Photo by Rena Laverty
For USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-17 defenseman Ty Gallagher, his introduction to hockey came via some familiar faces that his dad knew from Clarkston (Michigan) High School.
“The main reason I started playing hockey was my dad,” Gallagher recalled. “He was the gym teacher at Clarkston High School, and he had several hockey players in his class. They really took me under their wing. I got to go to games, and they brought me into the locker room. I asked for skates after that and hockey really took off from there. No one in my family played so they had to learn about it, too.”
Gallagher, who started skating when he was 2 ½ years old, played on his first team when he was 4. There was one special person that really helped him develop his passion for the sport.
“Kyle Cummings was the Clarkston player who really took me under his wings,” Gallagher said. “He was the captain and wore No. 5. It was my favorite number for the longest time. I loved the sport and the competition, even just from watching Clarkston play.”
The 6-foot, 188-pounder ended up playing defense, almost by chance. The position wasn’t his first choice.
“I started as a forward when I played for the Orchard Lake Pirates,” explained Gallagher. “I'm not sure 100% why I wanted to change to defense but I really liked to score and carry the puck. I started playing defense my first year with Little Caesars. I realized that I liked being involved with the play and you still are involved. I've learned to be a lockdown defenseman, but I can still make the plays on offense.”
Gallagher, who played for the Compuware 16U team prior to coming to the NTDP, was quite familiar with the program. After all, he also played and practiced at USA Hockey Arena which only solidified his decision on his next goal.
“Growing up in Michigan, I knew that it was the home of the National Team,” he said. “Playing for Compuware, we would go to games after practice when we could. It was something that you dreamed about being able to do. It also helped that last spring and summer, I was able to train with this year's U18s, so I definitely had an early look at what was expected.”
Even with that early head start, it was still a transition for Gallagher in making the jump to the NTDP.
“The biggest jump for me was the speed, going from my U16 year to the USHL,” he said. “It was a huge jump and I still remember my first shift against Johnstown. It was like wow — these guys are fast. It was definitely something that I had to get used to. It started to feel better as the season went on.”
Gallagher with Kyle Cummings (left) and his father
At the same time, he can’t believe how much his game has grown since joining the NTDP. Even with the season cut short, he knows that he took advantage of all the opportunities that were given to him.
“I think the biggest improvement for me [this year] was my speed and my shot,” explained Gallagher. “I would be in the shooting room every day to work on my shot. The things that we did both on and off the ice really helped you increase your speed.
“When you come to the program, there are so many opportunities. It's up to you to take advantage of those opportunities. That helped me so much this year. I wasn't really flexible when I got here but working with the training staff, they were able to help me. When we are lifting weights, they push you to max out. It is one of the biggest items that help you.”
Photo by Rena Laverty
In addition, he credits the U17 coaching staff — John Wroblewski, Dan Hinote and Mike Leone — in helping with his learning curve. Plus, it also helped the team gel together.
“They really taught me a ton of stuff and they earned my respect this year,” said Gallagher, who finished with 11 goals and 22 points in 49 games. “They really teach us how to play, especially on defense. The way we play, it really helps our game grow. It has really allowed me to become more of a lock-down defenseman. It has helped my game so much.
“The one thing I noticed when I came in for training camp, it felt that we had known each other for a long time and that really helped us gel right away. We are willing to go with each other. There is something about our brotherhood and the connection that we had, going from strangers to brothers in such a short time.”
One of his big surprises was the video sessions he had with Dan Hinote. The sessions helped in ways he didn’t expect.
“As we got closer to the end of the year, Coach Hinote would give us video clips,” said Gallagher. “We would have a chance to break down the tape and explain where we gave up the chance or what we could have done differently. As a defenseman, it gave us a chance to have our own eyes on our play.
“Essentially, it was a chance for us to watch and let him know what we thought we could do better. Once he helps correct us, we work on that item in practice and in games to improve our game.”
At the end of the day, there is one thing that Gallagher will always appreciate and that is the opportunity to wear the USA jersey each day.
“Growing up in Michigan, it was always a dream of mine to play for the National Team,” said Gallagher. “To wear the USA crest every day means everything to me. You are representing the country that you care for and you are willing to go to war with your brothers. It is something that has been one of the best experiences for me.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.