Alex Gacek is in a good place, physically and mentally. He’s a long way from home and couldn’t be happier.
“This is my second family, 25 brothers and coaches who are my best friends,” said Gacek, a freshman forward for the Miami University hockey team and a native of Dracut, Mass. “This is really a special place. I’m super glad to be here.”
Gacek is not a high-profile guy for the RedHawks, who will play Minnesota State Mankato in the NCAA Midwest Regional this weekend at the Huntington Center in Toledo, but he’s a regular on one of the best teams in the country.
It hasn’t been an entirely smooth ride for the 5-foot-8, 166-pound Gacek, who didn’t play in five games earlier in the season and said he needed to make some mental adjustments. He credited performance consultants Don DiPaolo and Ed Freedberg for helping him think more clearly.
“The game’s more mental than I thought it would be,” Gacek said. “I can’t even tell you how much they’ve helped me. Just boatloads. They’ve taught me to keep the negatives out.”
He fits the mold of MU forwards these days: smaller, quicker guys who don’t mind physical play. Gacek has seven points this year and generally keeps his coaches happy.
“A real good kid that plays hard and practices hard and tries to do everything the right way,” RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said. “He’s a speed guy that can go. He’s got pretty good skill, and he gets in your face.”
Gacek has always been able to cover a lot of ice in a short period of time. That speed contributes to his physicality.
“I’ll try to put someone through the glass,” Gacek said. “It’s a little bit harder to outmuscle guys because of my size, but that’s where my legs come in. I’ve got to come in with a little bit of speed. When I’m in the corner, I’ve got to move with the puck to cause havoc.”
Miami only has a couple East Coasters on its roster, and Gacek is one of them. His hometown is about 30 miles northwest of Boston.
Kids from his area rarely dream about being RedHawks.
“Back home, it’s always, ‘I’ve always wanted to go to (Boston College), I’ve always wanted to go to (Boston University),’ ” Gacek said. “I guess I’m a little bit different. I wanted to find a family, and Miami has provided that and much more. Ever since I stepped on campus, I haven’t looked back. It’s the best place on earth.”
He does miss a few things. He’s a water guy … a beach, a boat, surfing, fishing, whatever. It’s all great to him.
Dracut isn’t all that close to the Atlantic Ocean, but Hampton, N.H., is. That’s where Gacek’s family has a summer home, and he joins his father Mark on regular lobstering excursions.
“My father owns a boat, and we go out as a hobby in the summers, maybe like three or four times a week,” Gacek said. “We’ve been doing it for four or five years now. Each year we’ve graduated. The first year, we had five traps out there. The next year, 10. The next year, 50. This past summer, 80.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s soothing. It’s nice to be out on the water, and lobster is good. It’s mostly just recreational. We’ll give it to neighbors. We’ll eat it ourselves. Or we’ll invite friends up for a big cookout.”
Lobstering isn’t your everyday hobby, but it’s a natural thing for Gacek. Spending time with his father is part of the appeal.
Gacek is already thinking about another summer on the water, but there is work to be done before then. Miami is trying to win its first national championship and believes it can happen this year, but the RedHawks are also coming off a 6-2 loss to Michigan.
To Gacek, that’s history. He’s not having blue-and-maize nightmares. He’s focused on the purple-and-gold Mavericks of Minnesota State.
“It’s a good time to be in the locker room,” Gacek said. “We’ve got a little sour taste in our mouths from this past weekend, and none of us want it to end. Our bond in the locker room is second to none. This is truly the Brotherhood, and we want to keep going as far as we can.”
The Alex Gacek File
Size: 5-foot-8, 166 pounds
Birthday: April 6, 1993
Hometown: Dracut, Mass.
Parents: Janet and Mark Gacek
Major: Undecided, but leaning toward business
Statistics: Three goals (all came against future Big Ten hockey teams: Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State), four assists
Juniors: Played for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs in the Eastern Junior Hockey League in 2009-10, collecting 36 goals and 28 assists. In 2010-11, he played in the United States Hockey League with the Indiana Ice (one assist) and Youngstown Phantoms (seven assists). Totaled 16 goals and 21 assists for the Phantoms in 2011-12.