As he walked up to the hollow doors of the United States Military Academy he knew it was a dream come true.
Since a young age Zach Evancho had dreamt of serving his country. He never had a connection to the military. He didn’t have any family members who served or were serving.
This is just something that he wanted from a young age. So when he got the opportunity he took it.
“It was kind of a thing that I just admired since I was growing up,” stated Evancho. “It was something that I always kind of had an interest in. Then once I got into contact here with coach it was just something that I just really became interested in.”
Before he stepped on campus this summer at West Point he had to take a long journey to get there.
Like most hockey players Evancho saw his career go from school to juniors to whatever you can imagine. He started his journey playing one year at Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School. After coach Pat Fisher left the program he took his hockey talents elsewhere.
Everywhere he went he had the military in the back of his mind. He knew he could just up and join after school. But he had talent on the ice and was hoping that talent could take him places.
His talent took him to Youngstown where he played for the Phatoms for three seasons. But it just wasn’t the right fit for him. He felt he could still improve his game, so he wanted to a new challenge.
This challenge would take him back home. Back to where it all began when he started playing the sport of hockey at the age of 3. Back home where the dream of joining the Army would be ramped up.
Like a lot of players before him, Evancho was going to apply his trade with the Buffalo Junior Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). He knew if he could show have a few good seasons with the Jr. Sabres then colleges would be calling for services.
Evancho took the bull by the horns and had a breakout year last season contributing 49 goals and 66 points. That caught the eye of Army coach Brian Riley. Riley knew a lot about the Jr. Sabres thanks to his recruitment of current goaltender Parker Gahagen.
Gahagen has been a revelation for the Black Knights posting a 2.01 goals against average last year. The recruitment for Evancho was just what he was looking for a chance to continue to play hockey while being able to serve his country.
“It was a huge impact on how I got here,” explained Evancho. “Playing for the Junior Sabres allowed me to develop my game. It’s what got me noticed by the coaches here, and what got me here. Playing in the league was really good for myself being a offensive player. It allowed me to get myself exposure.”
Fast forward to this past summer. It’s a typical hot day in June. Evancho is getting out of the car. Hair buzzed already; duffle bag of clothes in hand. He walks up to the gates of the academy.
Butterflies in the stomach as he is about to step into history. He is about to start his journey of becoming a member of The Long Gray Line. He wasn’t going into this experience without information.
Shoot he talked to Gahagen enough to get a feel of what he might be walking into to. But all the preparation doesn’t get you ready for what you are going to encounter. Doesn’t get you ready for when you walk out the auditorium and the door closes behind you.
Doesn’t get you ready for walking up to the line as the cadet in the red sash is waiting for. Waiting to tear you down and start building you back up.
“I talked to him (Parker) a decent amount,” stated Evancho. “He was pretty honest with me. He told me it’s not for everyone, and that everyone struggles at certain times. Just having the guys here, and everyone going through it, just makes it easier. Because you know you’re not alone and they have done the same thing.”
You hear the horror stories of basic training. They call it BEAST at the academy, or as some would call it six weeks of hell. It’s where they test you mentality and physically. It’s where they weed out the ones who can cut it at the academy.
Evancho stated the six weeks weren’t as bad as people make it out to be. He kind of knew what to expect before he got there. Sure they test you mentally and physically. Sure they try and beat you down, so they can build you back it up.
But if you go into it with the right mindset then you can make it through.
“It wasn’t that bad,” stated Evancho. “It’s more of the mental part that really starts to get after people. For us we had all the guys telling us just get through it. They are just trying to break you down. We all pushed through it.”
Now that he is at the academy it’s just like every day life. You have classes and practice like most colleges. The academics are a little harder then some schools. They are more on par with Harvard and Princeton, so the workload gets pretty intense.
Where Evancho finds his comfort zone in on the ice. Even though he is a plebe he still wants to compete and get playing time. After all 49 goals is still 49 goals. The kid can find the back of the net.
It has been a long time since the Black Knights has had that kind of scoring talent come through the doors. But first he needs to crack the lineup. With the depth the Black Knights return is won’t be easy to find playing time.
That won’t stop Evancho from trying. He wants to crack, and stay, in lineup from game one. He wants to prove he belongs and that he can help the team win.
“My personal goal is to try and get into every game,” stated Evancho. “I just want to try and work my way up the depth chart like everyone does. The main goal is just to try and get into every game and have an impact on the team overall. We are going to have a really good team this year. I’m hoping to contribute anyway I can.”
Zach Evancho took to the ice at 3-years old. With stick and puck in hand he skated toward a dream. a dream to someday serve in the Army. That dream is now becoming a reality.