Photo: Harvard Crimson
BY JACK LeGWIN
For Reilly Walsh, playing hockey was inevitable.
Walsh grew up on the campus at Proctor Academy in Andover, NH, where his father, Mike is the head coach. He expressed his gratitude for his father’s support as well as the opportunity to play on the pond there.
“Being able to skate at Proctor with my dad as my coach was huge for me growing up,” Walsh told BTS Sports. “His being able to help me and teach me is a big reason I am where I am right now.”
Mike pushed Reilly to always set the best possible example for his younger brother Ronan, and Reilly believes it has helped him to become a leader on the ice.
“It’s been good for for me as the older brother having more responsibility,” Walsh said. “I have to make sure I set a good example for him. It’s something my dad has harped on my entire life. Last year when he was a freshman and I was a senior, it definitely helped him hockey-wise as well as off the ice. I’m trying to be the best role model I can be. Not everyone is on the same path, but I’m trying to help him reach his goals.”
Walsh knew relatively early in his high school career that he wanted to head to Cambridge to play at Harvard for a multitude of reasons.
“The first thing that drew my attention was the coaching staff,” Walsh said. “They reached out to me fairly early. It was my freshman summer at Proctor. When I went on the campus, I saw they were putting in a new rink. That was intriguing to me. The Beanpot played a huge role in my decision because I wanted to go to a Beanpot school as well.”
Walsh joined fellow Proctor alum, Merrick Madsen at Harvard and he says their friendship has carried over to playing in Cambridge.
“His being there wasn’t a big reason for me choosing Harvard, there were a lot of other factors,” Walsh said. “We are very good friends here for sure though. It’s really cool that we are both here. On road trips we are roommates which is pretty funny.”
A top line defensemen this year for the Crimson as a freshman, Walsh said he has enjoyed his time there thus far.
“I’ve been learning how to balance school and hockey,” Walsh said. “Hockey takes up most of the afternoon and school takes up most of the morning. I’m busy all day, every day. The hockey part has been awesome, playing in college is unbelievable. I’m trying to take in as much as I can this year and still impact the team the best that I can.”
Walsh did say that he looks to the captains for guidance at times.
“Merrick obviously, but Eddie Ellis and Jake Horton as well,” Walsh said. “They’re hard working role models on the team with how they lead and how they carry themselves. Adam Fox is another guy as well with his play style. His skill set is unbelievable. I try to learn the smallest things from him.”
Drafted by the NJ Devils with the No. 81 overall pick in this past year’s NHL Draft, Walsh said the experience of being selected is something he won’t forget.
“I went to Chicago with my family, and got to take it all in,” Walsh said. “You’re not expecting anything going in on day 2. It’s just rapid fire and you just have to wait and see what happens. When I got that call, it was little bit of a shock. I knew about where I was going to get picked, but I didn’t know what teams. A lot of people underestimated the Devils and they had such a good draft and offseason last year, and they’re having a good year this year. I was really pleased with the organization and the management, and I’m excited to keep moving forward.”
Walsh made the preliminary roster for the Team USA World Juniors U20 tournament in Buffalo, but just missed out on the final cuts. While he expressed disappointment, Walsh said that he is moving forward and using it as motivation.
“I wanted to make that team badly,” Walsh said. “Not making the team was motivation for me to keep pushing here and take over a leadership role from a team standpoint at Harvard. I think that it was good for me and I tried to make that negative as much into a positive as I could. I’m excited for next year and having a chance to make that team again and do whatever I can to make that team and bring back a gold medal for the U.S.”
Still, the opportunity to play alongside players like Brady Tkachuk, Kieffer Bellows and Casey Mittelstadt was not something that Walsh takes lightly.
“I was kind of shocked to make the tryout camp,” Walsh said. “I made it without going to the summer camp which is pretty rare. It was really cool being on the team with some guys that are going to be in the NHL. Some actually played in the NHL this year. I tried to take as much out of it as I could. Some of them I knew before, but I met a lot of new guys.”
Now a part of a team that went 26-8-2 last year before losing to Minnesota Duluth in the Frozen Four in Chicago, Walsh recognizes that there’s a certain expectation for excellence at Harvard, but that a majority of the pressure comes from the players themselves.
“They had such a good season last year that we want to follow it up,” Walsh said. “We aren’t having as strong of a season so far, but we still have a chance to win the ECAC, win the Beanpot and make a push for an NCAA bid.”
When asked whether he feels pressure about being one of the best players in college hockey as a freshman, Walsh said he doesn’t feel any pressure from the outside world.
“The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself,” Walsh said. “I try to focus on winning each game. I do what I can to help my team win. The goals I want to achieve are all under my own control.”
Walsh currently has 3 goals and 9 assists with a +2 rating for the Crimson through 21 games.