If you watched a single UMass Minutemen hockey game this season, you probably know that it was essentially the Cale Makar show. But while Makar was undoubtedly the best collegiate hockey player this season, his ability to make jaw-dropping plays every night was backed by a reliable and similar-playing defense partner.
Makar played with freshman defenseman Marc Del Gaizo all season, and it was the chemistry that the two displayed early on in the season that made them a formidable pair. Del Gaizo is more than just Makar’s partner, however. He proved in his first NCAA season that he didn’t have to rely on Makar to have offensive success.
“The fact is, Del Gaizo has been pretty great as a freshman and it’s because of his chemistry with Makar – not solely because of Makar – that the pairing works. Both players can rush the puck and both know when to hang back as supporters.” [The Hockey News]
“We’re very similar players,” Makar said. “We go hand in hand in the way that we’re moving. When he’s up in the rush, I’m back, or vice versa. I think we read each other really well. We’re able to communicate well on the defensive and offensive zone.” [The Hockey News]
Del Gaizo is a late-1999 birthday who was passed over in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, despite leading the USHL in scoring by a defenseman (12 goals and 38 points in 59 games). Although his size was a likely factor in going undrafted, Del Gaizo has put on some weight and added an inch of height since 2018, and looked extremely comfortable in his first NCAA season.
He was named to the Hockey East All-Rookie team, set a UMass record in points by a freshman defenseman, and scored the overtime winner to give the Minutemen a chance to play for a national championship.
Del Gaizo is incredibly difficult to push off the puck once he gets moving. His stride is powerful and explosive, and he can use his agility and edgework to change directions and take the puck out of harm’s way. He’s also unafraid to join the rush and contribute offensively, as he’s always able to get back if the play turns the other way.
Del Gaizo had 13 goals and 29 points in his rookie season with the Minutemen, good enough for 2nd in scoring among NCAA freshman defensemen. Even more impressive, the majority of those points were scored at even-strength, as Del Gaizo rarely played on the powerplay this season. With Makar and Mario Ferraro off to the NHL next season, expect Del Gaizo’s time on the man-advantage to increase significantly.
Having made the jump from the USHL to the NCAA this past season, scouts wanted to see how Del Gaizo would adapt his defensive game against older, stronger, and more talented opponents. For an NCAA rookie, Del Gaizo committed very few turnovers this season and is always in the right place in his own end. Del Gaizo uses his hockey sense and mobility to successfully defend incoming rushes, and it was those two attributes that allowed him to have so much success playing with Makar this season.
His height shouldn’t really be an issue anymore, and he uses his body to protect the puck well, but Del Gaizo will have to get stronger if he wants to be a successful defenseman in the NHL.
Although it improved as the season went on, Del Gaizo can take unnecessary penalties by using his stick ineffectively and not being able to get proper positioning on opponents along the boards. The stronger he gets in his coming NCAA seasons, the less likely that will happen.
Del Gaizo bears a lot of similarities to Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, both in stylistic play and path through hockey. Both undersized players led the USHL in scoring as draft-eligible defensemen, and went undrafted (that is, if Del Gaizo slips through all seven rounds again this year).
Marc Del Gaizo showing why he leads all USHL defensemen in goals pic.twitter.com/B3Q6imVtzy— USHL (@USHL) April 7, 2018
“Del Gaizo doesn’t have a lot of size but is incredibly strong and powerful on his skates. He protects the puck well with his body and can turn away and accelerate away from pressure nicely. Del Gaizo is a heads-up player that makes good, quick reads out of his own end and committed very few turnovers for a freshman defenseman in a tough league.” [NHL Draft Black Book]
“Del Gaizo’s best attributes come into play on the breakout, as he uses his skating to evade forecheckers and quickly move the puck up ice, and his vision and passing to make great stretch passes. Beyond his obvious offensive skills, however, is a mature defensive game: he has enough strength to battle larger forwards and is smart about when to jump up in the play, limiting risk defensively.” [Vancouver Courier]