have potential, but they're a little immature, they haven't figured things out yet and they go into a special club we call it the big boy pants clubs. And we teach them how to find, how to put on your big boy pants. That's nothing more than communicating to them that the standards that we expect. And these are just standards that they're not used to. It's an uncomfortable place for them. Okay, and we call this uncomfortableness the squeeze. And we apply the squeeze because when you squeeze the twos one or two things happen. They go down to a three or they go up to a one. And what we say is, if you're a really a three that squeeze feels suffocating, like I can't deal with this. But if you're really a one, that squeeze starts to feel like a hug. When you realize coach isn’t being a hard on me because he's a jerk, he doesn't like me, coach is doing this because he's trying to get the best out of me, he's trying to get the most potential out of me. Last year we had about 20 ones, and we had six or seven twos. Two of those two’s scored in the national championship game. Because we squeeze them, and we hugged him, and we got what we needed out of them and they were difference makers in the national championship game.
So, the next chapter I really love in this book is about language. We all hear actions speak louder than words. Words carry a ton of weight. I use words. I don't say a lot, but when I do, I’m very deliberate in what I say to my team. I love this this quote from the book, “Strong cultures need a system of meaning understood by everyone.” Clarity of vision - understood by everyone. A language and vocabulary that binds groups together, there's unity, one of our values. This must have at its foundations core values of the group. Should leaders invent a unique vocabulary. There's our word unique again. It's shorthand for communicating new cultural norms and standards. These are some of our coach phrases that actually define and declare our essential spirit, this is vocabulary that's unique to UMass hockey. These things will mean nothing to you, but they mean everything to our players.
I had dinner last night with a gentleman named Tom who went to Boston College. Tom did I see you over there. I want to ask you a question. Sorry to put you on the spot. I didn't tell you last night. So, you grew up in New England, the University of Massachusetts in the 1980s was a big party school and earned a very derogatory nickname, what is that. The Zoo. Zoo Mass right. UMass had earned the reputation of Zoo Mass because it was a party school in the 80s. And when I got on campus Zoo Mass was still very much alive and after a while, I really got to me. I really struggled with hearing that. We actually lost a recruit because his mother didn't want her son going to Zoo Mass. I walked into the locker room one day and I said gentlemen that's it. We are erasing Zoo Mass, we are now New Mass. Not a big stretch, silly guy like me made it up. But this has been very powerful. This has become our vocabulary. Zoo Mass no longer, New Mass. So New Mass, anything we do at an elevated standard is New Mass. I'm pretty busy on Twitter anything that I put out there, that is elevated or is at a standard that I believe we should be at is hashtag New Mass. So, I created this four years ago. Last month the university came to me and told me they were copywriting New Mass, they were trademarking New Mass. I'll guarantee you one thing, I won't see a penny of that. But I created that. There you go humility out the window.
So, here's some other ones. You get what you deserve. This is integrity Willy, you brought up integrity. Our guys believe fully you get what you deserve. Don't come crying to me if you're not doing well in the classroom, not practicing hard enough, you didn't train hard enough this summer, not in good enough shape, you're getting what you deserve. Go away. You'll get what you deserve. Our guys all believe that fully. Gold standard I’ll get to that in a little bit. Throw good shit on the pile. I'm sorry I swear so much I'm a coach. I know in the business world it’s probably not acceptable. I’m not a businessman, I'm a coach. Another one link up. And last one is ACE – attitude, commitment, effort. We tell our guys this is what you control. You control every day your attitude, your commitment, and your effort.
This is Colin Felix one of my favorite players on the team. He's high high character, not great skill. High character player. He's done nothing but play in national championship games. It's all he does. When he got to UMass, he could barely skate backwards and he's a defenseman. I swear to God. First two weeks I said my assistant coaches, he can't play here. All he does is take us to national championship games! Talent matters. Character much more important. So, when I thought of this idea, I said to myself, “Okay, the next kid that comes in my office I'm going to sit him down in this chair and I'm going to throw our vocabulary at him just to prove to everybody today this is our understood vocabulary.” This is the audio might be a little low on this, but this is not a setup. Colin walked in, I said “listen, I'm going to tape this, I'm gonna say some words you say, the first thing that comes to your mind. You cool with that?” I'm cool. All right, this is Colin Felix one of our senior captains, he does not know what's about to happen, but Colin I'm going to give you a word and you tell me, the first thing that comes to your mind.
