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Opportunity earned

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Brendan Gallagher will be celebrating his 24th birthday in style on Friday.

A newcomer to Team Canada’s senior side for the 2016 World Hockey Championship, the Canadiens’ No. 11 will face off against the Americans in the tournament-opener for both squads in St. Petersburg, Russia.

It will mark just the third time that Gallagher will sport his country’s colors in international competition, and the first time since he helped the Canadian contingent claim bronze at the World Junior Hockey Championship in January 2012. He previously played for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2009, coming away with a silver medal.

Given Gallagher’s misfortune on the injury front this past season – and the Canadiens’ struggles from December onward – being given the chance to head overseas and prolong his hockey season has the Edmonton native beaming with pride.

“When Hockey Canada called, there wasn’t really any thinking that had to go into it. As a hockey player, you just want to play. It’s an honor to put on that sweater and represent your country. I remember watching the Olympics and the World Juniors growing up. I’ve still got those great memories. I’ve only recently started watching the World Championship, so getting the opportunity to go over there and compete against some of the best players from around the world is cool,” said Gallagher, who will finally have a chance to ply his trade overseas.

“Obviously, with the [NHL] playoffs going on right now, you want to be a part of it. But, this really is the next best thing. You prepare your body all year to be able to play longer into the season, so this is a little bit of a second life and it gets your competitive juices flowing again. I think I appreciate it now more than I did at the end of the season [in mid-April]. Finding a way to win a championship is my only goal. I’m just hoping for the opportunity to contribute,” added Gallagher, who will suit up alongside former World Junior teammates Ryan Murray, Mark Stone, Mark Scheifele and Boone Jenner as Canada looks to win it all for a second consecutive year.

While Gallagher is perfectly aware that games overseas tend to be refereed somewhat differently than what NHLers are generally used to, he isn’t planning on making any drastic changes to his playing style. That means that you’ll likely be seeing the four-year NHL veteran trying to give opposing goaltenders all they can handle in-and-around the blue paint as per usual.

“Every player selected by his country is there for a reason. Your skill set gets you there. I think you have to stick to what makes you successful. I’ve always said that. I won’t be adjusting my game too much. It’s just a matter of circumstance and figuring it out as we go. That’s the way you’re going to have success as a team. You have to play hard for that jersey. If everyone does that, I think we’ll have a good team,” explained Gallagher, referencing the relentless style of play that has steadily become his trademark over the years.

The former Vancouver Giants standout joins Canada’s senior contingent eager to soak up as much information as possible from the experience while delivering the goods up front in his debut. Opportunities like these are few and far between, which is something Gallagher fully appreciates as the 16-team event gets underway with a classic tilt against a long-standing rival.

“It’s a long tournament, so it’s going to be good for a bunch of guys who haven’t played together to build up some chemistry as we play. We have very talented players. I’m just going to learn as much as I can from them, see how they go about their games and what makes everyone there a very special player. I’ll try to bring some of that into my game a little bit. My plan, though, will be to take things day-by-day,” said Gallagher, who will also be sharing a locker room with the likes of fellow young guns Connor McDavid, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene and Max Domi.

It seems like Gallagher has been readying himself for this opportunity for a while now. The last time he sported the maple leaf crest just over four years ago, he learned one of the most valuable lessons athletes can internalize at any point in their respective careers. And, it actually happened in one of the more memorable World Junior defeats for Canada in recent memory.

“We were down 6-1 with just over 12 minutes to go in that [semi-final] game against Russia, before we climbed back into it and made it 6-5 with six minutes left in the third period. You look at how our team stuck together and battled. I learned a lot of lessons going forward that I could use, mainly that you’re never really out of a hockey game. I’ve seen it happen first-hand. I’ll never forget the energy in the Saddledome [in Calgary] when we scored that fifth goal,” recalled Gallagher, who managed to light the lamp during Team Canada’s four-goal flurry in a span of 4:57 that came up just short in the end.

“That’s my biggest memory of the games I’ve played for Canada at any level. It’s a tough memory to have, but looking at what we did in that game it’s something that will stick with me forever from the tournament. Now, with the Worlds, this is just another chance to create some new memories and hopefully some really good ones,” added Gallagher, who went on to lead all players on both teams with nine shots on goal in Team Canada’s 4-0 victory over Finland in the bronze medal matchup two days later.

Should Mike Condon get the start for Team USA on Friday, it's safe to say finding a way to put the puck past him would be a memorable way for Gallagher to start things off. A win, though, would be even better.

“Condo owes me a birthday goal. That’s probably fair,” cracked Gallagher, who will likely start the tournament on a line with Jenner and Ryan O'Reilly in the first of Canada's seven preliminary-round contests between May 6 and May 17. “I had fun with him all year long, joking around with him. It’ll be different playing against him there. I’ll be sure to pay him a couple of visits around the crease. I’m sure he’ll play well for them during the tournament. He played so well for us all season. I know he’s really looking forward to the opportunity as well. It’ll be a good game. Hopefully, we can get a couple of goals by him.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for

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