HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-At-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
WEEKEND WRAP: Jake Gaudet first stepped onto the University of Massachusetts campus as a hockey prospect wearing a leg cast. He’ll graduate later this year as a national champion with a leg up on his rivals.
The captain of the once-lowly Minutemen was one of 10 players to score a point during their 5-0 victory over St. Cloud State University in the NCAA men’s division 1 hockey final, earning the school its first national title in that sport.
Before the top-line Ottawa centre joined the Minutemen, the hockey team didn’t have a winning season in 10 years. But new head coach Greg Carvel, a former Ottawa Senators assistant coach, ushered in a culture of winning at the national level.
On Saturday, Carvel accomplished his mission with a one-sided, shutout win at the Frozen Four tournament in Pittsburgh.
Gaudet was there for every step of the journey and capped his senior career with a fourth-goal assist.
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“It’s surreal,” Gaudet said in a telephone interview. “It’s a huge accomplishment that we’re all proud of. And to do it in my senior year, it’s awesome. It means a lot to me.”
Behind the stellar goaltending of Matt Murray, the Minutemen opened the Frozen Four with a 3-2 overtime win in the Thursday semi-final over two-time defending champion Minnesota Duluth, which won its second straight title in 2019 over the Minutemen.
UMass did it the hard way with few practices before the Frozen Four because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three players, including star goalie Filip Lindberg and top scorer Carson Gicewicz, missed the semis, but were cleared for the final.
“We were brutal in the first two periods,” Gaudet said about the Minnesota Duluth game. “We did not practice a lot because of COVID and it took a couple of periods for us to get our legs.
Sophomore forward Eric Faith of Carp also played in the semifinal and recorded one shot on net. The former Brockville Braves skater didn’t play in the final, but was on the ice for the celebration.
The semi-final win bolstered the Minutemen’s confidence against St. Cloud, which also was aiming for its first national hockey title.
“We took our opportunity to win a national championship,” Gaudet added. “We’ve played on that stage and know what it’s like to lose.”
The Minutemen, who won seven consecutive playoff games in a pandemic-shortened 20-5-4 season, achieved their national title by rolling four lines, playing strong defence and being disciplined on the ice.
When the final ended, Gaudet raced for the hockey scrum. He accepted the NCAA trophy and screamed as he brought it to his teammates. Gaudet even cut out a section from a goal net and wore it on his head under his champion’s hat.
“It’s the best. It’s the last time I’ll wear my UMass jersey,” noted the Nepean High School grad. “We left on our terms with the national trophy. When I came here, the dream of coming home with a national title was too far fetched.”
Once the on-ice celebration calmed, the players, coaches and team staff formed a large circle around centre ice. Carvel and Gaudet addressed the smiling faces and told them to be proud; you’ll never forget this moment.
“We call that ‘linking up’ in our culture. We did it after our last home game of this year and after every playoff win,” said Gaudet, who will wait a few days to see if pro hockey will be in his future or whether he’ll enter the business world.
Inside PPG Paints Arena, the well-spaced 3,963 fans included a small Gaudet fan club. Sisters Olivia and Isabella flew into Pittsburgh for the game, and his girlfriend and all-conference lacrosse player Stephanie Croke drove from Amherst, MA. Isabella held a large No. 1 cardboard number, while Olivia was responsible for No. 8. Gaudet wore jersey No. 18.
Gaudet was proud of his teammates, but especially proud of head coach Carvel, who took a chance on him when he only played half a Central Canada Hockey League season with Kemptville 73s in 2016-17 because of a broken ankle.
“A lot of us came in recruited by coach Carvel,” Gaudet told USCHO’s Jim Connelly. “He had a dream to bring it to a national level and building a culture of really good kids that work really hard and have high character.
“The rest has taken care of itself.”
Locals part of Canada’s world relays team
Meanwhile, the National Capital Region will be well represented at the World Athletics Relays Silesia21 in Chorzow, Poland, May 1-2 with three female sprinters, a former athlete who is coaching three runners, and one alternate.
Farah Jacques, who trains with the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club, and Audrey Leduc of Athlétisme Gatineau have been named to the women’s 4×100-metre relay team, while Ottawa-raised runner Alicia Brown is on the women’s 4×400-metre squad.
Ottawa’s Charles Allen, who ran the men’s 110-metre hurdles at the 2004 Olympics, is on the team coaching roster and coaches 4×100-metre relay sprinters Crystal Emmanuel of Toronto and Shaina Harrison of Vaughan as well as Bolade Ajomale of Richmond Hill.
Ottawa’s Shyvonne Roxborough of the Royal City Athletics Club was selected for the women’s 4×100-metre relay team, but as a non-travelling alternate/reserve. Olympic relay gold medal Glenroy Gilbert is the Canadian team head coach.
Gee-Gee alum’s Danish basketball season concludes
The Dameligaen women’s basketball league in Denmark ended on a down note for Ottawa’s Angela Ribarich as BK Amager lost 98-85 to Aabyhoj in the bronze-medal playoff game. Ribarich had eight points and 10 rebounds.
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.