SUMMERSIDE – Alex Gallant is taking the next step up professional hockey’s ladder.
The Summerside native has signed with the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League for the 2014-15 season, after breaking into the pro ranks last year with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
“People told me I could definitely make it to the next level, and that’s what I’m planning on doing signing with Orlando,” said Gallant, 21. “We had a great year (in Columbus), and ended up losing in the finals. . . All in all I had a great year, and it was a lot of fun.”
In 43 games with the Cottonmouths, Gallant recorded four points, including one goal, and a league-leading 251 penalty minutes. He was a minus-2.
“Alex brings an element of physicality and energy to our organization,” said Orlando head coach Vince Williams. “He is a young professional that has substantial upside and potential for development.”
Gallant is excited to be joining the Solar Bears, who are affiliated with the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild and Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It was a tough call come the end of it, but Orlando was one of the teams that kept calling,” said Gallant, who concluded his junior career with the 2013 Canadian silver-medallist Summerside Western Capitals of the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League). “They never gave up on me, and said all the right things.
“I just want to go where I’m most wanted, and that’s the spot.”
The Solar Bears are owned by the NBA’s Orlando Magic, and have what Gallant describes as “top-of-the-line facilities.” And that’s not even including the Florida weather!
“I played down south last year (in Georgia), and Orlando will be even nicer,” added Gallant. “You can’t beat that!”
However, Gallant knows his No. 1 reason for being in Orlando is to contribute to the Solar Bears.
“Obviously I play a role, and I just want to come in and do my job and keep on developing like I did last year,” said Gallant. “The coaches were great down there (Columbus), and they really worked with me to get to the next level.
“They really worked on my skating and they only have three lines per team, so I got a lot of ice time.”
Perhaps Gallant’s best-known teammate last season was goaltender Shannon Szabados, who joined the Cottonmouths shortly after backstopping the Canadian women’s hockey team to a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Gallant described Szabados, 27, as the perfect teammate.
“She said she didn’t want any special treatment, and just wanted to be one of the guys,” offered Gallant. “Fortunately, I got to hang out with her, and she was great.”
Gallant said “it was something else,” to watch Szabados between the pipes. Szabados appeared in two games with the Cottonmouths, posting a 3.55 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
“Some of the guys got to play with her in college, and they said if you give her time to get used to guys’s shots and the different speeds, she is going to be unbelievable,” said Gallant. “Coming onto the end of the season, even with a few weeks of practice, you noticed a difference in her play.
“Like the guys said, you give her more time, she is going to keep getting better.”