October 31, 2003

Quietly Assuming a Leadership Role

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In college athletics, there is work ethic and then there is work ethic. It’s an important distinction, one that separates the good players and teams from the truly great ones. To men’s hockey coach Mike Schafer ’86, senior assistant captain Ben Wallace is the definition of the latter.

“Ben’s a model of what other athletes on campus could [follow],” Schafer said.

Since arriving on campus in the fall of 2000, Wallace has consistently devoted himself to improving as a hockey player. Now, as the defenseman enters his final season with the Red, he has firmly established himself as a role model for his teammates. He is the consummate leader. But don’t think for a second that his title of assistant captain will change Wallace’s approach to the game.

“It was nice to be acknowledged by the team,” he said. “It does place some responsibility on myself and Ryan’s shoulders, but there are a lot of guys on our team who fill leadership roles. So, it’s not just Ryan and I who have to be the leaders. We’re all leaders in our own way.”

Schafer will expect something a little different, though, from Wallace.

“Leaders … have to produce in big games,” Schafer said. “You can’t have a leader who doesn’t have the ability to step forward and produce. It’s when you play in games that everybody expects you to win, and maybe the concentration or the respect for the other team is not there. That’s when your leader steps forward and has to be the best player on the ice.”

According to Schafer, this is a criterion that Wallace has never had difficulty complying with.

“He was our most consistent defenseman from the start of practice to the end of the year last year — bar none — more consistent than Doug Murray ’03, more consistent than anyone.”

For Wallace, consistency on the ice begins with consistency in practice. A native of London, Ont., Wallace has been playing hockey for most of his life.

“I have two older brothers and they were constantly playing hockey, so I just played with them. I just wanted to follow in their footsteps,” he said.

In his three years at Cornell, Wallace has taken work ethic to a new level. After seeing significant playing time his freshman year, an injury sidelined him for the start of his sophomore season. When he returned later that year, Wallace encountered much difficulty breaking back into the lineup, but that didn’t slow the defenseman’s spirits.

“He ended up getting hurt and knocked out of the lineup and struggled to get back in based on the fact that we had no injuries,” said Schafer. “He didn’t’ play as well when he maybe had an opportunity to get back in the lineup and he got beat out for a spot. But he kept working hard everyday, never complained. He stayed here in the summer the following year, and he was determined t come back and prove that he belonged in the lineup from day one. He also saw the importance of not playing through an injury. He was hurt probably worse than anyone on our team last year, and he hardly ever missed a practice, he just would not relinquish an opportunity for anybody to even think about getting into the lineup.”

Wallace attributes his staying power to a positive attitude.

“It’s hard coming to practice and not really playing, but you’ve just got to keep yourself motivated and stay positive,” he said. “Being negative about it won’t help your play.”

The team will expect Wallace’s positive attitude and yeoman work ethic to spread to the younger players, as the Red works to return to the Frozen Four this season.

“Even though we won the Ivies and the ECACs, that’s not really on our minds,” Wallace said. “We’re just thinking about the game against UNH, so we used that as motivation over the summer to constantly remind ourselves how hard we have to work to get back to that spot.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner