MONTREAL – Brendan Gallagher has always played with heart, but he has a number of former coaches to thank for the other aspects of his game.
Gallagher considers his father Ian — who was his head coach during his early years on the ice, and later his strength and conditioning coach with the Vancouver Giants — to be one of his major influences growing up. But the gutsy forward’s list of role models extends beyond family ties.
"One night, when John Glen was my head coach, we were playing against a team at the bottom of the standings. We should have won easily, but the game was tied 3-3. With five seconds left, I jumped onto the ice and scored. At first I felt like a hero,” admitted the Edmonton native. “But when I got back to the bench, John asked me where I was for the previous 59 minutes. That taught me a valuable lesson. I realized that I couldn’t just show up for 10 seconds a night. I needed to play a full 60 minutes."
While Glen — now working as a recruiter with the Giants — perhaps doesn’t remember that night quite as clearly as Gallagher does, he acknowledges it sounds familiar.
“Brendan was always ultra competitive. What he lacked in size he made up with heart. He worked harder than anyone on the ice, even at a young age.”
But it wasn’t just his time spent at the arena that turned Gallagher into the player he is today.
“He grew up next to a lake,” continued Glen, who shared coaching duties with the head of the Gallagher household at the time. “Every winter, his father Ian would shovel the lake to create a rink. They could exit from their basement and be right on the ice. Ian made time to take Brendan onto the ice every day to practice his skating, do cone drills, and so on. It was a real advantage for him."
If Gallagher has Glen to thank for his work ethic, then it’s another former coach, Jim Voytechek, who taught him the importance of staying disciplined — including how to absorb a hit with his trademark smile.
“Jim kept me disciplined from an early age. Sometimes you want to hit a guy in front of the net and you end up taking a stupid penalty. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you’re sitting on the bench,” underlined 5-foot-9, 182-pound winger. “I quickly learned when to defend my teammates and when to let something go, since playing selfishly could cost me ice time and the team a shorthanded goal."
It was also at that same point in time that Gallagher learned another valuable lesson; how to keep playing no matter what.
“I remember one time, I scored while falling onto the net and pretended to be hurt in order to gain sympathy. What I forgot was there was actually rule in place where if a coach had to come get you on the ice, you had to miss your next three shifts,” remembered the Canadiens’ fifth-round pick from the 2010 NHL Draft. “When I got up from the bench later to get back on the ice, I was quickly reminded about that rule. That’s why today, if I’m hurt, I try to get off the ice quickly. It’s the little things like that which made a difference for me.”
Now working in the railway industry, Voytechek still keeps an eye on his former apprentice to this day, and it turns out not much has changed over a decade later.
“When I watch him today, I see the same player I did back when I was still coaching. I remember he would always arrive at the arena and run right to the dressing room, so excited to see everyone,” shared Voytechek. “He was so impatient to get onto the ice. A lot of kids his age would be, but there was something special about him. I don’t think he knew how good he was. He was just so happy to see his friends."
So happy in fact, that he would sport the same smile that his fans in Montreal — and opposition across the rest of the NHL — now know all too well.
“He’s had that smile forever, but these days he uses it to get under the other team’s skin. You see him flash that smile when he makes someone miss a hit, and you know he’s got the upper hand,” added the three-time 15-plus goalscorer’s former coach. “Once he reached pee-wee, everyone thought he was going to get what was coming to him, but it’s hard to hit a moving target. He’s able to make a pass at just the right moment. He reads the game so well."
It was because of his size that Gallagher often had to start from scratch when proving himself at each stop on his road to the NHL, but that’s been a challenge the 23-year-old has relished.
“I’ve always had something to prove at every level. Even when I arrived in Junior, I was the 13th forward on the depth chart, but I finished my career on the first line,” concluded the Giants’ record holder for most career points and goals in the WHL. “I had a similar experience in Montreal, but I just seized the opportunity."
Indeed, the most recent six-year contract extension Gallagher signed last November is proof of just that.
Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Steven Nechay.
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