HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The first time Ottawa’s Jake Gaudet walked onto the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst there was something unique about this young man’s approach to secure a hockey scholarship.
He certainly had the size (6-2, centre) Minutemen head coach Greg Carvel was seeking and his 2015-16 goals-and-assists stats with the Central Canada Hockey League’s Kemptville 73s were good (22-27-49). But what was with the cast on his leg?
In his critical final junior season with Kemptville, Gaudet broke an ankle and wore a cast to visit Carvel and learn about the Minutemen hockey program, which was heading towards a 5-29-2 season. All went well for both sides.
But when the Nepean High School grad finishes his senior year of playing for the Minutemen and studying management, he hopes to walk off campus proudly and without a limp, maybe even do a celebratory jog, as a national champion.
For the second time in three years, the Minutemen are playing in the NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey championship Final Four called the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. But this time, Gaudet and company want their university’s first NCAA championship.
At the 2019 Frozen Four, which was the last NCAA national championship since COVID-19 cancelled the 2020 playoff season, the Minutemen lost to the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 3-0 in the championship game.
On Thursday, April 8, the Minutemen (5-0, playoff record) will face the two-time defending champion Bulldogs (3-1) with the winner advancing to Saturday’s final against the survivor of the Minnesota State and St. Cloud State semifinal.
“Two years ago, we had much more skill, but this year we’re built for the playoffs, we’re deeper, bigger, move faster and we’re defense focused,” said Gaudet, who has stepped up his game in the playoffs.
Playing in his final university hockey championship tournament, the Minutemen captain is filled with controlled confidence about winning a national title.
“That’s the focus, the dream, the goal,” he proudly stated.
Gaudet had his best statistical season for the Minutemen during that 2018-19 run to the Frozen Four final with 15 goals and 22 assists in 40 games. He was less productive this season at 5-7-12, but has excelled in the playoffs.
In the 2021 Hockey East tournament final, Gaudet scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Massachusetts Lowell. He was named the game’s first star and selected to the all-tournament team. In two NCAA regional wins, he scored twice against Lake Superior State and had an assist against Bemidji State.
When Gaudet debuted with the Minutemen for the 2017-18 season, he was one of 13 freshmen on the team along with six sophomores, four juniors and two seniors. That young team went 17-20-2 overall and 9-13-2 in Hockey East.
In 2018-19, when they came within one win of the national men’s title, the Minutemen were 31-10 overall, 18-6 in the conference and 6-2 in the playoffs. There was no post season in 2019-20, after going 21-11-2 and 14-8-2.
Following the health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minutemen carefully played 26 games this season and managed an 18-5-4 overall record and 13-5-4 in the Hockey East standings.
“It was an honour to get to visit here and a scholarship offer,” reflected Gaudet, who only had interest from three American universities. “Coach Carvel had the goal to turn the program around and compete at the national level. He was a man of his word.
“I had a good sense that this was a special group. To see where we are four years later is special. I’m proud of them.”
Gaudet, who has attended off-season NHL development camps for the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, isn’t the only university student-athlete in his family. His two sisters have done well, too.
Isabella was recruited out of the Capital Courts Academy to study and play basketball at Queen’s University. Olivia graduated from Fordham University in 2020 and had athletic careers in track and cross-country.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.