Word: You get
Answer: What you deserve.
Word: Throw good
Answer: Shit on the pile
Answer: Link up
Word: What is ACE? What do A C E in ACE stand for?
Answer: Attitude Commitment Effort
Amen brother. Alright, so again clarity of vision. That's the language that I created. Guys all believe in it and it's very impactful. It adds another layer of strength to our culture.
Another chapter in the book is about rituals. Ritualized, actualize, rituals make beliefs real and actual. So that core value introduction is a ritual. We do it every year takes on great meaning. What happens, the kids are like what the hell's going on here, but by the time they're seniors they love it okay. Reading the Legacy book is a ritual. Rituals tell your story. They involve your people and they create a legacy. Rituals are supremely important because they have deep values embedded in them; I believe this, I love rituals. This is my favorite ritual. You heard Colin say, “link it up”, he stumbled on that one a little bit. So, this is after the national championship game, we are linking up. We link up in September at the beginning of the year. We all get a circle. And when you do this with 22-year-old Division I athletes, you feel the power of the unity of a circle. And we look each other in the eyes, and we know what the standards and expectations are, and we have to earn the right at the end of the year. We only get to do this if you win a playoff round, or you win a championship. So, you have to earn the right. So, when you when you go through an entire season and you win you get to link up. That has amazing power. It's my favorite ritual. I think we linked up five or six times this year. We won so many playoff games and championships. So, it's very special.
Next chapter in the book, I wanted to discuss is Character. I talked about letting someone else praise your virtues. We use the term “sweep the sheds” is another part of our vocabulary. We stole it from this book, and I think for leaders it's really important to remember, never be too big to do the little things. I think it's very powerful when you are the leader of a culture that there isn’t a hierarchy. Again, that's part of your clarity of vision, if when your freshmen come in and pretty soon they're like hey how come I don't have to do all the grunt work around here. And that’s very powerful. That comes from leadership. An example of that is when we get off the bus after a road trip it's usually on a Saturday night about 12 or 1am in the morning, we play hockey in the winter so it's cold out snowing. Nothing more than I want to do, then be in my bed and go to sleep, but the coaches all sit in front of the bus. What we do is we get up, we go under, we open the bus, put the bags on our shoulders and we carry them into the locker room. So as the rest of the players come off the bus, they're seeing the coaches carrying the bags into the locker room. It's a powerful thing. But again, everything that you do trickles down to your players.
The next picture I want to show you, so this is the same picture of the ritual, but what I want you to notice in this picture is the gloves and the sticks strewn all over the ice. That's what happens after a championship game. After we broke up from the link the guys took the trophy and they all funneled in the locker room hooting and hollering. And this is what I did. I went around and I picked up helmets and sticks and this is where, this is a big contradiction because I’m here bragging about how humble I am right now. And I told you, it would get disgusting and I’m sorry. I think we've reached that point.
We talked about the importance of words and language. Just as important are your actions. Everything's important. Humility is the foundation of character. And we've talked a lot about character. Humility is the foundation of character and so it's so important that the coaches exemplify that humility to their players, because we want to develop their character. That's what we're trying to do. Everything trickles down from the coach. This is Bobby Trivigno, “Our character and culture is through the roof. It starts with the coach goes all the way down through the whole program.” Again, that is someone else who sees it, and someone else is proclaiming for us.
I worked in NHL for 10 years I worked under my probably my favorite and greatest mentors name was Brian Murray. He was the general manager most of the time that I was a coach in the NHL. He told me all the time, “Greg, teams take on the personality that coach.” At first, I was like really. And then, over time, I was like he's absolutely right. It's the same thing with business. I would imagine when I look at Apple or Tesla or Walker & Dunlop -- I've been here for less than 24 hours, I probably heard four or five times from other people, the effect Willy that you have on this on this company. And it's quite impressive. Brian said the team takes on the personality of its coach. Before the national championship game, the ESPN analysts was asked what makes the UMass team special. They take on the coach’s mentality. Now I'm not going to read the rest of this. But if you remember, at the beginning, our goal is to make other people say our identity. Fast, hard, prepared. So, if you look deeply in there you'll see, they play very fast, they're well prepared, and extremely physical. Extremely physical is a good synonym for hard. So again, we were able to get someone else to say our identity for us. The leaders, you guys we all create the culture, the cultures drive the behavior, behavior produces the results, and that's why it's critically important that we all drive the culture throughout an entire organization.
