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From father-son to coach-athlete

Ian Gallagher looked after his son's physical training on his way up the ranks… and still does

by Joanie Godin, translated by Dan Braverman @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - You would never know it, but the fact that Ian Gallagher never had a babysitter for his son Brendan back in the day may have helped him get to the National Hockey League.

When Brendan was a kid, his dad was already very involved in hockey, serving as the longtime strength and conditioning coach for the WHL's Vancouver Giants. In summertime, he would train a number of hockey players, both aspiring youngsters and seasoned pros.

A young Brendan would come along to work with his dad; it was his version of daycare.

"I had to take care of him while I was doing the work, so it wasn't exactly taking him there for the purpose of learning how to train. But, to actually watch people and the work ethic, and the dedication they had, I believe it imprinted very strongly the fact that it took a lot of hard work to have success," Ian recounted when the team met him at their family home in the Vancouver suburb of Tsawwassen. "He understood the process, and eventually he partook in all of the training associated with being a strong, explosive, quick, powerful athlete."

Little Brendan, who served as waterboy, was impressed to see all those players hard at work.

"It was pretty unique. Not a lot of young kids get the chance to be around future NHL players or NHL players. I remember being around Pricey when he was in Junior Hockey. I was just a little kid, and watching guys like that do what they do," remembered the Habs' No. 11. "It kind of gives you an idea of the work that goes into it and what it's going to take. It was fun, obviously to hang around those guys as a little kid. It was pretty special that not a lot of kids get that opportunity."

Then, once in Junior himself, Gallagher got another incredible opportunity: the chance to work with his dad with the Vancouver Giants, where Brendan would go on to rewrite the team's record book in becoming their most prolific scorer ever (136G, 144A, 280 pts. in 244 GP).

The best part was, he could stay at home with his sisters and brother instead of living with a billet family as most players do.

Video: Ian and Brendan Gallagher share a unique bond

"We were very lucky. Brendan could stay at home and maintain that family life associated with the demands of playing in Major Junior Hockey. We were really thankful and fortunate for the coach that was here, really thankful and fortunate for ownership. Both Don Hay and Ron Hoigo sort of created the atmosphere and then the management group that was here, Scott Bonner, treated Brendan, like they treat all of their players, as important parts for them having success," praised the elder Gallagher, who now works as a coach at the high school in Tsawwassen. "So, for us as a family, to have Brendan at home in that environment, was immeasurable."

Ian had a big influence on his son's development. He had the advantage of knowing his limits, his body, his state of mind. He was the perfect person to push him to where he thought his limits were.

"I never told him I couldn't do a certain exercise, but I spent my summers telling him they're too hard! He didn't seem to care," laughed the 25-year-old. "And I understood pretty quickly that it wasn't too hard and that I was able to do it. Part of the relationship isn't all about fun, but in the end, it's worth it. I knew it'd help me get where I want to be.

"He definitely gets the most out of me, and certainly if he wasn't there I wouldn't be the player that I am today. It's something that you need - that little extra motivation, that little push," he went on. "There are times where, especially in the summer, it feels like the season is so far away, stuff doesn't seem like it's all that important, but it really is and he keeps you on your toes and makes sure that you're putting in the work every single day and makes sure that it's going to pay off and continue to build for when the season starts."

Even now - with 324 regular season NHL games under his belt - Brendan still turns to his dad for his summer training.

"I'm pretty lucky to have him around. Still, to this day, I go back in the summers and train with him. He's just got an understanding of what I need to do to come into camp every year and be a better player. That's kind of the biggest thing for me, is you want to be around the best people, the people that are going to work the hardest for you, and for me, that's my dad," indicated the native of Edmonton, AB. "He's someone that's obviously meant a lot to my career. There's a lot of people that have, but him, certainly, probably more so than others; just the amount of time that I've spent with him and the knowledge that he's passed on to me. It's been pretty special."

Ian and Brendan established some boundaries to help distinguish between the dynamics of athlete-coach versus father-son. Obviously, it hasn't always been easy, but it's safe to say that, overall, the arrangement has worked out quite nicely so far.

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