Marc Del Gaizo’s return means a much-needed boost for struggling UMass power play

The Minutemen are 6-of-39 on the man advantage in the absence of No. 2 this season

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Marc Del Gaizo’s return means a much-needed boost for struggling UMass power play

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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Watch out. Marc Del Gaizo is back, again.

After missing the first four games of the season recovering from offseason surgery, Del Gaizo returned to the lineup on Oct. 25 against American International, but not for long. In his first shift as a starter, the Basking Ridge, New Jersey native came bolting off the opening faceoff on an end to end rush and went crashing into the net, sustaining an injury that sidelined him for five additional games.

“I was pretty emotional going into that game,” Del Gaizo said. “My last game was the national championship and I missed the first four, so I was really pumped up to go. Nobody wants to go through surgery and we came off such a big year, and the team was doing so well in the beginning of the year, so you can’t really draw that up, but a little adversity in the beginning of the year doesn’t hurt.”

For the defenseman that scored the overtime-winner against Denver to propel Massachusetts to its first-ever title game last April, he’s certainly seen a lot of adversity in the seven months since.

Even when he was drafted by Nashville in June, he couldn’t attend the Predators development camp. Four weeks removed from his untimely setback, Del Gaizo is back; eager to re-enter the fold.

“I feel good,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m ready to go.”

Upon his anticipated return to the lineup, UMass gets a much-needed boost in several areas of play.

Through the first month of the season without Del Gaizo’s presence, the Minutemen (7-3, 3-3 Hockey East) have featured three freshmen in their back end: Zac Jones, Matt Kessel and Gianfranco Cassaro. Allowing an average of 2.10 goals per game with the aid of Jake McLaughlin, Ty Farmer and Colin Felix, the unit has held its own during the long absence of its sophomore leader.

With his return, Del Gaizo only bolsters a young back end that’s been developing nicely early on, adjusting to the speed and competitive level of college hockey against skilled Hockey East teams.

“Our three freshmen D, they’re all really big contributors to our team and they’re key components to our team,” Del Gaizo said. “So, I’m excited to be a part of it and hopefully lead them.”

Perhaps the biggest boost No. 2 can provide will be his addition to the struggling UMass power play.

Through 10 games, the unit that was the best in Division I last year is off to a bit of a rough start, converting on just 15.4 percent of its chances.

As coach Greg Carvel has begun stacking the first power-play unit with his top scorers, Del Gaizo will most likely replace Felix, joining Mitchell Chaffee, John Leonard, Bobby Trivigno and Jones.

“It’s a bit of a focus point for us right now,” Carvel said after practice.  “Looks like Marc will be back this weekend so that should be a nice jump for us.”

With Del Gaizo entering the fold, the personnel on the first unit will return to what it was last season – minus Cale Makar, whose role quarterbacking the unit for the last two seasons has been filled by Jones in the early stages of his freshman year.

With five power-play points, four of which are assists, Jones has been the most effective power-play skater through 10 games. Chaffee also boasts five points on the man advantage, with a team-leading three power-play goals. Outside of Chaffee and Jones, Leonard and Trivigno account for the other two power-play markers with one apiece.

Del Gaizo’s return to the group will add key stability on the blue line with the extra skater.

“He’s in better shape this year than he was last year,” Carvel said. “He looks really quick and he’s just a really creative, gifted offensive-defenseman. He can create by himself a lot like Leonard and Jones, so to add another element like that is only going to help us out. Power play needs to help us win games and probably would have made this weekend a little easier on us if we’d been able to.”

In the weekend split with Boston University, the Minutemen were 1-for-11 on the power play.

“I think it’s just we have a lot of high-level skill and there’s just not enough urgency,” Del Gaizo said. “I don’t think we’re moving it fast enough but that’s something that we’re working on this week is getting the puck on your tape and getting it right off – just a bit more urgency to score. We have plenty of skill and we have great players so it’s just something that we’re going to have to adjust to.

“Me, Chaff, Leno and Trig are very familiar with each other from last year, but Jonesy is great to work with too. He’s really easy going, smart, sees the ice, so it’s something I’m pretty excited for.”

The Minutemen kick off their home-and-home with Merrimack (2-7-1, 1-3-1 Hockey East) on Friday at the Mullins Center, where they are undefeated (6-0) this season and have not lost in their last 15 games dating back to last season in early January.

“I’m looking forward to getting in front of our own fans this weekend,” Del Gaizo said. “There’s nothing like a Friday night in the Mully, so it’ll be fun.”

Despite his return from injury, don’t expect Del Gaizo to play normal minutes in his first game back.

“We’re not going to start him, I’ll promise you that,” Carvel said. “His first shift has to be 10 seconds or less, that’s the deal whenever he gets out there. So, he won’t be playing 20 minutes. We’ll see how it goes but he’s had two good days of practice here, he doesn’t look out of place and he’s kept his conditioning up. It’s different in hockey, but we’re excited, he’s excited and we’ll see what he can do.”

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. both in Amherst on Friday night and at Lawler Rink on Saturday.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.