Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ben Gallacher finds a home with UMass hockey

By Jason Kates

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Collegian File Photo

(Collegian File Photo)

Growing up in Canada, there’s always one constant that remains in the picture for young kids across the country: hockey.

For Massachusetts hockey player and Calgary, Alberta native Ben Gallacher, this notion rang true at a young age, and has continued all the way up to his final days as a member of the Minutemen.

“I think everybody from western Canada kind of starts playing hockey at a young age, I think I put on the skates when I was four years old for the first time,” Gallacher said. “(I) just enrolled in minor hockey, it’s community-based so where you live is who you play for, and for me as a young kid that’s where I met all my best buddies growing up and then it kind of escalated from there.”

Growing up in Alberta, Gallacher took a typical travel hockey route in his youth, competing for several teams while keeping an eye on the Western Hockey League, a league most young hockey players from that area look up to.

“The WHL was just huge, those guys were gods, and then the Bantam draft is obviously a big deal when you’re 14,” Gallacher said. “I played Bantam for like a triple-A organization and then I was drafted by Medicine Hat in the fifth round and kind of had my eyes set on going there pretty heavily.”

Up until that point, the senior defenseman had not thought about playing collegiate hockey, even acknowledging that school had not been a top priority.

But things can change in the blink of an eye, and Gallacher has persistent parents to thank for that.

Not the right fit

When Gallacher was first contacted by Ivy League institutions Harvard and Yale, he started to do a little more digging into potentially playing in the NCAA.

Add in parents who both have high-caliber jobs, and the thought process becomes a lot clearer.

“My mom and dad are both academic engineer and lawyers by trade, so they really pressed me to look at the college route a little harder and here I am,” Gallacher said jokingly.

Despite looking at schools such as Minnesota-Duluth, Boston University and Denver, it was Ohio State that had won the battle for the highly touted defenseman.

Gallacher said there was a comfort level in Columbus, but unpredicted circumstances had caused him to second-guess whether or not the Buckeyes were the right fit.

“I just felt really comfortable with their coaching staff,” he said. “Unfortunately when I was coming in they left, a new coaching staff came in and that was ultimately what caused me to transfer.”

Before he could get to Amherst though, Gallacher had to take a year-long detour.

Dealing with adversity

With his release from OSU complete, Gallacher decided to take part in a ‘4-2-4’ transfer.

According to the NCAA, there are several requirements one must meet in order to be eligible to compete immediately after transferring, including “having at least one calendar year elapse since leaving the original four-year school” and “completing an average of 12 hours of transferable degree credit per term of full-time attendance at the junior college of choice.”

So it was off to Wisconsin for Gallacher, where he went to Rasmussen College while playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.

Except it wasn’t all fun and games.

“That year was a really tough year, it was a lot of school for me to stay eligible because to transfer in, you have to get your two-year Associate’s degree in that time, so there was a ton of work for me to do,” Gallacher said.

Even though he was faced with hardships during this year, Gallacher still appreciated the time he spent in Wisconsin.

“I played with a lot of good guys in Green Bay, we were doing some really good things and it was a good year,” he said. “It was a stepping-stone with a lot of adversity and a really good growth year for me.”

Shipping up to Amherst

During his time in the USHL, Gallacher said he had begun talking to more schools, including Michigan Tech and Notre Dame. But when he began talking to UMass assistant coach Joey Gasparini, it felt like familiar territory.

“It was a similar reason to why I chose (Ohio State) in the first place,” Gallacher said. “It was just a good rapport with the coaches.” He said he talked Minutemen coach John Micheletto and Gasparini every couple weeks.

In many cases, a player will consult with friends and family on where the next stop should be.

This was not the case for Gallacher.

“I didn’t talk to really anybody to influence my decision. I wanted to make the decision on my own and I just felt really comfortable with the coaches and recruiting process and felt they were honest, genuine guys, so I made that decision and couldn’t be happier,” he said.

