Goalie Henry Graham seizing chance to impact UMass hockey on ice the way he has off it

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-19-2023 3:41 PM

AMHERST – A pair of Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers replica pads seduced Henry Graham.

Graham’s parents had finally allowed the UMass junior goalie and his brothers to play hockey. His mother Victoria eventually convinced his father Mark, and they visited the Skater’s Edge Pro Shop at Chelsea Piers in downtown Manhattan.

The pads caught Graham’s eye as a baseball catcher.

“I’ve always been fascinated by gear,” he said. “I saw those and was like ‘alright, that’s for me.’”

It took another year and a half of convincing before his parents allowed him to play goalie and face pucks flying at 100 miles per hour.

“My mom definitely regrets it every day,” Graham said.

Waiting for what he wants has never been a problem for Graham. He spent two and a half seasons on the Minutemen’s roster before he entered a game. His first start took even longer.

Graham finally heard his name as part of the starting lineup Dec. 29 against Lake Superior State. He stopped 31 shots in his first career win. His teammates stared blankly ahead, silent when he entered the locker room postgame in full pads. Graham waddled over next to to fellow netminder Luke Pavicich ready to sit down and hear coach Greg Carvel’s wrap up message before his teammates erupted, cheering and spraying him with water.

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“It meant a lot knowing the guys had my back and I had theirs. I knew there was something going on when everyone was quiet,” Graham said. “Coach started talking and I thought I was off the hook. It means a ton to know I have the guys behind me. It meant the world to me.”

Graham meant just as much to the Minutemen despite never appearing in a game. He was an important piece of the goalie room the year UMass won the national championship.

“He does just as much as anybody else, even when he wasn’t playing, to push the culture forward. He’s one of those personalities that’s really great to have in the locker room,” UMass senior Reed Lebster said. “Even when he wasn’t in the lineup, he was doing everything he can to push the program forward. He’s huge for us.”

Being a part of the program brought Graham to UMass in the first place. The Minutemen needed a goalie in August 2020 after losing their No. 3 option from the COVID-19-canceled 2019-20 season. They had the dynamite tandem of Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg that brought them to the national championship game in 2019 but needed a third.

Then assistants Ben Barr (now the Maine head coach) and Jared DeMichiel (now at Michigan State) couldn’t hit the road recruiting because of virus-related restrictions. They combed trusted networks for options, which led them to UMass alum Mike Marcou, coaching with the PAL Junior Islanders in the National Collegiate Development Conference. He had a goalie, Graham, that everyone loved. Graham was an NCDC All-Star.

“Henry opened up some opportunity for himself by performing,” Marcou said. “He’s willing to learn and he wants to be challenged every day. Very committed and patient with the development.”

Marcou fielded a barrage of questions from Graham about UMass. He wanted to know about campus life, facilities, the business program. Once he realized what kind of place it was, he went for it.

“He really, really wanted to come to UMass at the end of the day. When we said we’ve got a spot for you, he was like ‘I’m in.’ No hesitation. He was all over it. There was no hemming and hawing. He was all in, which was awesome,” DeMichiel said. “He’s one of those guys that was the first player on the ice and one of the last off. He never complained. He kept his mouth shut when he needed to and put his work in.”

The staff talked to him about the playing time situation honestly. They had Murray, a four-year starter, and Lindberg, who completed a sterling NCAA Tournament run en route to the final. Graham viewed it as an opportunity.

“My whole life I’ve never gone somewhere knowing I’m going to have an opportunity. I’ve always had to go in there and earn it,” Graham said. “I saw it as an opportunity to learn from two of the best goalies in college. I tried to take as much advantage of that as I could, bide my time, work hard and hope for the best.”

He bonded with the other goalies as he pushed them. Murray took him under his wing. It was one of his first chances to be a mentor and teach a younger player what he knew.

“The way that he handled that situation when he came in was really impressive. He understood where he was in the depth chart and didn’t let that deter him at all. He came in with a really good attitude,” said Murray, now with the AHL’s Texas Stars. “What he’s doing right now shows how that culture is. The way that UMass hockey culture works, it’s only effective if there’s buy in from every single player, every single game. If one guy’s not there, it all falls apart. That’s paying off for him now.”

Murray returned for a fifth year last season, and UMass brought in Pavicich, who became the first goalie off the bench for the Minutemen. Graham kept his head down and worked. He impacted the team however he could in practice and off the ice. The team launched a Movember campaign to grow mustaches and raise awareness for men’s mental health at his urging.

“There's certain values that we talked about with our team, and he lives all them extremely well. He's very personable, he’s thoughtful. He's a just a really good individual. He paid his dues for two years, and people respect that when you show up every day and consistently have a great attitude and great compete,” Carvel said. “Even though he was a third string goalie for two years, he didn't get playing time, he felt important. I think he felt like he had a role within the team. That's enough purpose to keep you coming back. We provided him with enough hope that one day, you'll get an opportunity and he's getting it now. It’s his net for now.”

Graham never considered leaving. Even with the transfer portal wide open and an extra year of eligibility in his pocket from playing the COVID-altered season, he stuck with the program.

“I truly don’t think there’s another place like this. The guys in the locker room, how hard you work off the ice, academics, everything…. it’s a hard opportunity to say bye to and leave,” Graham said. “Ultimately, I’m happy I’m still here. In my mind, it wasn’t really ever an option. I’m here.”

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