Marc Del Gaizo may be goalless, but he is still UMass’ most important player

With no goals and eight assists, Del Gaizo is the key to UMass’ success

By Noah Bortle, Sports Editor

When the final horn sounded on Nov. 28 the Massachusetts hockey team found itself below .500 for the first time since 2018.

The Minutemen (9-3-1, 9-3-1 Hockey East) had just been swept by Boston College. While the Eagles stood No. 2 in the national polls, the matchup was between the two teams picked to finish atop the Hockey East and UMass had hoped to have fared better.

One reason the Minutemen may have struggled? The absence of their star defenseman, Marc Del Gaizo.

Del Gaizo missed the weekend series after sustaining an injury in the team’s second game of the season.

After missing over a third of his team’s games a season ago, it could have been easy for Del Gaizo to grow frustrated. Instead, the d-man regrouped and has quietly been one of the most—if not the most—valuable player in maroon and white.

“Injuries happen,” Del Gaizo said. “Last year was a testament to my character, battling through all those injuries. I had a really good summer and I knew I was prepared for this year, so to be honest I didn’t really think of [the injury] as anything. I only missed a week there, so it was an easy one to go through there compared to my last ones.”

When Del Gaizo returned to the lineup at the beginning of December, UMass sat at 1-2-1. His return was felt immediately.

“I think he’s as important as anybody,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “If you take any other one player out of our lineup, I don’t know if it has as much effect as taking Marc out. I really wish we would’ve had him against Boston College.”

The stats back up his bench boss’ claims. In the 11 games Del Gaizo has played, his team sports a 9-1-1 record. In a year where points percentage matters more than total points, that record would have them leapfrog UMass Lowell for first place in the conference.

On top of simple wins and losses, the Minutemen are at their most dangerous when Del Gaizo is on the ice. While plus/minus is an antiquated stat with its clear flaws, it does give a rough glimpse at who has been valuable on both ends of the ice. Del Gaizo leads the team in the stat at +12.

And if plus/minus isn’t enough to convince you, look at the fact that he serves a vital role on both UMass special teams units. In the 2020-21 season, special teams success has been the lifeblood of the Minutemen winning games. Of the 51 Division I hockey programs to have played games, UMass is one of just two teams to have both a power play and penalty kill ranked in the top 10—and the only team with both in the top six.

The dominant nature of the 5-on-4 may have come as a surprise to fans accustomed to seeing the unit that ranked sixth worst in the nation a season ago. Del Gaizo credits his and his teammates improvements this season to a renewed focus in the offseason.

And while Del Gaizo has powered the Minutemen on both ends of the ice, he’s yet to find the back of the net.

“When you work on defense and you’re not worried about points or worried about goals or worried about scoring a bunch against a team, you usually start producing when you’re playing good defense first,” Del Gaizo said.

His coach agreed, saying, “I think he’s—without scoring a goal—maybe our most important player.

“Marc, I’m not worried about. If the kids play well enough, the goals eventually come and I think he’s playing superbly.”

And while Del Gaizo and his coach wouldn’t mind seeing the junior find his goal-scoring touch, they might not need it as the Minutemen have been scoring in bunches as of late—often with the help of other defensemen.

UMass’ offense enters this weekend as the eighth-best scoring offense in the country. The likes of Josh Lopina and Carson Gicewicz have certainly helped, but it’s been blueliners Matthew Kessel and Zac Jones shouldering a heavy portion of the load as well, scoring eight and five goals respectively.

So, as long as the rest of the Minutemen are scoring at the pace they are, Carvel and company will happily take the production they’ve gotten out of Del Gaizo thus far.

“I think Marc’s been outstanding,” Carvel said. “Highly competitive, makes a lot of plays, just hasn’t scored goals. I hadn’t even really noticed it.”

After all, how could he complain. His alternate captain may not have scored yet, but when his team is winning like this, its hard to say much is going wrong. Oh, and Del Gaizo still sits seventh on the team in points—he has eight assists.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @noah_bortle.