Former UMass goalie Mike Waidlich, of Millers Falls, impressed by national championship run

  • UMass goalie Michael Waidlich eyes the action during a game against UNH on Feb. 12, 2005. Waidlich, who grew up in Millers Falls, was among the many fans intently watching the Minutemen’s run to a national title last week. CONTRIBUTED/UMASS ATHLETICS

Recorder Intern
Published: 4/15/2021 7:44:40 PM
Modified: 4/15/2021 9:06:27 PM

Mike Waidlich was an undemanding, simple-living Franklin County kid growing up in Millers Falls with a strong passion for the game of hockey.

Count the former UMass goaltender among the many area fans following along as the Minutemen won the program’s first-ever national championship last week.

Waidlich spent his youth days playing for the Franklin County Hockey Association. He was a tad late to the party compared to most kids that join, starting up with the organization when he was nine years old.

After several years on the ice, Waidlich took notice of the success he was having as a goaltender. On top of his solid performance outputs, he grew an unalloyed love for the sport of hockey, and learned that he desired to pursue it to his maximum potential. 

“I shopped around a little bit trying to find a prep school to play at,” Waidlich declared. “We went to Northfield Mount Hermon, Deerfield Academy, and some of those local prep schools. They weren’t really interested or open to giving me an opportunity to play varsity. This was at a time where I thought I was pretty good talent-wise and I knew I could compete at the varsity level.”

He eventually enrolled at The Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, the lone local prep side to that agreed to give Waidlich the chance to play varsity. He was named the starting goalieas a freshman, beating out several upperclassmen to earn the job.

“I ended up starting for Williston as a freshman when I was 13-years old, and I played every game for the four years I was there. I was able to pick up a lot of exposure and experience because of it,” said Waidlich.

Fast forward to his senior year. Following an unbelievable career-high 75 save performance for Williston against NMH with a UMass scout in the crowd, Waidlich was offered an opportunity to join the Minutemen’s hockey program as a recruited walk-on.

“I tried reaching out to all of the Hockey East schools, and I kept getting turned down by most of them. My dad and I reached out to the assistant coach at UMass to try and get him to watch a game, so he came out and watched me play against NMH. I think he was there to watch [NMH] more than me, but I ended up having around 75 saves in a 0-0 tie. He approached me after the game and asked me if I’d want to go to UMass,” Waidlich continued. 

The decision to attend UMass was a rather easy and simple choice for Waidlich, who grew up a UMass fan.

“I always wanted to go to UMass. I grew up a fan of the program, and it became a place I really wanted to play at. I knew I was going to have to work hard and earn my place on the team with me being a recruited walk-on, but it was a challenge I was ready to accept,” admitted Waidlich.

What a decision it turned out to be. He came on as a third-string backup goalie, but dedicated himself to improving his craft, aiming to climb the ladder to notch the starting gig. When the time came for Waidlich to protect the blue paint for the Minutemen, he made the most of his opportunity. 

“We went up to New Hampshire and played at UNH for my first start. All of my immediate family was at the game, and it was televised so my extended family could watch. It was the most nervous I had ever been in my life to play in a game. We ended up losing in overtime, 2-1, but I made some really big saves and played really well. Although we lost, I was relieved to know I could play and compete at this level,” Waidlich stated.

Although Waidlich’s collegiate career was filled with memories, friendships and fun, the 2004-2005 UMass team was not quite on the level of their Hockey East opponents.

The program’s recent surge of success is a far cry from the teams of the early to mid 2000’s. Just a five-win program in 2017, the Minutemen made history with the national title win over St. Cloud State last weekend.

For Waidlich, witnessing his alma mater and longtime favorite collegiate program turn into a perennial powerhouse has been astonishing. With head coach Greg Carvel taking the reigns and leading the march to the top for the Minutemen, Waidlich said he doesn’t see UMass slowing down anytime soon. 

“It’s definitely been super fun to watch. To get to the [national championship] two years in a row, and obviously winning this year, is a huge achievement for the program. Now that UMass is on that level, it’s going to help them recruiting-wise because they’ll be known as a top tier program and they can build on this to become a real powerhouse,” Waidlich said.

Carvel and the Minutemen’s turnaround has been a headline story in itself, and the sudden surge of success they have enjoyed has allowed Waidlich to take a stroll down memory lane. He recalled nervously arriving at the first captain’s practice, his first start in net for UMass, and most importantly, the countless sacrifices his father, Jon, made to support his hockey career.

Jon Waidlich had a perfect attendance record for his son’s games; he didn’t miss a single one throughout Mike’s entire playing career. He eventually attended hockey practices at UMass, continuously supporting his son, until one of the coaches told him he could no longer do so. 

“[My dad] sacrificed a lot to give me the best opportunity to succeed,” Waidlich started. “He never missed a game throughout my whole career, and did everything a hockey dad could do. I would not have made it to where I did without him.”

Considering the dedication and sacrifice Jon made for his son, it only felt right for Mike to pay forward those same acts to the next generation of the Waidlich family. Mike is now coaching his son Blake, who is nine years old.

“I have taken to coaching and watching my son play hockey. He’s going to be 10 later this month, so I’m going to help him to the best of my ability, seeing what it means for him to play hockey, and see what he wants to do with it in the future, if anything,” Waidlich offered. 

With Waidlich now in his late 30s and dedicating his time to his business (East-West Arena Construction) and family, playing hockey is now officially part of his past. There are times where he cannot help but reflect on the marvelous moments he made for himself in the Mullins Center, representing Franklin County as the only native to play Division I hockey for the Minutemen.

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