With back injury behind him, Jake Gaudet is ready for playoff push

Gaudet had two assists last weekend

Nina+Walat

Nina Walat

By Noah Bortle, Collegian Staff

In the 2019 NCAA Tournament, Massachusetts center Jake Gaudet was one of the most productive players on the team. On UMass’ run to the National Championship game, Gaudet scored once and added three assists, tied for the most points on the team.

In the 2019-20 season, Gaudet has an identical stat line to his magical tournament run, though this time his four points have come across 16 games.

Its been a tough year for the junior forward. Having notched 22 points a season ago, Gaudet was once perennially penciled into the first-line center spot. Now, he has missed just over half of his team’s games battling a back injury.

“It’s been difficult coming back from an injury,” Gaudet said. “It’s not like a typical injury, it’s a back injury so it’s harder to come back from. Coach has been pushing me to be better and to play to my standard and to be as effective as I was last year.”

What makes the injury more frustrating to Gaudet was how high expectations for him were from his coaches and himself. After working all summer to refine his game, he had no points to show through the three weeks of the season. Then, in UMass’ defeat of American International at the end of October, Gaudet’s back injury flared up, forcing him to sit out the next five weekends.

Over that month-plus stretch, his faulty back kept him from participating in on-ice drills. Gaudet, a player who traditionally relies on physicality, used his time away to improve his game in other ways.

“I took the time off to work on my mental skills,” Gaudet said. “If you’re not able to do things physically, you have to find somewhere to get better. We talk a lot about the mental aspect and how important the psychology and confidence is in elite performance.

“We talk a lot with the sports psychologists about imagery and how powerful that is—like healing imagery and stuff like that. In addition to that, we do some breathing exercises and making sure that when you’re in high-pressure or stressed situations you’re able to execute and not get overwhelmed.”

Even after the Minuteman center returned to the ice, he wasn’t the same player that many around the program had expected him to be when he arrived in the fall. He went without a point in his first four games after his return, seemingly unable to latch onto a role in the offense. Even with the strides he had made in the mental sides of his game, it was evident that the time away from the ice had hurt the blue-collar center’s play.

While this season has been a frustrating one for the Ottawa, Ontario native, he appears to be rounding back into form at a key time for the Minutemen. Not only is the postseason on the horizon, but UMass has found itself lacking depth at forward as a result of a slew of injuries.

Philip Lagunov was the first forward to go down, suffering an injury in early February. UMass coach Greg Carvel ruled Lagunov out for the remainder of the season prior to the UMass Lowell series. The UML series saw the Minutemen play without their second-leading scorer Mitchell Chaffee, who is still considered day-to-day. And then to further deplete the UMass forwards, Cal Kiefiuk suffered a broken jaw against Lowell, bringing his season to an end.

With all the holes in the lineup, Gaudet stepped up this past weekend, tallying two assists and winning 12 of 16 faceoffs in the Minutemen’s 5-3 victory over the River Hawks on Saturday.

“That was his best weekend of the year,” Carvel said,” and those were two critical assists. We need him, we’ve missed that. We’ve missed the big guy… That’s been a huge hole for us that we were expecting all year long and so that was a big plus on the weekend.”

With all four of his points coming since returning from injury and having one of his most impactful games of the year Saturday, the Minutemen will need Gaudet to finish his junior campaign strong.

“You lose Chaffee and you lose Kiefiuk, we’re running out of bodies and we could get by [earlier] this year without him but we can’t anymore,” Carvel said. “He needs to be important for us the rest of the way.”

Gaudet knows he needs to important and certainly knows how.

“I need to just be physical. Be hard to play against, make sure I’m doing the details defensively that make me a successful player,” Gaudet said. “Be heavy, be physical and win battles around the net.”

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