Oliver Chau’s reserved nature is reflected in his play on the ice

Chau’s great season is going almost unnoticed

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Collegian File Photo

By Noah Bortle, Assistant Sports Editor

Oliver Chau is a man of few words.

When asked how Tuesday’s practice went, he replied with a quick and succinct, “It was good.”

The chatter of players and reporters nearby nearly drowned out the junior’s soft voice. Rather than coming across as rude or dispassionate, his response mustered a keen interest in what he was going to say—no matter how little information he was actually going to give in the exchange.

Unless someone was standing in the immediate vicinity and actively trying to listen to the 164-pound winger—whose demeanor almost perfectly matches his build—he would go virtually unheard.

On the ice, his personality is much of the same as when he’s in the locker room. He isn’t the most vocal player—in fact, he isn’t vocal at all. But because of that, when he does choose to speak up, players listen.

As a junior, Chau understands his value as a leader. An upperclassman with three years of experience as a top-six forward, he knows what it takes to play at this level. He’s been where the underclassmen want to be and knows what it takes to get there.

“I think freshman year he was a quieter guy, and this year—I mean he’s still a quiet guy in some respects. But when he does speak, the guys listen to him,” said Jake Gaudet, Chau’s longtime line mate. “He has a lot of respect in the locker room for what he does on the ice—how hard he works and how dedicated he is on and off the ice.”

One of the quietest players in the Minuteman locker room is also quietly having one of the best seasons on UMass’ roster.

In 26 games, Chau has five goals and 14 assists. On a top-10 team with national title aspirations, his 19 points are third-most among the group. Yet, Chau doesn’t receive the same attention as the high-profile Minutemen. His own coach was mildly surprised when he heard that Chau is ranked so highly on the team.

“In terms of the John Leonard’s, the Mitchell Chaffee’s, the guys who are nominated for the Hobey [Baker] and have a ton of points, Chau—in my mind—is right up there with them,” Gaudet said.

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Chau, an Oakville, Ontario native, came to UMass in 2017 after a season with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. At the time, the Minutemen and Bandits were coming off two wildly different 2016-17 campaigns. UMass had won just five games and finished dead last in Hockey East. Brooks, on the other hand, went 51-5-4 and won the championship.

He tallied 87 points in 60 games with the Bandits that season and seemed poised to contribute right away once in Amherst.

As a freshman, Chau took a backseat in the locker room but made up for it by filling a central role on the ice. He finished the year tied for second on the team in points, flashing the edge work and hands that have made him a staple of Greg Carvel’s top line for years to come.

Collegian File Photo

“He’s so fun to play with, so fun to watch,” Gaudet said. “I compare him sometimes to a soccer player with his spatial awareness. He’s so good at creating space for himself in the offensive zone just with his edge work, he’s really good with the puck.”

As a sophomore, his point production took a step back, tallying just 14 points in 34 games during the Minutemen’s Frozen Four run, but he still managed to take something important away from the historic year.

The summer before that season, the team added an under-the-radar graduate transfer to its roster, Jacob Pritchard. He joined the Minutemen after three years at St. Lawrence and left his mark in Amherst—both on and off the ice.

Pritchard notched 47 points for UMass, but more importantly, his leadership left an impression on players like Oliver Chau.

“Jake Pritchard is a person who would treat the game like a professional and that really helped,” Chau said. “He came in every day, he did his routine every day—before practices, before games—it was always the same.”

What he absorbed from veteran Pritchard is now a part of how he approaches the game.

“Leading by example,” Chau said. Trying to play by the system out on the ice and play my game and hopefully they follow.”

While Chau was learning to be a leader, it wasn’t as if his game wasn’t improving as well. Though he didn’t put up the points expected of him in second year, he still flashed his playmaking ability, commanding defenses attentions.

There was no better example of this than in overtime of the national semifinal game. With the puck behind Denver’s net, Chau took a pass from Gaudet, threw on the brakes, reversed direction and backhanded a pass to an open Marc Del Gaizo who one-timed the puck past Filip Larsson to send UMass to the national championship.

Every fan of the Minutemen remembers that iconic goal, but few remember Chau’s play to set up the most well-known moment in the program’s history. Quiet, under the radar, just how it’s always been.

Collegian File Photo

Now, in his junior year, Chau is quietly a leader on the No. 8 team in the country, all the while quietly racking up points.

He doesn’t know why his play often goes unnoticed—and he doesn’t really care, saying, “I guess that’s a question for someone who watches the games. I just try to play my game, do my thing and try to win.”

Gaudet, not only his line mate but his roommate too, has a theory.

“He’s good at creating offense, so he’ll find someone who’s open, which in turn creates somebody wide open in front of the net,” Gaudet said. “That’s just kind of his game. He’s sneaky underrated.”

If anyone were to offer a guess as to why Chau’s play is overlooked, it would be Gaudet. The two have spent plenty of time on the ice together and they also share a house with fellow Minutemen Philip Lagunov and Mitchell Chaffee.

In his three years at UMass, Chau has grown extremely close with his teammates, calling them his “best friends,” with Gaudet being closest of all.

So, of course, when Gaudet described Chau, he said, “He’s quiet. He’s got a quiet sense of humor.”

Exactly as anyone would expect, even when Chau is being funny, he’s quiet.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.