Alright last couple of things. We're going to get to purpose. To meet purpose is maybe the most powerful thing you can do as a leader is to create a common purpose. When I got to UMass, I had to create a common purpose when the team couldn't win games so obviously couldn't be hey, our common purpose is to win the championship. We couldn't win a game, let alone win a championship. So, our first common purpose was to command respect. We could do that. We could play hard. We can never give up. We make the other team beat us. Never get blown out. Never give up and the other team may beat us but at the end of the game they're like hey the UMass team played hard. That was the goal. That was our common purpose. So, for two years, that was our common purpose was the command respect. A second year we'd worked our way up to you know the middle part of the country, so we had to change it. It became, we wanted to be the gold standard athletic team at UMass. At UMass everybody wants to football team to be good, wants the basketball team to be good, they're not very good. We wanted to make UMass a hockey school. So, we needed to be the gold standard. We needed to announce to everybody else, the hockey team does things the best. So, in the third year we had the highest GPA of any team on campus. We do more community service and we played in the national championship game. So, we became the gold standard and will never give that up. I tell our players, not only, the other teams can be like us, they will never catch us. I’m glad we’re the standard. They'll never catch us. So, we had to change our common purpose again. Next, we wanted to be the gold standard of college hockey and this year after five years, we were able to win a national championship.
So, if you want high performance it starts with higher purpose. Great teams play with a higher purpose. I believe this fully and the last quote here “Great leaders work hard to create a sense of purpose and connection.” And this is coming back to connection that Sheila mentioned at the beginning. I just want you to watch this video, and I want you to see if you feel connection in this hug.
So that hug with Collin, it's the same kid as earlier. Hugs come in different degrees. That's a 10 plus hug right there. That's two people who uniquely see each other. This is the reason why. Collin’s father died a few years before he got to UMass. As I said earlier, he is probably the highest character kid on our team. So, in that moment, I told them how much I appreciate him, how much I love him, how important he is to us. When he lost his dad, it's a hole not many of us have. We try to fill it as a staff. I'm sure at times like these he's thinking about his dad. I wanted him to know how much he means to me, and he does. So that's why I said the most important thing is our connections. When you can get connections like that, these kids will do anything for you, and that they already have high character, they do amazing things for you. As I said that kid couldn’t skate backwards; all he does is play national champion games.
So, next thing, a little bit before that, I need to go back for a second. Vulnerability is a big part of connection and I read a little bit on it. If you want to build connection, you have to be vulnerable. And I have to lead in that. So, when a kid comes in my office, he's struggling with whatever. I have to get as vulnerable. I have to lead the vulnerability so he'll be vulnerable and then that's when we can open up the strong connection the other thing that's really important is authenticity. And I want to go to this picture. If you just look at me, if you isolate me, I look like I'm about to murder somebody. You know bludgeon them with a big object. But if you take me out and you just look at the faces of the other players that's them appreciating authenticity. You have to share your true self. It's a big part of connection is sharing your true self. So, the story behind this picture, this is your three, that's the first trophy we won. We’ve won five or six big trophies now. This was the first one. It had been passed around the entire team, every player taken their turn, put it in the air and we all cheered, handedness it to the next one, everybody except me, I was the last one. And we never won anything before, so they brought it over to me, and nobody knew what I was gonna do. I could easily have been too cool for school and been yeah yeah good job guys. It was an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to be authentic and this is what it looks like, and now they don't call me coach, they call me Carvy.
So, when you go through hard times with people, you damn well celebrate with those people when you’ve earned that. That’s authenticity. That felt good. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't have to make that up. That was my authentic self. We've gone through a lot of hard times and we earned that.
