MONTREAL – Brendan Gallagher’s rookie campaign wasn’t about a dream coming true; it was about work producing results.
Piling up an impressive 15 goals to co-lead the Canadiens in his debut NHL campaign, Gallagher has proven he can score with ease, but he’s done anything but make it look easy. Taking abuse in the paint, in the corners and just about everywhere else on the ice, the 21-year-old earned every one of his 28 points this season.
“There are a couple of ice bags needed after some of the games, but it’s fine,” joked the 5-foot-9 winger of the bumps and bruises he piled up like badges of honor night after night. “That’s why you work so hard in the summer. If you take care of your body and do all of the things off the ice you need to do, you should be alright. I haven’t felt too much wear and tear.”
Without the benefit of exhibition games to showcase his other-worldly compete level during the truncated training camp, Gallagher was forced to take in opening night from the comfort of the press box in January. When Game 2 rolled around, the gritty rookie finally got his chance to suit up for the first time and never looked back.
Despite stepping into the lockout-shortened season with 36 professional games already under his belt in 2012-13, the Edmonton native managed to maintain momentum throughout the year. By the end of his rookie season, he had racked up the fourth-highest point total of any NHL freshman, finishing the year as a Calder Trophy nominee.
“At the beginning of the season I didn’t even know if I was going to be lineup,” recalled Gallagher, who also finished in the Top 5 among all NHL rookies in shots (117), plus/minus (plus-10), and game-winning goals (three). “I had to come in and earn my spot in training camp. From that point on, there’s been a lot to work on and I learned so much on a day-to-day basis that there wasn’t really too much time to think about anything else. It’s definitely cool to be mentioned and I’m honored but it’s not something I worry too much about.”
In addition to garnering votes from the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the end-of-year accolades, Gallagher also earned praise inside the Canadiens’ dressing room with his work ethic. One of the most consistent players Michel Therrien had at his disposal this season, Gallagher showed up every day “with his work boots on”, as his coach mentioned during a mid-season press conference.
“He deserves it all because he just works so hard,” shared Josh Gorges, who hosted Gallagher at his home and helped him adjust to life in the pros this year. “In big games, those are the types of players you want on the ice; the guys who get to the dirty areas, and get into scrums and grease it out. It’s the things he does, not just scoring goals, but away from the puck.
“He has this willingness to stand in there and battle and hunt down loose pucks,” added the veteran blue-liner. “He’s a warrior. It’s great to see a guy in his first year be such an impact player for our team.”
Working his way from a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 to a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2013, Gallagher knows his success hasn’t happened by chance.
“I was never really pinching myself. I never want to say that I expected to be here because it’s such a difficult thing to manage to do, but I just wanted to do the work I needed to do in the summer to make sure that if I did get the opportunity, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it,” he explained. “Then once I was here, the coaching staff and the rest of the team did such a great job of helping me out that it’s something I just can’t thank them enough for.”
After enjoying a stellar breakout campaign in Montreal, Gallagher is already hard at work back home preparing for a repeat performance in his sophomore season. Heading into Year 2 with a target on his back and more to prove than ever, the young superstar isn’t taking anything for granted.
“It was a great challenge for me to play against some really great players and learn a lot about myself in the process. It’s true that everyone’s going to be more aware of me and the things that I like to do on the ice, so it will be tougher in that way,” admitted Gallagher. “At the same time, I feel like I’m going to be better and I’m going to have learned more. As long as I continue to work hard I don’t think I’ll have any problems.
“When I went to camp in Hamilton I just wanted to do my best to help out the team. I felt like if I was doing the right things and helping the team win, people up here would notice me and think they could use me on their team as well,” he added of his recipe for success at the pro level. “That’s always been my mindset: help the team, do everything the coaches ask, don’t complain, show up, play your game and don’t take any nights off. Usually when you do that good things happen.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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