Northern Cyclones coach Bill Flanagan already knew he had one of the best players for clearing out room in front of his net when 6-foot-4 215-pound defenseman Grant Gallo returned for another season with the team.
When Flanagan decided to give Gallo the opposite responsibility — taking up space in front of opposing goalies on the power play — he discovered one of the key weapons that helped the Cyclones to a successful season.
Gallo piled up individual honors while helping the Cyclones produce team achievements during his final junior season before heading to SUNY Plattsburgh to play NCAA Division III hockey.
Northern finished second in the Eastern Hockey League regular season, won the first playoff championship in the reorganized league and advanced to the semifinals of the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships.
Gallo was a big part of that success, leading EHL defensemen in scoring and earning honors from league coaches as the EHL’s Defenseman of the Year. Flanagan said there were many reasons for the award.
“The number of minutes he logged, his compete level, his physical play and he scored a lot of goals for us on the power play when we put him in front of the net,” Flanagan said. “He was an unbelievable penalty killer, a shot blocker and he does all the little things that don’t come up on the scoreboard.
“He was probably the best shut-down defenseman in the league — bar none.”
Flanagan would have been happy to take all those defensive contributions, but the Cyclones — who also featured runaway league scoring champion Kevin Valenti, the EHL Most Valuable Player and Forward of the Year — became more dangerous offensively with the power play tinkering.
Gallo was in front of the net in one of the team’s most important moments of the season.
Northern dropped the first two games of the EHL Championship Series against the regular-season champion New Hampshire Junior Monarchs and was facing elimination, down in the third period. That’s when Gallo positioned himself in the low slot for a power play goal that forced overtime in what turned into a three-overtime victory, the first of three straight wins that produced the championship.
“It really paid off for us,” Flanagan said. “We had our power play going when he was scoring a lot of goals from in front of the cage, but also the big screen in front so we could really move the puck around.
“It was really successful.”
The 1993 birth-year player from San Diego got 20 of his points on the power play while scoring 15 goals and adding 27 assists in 44 regular-season games. He added four more goals and two assists in 11 EHL playoff games.
“He has a big body and he just competes hard,” Flanagan said. “He has a mean streak. He’s tough to play against.”
Gallo and Valenti took three of the league’s four major awards. The other went to New Hampshire’s Jake Theut, the EHL Goaltender of the Year.
Theut went 24-3, leading the league in wins, while tying for first with four shutouts. The 1993 birth-year player from Washington, Mich. ranked third in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.935).
Valenti, a 1993 from Queensbury, N.Y., had 35 goals and 41 assists in 44 games.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.