Currently in his first season with the Calgary Hitmen, T.J. Galiardi is leaving his mark on the Western Hockey League.
Through March 4, the forward was tops among league rookies in scoring with 67 points (18g/49a) for the Eastern Conference-leading Hitmen. But Galiardi’s time in Calgary has been just one part of what has been a whirlwind 12 months.
In June, Galiardi was selected by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round (55th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft following a stellar freshman campaign at NCAA Division I Dartmouth College.
During the 2006-07 campaign, Galiardi helped lead the Big Green (along with fellow Avalanche draft pick David Jones
) to its seventh straight winning season while finishing second on the team to Jones with 31 points (14g/17a). He also led all conference rookies with eight power-play goals as Dartmouth finished third in the ECAC Hockey standings.
|Galiardi was leading all WHL rookies in scoring with 67 points through March 4 |
But after the season, the Calgary, Alberta, native made the decision to leave Dartmouth to play in the WHL; a verdict that boiled down to two main issues.
The first was the opportunity to play more games in a league Galiardi says is “a little more gritty” than the NCAA.
The other major reason for his move: Playing for Hitmen head coach Kelly Kisio and his assistants, Dave Lowry and Joel Otto, all of whom spent considerable time in the National Hockey League during their playing careers.
The trio played a collective 46 seasons in the NHL, combining for 1,517 points in 2,788 games. And as Galiardi can attest, having three former NHL players coaching you on the ice each day can be priceless.
“Kelly Kisio is a great coach and I’ve learned a lot from him, Dave and Joel this year,” said Galiardi. “They’re always on you and they know what it’s like to have made it to the NHL level, so getting that insight is hard to beat.”
But it wasn’t always a certainty that Galiardi would be playing for Kisio and his hometown Hitmen upon his entrance into the WHL.
|Galiardi hopes to lead Calgary to its second WHL title this season |
“Right as I left college, I was picked up by the Portland Winter Hawks,” said the 6-foot-2, 172-pound forward. “Throughout the summer my agent worked to get me to Calgary, because that’s where we both thought would be the best place for me to develop.”
The day before Calgary’s training camp opened, a deal was struck to send the forward to the Hitmen. That move came just two weeks before Galiardi attended the Avalanche’s Rookie Camp, where he learned a few valuable lessons about what it takes to compete at a higher level.
“It was really intense. I think what I took from it is that fact that you have to work hard,” said Galiardi. “I saw that the guys who are high-end players in the NHL are the guys who are doing the extra stuff and working hard both on and off the ice.”
Galiardi took that lesson and has coupled it with guidance from the Avalanche’s Player Development Department – namely Director Craig Billington
and Coordinator Steve Konowalchuk
– to make strides toward becoming a more complete player.
“Steve Konowalchuk has made it out to a few games this year. He and Craig wrote up a sheet with a bunch of things they want me to work on,” said Galiardi. “I look at that before every game and it keeps my mindset in the right place. They’ve definitely been a key in helping me develop so far.”
Galiardi feels as though the guidance he’s received has helped make him a more consistent player. And according to Konowalchuk, a big part of Galiardi’s progress is due to his readiness to adjust his game on the fly.
“T.J. seems willing to make the necessary changes to take the next step in his hockey career,” said Konowalchuk. “As the year has progressed, he’s been more willing to sacrifice his body in traffic areas, with or without the puck. This summer is going to be huge for him to improve physically if he wants to compete with bigger, strong players.”
While aiming to improve his individual skills, Galiardi is also focused on helping the Hitmen win their second WHL Championship.
When asked if that – a WHL title - is the ultimate goal for this year, Galiardi doesn’t hesitate for a second before answering.
“Absolutely. We always say that we haven’t won anything yet, so we just need to keep working at it. We’re never satisfied.”