Not everything goes according to a plan when you’re a rookie in the OHL. Even with preparation, it can be a daunting task learning how to play against physically mature 20-year-olds as a fresh-faced rookie.
After joining the Peterborough Petes organization as a 5th overall draft pick, former Mississauga Rebels forward Zach Gallant had a rookie season that statistically didn’t look great on paper. Now in his second season with the Petes, the 2017 NHL draft eligible forward is sticking to the process and is seeing the dividends pay off.
“This summer I went in and worked hard, made sure to completely forget about the year I had before,” said Gallant, who was only able to muster four points in 51 games last season. “I wanted to come in with a new conscience and a new mindset to get things going and develop into the best player I can be.”
With a year to learn the OHL-level game, adjust to the speed, and a summer to get stronger, Gallant has emerged as one of the Petes’ top offensive threats. The power forward now has 14 goals and 19 assists mid-way through in his sophomore season. Gallant credits his teammates for his improved record.
“We had a few guys last year, Eric Cornel did a great job with the young guys. Brandon Prophet [as well] when he came in. I found a really good bond with him and he’s doing a great job as captain this year. He’s just keeping the young guys in check and creates a great atmosphere in the locker room.”
Earning the League’s honour as the OHL Player of the Month this past December, Gallant led the Petes to an impressive 10-0-0 record through a 31-day stretch, notching 7 goals and 8 assists along the way. Gallant says his physical growth over the past calendar year has helped him improve his game.
“I was always a big guy in minor hockey, but last year was a little different, I didn’t really know how to handle myself and handle the bigger guys. It took me a bit of time to adjust and figure out how I could use my body to my advantage”, explains Gallant. “This year I’m hitting a lot more and I’m putting myself in more situations. I’ve put on ten pounds over this past summer. As I’m getting stronger and faster, I’m getting more comfortable in the League as well.”
One of the wins recorded in the Petes 10 game winning streak came with first star honours for Gallant. The Oakville native recorded a goal and an assist in the nationally televised game against the defending Memorial Cup Champions. Despite playing on a big stage, Gallant felt no additional pressure.
“There’s always pressure from the fans so you try to be consistent. Most of our games are televised anyway so it’s not the biggest difference to play in a nationally televised game. It was definitely cool to see the highlights the next morning knowing I played well.”
Now highlighted in a national stage, Gallant started off playing AAA in the GTHL. Looking back, Gallant has nothing but great memories.
“It was really cool, I played for the Toronto Young Nationals for five years before minor midget. We won three GTHL Championships and an OHF Championship, which was really cool and really fun. I got to play in an OHL Gold Cup and the Canada Winter Games and found some success there,” said Gallant. “I still have friends from those teams that are playing a really high level of hockey that I still see on a monthly basis when I’m playing against them in the league.”
Gallant wasn’t the first, or even the second, member of his family to play in the Canada Winter Games. Both his father and uncle participated in the tournament when they were youths, with his uncle going on to play in the QMJHL. Zach has been able to pick up little tidbits from his family about how the game has changed over the years.
“Junior hockey was a completely different game, it was a lot slower and there was a lot more physicality and toughness to it,” said Zach. “I don’t think the speed was there, but he’s [my uncle] taught me a lot. I’ve been on the phone with him a few times and he’s just given me tips on how to handle myself on and off the ice.”
As a member of the Young Nationals, Gallant also was able to learn from former Toronto Maple Leafs great Wendel Clark.
“It was a lot of fun, Wendel definitely taught me a lot about the game and how to carry myself in practice and work hard. You can say he definitely taught me how to look at the game more systematically and how to play it the right way.”
The Petes currently sit at second place in the East Division, three-points back of the Oshawa Generals. Gallant expects for a strong finish to the season for his team.
“I expect we should make a good playoff run, it’s definitely good to see how the atmosphere of the group has changed over the year, through the ups and downs. We’re confident we can make a big playoff push and finish strong.”