AMHERST — Garrett Wait’s college hockey career will come full circle Friday in Worcester.
That’s because Wait, a senior left wing for the University of Massachusetts, will hit the DCU Center ice against the University of Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament. Minnesota is where the Edina, Minn., native began his college career.
“I’m kind of excited, but I’m focused on what we’re trying to do, play our game,” Wait said. “It’ll be a fun game.”
Wait and the Minutemen are the third seed in the Worcester Regional and will take on No. 2 Minnesota in a 6 p.m. game Friday night. The first game of the regional features Western Michigan and Northeastern.
It is one of four regionals taking place this weekend. The tournament begins Thursday, with doubleheaders at the MVP Arena in Albany and in Loveland, Colo. The other two brackets start play Friday, with overall No. 1 team Michigan leading the regional in Allentown, Pa.
The winners of Friday’s games in Worcester will play Sunday at 6 p.m. for the right to play for a national championship in Boston on April 7 and 9.
Wait was originally recruited to Minnesota after he played three years with the Waterloo (Iowa) Black Hawks of the U.S. Hockey League. In two years, he played 40 games for the Golden Gophers, scoring four goals and adding nine assists.
Last year, Wait was one of eight Minutemen to appear in all 29 games. He scored the overtime winner against Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA semifinals in Pittsburgh. Two days later, UMass won its first national championship.
This year, the 6-foot, 190-pound wing is tied for third on the team with 12 goals and fifth in points with 24. He scored the first goal and assisted on Bobby Trivigno’s game-winner in the Hockey East Conference semifinal win over UMass-Lowell. The River Hawks and Northeastern are the other Hockey East teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
When asked about getting Wait to Amherst, UMass coach Greg Carvel deferred, saying that associate head Jared DeMichiel was involved in getting Wait out of the transfer portal. Carvel said that there was some additional familiarity in Amherst because sports performance coach Brandon Wickett had been a professional intern in strength and conditioning at Minnesota before coming to UMass.
“He spoke highly of Garrett, spoke of his character. I said this before, [Wait] scored a lot of goals in the USHL, and just was an odd-man-out in Minnesota,” Carvel said during a video conference with reporters. “He needed a fresh start. He played with Bobby Trivigno in juniors as well. We had enough people around the program who knew him and could vouch for his character. His stats speak for themselves. We thought it was a good risk for us and it turned out to be a great situation for us. He’s done a really nice job. He does the little things that a lot of people don’t notice, but we do as a team.
“You may have noticed on the game-winning goal in overtime [against UConn] he was at the net front. On Bobby Trivigno’s goal, he was at the net front. He pays a price at the net front, and you need kids like that.”
There will be a number of familiar faces wearing Golden Gopher uniforms. Three Minnesota players, Ben Brinkman, Sammy Walker and Mason Nevers are — like Wait — natives of Edina, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb. Brinkman and Walker were both on the Gopher roster with Wait.
“It’s pretty much a different team from when I was there,” Wait said, when he met with reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “They’ve got half the guys I played with, and now they’re better than when I was there. I know they’ll be a good team.”
UMass spends most of its winter playing against its Hockey East rivals. Two of the four teams coming to Worcester are squads the Minutemen have not faced. In fact, the last time UMass played Minnesota was back in 2016, and the Gophers won 4-1. Minnesota has won all four games since the teams first met in 2004.
“I don’t admit it, but I cheered for the Gophers,” Wait said with a laugh when he was asked who he pulled for growing up. “My extended family, I have a couple who work for the University of Minnesota and have some people at St. Cloud and Minnesota-Duluth. So they’re spread out all over the state.
“If I’m playing them, they’ll cheer for me, I hope.”