By Marek Warszawski
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO, Calif. – Tom Walsh is used to the razzing.
The Fresno Falcons rookie defenseman can take whatever grief his teammates dish out.
After all, he’s a Harvard man.
“I’ll mess up on a drill and someone will go, ‘Harvard guy can’t even figure it out,'” said Walsh, who graduated last spring with a degree in government. “I get that probably at least once a day.”
In truth, being a hockey player from Harvard isn’t that unusual. According to the school’s web site, there are 21 former Crimson players in the professional ranks, including eight in the NHL.
Walsh isn’t even the Falcons’ only Ivy Leaguer. Defenseman Vince Macri and goaltender Scott Stirling both attended Brown.
Walsh, though, is an unusual case.
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2002, the Arlington, Mass., native elected not to sign with the NHL team and spent four years at Harvard.
Invited to training camp by the Worcester Sharks, San Jose’s American Hockey League affiliate, Walsh impressed enough to earn a contract. He appeared in three games for Worcester before being reassigned to Fresno on Oct. 18.
“If you don’t sign, it’s tough to earn a contract in camp,” Falcons coach Matt Thomas said. “Not too many guys get that opportunity. They’re very high on him in San Jose.”
Walsh’s first season in pro hockey has been an adjustment.
For one, he’s living outside Massachusetts for the first time in his life. Second, he’s scraping by on a rookie’s salary.
Rookies in the ECHL average about $350 or $400 per week, though Walsh makes a bit more — “But not much,” he said — because of his AHL contract.
Compare that to the average starting salary of $46,488 for economics and public policy majors, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
“I have the rest of my life to find a job,” Walsh said. “You can only play hockey for so long.”
On the Falcons, Walsh’s job is to be a stay-at-home defenseman who brings toughness and stability in penalty-killing and end-of-period situations.
“He’s very responsible in his own end and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Thomas said.
“He’s an extremely smart player — and I’m not going to say that about every player I’ve coached out of Harvard.”