A life-long passion for hockey drives UMass club hockey’s Mike DeFazio

By Ariel Kallenbach

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(Courtesy of Jessica Chaiken)

(Jessica Chaiken/Daily Collegian)

It’s Oct. 24 and the Massachusetts club hockey team has just coughed up a three-goal lead against Marist College.

Two defensemen left the game due to injury by the early stages of the third period, as a comfortable 4-1 lead became a 4-4 draw with the Minutemen on their heels. UMass needed a spark and assurance on its blue line.

Enter Mike DeFazio.

DeFazio – who normally plays forward and prepared throughout the week as a forward – made the sudden switch to defense and had an immediate impact.

“You like to get your mind set before the game on what you need to do and what the coaches expect from you,” DeFazio said. “In the middle of the game when I’m asked to play defense after preparing as a forward all week at practice, it has to be a quick adjustment or it could cost the team.”

“I have done this before though, so even though it’s not ideal it wasn’t something new.”

DeFazio quickly breaks up a Red Foxes’ rush and fires a beautiful outlet pass to his teammate Scott Campbell, who receives the pass in the neutral zone, skates the puck into Marist’s offensive zone and takes a shot from the top of the circle for the go-ahead goal.

The Minutemen win the game 6-4.

It’s the type of situation DeFazio envisioned himself playing in when he was younger – albeit in a slightly different setting.

In sixth grade, DeFazio believed that one day he was going to be lacing up his skates and putting on a jersey in an NHL locker room, playing in front of tens of thousands of fans at a sold-out arena.

DeFazio and his best friend, Greg “Boobie” Berube would often hone their skills in the basement of DeFazio’s Lunenburg home.

And while the trip down the flight of stairs wasn’t quite the same as heading down the tunnel at the TD Garden to take the ice for his favorite team, the Boston Bruins, the basement fit the role just fine.

The best friends often played knee hockey for hours. On one occasion, Berube looked over at DeFazio to say he wanted to become a stockbroker when he got older, catching DeFazio off guard.

“A stockbroker?” DeFazio said. “Why do you want to be a stockbroker?”

Incredulously, DeFazio continued.

“I want to play in the NHL,” he told Berube.

“Dude, you know you’re not going to play in the NHL,” Berube responded as the two took turns passing a puck back-and-forth in the basement.

From Lunenburg to Amherst

DeFazio took a year off between graduating from Lunenburg High School and enrolling at the University of Massachusetts. He took commuter classes at Fitchburg State and devoted a majority of his time to hockey, playing for the Junior Bruins in Marlborough.

DeFazio said his junior hockey experience helped ease his transition into college and improved his game.

It was his Junior Bruins coaches that helped him connect with the UMass club hockey team and when he attended a practice, he fell in love.

“People always say high school and (junior hockey) are like the best experiences, but I think club hockey has been by far the best,” DeFazio said.

DeFazio is both the team’s captain and club president. A student in the Isenberg School of Business, he manages the team’s finances and schedules the ice time. DeFazio is a dependable leader and has earned himself the title and nickname of “Dad” among his fellow teammates.

“There are really no negatives about (DeFazio), he is a very straight-forward person on and off the ice, and makes everyone feel welcome and helps them out in any way,” teammate Nicholas Carter said. “Hence why everyone calls him ‘Dad.’”

“The guys know that he has their back. It’s helpful to have a guy like that as the captain because I can go to him to get a sense of how the guys are feeling,” associate head coach Joe Smith said. “He’s also that little bit older than most guys on the team, so they respect him and know that he will hold them accountable if they slip up or are late. He’s a great fit as captain because of that, kind of an extension of the coaching staff.”

On the pond

Before high school, the Junior Bruins and his arrival at UMass, DeFazio was a kid from Central Massachusetts who loved to play ice hockey outside during the harsh, cold New England winters.

After every snowstorm, DeFazio’s father would go out, clear the snow off the lake, and build a rink for DeFazio and his friends to play on.

DeFazio remembers once during an important New England Patriots football game, his father ran a television cable down to the ice and set up lights so everyone could watch the game at night while they continued to play hockey on the pond.

“It’s like nothing else, it’s where everyone starts playing,” DeFazio said. “There’s just something different about throwing on a random NHL jersey and skating around. My favorite was when the lake was all glass and there was no snow, you could just skate for hours around the whole lake, you could just get lost out there.”

According to DeFazio, the driving force behind his hockey career was his parents.

“Whenever you play hockey, you always have to thank your parents.” DeFazio said.

His parents sustained his hockey career both emotionally and financially, waking up early to drive him to games and practices as a child and  attending almost every game he’s played for the Minutemen.

They also had some help.

While most young kids learn how to skate by taking lessons at the local rink, DeFazio had a different coach – his aunt, who coached figure skating.

“I would leave preschool early every day and go to hockey lessons,” DeFazio said. “She taught me how to skate. Then after my skating lessons I would practice my hockey skills.”

DeFazio said the best thing his parents did was not forcing him to play hockey. By allowing him to play as he pleased and not pressuring him to create unreachable goals that he didn’t set for himself, his parents allowed his love for the game to grow rather than diminish after all these years.

“I always wanted to have hockey be fun, I didn’t want it to be a job.” DeFazio said.

Endeavors off the ice

When his skates aren’t laced up, DeFazio never strays far from the game.

“Honestly, hockey’s been my life, my job revolves around hockey. In my spare time I watch the Bruins, I base my sleep schedule around hockey and I have since I was four years old,” DeFazio said. “It’s impacted my entire life.”

When he’s at home, DeFazio plays in a men’s league, plays street hockey and has coached the U-20 Team USA Ball Hockey team for the past three years. This past June, he traveled with the team to Bratislava, Slovakia where his team beat the Canadian national team in the bronze medal game.

In addition to all of his responsibilities both at home and at UMass, DeFazio has also had a job for the past two years with a hockey and sports equipment company called Mylec Sports, Inc. He will be working there after he graduates this spring doing sales, marketing and product development.

However, long-term, DeFazio’s dream is to coach.

“I’ve always wanted to coach,” DeFazio said. “When I found out in the sixth grade I wasn’t going to the NHL I was like, ‘Well maybe I can coach.’ My goal is to coach somewhere down the road so maybe it starts with coaching club hockey here and leads somewhere else.”

While his future is bright, DeFazio said he considers club hockey to be one of the greatest experiences he has had. The friendships, camaraderie and dedication have made his time at UMass truly special.

“I don’t know what I would have done with all my extra time at college if I wasn’t playing hockey and I had a normal sleep schedule and didn’t have games,” DeFazio said. “What would I be doing? I have no idea.”
“I always want to keep playing,” he said. “Until my body doesn’t let me I’ll keep playing.”

Ariel Kallenbach can be reached at [email protected].