The last thing I want to talk about today is standards. Again, this is coming from somebody else. This is from Marty Meehan in the Boston Globe. Marty Meehan is the President of the entire university system in Massachusetts and he's in the Boston Globe raving about the hockey team. That's huge. When I have the guy at the top of the ladder raving about my team, about our GPA, about our engagement in the Community and then the last line, that I insist on my players giving back to the Community, believing it builds character. which makes you a better person and, ultimately, a better hockey player. And that's really our common purpose. I won't tell the players this, but our common purpose is to make them better people. Is to develop character. Developing character leads to culture. A quote, that I love, “Sing your world into existence.” Sing your world into existence. It isn’t bench press your world into existence, it's sing your world into existence. During that first year when we were five and 29 our staff had the audacity to come up with a vision statement. There's three parts to it. First part was about developing character that would lead to a renowned culture, and then the result would be consistent success at the national level. We were losing 17 games in a row when we made that up. We sang that into existence. I saw a video recently a Willy, I think it was 2016 was probably at the summer conference and I don't know if the numbers right, I think, Willy, you said by 2020 you wanted to have a billion dollars in revenue. Does that sound familiar. Did it come true? (Willy, yes) He sang his world into existence. Words are powerful. People want to be led by big dreams, that they can believe in, that are achievable, it's all-powerful stuff.
So, the last thing I'm going to do here is I want to share this picture. This picture was taken with three minutes left in the national championship game; this was during a TV timeout. The game was over. We were five nothing. We just had to play out the last three minutes. This picture sums up our culture to me. So when I look at it I see connection, I see unity, I see commitment, I see our core values, I see leadership, I see character, I see all the things that are important. What I was doing is I was thinking them. I was thanking them for all the sacrifices that they've made. The outstanding ACE that they show every day, their attitude, commitment, effort. It was a wonderful opportunity because I knew it was the last time, I was probably gonna have all their attention. The next day, a couple of them sign with NHL teams and they were gone. But what did happen after we celebrate on the ice. I finally got them in the locker room. I walked in everyone is hooting and hollering, I was like guys sit down. Please just sit down for one minute. Their joking, the music's going. They bring music down, everybody’s still laughing. I’m trying to get their attention and our captain's name was Jake. I said jake, do you see me. Place went dead. He said I see you coach. Oliver, do you see me. I see you coach. These kids had this for years earlier, they had this experience. When we were a shit team. And I challenged them to build character, which built a culture, which led us to a national championship. This is the last picture, the last frame, this was when we won our league championship this year. Hockey's first time in the history of the school. I want to share a stat with you. We played two championship games this year. The combined scores were six nothing. We didn't allow goal in the championship game. We played four games to win the national championship. In those games we outscored our opponents 17-3. Those stats my friends are New Mass and that's how we went from worst to first. Thank you.
Willy Walker: Alright, I’ve got a couple questions for Carvy, but I also have the mic for anyone who wants to ask one so just raise your hand and I'll give it to you. Carvy, when someone is determined to be a two, do you tell him that he's a two?
Coach Carvel: Oh yeah. There in the big boy pants club. They know they are squarely at two and believe me, just being in that club, it's not derogatory that they didn't, they're not embarrassed by it, but they feel guilty about it and that's part of the reason we do it. And they're together. It's not like we're singling out one kid. It's six or seven and they know it. They know what whatever the expectation I had for them and again, it goes back to the connection and the relationships. We’re really honest with our kids. We don't waste time beating around the bush. We use the phrase, give it in gut, not in the back. Just give it. This is honest, this is what we need from you. It's not harsh, it's not cruel, it's honesty. It's our culture. If you're that one kid that gets offended by 24 other kids are going to be like, grow up, we all get it. Just listen to what coach is saying to you, deal with it, get better because when you get better. Just what I tell them. I just told a freshman this last week, the sooner, you can find your big boy pants and put them on the better our team is going to be. So, it's really critically important. It's just you know our unique language to try to deal with it.
Question 1: I love the fact that you are so clearly defining and what in business, a lot of people won't do for their employees, what they expect out of them so they can be successful. So, thank you for sharing that. Are you nervous now because you did build this team, or do you have any anxiety about the fact that you built the team? The people you were recruited and now you're going into new recruiting and having to start all over again? Is there any anxiety? Would you consider it a failure if you didn't continue to win, but you built character? So those are my questions.
