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Speaking from experience

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – When it comes to his son Brendan’s trademark playing style, Ian Gallagher insists on one very important point.

“That has nothing to do with any special parenting technique. This is Brendan’s own identity and it’s something that was evident very early on. His ability to make teams was really dependent upon him being able to play the game his way,” said Mr. Gallagher, a long-time strength and conditioning coach for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants where Brendan enjoyed a record-setting four-year stay between 2008 and 2012. “It’s something that’s allowed him to have some success. It’s not artificial. It’s not fake. It’s kind of what he is. I don’t see that changing. The bottom line is that it isn’t parentally cultivated. I can tell you that.”

Ian accompanied Brendan on the Canadiens' Fathers Trip to Pittsburgh last November and watched him score in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins.

That being said, Ian did help the Canadiens’ No. 11 develop a mindset that played a key part in his steadily climbing the ranks before making the jump to the NHL in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

It’s the same approach he preached once again more recently when Brendan sustained two fractured fingers in his left hand last November, subsequently underwent surgery, and spent the next 17 games on the sidelines ahead of making a triumphant return at the 2016 NHL Winter Classic.

“I think it’s all about short-term goals. If you were ever to start out playing the game and your goal is to play in the National Hockey League, I think there would have been too many hurdles to accomplish in one time. So, we always took the sport day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. Ultimately, it’s just a series of challenges that you’re dealing with and have to overcome to move forward,” said Mr. Gallagher, whose professional credentials also include a 15-year teaching stint in the Edmonton School District, personally training countless amateur and professional athletes for nearly three decades now, in addition to heading up the Delta Hockey Academy in British Columbia since its inception in 2004.

“Staying short-sighted is probably the best advice I could give anybody. Enjoy the team you’re on, take the challenge ahead of you that day and don’t worry about what’s going to happen in the future. That’s largely out of your control,” added Mr. Gallagher, who, along with Brendan’s mother, Della, a physiotherapist, assisted the right-winger in his recovery leading up to the memorable tilt against the Boston Bruins on New Year's Day.

That's just one of many valuable pieces of advice Ian passed along to the newly minted World Hockey Championship gold-medalist at previous stages of his career. When it came to addressing his son’s concerns about his size and stature in a predominantly big man’s game, Ian emphasized the positive hockey-related traits associated with boasting a smaller frame.

“There are advantages to being 6’5, but there are also disadvantages. I sold Brendan on the fact that his size was his advantage. He’d be a smaller player his entire life. That size would give him power, leverage, quickness and other different elements that, if developed, could help him to play at the next level. We never looked at it as a disadvantage, but rather as an advantage,” said Mr. Gallagher, who believes Brendan benefitted from watching one NHL player, in particular, as a youngster. "Growing up in Alberta, you see the Theoren Fleurys of the world playing at a different stature and still being an important contributor. He was just one example of a smaller player making a difference. If Brendan believed in himself and if he took care of his responsibilities at a certain level, we believed he could get to the next one.”

Fortunately, everything worked out for the best. With lessons learned from his father in mind and veteran guidance in the Canadiens’ locker room, Brendan has thrived in Montreal and continues to garner the respect of his peers league-wide and on the international stage as well. To say it’s all been gratifying for Ian and the Gallagher family to watch would be a serious understatement.

Brendan was named one of the Canadiens' four alternate captains last September, a role that Ian believes his son will continue to thrive in over time.

“Brendan really loves to play, and it’s really nice watching somebody who truly loves the sport and loves everything about it. I think it’s always been a similar enjoyment in watching him do something that he loves to do. It’s pretty special to watch,” said Mr. Gallagher, who admits he remains relatively calm and reserved in the presence of others while watching Brendan play on TV back home, but is far more emotionally engaged when it’s a family-only event. “For us, to watch him grow as a player and take on more and more responsibility – and actually support the development of others along the way – it’s been everything you could ask for.”

When it comes to Brendan – the hockey player – that’s what has really caught Ian’s attention the most. Brendan's highlight-reel moments are one thing, but his ongoing efforts to master the intricacies of the game and assume a more prominent role with the Canadiens in general is something entirely different.

“It’s not necessarily a moment that really stands out from Brendan’s time in the NHL, but more of a process. When he was first in the AHL [in 2012-13], I understood that his challenge was to get an opportunity to try out at the National Hockey League level. Then, when the Canadiens kept him on after the lockout, he was in a tryout phase and [head coach] Michel Therrien managed his minutes to create success and avoid failure. He had Brendan playing in situations that allowed him to learn, develop and understand the NHL,” said Mr. Gallagher, who has a great deal of appreciation for the steps involved in molding a youngster into an NHL mainstay.

“As his time has gone on in Montreal, I think he’s been able to earn the trust of his coaches in more and more scenarios. That’s something that’s going to be interesting to watch, how much more of a role or responsibility Brendan takes on and where does that actually lead for the team. It’s been a really enjoyable process to follow so far,” added Mr. Gallagher, referencing Brendan being named one of the Canadiens’ four alternate captains last September along with Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban after signing a six-year contract extension in November 2014.

Brendan hasn’t sported a letter at the NHL level for long, but Ian believes he’s off to a good start. It goes without saying that there are plenty of things left for him to learn about assuming a leadership role with hockey’s most historic franchise, much of which will undoubtedly come through on-the-job training in the years to come.

“The leadership part, that’s really something between him, his coaches and his teammates. That’s an ongoing responsibility for any player given that privilege. As vocal as Brendan is, I think he’s more so a doer than a sayer. Words are great and can sometimes be very inspiring, but I think actions are really the way to go,” said Mr. Gallagher, who believes Brendan is best suited to lead with his play, something he did consistently years before an “A” was sewn onto his jersey. “I think he’d like to emulate a way of doing things, and if that helps the team and leads in that capacity, I think he’s going to be full-value for that letter. He takes ownership for the results of his team and wants to take pleasure in working together with others towards that ownership.”

The pair share a real friendship as much as a father-son relationship, according to Ian, which makes their time together all the more special.

While Brendan continues to check-off one feat after another with every passing season, Ian maintains that his son isn’t about to rest on his laurels. That just isn’t Brendan’s style. At just 24 years old, he still has his entire career in front of him and hockey’s top prize to win. Ian would love to see it happen – as would the entire city of Montreal, of course.

“I think it’s quite early to be talking about accomplishing goals. When your career is done, that’s when you can look back and reflect upon your achievements. In Brendan’s case, I think you maintain the same strategy – stay short-sighted, try to win the game on any given night, and try to put the team in a position to be successful in the playoffs. While you’re in the fight and you’ve got the enemy ahead of you, you have to be ready to fire on that day,” concluded Mr. Gallagher. “If the epitome is the best in your field, winning the Stanley Cup would epitomize what Brendan has committed to do – that’s to be a contributor on his team and win a championship in Montreal. I think that would be a fantastic accomplishment.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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