17 games since his return, Marc Del Gaizo knows he has more in the tank

No. 2 eager to up his impact, find another gear as playoffs loom

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Peter Parkers

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

It’s been a weird year for Marc Del Gaizo.

After scoring the overtime winner in the national semifinal as a freshman last April, he underwent surgery that sidelined him for the first four games.

In his first shift back on Oct. 25, he went crashing into the net and reaggravated the same injury, missing five more games. Then, after returning to the lineup on Nov. 22, he missed three more games. His final return came on Dec. 6 and he’s been in the lineup ever since. All in all, he’s only played in 19 of the Massachusetts hockey team’s 31 total games.

For the New Jersey native that played such a big role in the Minutemen’s (19-10-2, 12-7-2 Hockey East) historic run last season, garnering 29 points and an All-Rookie conference nod, Del Gaizo’s lack of production this year due to constant injury has hurt, creating a hole that only he is able to fill.

17 games since his final return, and with just three regular-season games left before the arrival of the Hockey East tournament in two weeks, No. 2 knows he still has yet to find his highest gear.

“It’s been fast for me because I’ve been out for pretty much half of the season,” Del Gaizo said.

“I’m kind of feeling like I’m just getting started.”

In his 19 games, the sophomore defenseman has recorded 11 points on nine assists. Compared to six power-play goals last year, Del Gaizo – on par with the rest of the unit – has only scored one.

As a group, the UMass man advantage ranks 55th out of 60 teams in Division I with 14 man-up goals.

“I’m just getting completely healthy right now,” Del Gaizo said. “I’m still kind of rusty, not scoring as much as I’d like to – especially on the power play. I think if I can get scoring on the power play it’ll definitely benefit from that, because that was a big part of our team last year and I contributed a lot on it. I definitely have a little bit more, I think, in the tank. I’m just trying to get better every day.”

On Tuesday, Greg Carvel expressed the need for Del Gaizo to start playing a bigger role now that he’s getting back to full health, saying he believes, “he needs to be more influential in the games.”

“I think he needs to be better,” Carvel added. “I think he’s one of a handful of guys on the team that have the ability to be a difference-maker, so I think he’s still got levels that he can help us out on.”

Currently, the Minutemen sit alone in second place in Hockey East and control their own destiny going forward. With the tournament closing in, things are starting to come together on what has been an up and down campaign that hasn’t been without adversity for Del Gaizo and UMass as a whole.

After a bit of a January slump with a lot of travel, premier opponents and a handful of learning lessons, the Minutemen have won three of their last four games – all against ranked opponents.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Del Gaizo said after practice. “We’re getting the right things together, we’re getting the right lines together, we’re getting the power play going – I’m excited for this team. I think we’re all excited, including Carvy. I think he’s really excited about this group this year. It’s been kind of a rougher season for sure than last year, but right now we’re in a good spot and we got a big weekend coming up – we need these points.”

Up next on the docket for the final series of the regular season: two games against Connecticut.

Like a bat out of hell, the Huskies (14-13-4, 11-8-2 HEA) have won five of their previous six games and climbed all the way up to fourth place in the Hockey East standings with only three games to go.

For UMass, with 26 points, the four points on the line this weekend are huge in ensuring it gets the best seeding possible and the chance to host a quarterfinal series, but they won’t come easy.

And even if it seems like a lead will hold, there’s no way UConn goes down without a fight. After blowing two late leads last weekend, the team is focused on playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.

“Every point matters,” Del Gaizo said, “That’s how these games have all been in the second half. They’ve just been full-on effort every time; like it’s a Game 7 type mentality every game. Everyone’s playing desperate hockey, Lowell was playing desperate hockey and we were playing desperate hockey. You can’t get too comfortable when you have a lead because they’re coming to get you.”

For No. 2 and the Minutemen alike, it’s an exciting time of year. With the postseason just around the corner, it’s a chance to build on the adversity of a chaotic campaign and put it all to the test.

“I’m really looking forward to what this team has down the stretch,” he said. “It’s a different group than last year – we’ve been through a lot more ups and downs and I think that’s good. We’re all really excited and you can feel it in the locker room.”

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