By Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – Anthony Del Gaizo wasn’t the original Del Gaizo on the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ scouting radar.
The Lumberjacks selected Anthony’s younger brother, Marc Del Gaizo, in the eighth round of the USHL’s 2015 Phase One draft. Afterward Jacks officials traveled to watch Marc in action – and were particularly impressed with Anthony.
Anthony Del Gaizo was invited to join the Lumberjacks midway through the 2015-16 season, after collecting 19 goals and 20 assists in only 22 games for the New Jersey Rockets.
Marc didn’t join the Jacks until later in that season – after the Rockets’ season ended – and only played in two games.
“I assumed they were watching Marc play, because we were on the same team,” said Anthony Del Gaizo, who grew up playing every season with his brother at various levels of youth hockey. “I was doing pretty well that season, and from there I just got called up.”
Two years later, both Anthony, 19, and Marc Del Gaizo, 18, are key veterans on the 2017-18 Muskegon Lumberjacks, who will play their home opener on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. against the defending Clark Cup champion Chicago Steel, then will host Team USA on Saturday night.
The Lumberjacks began their season last weekend with a pair of road games. They dropped their first game, 1-0, on Friday in Lincoln, then fell behind 2-0 after two periods on Saturday in Des Moines.
But the Jacks came roaring back with three goals in the third period to claim a 3-2 victory over the Buccaneers. Anthony Del Gaizo started the comeback with a goal, followed by tallies from Monte Graham and Jachym Kondelik.
“We had a good start to the season last weekend, despite taking a while to score our first goal,” said Anthony Del Gaizo, who along with his brother is from Baking Ridge New Jersey. “We played hard during the first game, even though we lost. I was really happy to help the team get back in the game with the first goal on Saturday.”
Last season was the Del Gaizo’s first full year with the Lumberjacks, and they both improved in leaps and bounds.
After having only two goals and two assists in his first half season in Muskegon, Anthony Del Gaizo, a forward, registered 11 goals and 13 assists.
Marc Del Gaizo, a defenseman who occasionally filled in at forward, tallied three goals and 20 assists. He finished second among USHL rookie defensemen in total points, and collected 10 of his points as a valuable member of the Lumberjacks’ power play unit.
While he has excellent offensive skills for a blue-liner, Marc says he plans to focus on defense this season.
“I will focus on the defensive zone first and not become concerned with the scoring sheet,” he said. “You play good offense when you play good defense.”
Both Del Gaizos pushed themselves to condition and improve over the summer, and the results are obvious, according to Lumberjacks Coach John LaFontaine.
“They both made huge strides this summer,” LaFontaine said. “They both came in so lean and quick. They are both more explosive. Anthony is a different player. He gets to all the loose pucks and makes plays. He didn’t have that skating ability last year.
“Marc is the same way. He was about five or 10 pounds overweight last year, but now he is so much more agile. His core is stronger and he’s quicker. You can see all of his work paying off.”
Anthony Del Gaizo will have an extra responsibility this season, after being named team captain by LaFontaine.
“It was confirmed early,” said Anthony about his new leadership role. “I was in the leadership group last year, and coach talked about it then.”
LaFontaine said Anthony was a no-brainer selection for captain.
“To me you don’t need a title or a letter on your jersey to be a leader, but you have to acknowledge somebody as your captain, and this was an easy one,” the coach said. “Over the summer he asked for all the players that were coming to training camp, and made sure they were all on the same page as far as their training. He was communicating already in the summer. His teammates really respect him.
“Nobody is going to work harder than him, and if a teammate is being wronged, they better watch out, because he’s the first one to stand up for a teammate.”
Both Del Gaizos are pumped up about their final season in Muskegon, and believe they can help the Lumberjacks qualify for the USHL playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in their history.
They say the team, which relied too much on big scorers like Andrei Svechnikov and Collin Adams last season, has more overall talent on the roster this fall.
“As a team we have more depth this year, and are pretty equal from the top to the bottom of the lineup,” Anthony said. “We’re a lot deeper as a team. We’re not going to rely on the top line this year.”
After playing hockey on the same teams their entire lives, except for Anthony’s half season in Muskegon, the Del Gaizos assumed they would finally part ways when it came time for college hockey.
As it turns out, they were both recruited by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and will both study and play hockey there next fall.
“We did not commit together,” said Anthony. “It wasn’t a goal for us to go to the same school. It just happened. I never thought we would go to the same school, honestly.”