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A meaningful journey

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Every summer, Alex Galchenyuk returns to his roots.

Back in late June, the Canadiens’ No. 27 packed his bags to make the 5,500 mile trek from his summer home in Miami to the Belarusian capital of Minsk, the city his grandparents call home. Accompanied by his father, Alexander, his mother, Inna, and his sister, Anna, the annual three-week trip is something the Galchenyuk family – on both sides of the pond – looks forward to all year long.

“They really miss us, and we miss them a lot, too. It’s great to be able to spend so much time with them when we’re over there. I know they do everything they can to follow me. They know exactly what’s going on with my career and my life. They stay up late and watch all of my games. They’re so excited to see everybody and talk to us in person. It’s really great to see them smile when we travel there. They cherish the time,” offered Galchenyuk, who recently returned to Montreal to skate with kids at the Montreal Canadiens Hockey School in Brossard. “We only get to see them once a year, so we try to do as much as we can when we’re together. They do so much to get prepared for us, so when we get there we try to show them respect in return by taking them out and showing them a good time.”

This time around, that included a family trip to a local hibachi restaurant, which, at the time, was a culinary experience Galchenyuk’s grandparents hadn’t yet tried before.

“The concept of people cooking in front of them was definitely new for them. They had a bunch of fun with us that night. Stuff like that really made the trip special, having the whole family in the same place,” mentioned Galchenyuk, who gave the hibachi chef a hand with some of the food preparation, posting an Instagram video to his account – @agally94 – to prove it. “It’s just nice to get them out of their normal schedule. My dad’s parents live at a cottage [about 17 kilometers] outside of Minsk. They’re always gardening, planting flowers or growing tomatoes. This is a good change. But, these dinners last a lot longer than they do when it’s just the four of us. My grandparents are always trying to figure out the menu and debating what to order. They always want to try new things. We enjoy it, though. That’s for sure.”

Back in Belarus, Galchenyuk resided primarily at the cottage, venturing into to the city to work out at a local gym downtown, before spending some quality time with his mom’s parents after his training sessions. Then, he’d return to the cottage, where he’d also train on a daily basis.

“There are a lot of hills around the cottage. It’s a forest. My dad and I talk a lot about conditioning work. I like running through the hills. I did it a lot out there. It actually helps me a lot with my game. Your heart rate never stays the same when you’re playing. It builds up, then it goes down. You can simulate that effect there. Running in the forest is beautiful, too,” shared Galchenyuk, who enjoys the change of pace country life provides during the offseason. “It’s kind of humbling when you settle down there. You’re in the forest. It takes your mind off things, and you can just focus on your training. I love it.”

It’s safe to say Galchenyuk also loves his grandparents’ cooking, particularly a few Russian staples that he simply can’t get enough of when he finally gets a chance to head overseas.

“My mom’s dad is unbelievable at making the top traditional food in Belarus, a potato pancake that you eat with sour cream. It’s just so good. That’s probably the thing I miss most during the year. Nobody makes it like that in Montreal. I eat a lot of them when I get there,” explained Galchenyuk with a laugh. “On my dad’s side, they make traditional Russian food. I love their dumplings. They make like 200 of them before I get there, enough to last the entire trip. They’re masters at it. I can’t get enough of them. When it comes to food, my grandparents prepare for our visit all year long.”

While an 11-and-a-half hour flight – and a hectic NHL schedule – generally keeps them apart for an entire calendar year, Galchenyuk is now trying to bridge that gap somewhat through the use of modern technology.

“We’ve bought computers for them, and we’ve explained how they can use them to keep in touch with us in North America. We’d never done that before, but it was getting tough. We wanted to be able to Skype with them. They do so much to see how I’m doing [with the Canadiens], staying up with the seven-hour time difference,” offered Galchenyuk, who can’t say enough about what that type of support means to him. “It’s huge. I hope one day I’ll be able to bring them to Montreal to see me play live. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them. That would be something special. I want to do that soon.”

Experiences like that have Galchenyuk feeling good these days, and he’s hoping that a productive summer both at home and abroad will yield positive results for the 2015-16 campaign.

“I have big expectation for myself. There are a lot of things to look forward to. I’m happy where I’m at right now, and I know it will eventually pay off. I just can’t wait to get the season started,” concluded Galchenyuk, who will resume skating shortly in Miami, and even spend a few on-ice sessions working with former NHLer Darius Kasparaitis, a family friend. “My goal is to get better and better each year. I know I can produce in this league. I want to carry the confidence I built up last season into another good year. I know I can be a difference-maker and help our team. I want to be a go-to guy and be a leader. Even though I’m still young, I want to try and help as much as I can.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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