by Jason Karnosky
Since the moment Marc Del Gaizo and David Farrance first put on a pair of skates, their hockey careers have been intertwined. Growing up in the Northeast, the two defensemen were usually opponents, whether it be on traveling teams growing up, as juniors in the United States Hockey League, or playing college hockey in Hockey East.
This season the two 22-year-old Americans are professional rookies and getting the chance to play together. Del Gaizo and Farrance are finally teammates this season, both talented young prospects on the playoff-bound Milwaukee Admirals.
“Marc and I have been playing against each other our whole lives and now we are finally on the same team professionally,” Farrance said. “It’s fun making money with him, playing hockey together, and being rookies together in Milwaukee.”
Del Gaizo, a University of Massachusetts-Amhurst (UMass) product, ranks third on Milwaukee scoring by a defenseman with 19 points in 66 games. He also has more goals than Farrance with six. Meanwhile Farrance, who starred in four years of college hockey at Boston University (BU), has 14 points in 50 games. He’s posted the same number of assists (13) as his Admirals rookie teammate.
“We always played against each other growing up, either in juniors or in college, so it’s nice to be on the same team with David here in Milwaukee,” said Del Gaizo, who won the 2021 college national championship as an assistant captain of the Minutemen. “He went to BU and I went to UMass, so we weren’t the best of friends then. But we’ve always got along pretty well, and now that we both are here it’s great.”
Del Gaizo and Farrance consider themselves lucky to be playing in a Nashville Predators organization known for developing elite defensemen. The Predators were so well stocked on defense last summer that they were the only National Hockey League (NHL) team to have five defensemen on their protected list for Seattle’s expansion draft.
Del Gaizo and Farrance represent the next wave of future Nashville blue liners and are two of the franchise’s top defensive prospects skating in Milwaukee.
“They are both doing very well for us, and they are both learning a lot,” Admirals coach Karl Taylor said. “(Marc and David) are on different development paths but are both advancing at the rate they should. We are excited to have both of them here in Milwaukee.”
Future NHL stars like Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Suter, Mattias Ekholm, and Alexandre Carrier all developed in the organization, and spent time in Milwaukee before their NHL careers. Former Admirals captain turned assistant coach Scott Ford has played a big role in that defensive development since moving behind Milwaukee’s bench for the 2016-17 season.
“Scott Ford does a really good job with our young defenseman,” fellow Admirals assistant coach Greg Rallo said. “You can see it in the guys that he’s worked with and developed here. Guys like Alexandre Carrier and Jeremy Davies, they’ve all taken big strides in their career when they were in Milwaukee. He’s done a really good job with Del Gaizo and Farrance, and you can see that those guys have been coming on. They’ve had to because they’ve played big minutes for us.”
While the rookie blue liners share a lot of similarities, they are very different players. Del Gaizo is known for an excellent first pass and being dependable in his own end.
“Marc is a puck-moving, good skating, stay-at-home, and first pass kind of guy,” said Taylor of Del Gaizo, who was selected in the fourth-round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. “From college he came to us very pro-prepared, so we’ve been able to use him in all situations. He’s had a very good rookie season for us.”
The Basking Ridge, New Jersey native is a player that Milwaukee’s trusted right from the beginning of the season.
“Marc is a really good all-around defenseman, who plays fast and competes hard,” Admirals general manager Scott Nichol said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of expectations for him early on, but he’s been grabbing all of the opportunities we’ve given him and has been running with it. He still makes his young mistakes, but he’s very coachable. We’ve been very happy with him.”
Farrance was the more well-known prospect prior to joining the Admirals. Before he became a professional, the Rochester, New York native put up impressive offensive numbers for the Terriers, leading BU’s offense from the backend.
“David is coming off of a highly touted college career, and is an elite talent with very good skills,” said Taylor of Farrance, who was drafted in the third-round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. “He’s a slightly different player than Marc in that he’s more of a top-end offensive player. He skates very easily, and he’s got million-dollar legs. Now he is learning about how to be a pro, how to be consistent, and what it takes to be great each and every day.”
It was those high-end talents the Predators wanted to take a look at right away. Right out of college Farrance dressed for a pair of NHL games in the spring of 2021.
“With Davy Farrance we signed him out of four years of college at Boston University, where he was up for the Hobey Baker award (as the nation’s top college player),” Nichol said. “You can see his skillset when he plays—his skating, his vision, and how he passes the puck. We all knew he had the offensive ability. Now he’s working on his all-around game and getting better in the defensive zone.”
Each player has had highlight moments throughout their first professional year. Farrance was the first to pick up an AHL goal, scoring Milwaukee’s only tally in a 4-1 loss to Grand Rapids on October 30, 2021. His first two-assist night came in a 4-3 loss to Iowa on November 14. Two weeks later Farrance had a pair of helpers in an Admirals 5-2 win over Rockford.
“Playing defense in either the NHL or AHL, I think the key is just to keep it simple and try not to do too much,” Farrance said. “In the AHL (versus college) the pace is a little bit quicker, and guys are a little more intelligent on the ice. But overall, it is the same game. We have a really great group of guys, and it’s been a pretty easy transition coming here.”
Del Gaizo’s first AHL goal came just one game after Farrance’s first tally (he scored in the Admirals’ 2-1 overtime win over Manitoba on November 5). However, the UMass product’s best performance came during Milwaukee’s red-hot stretch in early February when the Admirals won 11 of 12 games. In a February 5 contest against the Chicago Wolves—a team that had beaten Milwaukee in all six prior meetings—Farrance contributed a pair of goals. Milwaukee’s resulting 7-5 victory finally got the Chicago monkey off the Admirals’ back.
“Early in the season the Wolves had our number, so that was a big win for us at home,” said Del Gaizo, who also played in nine games for Chicago in 2020-21 as part of a split AHL squad. “In college I played in a lot of big games, and I excel in big games like that. It was really nice to contribute to the team and get a big win against them.”
On March 29 Del Gaizo notched another two-point game, scoring an unforgettable tic-tac-toe goal that sparked a crucial 5-3, come-from-behind win for Milwaukee over the IceHogs. Both Del Gaizo and Farrance have been a big part of the Admirals’ success this season. Their solid play, along with their enthusiasm for getting better, has left a strong impression on their teammates.
“(Marc and David) are a couple of young, really good prospects for us,” Admirals veteran defenseman Matt Donovan said. “I was in their position at one time in my career, and it’s an exciting time for them. They are finding their way in the AHL and getting better every day. They both work hard every day, and they want to be NHLers.”
For Admirals captain Cole Schneider, he has enjoyed seeing the pair improve and grow as the season progressed.
“Sometimes guys take a little bit to learn how to become a pro, but they’ve gotten a lot better since the start of the year and now you are noticing them a lot more for us,” Schneider said. “They’ve definitely taken advantage of the coaching here, taken guidance from our leadership group, and got a lot better every day.”
With the departure of veteran prospect Frederick Allard at the trade deadline, the rookie blue liners played even more down the stretch for an Admirals squad that was in a fight to make the postseason. Unfortunately, Milwaukee is now without Farrance, as he suffered a season ending injury in early April. However, Del Gaizo will likely play a big role in his team’s pursuit of the Calder Cup.
Milwaukee will complete the regular season on Friday as the host Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. After a two-year hiatus, the 2022 Calder Cup playoffs will begin the following week.