Four years In the making

Four years ago you were a naïve young man heading to a place you just heard stories about. You heard the horror stories of basic training, how hard the life was going to be for the next four years.

You heard the stories from friends who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone that went there. You went in with a clear mind; eyes wide open. You wanted to see for yourself how daunting the task was going to be.

You felt you were ready, that you can handle anything that was thrown at you. Plebe year was the hardest you wanted to give up. But giving up isn’t in your vocabulary.

You fought through the urge to give up – and it served you well. Each year you were there got better and easier. The success in the classroom and on the battlefield helped you on the ice.

Your game improved each season. Freshman year was tough, sophomore years was a little better. Your junior season was the best to date. You knew you had it in you, you just needed to find it.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. Four years have passed and you are no longer that scared plebe anymore. You are a seasoned veteran waiting for the next challenge.

Four years flew by quick, but you remembered to cherish everything that was given to you, or that you earned. Four years have made you into the man you are today.

Now that the first half of the journey is coming to an end you are able to reflect on what it was like to step onto the campus of the United States Military Academy. If walls could talk it would tell you all about the history that has been made at West Point.

Four years ago you were walking on campus not knowing your future. Now you are ready to take on the world.

“If you would have asked me that (surviving) the start of my freshman year I would have said yes,” stated Army goaltender Parker Gahagen. “Every year that goes by it got a little easier. I guess my answer would gradually turns toward no.”

It has been an amazing ride for Gahagen. His story has been told countless times. A Williamsville North High School graduate who went onto have a great couple years with the Buffalo Junior Sabres. His journey took him to West Point.

West Point isn’t for everyone. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not your normal college. Most colleges don’t learn military training. They don’t teach their 4,000 students to become leaders of men.

Gahagen struggled to find his grove his freshman year on the ice. He had this pedigree but it didn’t transfer over to the ice. He struggled to find his game. Self doubt started to come in. Maybe this wasn’t the place for him.

He fought himself in the crease at times, and it showed. After a disappoint freshman campaign he went to work in the offseason to get better. It was the little things he needed to work on. He didn’t need to strip his game down and start over.

He just needed to fine-tune the engine.

“I had a new goalie coach come in last year and he clicked with me,” stated Gahagen. “It kind of helped me simplify my game a bit. Combine that with a simpler mindset that I took into the second half of the year. It just allowed me to be more constant. Keeping that mindset from game to game just allowed me to be more constant.”

The results weren’t there off the bat. But as his sophomore season went on you could see the things he worked on starting to pay off. It wasn’t until last year when it all clicked.

All the work, all the sweat, all the tears he put in the offseason paid off and paid off in a big way. At one point Gahagen was putting up video game numbers. He was willing the Army Black Knights to victory. It was routine for him to have a 42-save game.

It was routine to see the Black Knights winning 2-1 or 1-0 and having Gahagen in the crease. It was his crease and no one was going to take it away from him.

For one stretch Gahagen was the best goaltender in the country. He knew it was in him. And last year he proved it.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” stated Gahagen. “I definitely wasn’t expecting it. It’s not to say that I didn’t think it could happen. I think it was the fact that the team around me started to believe that we could win.”

That was last season. It’s a new year and new expectations for the team and himself. Army was picked to finish fourth in Atlantic Hockey. That is a far cry from where they have been picked in years past.

The last couple of seasons the Black Knights have been an afterthought. Air Force has been the better of the two academies. But, this isn’t the case this season. Army and Gahagen are ready to make a run toward a league title and an NCAA birth.

“I think it’s holding myself to the high expectations that I set,” stated Gahagen. “Every year it’s just trying to improve a little more.”

If that is to happen all eyes will be on the senior from Williamsville. He knows he can be better than last season, which is scary. He was straight filthy last year going 14-11-9 and posting a 2.01 goals against average.

He wants that goals against average to be under 2.00. He wants to prove to people that last year wasn’t a fluke. Pretty much the entire team is back in front of him. Plus they added some really talented plebes into the mix.

Everything is inline to have a great season.

“We have a solid team around me, and they will look to help me out,” stated Gahagen. Have a .954 save percentage and a goals against under .200 that would be building (on last year).”

Having a great year could also mean having a chance at the next level. With the new rules at the academy if a cadet gets a chance to play professional sports than his service is delayed.

After last season Gahagen earned some looks from a few National Hockey League teams. If you would have asked him his freshman year if that was every a possibility I’m sure he would have said no.

But scouts have seen his improvement each year and they are intrigue by the young man. The Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers have shown some interest. If Gahagen has another year like last then a lot more teams will be taking notice.

Either way Gahgen isn’t putting pressure on himself just to impress the scouts that will be on hand during his games.

“I kind of look at it more as an opportunity,” stated Gahagen. “I really don’t put pressure on myself. I’m just going out and doing the same things that I always do and then let rest just fall into place.”

If he doesn’t get the call to the NHL then he will start his next life in the military. At the time of this article Gahagen didn’t know what branch he was going to be in yet. He won’t know that until later in the month.

He is ready to take whatever is thrown at him. He knows there is a chance he will be heading overseas at some point during his five-year commitment to his country. He’s ready. He knows the academy has prepared him well for the next chapter of his life.

“I’m probably going to do something that won’t get me deployed,” stated Gahagen. “As long as there aren’t any more conflicts being started I think I should be fine.”

Four years he got out of the car in sneakers, shorts and shirt. It was a hot June day in West Point. He had his duffle bag ready for his journey. He walked up to that line timid but ready.

Four years ago he didn’t know what to expect. Four years later he will be a leader of men and part of the Long Gray Line.