Garrett Wait left Edina High School early, moving to Iowa to play parts of three seasons for the Waterloo Blackhawks in the USHL before starting college. So it is not as if being away from home and family was a foreign concept.
Still, moving to the other side of the country, in the midst of a pandemic, was a new and unexpected challenge. But that is where Wait found himself late last summer. He was two years into what he figured would be four years with the Minnesota Gophers. But early in the summer of 2020, he entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in search of a new opportunity.
His first two seasons of college hockey had been fine, if unspectacular. Playing a mostly third- and fourth-line role, Wait had played in 40 games and recorded 10 points. He had also been a healthy scratch on a handful of nights for coach Bob Motzko.
In a notable turn of events, 10 months later, Wait is wearing a different shade of dark red and going to college 1,300 miles east of Edina, as he prepares to play in his first NCAA Frozen Four as a member of the UMass Minutemen. He enters the semifinal game versus Minnesota Duluth with a career-best 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 27 games for UMass, which is making its second consecutive Frozen Four appearance.
While he was not expecting to leave the Gophers, Wait was not in the transfer portal long before his phone rang.
“The (UMass) assistant coach called me and I really liked what he was saying,” Wait said, catching his breath after an intense pickup basketball game with some teammates last weekend. “He talked about the culture here and the coaching staff and how it is a family feel here.”
He also admits that the move away from his family, and their inability to see him play in person until the NCAA regionals, wasn’t easy, but he has found a new family among the Minutemen.
“I fit in right away because the guys are great. There’s a real family feel on this team and you sense it right away,” said Wait, 22. “Coming in, I didn’t really know anybody so it was a little difficult for the first week or so, and since then it’s been fine. The season has been weird because of corona, having no fans.”
In Wait, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel saw the typical Twin Cities kid who grew up dreaming of being a Gopher, but he also saw potential in Wait’s search for a new opportunity, and has gotten production low in the offensive zone.
“Garrett’s very good around the net. He’s a goal scorer. We haven’t got a lot of guys who are natural goal scorers, so he’s become an important part of our team,” said Carvel, prior to the regionals in which the Minutemen beat Lake Superior State and Bemidji State to reach the Frozen Four. “He has the ability to put pucks in the net. It’s a good combination. And I give him a lot of credit. He’s come a long way. He still has a long way to go. We’ll keep pushing him and squeezing him to be the best hockey player he can be. He’s been a very nice surprise.”
Carvel put Wait on a scoring line, and Wait has enjoyed playing alongside freshman Josh Lopina and junior Bobby Trivigno, who leads the Minutemen with 31 points. Wait was even named the Hockey East player of the week on March 1. Settled in with his new team in a new place, Wait is pursuing a major in economics and was trying to stay patient as the team prepared to head to the Frozen Four site early in the week to get the necessary quarantine out of the way.
“Things are mainly isolated here, but we have a great group of guys, so we try to make the best of what they can, playing basketball outside and other things. I’m sure they’re getting sick of me,” Wait joked. “Leading up (to Pittsburgh) we’re focusing on fine-tuning our processes and things. It’s a little slow because you don’t have games over the week, so we’re excited to get going.”