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FUTURE WATCH: Lagesson a pillar for rebuilding UMass

Oilers defence prospect William Lagesson is helping UMass-Amherst turn the corner

by Paul Gazzola /

It happens annually in the National Hockey League: the regular season nears a conclusion as the trade deadline approaches and management makes the decision to either improve upon the house they've built or signal the structure's demolition in favour of a new foundation. 

In other words, renovate or rebuild. 

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In college hockey, it's a different process than in the NHL.

College teams build largely through recruiting by enticing potential student-athletes to their institution. Players pledge allegiance by signing a national letter of intent. Being tasked with a rebuild in the NCAA is much different than in the NHL and programs can't simply overhaul a roster with an excavator. 

The UMass-Amherst Minutemen are currently rebuilding and Head Coach Greg Carvel was brought in this season as the architect. The team, comprised of five seniors, eight freshmen and 10 sophomores, is 5-27-2 and won't be given draft picks as building blocks but has a pillar in Oilers defence prospect William Lagesson to begin construction.

"It's my first year as the head coach and I was brought in to rebuild the program and one of the first things I was told was how much I'd enjoy coaching Willy Lagesson because he's just an ultra-competitive kid," said Carvel. 

"I have not been let down."

Selected by the Oilers in the fourth-round (91st-overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Swede boasts a penchant for winning puck skirmishes. His positioning and knowledge deflect a large amount of scoring chances against.

"I try to play physical and hard, battle in every shift and win all my battles all over the ice," said Lagesson, who has two goals and five assists in 34 games. "This year I've been a little bit like a two-way defenceman, I try to create some offence, too."

To coach Carvel, Lagesson resembles a throwback to the rugged rearguards that can topple opposing forwards.

"In hockey, there's not a lot of those guys anymore," said Carvel. "The big heavy guys, there's not a lot of them because you have to be able to skate and play at a certain pace and he's capable of being that type of player."

Lagesson is a sophomore but leads like a senior. What the defenceman is contributing to the dressing room as the Minutemen assembles its framework is crucial. Carvel lauds the heavy-duty defenceman's exemplary qualities.

"We knew we weren't going to win a lot of games (this season) but we also knew we had to change the culture of the locker room and that's where he's really important," Carvel said. "We use him as an example to the rest of the team about just how committed you have to be and although we haven't won many games, we do feel like we're making progress and teaching our guys what the necessary steps are to win games."

Since Lagesson is a bonding agent for the foundation, it made sense for Carvel to stick him with some added trust and responsibility.

"He wasn't voted a captain at the beginning of the year because he's only a sophomore but it didn't take long for me and my staff to put a letter on his sweater," he said.

Lagesson proudly serves as an alternate captain. 

"It's fun to get that 'A' and get the trust from the coaches," he said. "They think that I do good stuff on and off the ice and have been able to be a leader on this team." 

If Lagesson's leadership continues in the dressing room, Carvel could see him becoming captain next season as a junior.

"Usually we want the team to decide and I think it would probably be an easy decision for them next year," said Carvel.

Like most commanders, a challenge is often welcomed as an opportunity for growth. In developing from humble beginnings, lots can be learned, developed and later applied to future endeavours. Lagesson - as a true leader notes - understands the benefits of building from the blueprint.

"I think that would be a good challenge to get through this, keep working hard and try to get better every day and get better as a team, too," he said. 

As Carvel manufactures the rebuilding program, it's clear he's glad to have Lagesson secured as a piece of the outline. 

"He's a really impressive kid," said Carvel. "Natural leader and we're very fortunate to have him."

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