Senior goalie Kevin Boyle has been a mainstay in the River Hawks’ success this season. (Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Some people are just born to play hockey, and UMass Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle might be one of them.
Through 31 games this season, Boyle has 19 wins, a .932 save percentage and a 1.86 goals against average. His numbers are not an anomaly, as Boyle consistently passes the eye test every time he takes the ice. He is rarely out of position, always looks focused and always “making that first save,” according to junior defenseman and co-captain Michael Kapla.
Wrapping up his second season as the River Hawks’ starting goalie, Boyle has continued on a strong 2014-15 campaign and put the team in position for a possible fourth consecutive Hockey East Championship Game appearance. At the same time, Boyle strives to make the most of his newfound opportunities as a UMass Lowell student-athlete.
‘Mom, shoot on me!’
Boyle’s hockey playing days span more than two decades as he has been in front of a net since he was able to walk. Since the age of two, when his older brother, John, would make him an impromptu floor hockey netminder, Kevin has stopped pucks.
“He had friends that would always come over, and they’d always play street hockey in the driveway, or even floor hockey in the basement,” Boyle said. “They would always just stick me in net – I was two years old, really small – and they’d just throw me in net and fire pucks at me. I don’t think my mom was too happy about it, but that’s where I really got started.”
His mother, Diana, was not happy about Kevin’s tenacity but said she came to accept the fact that nothing could deter him from wanting to be in net.
“He just insisted, and he would constantly come to me and say, ‘Mom, shoot on me! Shoot on me!’ at all hours of the night, and that’s what we would do before he went to bed,” Diana said. “It was kind of our routine. Little did I know we would end up here one day.”
A native of Manalapan, N.J., Boyle grew up a fan of the New Jersey Devils and idolized goalies Martin Brodeur of the Devils and Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens and later the Colorado Avalanche. Boyle said he watched Roy, arguably one of the best goalies to ever play in the NHL, “almost every day.”
“He’s the reason I wear number 33,” said Boyle.
Though he watched two legendary professional goaltenders most nights on television, Boyle credits his older brother as an even greater influence in becoming a goalie. Boyle traveled with his parents to many of his brother’s games. When he got the chance to play on the ice, he said he “knew right then” that he wanted to be a goalie.
“I grew up watching him, and he’s a really big role model in my life. I grew up wanting to be exactly like him,” said Boyle. “Ever since then, I threw on the pads…and the rest is history.”
From a goalie’s perspective, Boyle said the game of hockey is very complex.
“You see everything that’s going on,” he said. “You have the whole ice in front of you. … People in the crowd, I try not to think about them too much. I just try to focus on the game.”
Not only is the game different visually as a goalie, Boyle said, but mental aspects of the sport can vary as well. He said 75 percent of the game relies on mental abilities while the other 25 percent rests on physical capabilities.
“You really have to study the game,” said Boyle. “You really have to be confident and know different situations: different types of plays that are going on, where the puck might be able to go, where a shooter might want to shoot at this particular point and where he might want to shoot at another particular point.
“There’s a lot of different things that go into it, and I think it’s cool to study all that and go out there and be able to live the dream every day.”
Going to college
Through his childhood, Boyle worked his way up from a makeshift floor hockey goalie to roller hockey, and eventually learned to ice skate around age eight. Hockey was already a mainstay in the household, as Kevin’s father, also named John, was a commissioner of a local floor hockey league. What started as a spectator sport for the family, according to John, eventually took off once his sons began to play.
Boyle played for the American Eagles of the New Jersey Youth Hockey League until age 12, moving on to playing junior hockey for the New Jersey Kings and then the New Jersey Rockets. He then spent the 2010-11 season with the Westside Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
As early as age 15, Boyle had visited colleges such as Quinnipiac University, but he said UMass Amherst’s campus and coaching staff eventually sold him on attending school and playing there. Boyle said he had the chance to play in major junior hockey leagues in Canada, amateur leagues that develop players for professional hockey, but getting an education was a value that was highly regarded in his family.
“…Just from a lifestyle standpoint – education – you can’t beat it, and you can’t throw that away,” he said.
Chasing his dream of playing professionally, Boyle also said taking the college route was a good developmental option as well. “You look at some of the best goalies in the NHL right now,” he said, “a lot of them went to college.”
“You’re not 18, 19 years old, and I think that experience you get playing older guys is really key. It helps mature you as a person and as an athlete,” Boyle said.
After consulting with his family, Boyle decided college was the best option and choose UMass Amherst.
Boyle played the 2011-12 season under UMass Head Coach Don Cahoon and his coaching staff, who originally recruited him years prior. Boyle saw action in 21 of the Minutemen’s 36 games played that year. By year’s end, though, a change in coaching staff made him rethink staying at Amherst.
Still, Boyle pressed on for another season with the Minutemen, playing in 20 of the team’s 34 games in 2012-13 and posting a team-high .897 save percentage. After that season, however, Boyle said he did not know where his hockey career was going.
The UMass transfer
The following summer, Boyle received a call from UMass Lowell Assistant Coach Cam Ellsworth, which led to a visit.
