by Amy Moritz
Everything about the start of freshman year was difficult for Parker Gahagen.
First off, he's a freshman at Army and the introduction to academic and military life at West Point is daunting on a good day.
Second, he's a freshman goalie for the Black Knights hockey team and that first semester the Buffalo native didn't play. He sat and watched and dealt with being both overwhelmed and frustrated.
But opportunity can come in strange ways.
And when starting goaltender Rob Tadazak suffered season-ending concussion, Gahagen got his chance.
He made his first career start at Niagara, a forgettable 5-0 loss where he gave up the five goals on 42 shots. But he's steadily improved and a reason why Army has some hope heading into Friday's first-round Atlantic Hockey playoff series at Robert Morris.
"It's really been about working on the mental aspect of my game," said Gahagen, who played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. "It's about getting in the right mindset and believing in myself, having faith and being mentally strong."
Mental strength has helped him succeed late in the season and earn the starting spot in the final weeks. He paced the Black Knights to weekend splits with Connecticut and Holy Cross to close out the regular season. Last Friday, he made a career-high 45 saves in a 5-2 win at Holy Cross, earning him Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week honors.
"The first part of the year was a difficult transition," Gahagen said. "It was tough not playing and it was difficult at West Point to get time management down. But I'm definitely thankful for the adversity. It challenged my self confidence and my faith but I kept trusting God, that there was a plan and it was in my best interest. It was tough, but it gave me time to develop."
Gahagen will be in goal this weekend as Army travels to Pittsburgh to face Robert Morris (13-16-5) in the best-of-three first round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament. The last-place Black Knights (5-26-0) have given up a league-worst 110 goals this season, but there has been more parity this season and upsets every weekend.
"The team believes in each other," Gahagen said. "The last few weekends we've played well and with more confidence. With the way our league is, anything can happen. We're ready to go."
Hear Gahagen talk about his choice of Army and becoming a goaltender: