MONTREAL – Brendan Gallagher will remember spring 2016 for a long, long time.
While an untimely ending to the 2015-16 season left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the players in the Canadiens dressing room, the Habs fearless forward was given the chance to extend his season thanks to an invitation to represent Canada at the 2016 World Hockey Championship in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia.
“It was an incredible experience to be able to head overseas and surround myself with so many great players. I learnt so much just from watching the guys prepare themselves for games,” disclosed Gallagher, who tried to soak up everything he could learn from the likes of Taylor Hall, Corey Perry, Derick Brassard and Matt Duchene. “Our group really bonded well. We were always together throughout the tournament, either at the hotel or at a restaurant. We had a really great time. Since those first few days in Prague, we’ve really pulled together as a group the past three weeks.”
That extra time spent together paid off as the Gallagher and the united Canadian squad only suffered one defeat in the entire preliminary round – which came at the hands of the Fins – before going undefeated in the medal round to earn a place on the podium for the 26th time and their second consecutive World Hockey Championship gold medal.
“We knew heading into the finals that whichever team we drew as an opponent would be a tough test. But getting a chance to get our revenge against Finland was great. Our coaches adapted our game plan to address what went wrong in the previous loss,” noted Gallagher, who was excited for a shot at redemption after being held off the scoresheet in a 4-0 loss by a then undefeated Finish squad just a few days prior. “We had a great team and we were able to execute the coaches’ game plan perfectly from start to finish.”
Well, almost perfectly…
"We celebrated twice! (Laughs) Matt Duchene scored an empty-netter with less than a second remaining in the game, so we all jumped onto the ice too early. We had to find and put back on all of our equipment, just so we could drop the puck and celebrate officially. It was pretty funny,” laughed the always jovial Gallagher, who concluded the tournament with a crop of five points in ten games. “The post-game celebrations didn’t last as long. The game only ended around midnight and those of us from the Vancouver area had to leave at 3am.”
Time overseas afforded Gallagher the opportunity to socialize with ‘temporary teammates’ and build relationships that would otherwise seem unimaginable; especially with rival and counterpart Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.
"We play similar roles with our respective teams. The only difference is that our teams are in direct competition. It is going to be harder to hate him especially after playing with him and seeing what he can do on the ice,” shared the Habs energetic winger. “We had never really met before this tournament. The first time was actually back in Prague. We kind of just looked at each other and started to laugh and shake hands. We then sat down and chatted. It is a relationship that grew during the tournament; I was probably with him more than anyone else on the team. We played a lot of table-tennis with Max Domi. We are all competitive so they were some pretty fun and intense games.
Canadiens fans can rest assured that this does not mean the two will be so friendly when the puck drops to open the 2016-17 season.
“I guess we’ll still be friends by the ring presentation ceremony later this summer, but after that we’ll fall right back into work mode,” jested Gallagher, who gave himself a few short days off to recover from jet lag before he leaps right back into off-season training.
Ready to admit that it was his first taste on the top of the podium in his professional career, the 24-year-old right winger stressed how badly he wants to experience that same sensation in Montreal.
“This season was very frustrating for the fans, the team and for myself especially with all the injuries I had to deal with. Even though we came up short, every one of us in the room was looking for answers. To go overseas and experience being a champion was really special. At the same time it is a tournament that I never want to participate in ever again because I have my sights on a bigger prize” acknowledged Gallagher. "The sensation of throwing your equipment in the air with your teammates just seconds after becoming a champion is truly unique. Winning gold just made me want to be able to that in Montreal even more.”
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Jared Ostroff
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