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Labor of love

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Brendan Gallagher’s smile on New Year’s Day told you everything you needed to know about what playing in the Winter Classic meant to him.

Getting there, though, wasn’t easy. After suffering two fractured fingers in his left hand back on Nov. 22 against the New York Islanders – and undergoing surgery the following day – it didn’t look like the Canadiens’ No. 11 would be ready in time to hit the ice at Gillette Stadium. Fortunately, things worked out for the best. Not only did Gallagher return to active duty in Foxborough, but he also contributed to the Habs’ cause in a big way in their 5-1 win over the Boston Bruins by scoring a goal and adding an assist. Despite spending 17 games on the sidelines, it’s safe to say he didn’t miss a beat.

That was due in no small part to the work of team doctors, the Canadiens’ world-class training staff, and the help of Gallagher’s parents, too, both of whom are well-versed in the intricacies of the human body. His father, Ian, is the long-time strength and conditioning coach with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, while his mother, Della, is a physiotherapist.

“When I first got hurt, obviously it was disappointing. But, when you look at who I had around me in Montreal, and with my parents – one being a strength coach and one being a physio – it’s kind of like all the odds were in my favour that I was going to be back as soon as possible,” explained Gallagher, who sustained the injury trying to block defenseman Johnny Boychuk’s slap shot at the Bell Centre.

Della was actually in the stands when her 23-year-old son sacrificed his body to prevent Boychuk’s point blast from making its way through to Carey Price with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in the second period. She accompanied Gallagher to the hospital for treatment, and remained in Montreal for several days following his surgery to help him around the house, assist in pain management, and get the recovery process under way correctly.

“I remember going to the hospital with her as soon I was hurt. My mom was with me. The doctors told me what I needed to do. They gave me a six weeks to three months’ time span [to be able to return], and the Winter Classic was five weeks away. Right away, I took the idea of not playing out of my mind,” recalled Gallagher, who, like the rest of his teammates, had the Canadiens’ first-ever appearance in the Winter Classic circled on his calendar from the moment it was announced by the NHL last January.

“That night, she was more a mom than a physio. There wasn’t much she could do at the moment it happened. She coached me through the surgery and after surgery, and she took care of me. It was nice to have her there,” added Gallagher with a smile. “I couldn’t really do much with my hands, so she looked after me for the first week and got me a few things to cheer me up around the house. Then, she became a little bit more like my physio. She gave me some exercises I could do, and when I went home at Christmas, she did a little work on me as well so I didn’t lose a step [when I wasn’t in Montreal]. It was nice to have both of my parents to talk to about it. They understood what I was going through.”

For his part, Ian believes Della’s involvement in Gallagher’s recovery was a perfect complement to the outstanding work Canadiens staffers were doing on an everyday basis to ensure the four-year NHL veteran was healthy again in short order.

“With this being the type of injury that it was, I think it was huge for Brendan to have his mom there. She’s medically knowledgeable of the injury, and she could support the information that the doctors and trainers were providing,” praised Mr. Gallagher, who has worked with the Giants – with whom Brendan played Junior hockey for four seasons – since 2004. “Then, to actually have a caregiver when he went home the next day from surgery, I think that gave him piece of mind to take a deep breath, relax and trust that everything would be fine. Della did a lot for Brendan in that regard.”

Ian did his best to help Brendan along in that department, too, by emphasizing a step-by-step approach to his recovery as opposed to looking too far ahead to the highly-anticipated matchup against the Canadiens’ Original Six rivals.

“I cautioned him against having any sort of expectations because there could have been some big disappointment. I wanted him to think more short-sighted in terms of what he could deal with and accomplish every day. I think he did a good job of staying in the moment and taking care of what needed to be done. Did he want to play in the Winter Classic? They all wanted to play in it. It wouldn’t have been any different for any of the injured guys,” explained Mr. Gallagher, who trains the 2013 Calder Trophy nominee during the offseason in British Columbia.

“What the Habs did to execute Brendan’s surgery and his recovery – and what those doctors did – aligned perfectly to allow for the best case scenario for Brendan,” added Mr. Gallagher. “That’s just the way it worked out. Every day after surgery, he was one day closer to getting back to playing. The Canadiens staff did an exemplary job of going above and beyond what could be expected.”

And, as a result, Gallagher was able to join his teammates in Massachusetts on Dec. 30 to participate in all of the Winter Classic festivities with his family in attendance to cheer him on.

“I wanted to be cautiously optimistic all along, I’ll say. If I hadn’t been able to play in the Winter Classic, I would have been pretty disappointed,” concluded Gallagher. “As the [recovery] process went along, my mom and dad obviously believed that I’d be ready the whole time. They didn’t cancel their flight tickets. They believed that I’d get back. I was very happy to be there.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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