“It definitely wasn’t an opportunity I could pass up to further my education and my hockey career, coming to a place like this with such an amazing team, such an amazing staff,” he said.
Still looking to complete his degree, Boyle went from a sports management major at Amherst to a marketing major in Lowell, something he says really clicks with him. He says he is impressed with the efforts the UMass Lowell Athletic Marketing Department, and the premise of advertising, in general, is a notion that he finds appealing.
“I see all the things we do here in our marketing department advertising [and] marketing games,” said Boyle. “The concept of being able to do that, to attract people to come to an event, is really cool to me.”
Boyle continued his hockey career with the River Hawks as a transfer student to start the 2013-14 season. Already used to watching exemplary goaltending growing up, he studied behind Winnipeg Jets draft pick Connor Hellebuyck and Hockey East standout Doug Carr, who together, were often noted as two of the best goalies in college hockey at the time.
Hellebuyck and Carr’s play led the River Hawks to back-to-back Hockey East Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014, including a Frozen Four appearance in 2013. Head Coach Norm Bazin said Boyle gained invaluable experience from watching the two former River Hawk goalies play in front of him.
“I think sitting behind those two and getting to know the culture of our program was a tremendous benefit for him,” said Bazin. “I think it’s helped him develop the type of habits he has now, which are strong work habits, and an attention to detail that’s above and beyond any goalie we have.”
Boyle said he looked at the 2013 season as a learning experience to get ready for the years to come if he got the opportunity to play. With Hellebuyck signing to the Jets organization after his sophomore year and Carr graduating from the university, the 2014 season opened for Boyle as an opportune chance.
“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to go in and play and have the coaching staff have the confidence in me to go out there,” Boyle said. “I learned a lot from last year; it helped me come into this year with more confidence and more experience under my belt to help the team this year have success.”
While UMass Lowell has prospered recently on the ice, as well as in its storied hockey program’s history, Boyle said he is not looking to fit in or compare himself to anyone else who has played for the River Hawks in the past, including former NHL goalie Dwayne Roloson, current Nashville Predators goalie Carter Hutton and Hellebuyck.
After an 18-win campaign and a Hockey East Championship appearance in 2015, instead, Boyle said he is “just trying to go in and help our team have success.”
“If I can do that, then I’ll be a happy man,” he said.
The River Hawks got off to a hot start this year, earning a 10-1-4 overall record in its first 15 games and a season-high fourth-place ranking in the Nov. 23 USCHO Poll with Boyle as the centerpiece. His consistency, along with stellar team defense has the River Hawks second to Yale in goals allowed per game, while Boyle himself is among national leaders in goals against average, save percentage, shutouts and minutes played. He also finds himself currently tied with Hellebuyck and Cam McCormick for the most shutouts in a single season in UMass Lowell hockey history with six.
His play has not come without its fair share of accolades. Boyle has earned nods for River Hawk of the Week, Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week three times, and most notably, a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s most prestigious honor.
Boyle’s season résumé also includes claiming the inaugural Belpot Trophy as a champion of the Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Besides winning the tournament, Boyle said he was happy to not only travel to Ireland but also to spend Thanksgiving with his parents, something his hockey career has prevented for a number of years until his parents made the trip to Belfast to watch him play. Since playing BCHL and then collegiate hockey, Boyle said he always had games near Thanksgiving, stopping him from going home to see his family each year.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to visit Ireland coming from a very Irish family. My parents have been there a lot—they have friends out there—and they’ve always told me stories about it,” he said. “Hearing that we were going to Ireland this year is a pretty special thing for me, and being out there with the guys—my parents made the trip out there, too—it was pretty awesome to see a whole other side.
“That was the first time I got to spend Thanksgiving with [my parents] in eight years,” said Boyle.
As a student, Boyle said he is satisfied with his academic and personal lives at UMass Lowell and has come to enjoy being a River Hawk in every phase. With about 17,000 students enrolled at UMass Lowell as compared to 28,000 at Amherst, Boyle said he appreciates the community feel and ability to connect with and get to know anyone on campus, calling the university a close-knit group “from the chancellor all the way down to the students.”
After two-and-a-half years at UMass Lowell, Boyle said the connections he has made, along with reviving his hockey career, have been one of the best parts of his experience at the university.
“I think the best part for me has been the relationships and the people that I’ve met while I’ve been here,” said Boyle. Whether it’s been my teammates, my coaches, teachers, students, I think those relationships that I can keep with me for the rest of my life is probably the biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed here. … Like I said, I have a lot to be thankful for coming here. It’s definitely been a blessing, and I think that’s been the best thing for me.”
Boyle is set to graduate in May 2016, and his parents are pleased with his accomplishments and are just as grateful for his opportunities at UMass Lowell on and off the ice.
“We are so proud of everything that he’s been through,” Diana said. “It’s been quite the roller coaster, and I think he’s been taught a lot of very important life lessons, and we’re very proud of him for coming through with flying colors at this point.”
Boyle’s father echoed his wife’s words of support for their son.
“The last three to four years of college have been quite an experience, and again, I’d like to thank Coach Bazin and the coaching staff here for believing in Kevin and giving him a second chance,” he said.