BROSSARD - What a difference a year makes.
After missing 29 games with a broken hand and a groin injury in 2015-16 and another 18 games with a broken hand in 2016-17, Brendan Gallagher returned to the Habs in fine form this year and enjoyed a career season, one which was capped off by his capturing of the Molson Cup 2017-18 Player of the Year distinction on Tuesday.
"It's nice, but to be honest, I won't think all that much about it. There has been a lot of other stuff going on this year that's taken up a lot of our time," said Gallagher in reference to his team's difficult season that has them on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. "But it's a nice honor, and it's something I'll enjoy but as soon as it's over, I'll probably forget about it pretty quickly."
The 25-year-old winger affirms he hasn't had to change much in his game in order to see his goal and points totals grow, but it's his constant drive for consistency and personal development that have helped get him there.
"You just try to be a consistent player every game, and that was no different this year," outlined Gallagher, who reached the 30-goal and 50-point plateaus for the first time in his career. "We have three games left here to continue it, but I was just trying to be myself every game: try to be consistent, do whatever you can do to contribute.
"I still feel like there's a lot for me to improve on and get better at. I don't know if I've changed my game so much; I've tried to be the same player. What I've tried to do is just get better and learn. I've been around a lot of good people and good hockey minds. I've been able to continue to do what's made me successful and add to that, grow as a player. I still consider myself a fairly young guy, and there's a lot of room to improve."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on winning the Molson Cup
Teammate Alex Galchenyuk, who came up with the Canadiens at the same time as No. 11, added that it's not just Gallagher's numbers on the scoresheet he appreciates, but what the feisty forward brings to the table behind the scenes and how much value that adds to the team.
"It's really big," praised Galchenyuk of Gallagher's leadership. "The way he plays and the way he is in the room, he's definitely grown as a player and as a leader. It's nice to see."
Paul Byron has had a front-line view of Gallagher's work on the ice, as the two have spent much of the season on the same line together. The diminutive forward attributed Gallagher's success to his work ethic and his willingness to get dirty, no matter the price.
"I just like how he plays. He's so easy to read. He plays a north-south game like myself, he digs in the corners, goes to the net, he likes to go to the hard areas," described Byron. "When you're on the ice with him, you know you're going to get chances, you know you're going to be battling, you know you're going to be around the net. I think we just compliment each other really well."
Video: Paul Byron on winning the Jacques Beauchamp Trophy
Well, the partnership has paid off for both of them, as Gallagher was not the only one to get recognized for his efforts this season on Tuesday. Byron, who was claimed off waivers from the Calgary Flames at the start of the 2015-16 season, was named winner of the Jacques Beauchamp-Molson Trophy - awarded annually to the member of the Canadiens who played a dominant role during the regular season without earning any particular honor - for the second time in three seasons.
In Byron's case, his ability to slot in and contribute in any situation - first line, fourth line, center, wing, power play or penalty kill - has helped solidify his standing on the roster.
"I think I created a lot when I was [in Calgary], I just wasn't getting the chances. Everybody knows that when you start scoring, confidence comes and you start believing in yourself more. The biggest thing for me is knowing and believing that I'm not just a fourth-line player anymore. I always felt I needed to prove, as a fourth-line guy, I had to go out there and hit, and penalty-kill, and that was going to be my role. But I can bring more than that," recounted Byron, who is just one goal shy of reaching the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career after accomplishing the feat last season. "I've been an offensive guy. I'm able to play really good stout defense. I can kill penalties. Being able to do a little bit of everything, really, is what's gotten me here. I'm grateful for every opportunity I've gotten here in Montreal."
Video: Claude Julien's press conference - April 3
As a coach, Claude Julien couldn't help but reflect on the fact that not only have both Gallagher and Byron been shining lights through a tough campaign, but they also haven't shied away from accepting responsibility for the team's troubles in the standings.
"These two players aren't at 100%, but by their willpower and desire, they want to be a part of the solution. These are not players who hide when things aren't going well; on the contrary. They've shown themselves to be good leaders and they certainly deserve these things," concluded the Habs bench boss. "In my evaluation, these guys have been among the best on the team."