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View From Section U ▲ Thank You Seniors!

Since I started this blog many a year ago there are few things I look forward to more than writing my annual senior post.  It’s not because I’m looking forward to see them play their last games on the Mullins Center ice.  In fact it’s the exact opposite.  Not only have I watched these players from the stands or through choppy online streams for the past four years but these players’ names first pop-up on my radar when they’re 16 year olds playing in the old EJHL or some strange sounding town in British Columbia.  They play out their junior days, perhaps bouncing from league to league, and finally arrive in Amherst as freshmen.  Or perhaps they take more circuitous routes that have them wearing the jerseys of other college hockey teams before putting on the maroon and white.

During their time at UMass they put in the arduous effort needed to be a student-athlete; early practices, studying on bus trips, in the gym while classmates are at the bars.  That sacrifice is sometimes made even more difficult when the program itself is struggling.  These seniors have put in the hard work, dedicated themselves to their teammates and the school, and unfortunately have not enjoyed much celebration for on-ice success.  That makes recognizing them for their contributions to the university and the community that much more important.  This Friday is Senior Night for three senior members of the UMass hockey team and I encourage, no, I plead for all fans to come out to the Mullins to personally thank each one of them for playing their heart out for dear ol’ Bay State.

#10 Shane Walsh – West Roxbury, Massachusetts

How fitting is it that Senior Night falls on a Friday this year.  Last season Shane Walsh, seemingly overnight, became a dangerous goal-scorer with a knack for scoring important goals during Friday night affairs.  It became so commonplace over the course of a few weeks that he earned the nickname “Mr. Friday Night” from the radio broadcast crew.  He would eventually extend his offensive prowess to Saturday and any other day of the week UMass was playing and needed a key goal scored.  There would be no goal more important though than the one scored last March in the fifth overtime against Notre Dame to end the longest game in college hockey history.  Coming into his last home game as a Minuteman Walsh has 35 goals in his career at UMass.  But what’s amazing is that 29 of those goals have come since January 1st 2015!

photo Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

In the last 14 months he has not only been the top scorer for the UMass Minutemen but one of the best goalscorers in the entire country, which led to him being named a Hobey Baker candidate this season.  That’s pretty good for a guy who looked like a solid grinder, role player-type with 4 goals to his credit after his first two seasons.  The last two years have been tough for UMass hockey fans.  But Shane Walsh has been a big reason to watch, not only because so many of his goals kept the Minutemen in games or led to victories, but the story of his instantaneous transformation into an offensive threat has been so fun to watch in itself.

#11 Ben Gallacher – Calgary Alberta

I keep waiting for College Hockey, Inc or one of the dedicated college hockey media sites to write a story on Ben Gallacher’s college career but so far it hasn’t happened.  Those who follow the sport closely will see countless stories about college hockey versus the major junior route, but surprisingly no one has caught on to the Gallacher story into relation to this argument.  Gallacher’s father owns a major junior hockey team, the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL.  Yet, even though he was drafted by Florida Panthers in juniors, Gallacher chose the the NCAA route not once, but twice as his preferred path to pro hockey.  Gallacher first started his NCAA career at Ohio State.  When things didn’t work out there (the Buckeye coach who recruited him was let go before Gallacher got to Columbus) he went back to the USHL for a year before coming back to NCAA hockey and UMass.

photo Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

His transformation as a player at UMass is something that doesn’t get mentioned as much as it should.  In his first year as a Minuteman too often it seemed like Gallacher was  either being called for bad, ill-timed penalties or was making miscues on the defensive end leading to scoring chances for the opposing team.  But in the two years since his improvement in both areas has been noticeable.  This season he’s been called for just nine penalties after being called for 15 as a sophomore.  But it’s been his dependable blueline play that’s been most valuable this season.  He’s always been able to provide offense from the point, accumulating double digit points in each of his three seasons.  But his senior season presented an unfamiliar challenge for him.  As the lone senior defenseman on a squad that was regularly playing four freshman on defense, he was asked to provide steady leadership on the blueline.  And I think he’s done a commendable job in that regard, playing the role of mentor to the talented group of freshman blueliners on the team.

#12 Evan Stack – Calgary, Alberta

I was glad when I heard that Evan Stack would be participating in Friday’s Senior Night festivities so fans would have a chance to thank him for all he’s done for UMass hockey as well.  Injuries prevented us from seeing what Stack was really capable of on the ice.  He played just four games as a freshman before injuries forced him to shut it down in November of that year.  As a sophomore he was limited to just six games.  He ended up retiring from hockey following that season due to reoccurring issues with concussions.  Going back to when he committed to UMass, Stack was praised for his maturity and leadership.  And he didn’t let retirement from playing stop him from being a part of this program and being a leader in the program.  In the past two years Stack has remained active with the team and regularly assists the coaching staff at each practice as a sort of student-assistant.  At the same time he has been active coaching in Amherst Youth Hockey.  Stack has been getting the job in the classroom during his time at UMass as well, being named to the Hockey East All-Academic during both of the years he played.  Things did not work out as hoped as a player for Stack in college, but with a degree and some coaching experience in his possession when he graduates perhaps we’ll see him added to the growing ranks of UMass coaching connections.

photo Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

On Friday night they’ll have Senior Night in Chestnut Hill just as they will in Amherst, where the Boston College seniors will be lauded loudly for all their wins, tournament appearances, Beanpots, banners, etc.  And they deserve to be.  But just as it’s easy to root for a winner, it must be pretty easy to play for a winner too.  These UMass’ seniors have not been afforded that luxury.  Through no fault of their own they have not been able to enjoy nearly as much success on the ice as they deserve.  And yet they’ve still shown up to every early practice, shown up for every weight-lift session, shown up for every film breakdown with the coaches,  shown up for every bus trip on the snowy highways of New England, shown up for every tutoring meeting, shown up for every exam, shown up for every library trip, shown up for every game.  The least we can do as fans is to show up for them on Friday to cheer them on one last time and say thank you.

Thank you seniors.

Looking ahead to this weekend, College Hockey News named the Providence Friars their team of the week and another local Providence station previews the weekend in their broadcast.

Here’s an interesting Conor Sheary post I found on a Pittsburgh Penguins blog.  The Penguins were in Boston tonight facing the Bruins.  Sheary didn’t figure into the scoring of the 5-1 Bruins win.

Mike McMahon of College Hockey News and the Mack Report is compiling some college recruiting data and had this interesting breakdown of current commits by junior league:

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4 Comments

  1. Hadog

     /  February 25, 2016

    How many others do you think we’re seeing on home ice for the last time?

    Like

  2. Rex

     /  February 26, 2016

    really cant answer til you see who comes in to coach.

    Congrats seniors!

    Like

  1. Preview ▲ Minutemen Close Out Regular Season With Series Versus #5 Providence | Fear The Triangle - UMass Hockey Blog
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