MONTREAL - Back in November 2015, Brendan Gallagher and his mother Della made an impromptu visit to the Shriners Hospital for Children that still resonates with her today.
At the time, the now 25-year-old Canadiens' right-winger and Shriners' supporter, was on the sidelines following surgery to repair two fractured fingers in his left hand, and Della, a physiotherapist, was in town from British Columbia to help him around the house and get the recovery process started on the right foot.
It certainly wasn't easy for Della to see her son in pain while dealing with the disappointment of being forced to watch his teammates battle on for weeks without him. At one point, though, during her stay, when he was feeling a little bit better, Brendan suggested the pair take a ride to the Shriners to spread some cheer just ahead of the holiday season.
"When Brendan gets a little down, he likes to give. I remember we had a whole afternoon free, so he asked me if I wanted to go with him to visit the kids. He was still in his sling, and he was going from room to room to meet all of the patients," recalled Della, who jumped at the chance to make the short drive over to the McGill University Health Centre facility with her son.
"There was this shy little girl in one of the classrooms there. She had a cast on both legs because she had to have tendon lengthening surgery. She only spoke French and she was really shy. Brendan kind of started a conversation with her. Her teacher asked if he could sign her cast, and Brendan said - 'I'll sign your cast if you sign mine.' It was a special moment for me as a mom. They both smiled and that perked him right up. My pride meter really went up when I saw him interact with the kids," added Della, on the meaningful experience the two shared that day.
Brendan's actions didn't necessarily surprise her, though. He's always been just as kind and caring with his own family members over the years. His father, Ian, is also his long-time strength and conditioning coach, and he has three siblings - brother Nolan and sisters Erin and Breanne.
"He'll move heaven and high water to spend time with us. He'll always come home for Christmas, even if it's for just one day. It's very important to him," said Della. "When Brendan's home in the summer, he doesn't play professional hockey. He's just home hanging around the house and being with us. He loves his family. He's very sensitive about his family. He's very generous to us. I'm just so grateful for that."
Case in point was a surprise Della received just prior to Mother's Day in May 2014 as the Canadiens were in the midst of a playoff run that culminated in their most recent birth in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I came home from work on a Tuesday, and Ian said that Brendan would like to fly us out to Boston for a game against the Bruins for Mother's Day. I thought that was pretty cool," said Della, who saw Brendan and the Canadiens battle their Original Six rivals at TD Garden in Round 2. "He also paid to bring along Nolan and Erin, who hadn't seen a playoff game before. Getting to meet up and talk to Brendan afterwards was really something. I was pretty proud of how he played in that game."
Fast forward to this past season when Della watched Brendan ply his trade at the Bell Centre during the playoffs for the very first time.
"Ian and I made the trek to Montreal for Game 2 against the Rangers on Good Friday which they won in OT. Those pre-game festivities with the national anthem and Ginette Reno, to hear her in person was special. Then, to see the lighting of the ice. Nobody does it like Montreal," said Della, who was also in attendance for Game 3 at Madison Square Garden in New York where the Canadiens emerged victorious again. "I still can't believe that Brendan's playing for such a storied franchise. You walk past the team store at the Bell Centre and you see his jersey hanging there."
That jersey is in particularly high demand these days, of course, due in no small part to the way the second-eldest of the Gallagher children goes about his business night after night when he's in uniform. Competitive in her own right having played high-level softball growing up, Della has a deep appreciation for her son's trademark playing style - albeit with a few motherly reservations that hockey moms the world over can obviously relate to.
"I like that he's a piranha. I like that he's really hard to play against and that he bounces right back up when he gets knocked down. I've come to accept his style because that's his identity. He needs to be like that," explained Della, on her son's penchant for engaging defenders in-and-around the opposition's goal crease. "I really hate seeing when people cross-check him all the time, but it's a part of the game. I totally understand that he's not going to change his style in front of the net, though."
That's especially true when Della is in the stands.
"Whenever my parents are there, especially my mom, I want to win because she's just as upset as I am if we don't. She hates losing like I do," said Gallagher. "When she's there, you want to play well because it kind of makes you think back to all of the minor hockey memories and all of the little things that went in to getting you to the NHL. A lot of that is the work your parents put in for you. You just want to make them proud."
Mission accomplished, Brendan.