Back in mid-September, before the Massachusetts hockey team’s season had officially begun, coach Greg Carvel saw something in freshman Jake Gaudet to warrant the second-year bench boss calling Gaudet one of the standout skaters from the preseason.
Alongside a large freshman class including NHL draft picks Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro, earning the attention right out of the gates put Gaudet’s stock at a high level from the beginning.
Centering the second line for the bulk of the first couple of months, Gaudet only recorded an assist in the first month of play for UMass (8-7-0, 3-4-0 Hockey East Association). An injury forced the 6-foot-2 forward out of the lineup for three games in late October through early Novemeber. However, in the five games since returning to the Minutemen lineup, Gaudet’s scored three points and looks to be more comfortable with the physicality of Division I college hockey.
Specifically in UMass’ 4-2 win over Connecticut last Friday, Gaudet showcased glimpses of what Carvel initially recognized from his 198-pound centerman.
“He’s been stepping his game back up,” Carvel said. “I still think he can be as effective as [Mitchell] Chaffee can. But Mitchell’s been outstanding. He’s one of the best players on the ice every game, most effective. So that’s a pretty high standard that we’re asking [of] Jake but I think he can be [on] the same level.”
With points in six consecutive contests, Chaffee has been on fire for the Minutemen not only in point production but in hits distributed as well. Seeing the success of his linemate over this span, Gaudet knows he can be just as effective if not more so for UMass.
“Yeah that’s my goal as a player, is to play like Chaffee’s playing right now, play heavy and physical and make things happen with my body out there and create offense,” Gaudet said. “That’s the ideal play of myself.
“There’s definitely been ups and downs so far this year, but at the end of every game [the goal is] always try to take the positives out and build on that moving forward. I feel like I’ve been able to do that so far this season and now I’m starting to grow as a player,” added Gaudet.
It’s apparent that the Minutemen are a better team when the Ottawa, Ontario resident is dressed. In 12 games played, Gaudet’s been actively involved sending 21 shots on goal (ninth on UMass), and is a plus-five (fourth among Minutemen), to go along with his four points.
Should Gaudet continue to progress for this season’s young UMass bunch, Carvel envisions great success for his second trio up front.
“If you get [Gaudet and Chaffee] on the same line out there just running around, being physically dominant, and you got a nice skill player like [Oliver] Chau to go with them, that should be a really dangerous line for a long time,” Carvel said.
The Minutemen have only one game remaining until the group departs for the semester break and Gaudet reflected on his first half-season of college hockey.
“It’s been a whirlwind. It happens really fast,” said Gaudet. “It seems like a long time when you’re looking at it from a distance but it flies by. But It’s been positive. I think we’ve impressed some people, we’ve made a name for ourselves and I think we all know we have more in the tank for the second half.”
The Dutchmen started out the 2017-18 season losing five straight, including their 5-4 loss to UMass Oct. 13, but have since turned it around winning nine of their next 12 matchups. Union (10-7-1, 6-2-0 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) is ranked again, this time at No. 19, after starting the season No. 16 and the Minutemen expect a different effort from the Dutchmen this time around.
“I thought we were a pretty good team for 60 minutes down there, but it was a long time ago, you can’t put anything into that game,” Carvel said. “[Union] hadn’t won a game at that point, we were a different team too, we were trying to figure our identity out. We’ve grown a lot, they’ve grown a lot, [and] I’m sure they’re a much more confident team now than they were at the beginning of October.”
“Yeah they’ve won a ton of games since the last time we played them, so we’re expecting a lot better team,” Gaudet said. “But at the same time we know how to go in there and win a game in their barn so we expect to be prepared and ready for that.”
Union only has three losses on its home ice at the Messa Rink in Schenectady, New York with UMass, Vermont, and Yale all claiming the victories.
The all-time series sits in favor of the Minutemen who hold a 3-5-0 record over the Dutchmen. The last time Union beat UMass at home came over a decade ago when the Dutchmen won 4-3 on Nov. 24, 2006.
Brett Supinski’s 22 points (6 goals, 16 assists) leads Union and the junior is currently riding a career best eight-game point streak.
“Guys are excited to go home for Christmas but we’re also excited to go into Christmas on a winning note and take away two points,” Gaudet said.
The Minutemen first-years are living up to the hype.
With one game left in 2017 the 13 UMass freshmen have leaped to the top of the charts in just about every offensive category.
With 27 goals, 44 assists, 71 points and four game-winning goals the Minutemen have the top producing freshmen class in the entire NCAA.
Wisconsin holds second place with 53 points and 18 goals.
Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.