Talking about some of Gallacher’s best qualities, Micheletto touched on the senior’s abilities both on and off the ice.

“He’s a great teammate first of all, a guy who comes in with a really great attitude every day and comes with a lot of energy,” Micheletto said. “He’s a very good first pass guy, but he can get to the second and third level of his option reads, which sometimes is very difficult to get to for most college hockey players.”

Senior Shane Walsh, who has played alongside Gallacher for the past three seasons, said it’s been great to share the senior experience with him and grow together.

“I think both of us have had some experience and been around the block, we’ve gone through things that we’ve been able to share with other guys,” Walsh said. “Me and him share similar mindsets as far as how to play the game, so I’m sure we’ll stay friends for a long time.”

No letter, no problem

Having an “A” or “C” embroidered on your sweater is a major accomplishment for any hockey player. It indicates how important you are to your team and the faith your teammates have in you to lead the way.

Gallacher didn’t need one of those letters on his chest.

“I think me and Shane both felt that even though we don’t have a letter, we’re still leaders in the locker room,” Gallacher said. “I know a lot of the young guys look up to us and we try to be a good example for them on and off the ice, especially being the only senior on the d-core.”

Micheletto acknowledged Gallacher’s easygoing style as a valuable trait to have when getting a young group of defensemen acclimated to a new environment.

“You talk about it all the time that you don’t have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader, we encourage all of our guys to do that,” Micheletto said. “Probably even more so with the defensemen than the entire team, he’s gone out of his way to make sure that the four new faces on the back end were comfortable, and knew what they needed to know, whether it was about school or hockey.”

Sunshine living

In 2010, Gallacher was in Los Angeles with his parents when he was drafted in the fourth round of the NHL Entry draft by the Florida Panthers, an experience he called “incredible.”

“To hear your name called, I got a chance to go down there, meet the whole management team and put a jersey on,” he said. “I think more than anything it’s taught me that it’s just the beginning and that day is really the ticket to get a chance to compete at that level. It shows what you’ve done up until that point has been really recognized, however it’s just the beginning step.”

The defenseman has already attended three development camps since then, and discussed the realization that there are a lot of players around him that have the same end goal in mind.

“I think they’re great to realize that every year there’s a draft and every year they’re picking up new guys and everybody has their first round picks every year,” Gallacher said. “It really shows you that you need to love the work process and just continue to get better and the only person you can really worry about is yourself.”

However, there is still a job to do before Gallacher can turn all of his attention to the NHL.

The final countdown

This Friday, both Gallacher and Walsh will be honored for their services to the program on Senior Night against No. 5 Providence.

Gallacher took the time to reflect on some of his favorite memories with the Minutemen.

“I think probably sophomore year, my home opener with the Mullins Center packed and my first college game in a couple years, there was a lot of jitters there, but it was a really exciting time,” he said.

“Obviously, when (Shane) scored in OT in Notre Dame was absolutely incredible, bittersweet obviously because we didn’t end up winning that series but he was obviously one of my best friends on the team and we were roommates for that weekend so it was pretty exciting to come back to the room at 4 a.m. and everybody’s texting and talking about it,” he added.

When asked what the team will miss most about Gallacher, both Walsh and Micheletto talked about his love for the guys surrounding him.

“The biggest thing is guys know how much Ben cares about them personally,” Micheletto said. “(His) motives are always very transparent and his biggest thing was that he was concerned about other people, so that’s been the best quality and the thing we’ll miss most about him.”

Walsh added: “Guys all love Benny, he’s one of the better locker room guys I think I have had on a team. He has great relationships with every guy on the team so the energy he brings every day to practice and games is something guys will miss for sure.”

Knowing his collegiate career is near its end, Gallacher is eager for the future.

“I think the next chapter is going to be exciting, obviously with the five-year process I’ve been on for college, it feels a little bit drawn out,” he said. “I definitely savored every minute of it and am really going to take in these last few games here and try to enjoy my time.”

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @JKates1216.

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