The San Jose Barracuda have signed goaltender Parker Gahagen to an Amateur Tryout Agreement. ATOs are more common toward the end of the season in lower leagues, reserved for players who are done with college and attempting turn professional. In this case, Gahagen is not able to collect a paycheck from both the Sharks and the US Military, where he is a Second Lieutenant, making the amateur status necessary.
The 24-year-old has previously attended Sharks development camp, as well as their rookie camp this summer, but due to Army restrictions, he was unable to sign with the club. Gahagen is now being granted special status under the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which will allow him to train with the Barracuda in preparation for the Olympics, while maintaining his military career. He’s the first team sport athlete to be granted the status.
A native of East Amherst, New York, Gahagen spent the last four years playing for the United States Military Academy in NCAA Division I hockey. He graduated after 110 games with a 40-49-16 record and a .926 save percentage. During his time at West Point, he grew significantly as a player, posting five shut outs his senior year, in addition to a .934 save percentage, a 2.00 goals-against average, and a 17-13-4 record. He earned a Hobey Baker nomination for the top player in the NCAA and was a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award for the most outstanding Division I goaltender. For the second year in a row, he took the Black Knights to the Atlantic semifinals.
Gahagen left West Point first in Army history in save percentage and total saves (3,172), second in shutouts (10), and third in goals-against average (2.60).
A former Buffalo Junior Sabre, Gahagen is hoping to represent the United States at the PyeongChang Olympics. It’s a unique opportunity for him. Buffalo News reported that Gahagen already had a deal in place with the Sharks organization, but until his Army duties were able to be sorted, it was shelved. Without the NHL participating in the Olympics, Gahagen was able to be granted the World Class Athlete exception, despite it previously having been only awarded to individual athletes. General Manager of the U.S. Olympic team, Jim Johannson, had to write a personal recommendation to the newly appointed Defense Secretary James Mattis, who had made it a requirement for military academy and ROTC graduates to serve in their first two years after graduation.
“It’s a great opportunity to serve your country,” Gahagen said of the Olympics to Buffalo News. “I’ve been able to do it in a different way, but it would be an honor to be on the team.”
There are eight or so goaltenders in contention for three spots to represent the United States in PyeongChang, so nothing is set in stone. The roster announcement is expected to come late in December, so the Barracuda will have Gahagen for roughly seven weeks.
The Sharks organization, of course, is no stranger to unconventional NHL journeys. An undrafted Aaron Dell worked his way through NCAA Division I hockey to the Central Hockey League, the ECHL, the AHL, and is now the Sharks’ back-up goaltender, who finished last year with the best even-strength save percentage in the league. Gahagen may not be fully available for another two years, but he could be something great by the time he is.