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Ice Miners' Gallagher balances grad school with pro hockey

| Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008

INDIANA--Most graduate school students need a job to pick up some extra income, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate student Matt Gallagher is no exception.

But Gallagher doesn't have the type of job you would expect for a student, such as working at a restaurant or a retail store.

He is a professional hockey player.

Gallagher, a native of Murrysville in Allegheny County, is a forward for the Indiana Ice Miners, who have been dominating the Mid-Atlantic Hockey League with a 15-1-0 record.

"My situation is a little different from the other guys on the team," Gallagher said. "they're all trying to use this team as a stepping stone to get place into teams in Double-A leagues. This is more of a means for me to make some money while I'm in school."

Gallagher has been studying at IUP since June, a year and a half after graduating from Ohio University, where he played hockey for four years.

After Gallagher graduated from Ohio in 2005, he tried to pursue a professional hockey career. He went to a pro free agent camp and received an offer from a team in Finland. The team could offer him a free college education but could not pay him. Gallagher considered the offer, but the school he would go to did not offer courses in the education field, which is what he wanted to do.

"I felt like it just wouldn't be worth it because I had more of a leaning to just get started with grad school," Gallagher said. "It turns out, it works out a lot better with this situation."

After working at a gym for a year and a half, Gallagher decided to enroll at IUP because he heard it had a strong reputation in the education field. Gallagher is taking health and physical education classes, hoping to someday become a physical education teacher.

Once he started classes, he needed to find a job to cover his expenses, and in June, he found out that Indiana was going to have a team in the new Mid-Atlantic Hockey League with the season starting in November.

"I talked to (Coach Brian) Gratz, and even though I'd been out of it for a couple years, he gave me an invite to training camp," Gallagher said. "I knew it was going to take me a little bit just to get back into the flow of things because I hadn't been playing at a competitive level."

Gallagher was confident that he would make the team out of training camp, and he did, but it's been a little more difficult for him to get playing time. That's what happens on a team that has lost only one game and has six of the league's top 12 point-scorers.

"We have a lot of really talented players on this team," Gallagher said. "If you even look at our third line, they could be the top line on any other team in the league."

Because of the team's depth, Gallagher has only seen ice time in six games this season with a goal and four assists. He was also temporarily released from the team Dec. 4.

However, even though Gallagher was technically a free agent for a 10-day period, he still remained with the team and practiced and lifted weights with them, knowing that once a roster spot opened up, he'd probably be the first one to fill it.

"At any moment I could've been re-activated," Gallagher said, "so you have to go about things like normal. You're staying focused and making sure that you're ready and not getting complacent."

Sticking with the team paid off for Gallagher Dec. 14 when he was re-signed after leading goal-scorer Justin Depretis was called up by the Wichita Thunder of the Double-A Central Hockey League.

That night, Gallagher got on the ice against Mon Valley and had a chance for his first goal on a breakaway, but he couldn't come through.

The next night, a home game against Jamestown Dec. 16, Gallagher picked up his first point, an assist on a Brad Townsend goal in the first period.

In the third period, the Ice Miners held a 9-0 lead, and Gallagher went out for a shift early in the period with a chance for his first professional goal.

"I had a feeling that Coach (Gratz) was trying to get me one by sticking me out there with (Chris) Ferazzoli and (Justin) Todd, which helped because they move the puck really well."

During his shift, Gallagher took a shot that was blocked by the Jamestown goaltender, but fittingly, Gallagher got a second chance.

The puck bounced off the goalie and right back to Gallagher's stick. He took another shot, and this one found the back of the net.

"I think I kind of blanked out for a second," Gallagher said. "I honestly didn't even know if it went in at first. Then, I saw my linemates coming toward me. I was pretty excited."

His coach and teammates were also excited for Gallagher, as they always talk about how important Gallagher is to the team even if he hasn't put up gaudy numbers.

"Matt Gallagher, that kid has more character than anybody, any two or three guys put together," head coach Brian Gratz said. "He's gone through a lot as a player on our team.... He's the hardest-working guy we have."

"I've played at a high level for a long time now, and I've never met a guy with more heart than Gally," said teammate Peter Ferraro. "I would have him on any team I play on."

With the hard work that Gallagher is putting into hockey this year, he is certainly to receive praise from his family, including three brothers and a sister who all played hockey. Matt even played with his twin brother Sean at Ohio for four years.

"I think it took my coach in college a little bit of time to get used to who was who," Gallagher said. "I think that's why he kept us on separate lines at times."

Sean, who now goes to school in Iowa, tried to pursue a professional career, sending some tapes to ECHL teams, but he never received any replies.

Matt said the two will likely play against each other in a pickup game during Christmas break.

"I would say without a doubt, my brother, he is the better player," Matt said. "He's not as good looking as I am, but he's the better player."

There will be little relaxing for Matt Gallagher during Christmas break. While most students are taking it easy the day after Christmas, Gallagher had to play in a game at Mon Valley.

But Gallagher isn't like most students:

"I like to eat and sleep a lot."

Well, maybe he is. He's just found a different way to pay for his education.

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