Coach Carvel: Winning is hard. We beat Duluth and that semifinal game. They just missed scoring with like 20 seconds left in the game. I know what my standard expectations are. It's not about winning. Everybody loves that your champion. As long as the kids are performing to that level of what I think they're capable of doing. It's the same thing in school. We want them all do well in school they're not all 4.0 students. But when we bring in a kid who has been a 2.0 student his whole life, but we get them up to a 3.0 student that's a huge victory. He's not a 4.0 student but he's we know he's reaching as potential of what of what he's capable of doing. I had a story this, I want to share with you. Similar to your comment you started with. I had an alum text me about something and we're going back and forth and he's like, “Oh, by the way my girlfriend loves you.” I'm like, had I ever met her? He said no, he goes, but after you guys beat Lake State five to one in the regionals and you were pissed off because the team didn't play well enough she goes I love that guy. So, it's the same thing. I don't care if we win but if we didn't play to our standards then I'm upset and vice versa. I don't care if we lose. If we play hard and lose, I'm fine with that.
Question 2: Thank you for explaining so clearly how to build a winning culture and showing how that can result in such a successful result. Question about the development of all these ideas this philosophy, obviously I think it comes from personal experience. Was there a mentor of yours early on that kind of you know, show you how, what it means, or how to put in place such a winning culture?
Coach Carvel: I think like anybody we it's an amalgamation of people, more so than just one person. I want to be exactly like this person. I mentioned my college coach was great. I felt uniquely seen by my college coach. I loved playing for him. I chose to go to that school because of him, so I have that as my, how I want to build relationships and my players. When I was in NHL, I worked with Mike Babcock he taught me how to be hard, prepared. We talked about Brian Murray who taught me about how to relate to players. So, it's an amalgamation of all that combined with my own personal beliefs. The nice thing I can say to my guys, I graduated Magna cum laude, I was captain of my team, leading scorer, all that stuff. I can say, don't tell me you can't be really good at this and not good at this. We want to be the best of the gold standard at everything we do, and I go back always the clarity of vision. There's no gray area. There's no wiggle room for anybody. Two years ago we had one of the best players in the country he led the country in goals, we’re two thirds of the way through the year when a little bit of a struggle we lost the game or two. And I was so unhappy with this guy I put him in the stands, and nobody could, how do you put your best player in the stands. Because he deserves to be there. What did he do? He came back and the next 10 games he had 14 goals, I think he had two or three hat tricks. I can't speak for your employees, but I know these kids want to be held accountable as much as they may gripe about it. They're dying, to be held accountable. They're dying to have standards and expectations because it makes their life easier. It takes choices away from them. I think it's really freeing for them that you're showing them the path. You don't have a choice you just go this way. And it's not for everybody. It's for the right kind of kids and the kids that are on the borderline they all they all come over become ones, most of them.
Willy Walker: Carvy, I think we got time for one more.
Kris Mikkelsen: The example you just gave. John Madden football coach. Every teams got one player that the bus waits for, but it can only have one. So, clearly, if you're benching your best player putting him in the stands you clearly disagree with him. So, you may answer that question. Probably the more important question I have, when Willy was playing hockey in college, did he have to get squeezed from a two to a one. Give us a little color.
Coach Carvel: Willy and I just missed each other. Yep we're either four or five years apart and I’ll answer that by saying what I believe. I’ve only seen of Willy, he's a one all day long but that's me.
Willy Walker: On that one Carv, I’ll leave it at that. Thanks buddy. My friendship with Carv has been one of the most gratifying friendships I have because I’ve watched him and what he's done. When he took over the St. Lawrence program, he literally took it to the top of ECAC hockey. And, as someone who went to St. Lawrence undergrad and to Harvard for Business School, I’d always try and make a habit of going up to Harvard and watching St. Lawrence kick the you know what out of Harvard. And the year before he left they beat Harvard at Harvard five to one and I took two of our kids down into the locker room after the game and his goalie at that time was the best one of the best goalies in the country. Kyle after the game, he's a drink of water, you couldn't believe this kid who probably weighed 160 pounds. He’s a small guy, not like these big goalies you typically see. Kyle sat there and gave one of my kids his goalie stick. And to just see these kids get this sense of excellence and to have Carv share with us what that was like, was really unique. But since he's gotten to UMass and seeing what he's done is he and I communicate with one another about the way that he runs UMass and the things that I’m trying to implement at Walker & Dunlop. It has been a great friendship and a great partnership for all those years and to see him reach the pinnacle at UMass this past year was truly one of the great events that I’ve ever seen. And so Carvy thanks very much and congrats for everything
Coach Carvel: Thanks Willy.