The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the most involved NHL teams at the ECHL level, dedicating plenty of resources and attention to their affiliate.
With the amount of AHL contracted players the Toronto Maple Leafs organization have signed, a significant portion of their ECHL affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers, are property of the Toronto Marlies.
On Friday, that percentage grew even higher as the Marlies announced the signing of goaltender Parker Gahagen to an AHL contract.
On the surface, this is a very minor move. The Marlies are locking up who is currently the Growlers number one option in goal, in case any other AHL teams came knocking.
Toronto did something similar last year when Michael Garteig was upgraded from an ECHL contract to an AHL contract on December 11, 2018.
But Parker Gahagen is no ordinary minor league goaltender. In fact, this is his first taste of professional hockey in nearly two years.
Back in 2017, Gahagen was a Hobey Baker nominee and a semi-finalist for the top collegiate goaltender as a member of the Army Black Knights.
In his junior year at West Point, he led the NCAA in save percentage, stopping 93.7% of the shots he faced. He followed that up by posting a .934 SV% in his senior season, finishing second in the NCAA.
Given that resume, you would imagine an NHL or AHL team would pick him up. The only problem, as a graduate of West Point, Gahagen had military requirements to fulfil.
As such, Gahagen got a taste of professional hockey to the tune of five games for the San Jose Barracuda in 2017-18 before heading off to fulfil some of his military requirements.
Fast forward to 2019 and Parker Gahagen is a commissioned officer in the US Army.
Now 26 and looking to begin a professional career in hockey while the opportunity was still there, Gahagen signed with the Evansville Thunderbolts in the SPHL, the fourth tier of hockey in North America (eligible to do so as a member of the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program).
In six games with Evansville to start the season, he posted an impressive .919 SV% despite his last full season of hockey being three years previous.
Then the Growlers came knocking.
All season long, the Newfoundland Growlers have been abysmal in goal. Due to Ian Scott‘s injury in training camp, rookie Maksim Zhukov was thrust into the starters role, and needless to say, he struggled mightily.
Zhukov’s .862 SV% in 19 games is easily the worst in the ECHL, forcing the Growlers to look at outside options to try and fill the sudden void in goal. First, Angus Redmond came in on loan from the Anaheim Ducks organization, but when he went down with an injury, Gahagen was the next man up.
Since joining the Growlers on December 5, Gahagen has completely turned the Growlers fortunes in net around. His .928 SV% in six games have given Newfoundland further security to play their offensive, dominant style without the worry of conceding multiple goals against.
With his breakout play, one would have to imagine an AHL team was sniffing around picking him up on loan, leading to the Marlies decision to upgrade his contract to an AHL deal.
Parker Gahagen’s breakout is an incredible story so far this season. If he can continue to play at this level, the Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate once again becomes the favourite to repeat as Kelly Cup champions.