Mike Daly, the Holy Cross captain and a detailed-minded defenseman, loves a physical game.
“I think that’s my favorite part of hockey, playing the body,” he said. “That’s always fun. You don’t always line guys up perfectly, but when I am able to lay a big hit on someone, that’s one of the most satisfying parts of the game.”
Daly has been laying out hits, paying attention to detail and being a leader at Holy Cross since first stepping on campus, and now he’s down to the last precious months of his college career.
“It’s kind of hitting me more and more every day,” Daly said a few games into the season. “Time just flies when you’re here. It feels like it was last week when I was an incoming freshman and playing in my first game, and here I am in my senior season. I’m trying to enjoy every game and I know this is it. I’m trying to make it my most successful season as a Holy Cross hockey player.”
He’s got some lofty seasons to match.
Last season, Daly helped Holy Cross, like UConn, make a huge jump in the standings. The Crusaders improved from seventh to a close third behind league powers RIT and Air Force.
Holy Cross finished a point behind Air Force and four behind RIT and made its first appearance in the tournament semifinals since 2006. The Crusaders fell just short of the championship game when they lost to Air Force, 3-2.
After the season, Daly received the Joe Tomasello Unsung Hero Award from the New England Hockey Writers Association.
It’s one of several honors, for both on-ice and off-ice achievements and efforts, that already have come his way.
More may well follow.
Daly carries a 3.8 GPA and is being considered for a Rhodes Scholarship, said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl (Winthrop, Mass.), who raves about him.
“The thing is, he’s just a great kid,” Pearl said. “I know every coach says that about his players, but he’s instantly likable and hardworking and a 3.8 (GPA) student, all the things you hope for in terms of a human being, take out the hockey part. You’re not going to find anybody who says a bad word about the kid. He’s our captain and leader for a reason. The kids respect him so much.”
Early this season, Daly was one of three Atlantic Hockey skaters among 20 Division 1 players nominated for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. RIT defenseman Chris Haltigan and Air Force forward Paul Weisgarber also made the list.
The Lowe’s Awards recognize four areas of excellence — community, classroom, character and competition — and CLASS stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. A finalist is picked and honored in 10 different Division 1 sports.
“It’s definitely a great honor to just be nominated for an award like that,” Daly said. “There are so many worthy candidates throughout the country. It’s special. I was surprised by it. I was kind of taken aback. It’s pretty humbling.”
Daly has the CLASS bases covered nicely.
An economics and political science major, he regularly makes Atlantic Hockey’s All-Academic team.
He readily admits he’s not the best skater or most skilled player around, but he’s been named the team’s best defenseman and twice has won the Glenn “Spike” Crane Memorial Award “as the player who excels most in the little things and leads by example,” which is voted on by the players.
“If you watched him, you’d say he’s an OK skater, but kind of choppy,” Pearl said. “And his hands are OK. But he’s so coachable and so smart you wouldn’t notice that in a game. He’s a great first-pass guy and a puck mover and he plays his angles so well and his stick so well, skating doesn’t become an issue. I promise you there’s not a coach around who wouldn’t want him on his team.”
Daly volunteers in the community, too, with Crusaders for Kids that is run by the hockey program, and at Elm Park Elementary School about five minutes from campus
“With Crusaders for Kids, we spend one night a week, or every two weeks, hanging out with kids from a local elementary school,” Daly said. “It’s kind of a rundown school and in poor condition. I think the kids enjoy hanging out with us for the night. We might take them to a Holy Cross basketball game or to a bowling alley, and we usually buy them pizza.”
A native of South Burlington, Vt., Daly attributes much of his approach to his parents — mother Theresa and father Terry, a graduate of West Point — and family. His older brother, Pat, is a Marine and finishing flight school, and his sister, Kelley, works in marketing New York City.
“I have that military brat background instilled in me,” Daly said. “That sense of discipline and working hard and putting your heart and soul into whatever endeavor you’re involved in.”
Terry points to the youth hockey and baseball programs — one of Mike’s teams won a national championship in hockey, and his South Burlington baseball team was a win away from going to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series — and the coaches involved in them who helped hone his son’s skills and character.
A three-year stint at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., played a role, too.
“Giving back is one of the real points of emphasis at St. Paul’s, as well as at Holy Cross,” Terry Daly said. “Mike’s been willing to get pushed out of his comfort zone and get out in the community. Service is central to the mission at those schools, and the kids pick up on that and take advantage of the opportunities they have there, and hopefully make the best of them.”
Now Mike and the Crusaders are trying to make the best of his last season and that of forwards Luke Miller (Andover, Mass.) and Jay Silvia (Burlington, Mass.) and the other Holy Cross seniors.
Daly, who would love to give professional hockey a shot, thinks the Crusaders have the talent and determination to compete for a title or two.
If they do, Mike Daly, 5-foot-11 and maybe 190 pounds, will be leading the way, playing with tenacity and toughness and looking to make a hit.
This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Allen Lessels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.