RETURNING TO ACTIVE DUTY: The Canadiens will be welcoming Brendan Gallagher back to the lineup come New Year’s Day at Gillette Stadium. Gallagher, who underwent surgery to repair two broken fingers in his left hand back on November 23, was on the ice alongside his teammates on Thursday as they got acclimated to the outdoor rink in Foxborough in preparation for the Winter Classic against the Bruins.
|Brendan Gallagher returns to the Canadiens' lineup on Friday after missing the last 17 games. |
Following practice, captain Max Pacioretty was eager to announce the news of Gallagher’s return in front of media members aplenty at the home of the perennial NFL powerhouse New England Patriots.
“I’m proud to announce that Brendan Gallagher will be playing in the Winter Classic,” offered Pacioretty, who skated on a line with Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec during Thursday’s practice session. “Looking at Brendan’s situation, I think it’s good he hurt his hand, if anything, because he’s able to work out his big legs and that gets him ready for the game. He should have no excuse. He should be the fastest guy on the ice. I’m thankful I get to play next to him.”
Gallagher, meanwhile, is especially thankful his recovery went as planned. He’s been looking forward to suiting up at Gillette Stadium since the start of the year, so being able to put the injury behind him and play in this historic event means a lot.
“I think when you look at this event, it’s cool to bring in your family and friends and get an opportunity to be at a venue like this,” explained Gallagher, who had nine goals and 19 points in 22 games before spending the last five weeks on the sidelines. “Like I said from the start, I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t feel like I could help the team. I didn’t want to come back for selfish reasons. The doctors helped me to come back and play, and now hopefully I can contribute.”
Head coach Michel Therrien believes it won’t take Gallagher long to do just that. Having coached the 23-year-old winger over the last three-plus seasons, the veteran bench boss knows full well what the Canadiens’ No. 11 is capable of.
“He knows how to play the game. He knows what he’s supposed to bring to the hockey team, and I’m not worried about [him feeling any pressure to deliver right away],” admitted Therrien, whose squad has been struggling as of late with Gallagher watching from afar. “You know what you get from Brendan Gallagher every time he’s out there.
A FAMILY AFFAIR: Mike Condon and Brian Flynn’s family members and friends won’t have to travel too far to take in the Winter Classic festivities at Gillette Stadium. Both players are Massachusetts natives, making the commute for their loved ones a relatively easy one. While he didn’t envision plying his trade on New Year’s Day when he earned a roster spot with the Canadiens back in early October, Condon is excited about getting the call to stand between the pipes on home turf.
|Mike Condon's father, Ted, was at Gillette Stadium on Thursday helping out his son. |
“It’s an honor for me to go out there. Just at the end of the day, it’s another game, another two points. Any time you get the nod, you just want to help your team get the best chance they can to win,” stressed Condon, a Holliston, MA native, who was told on Thursday morning that he’d be making his 22nd start of the year on January 1st. “I know that all of my friends and family will be wearing the bleu-blanc-rouge. I think the maximum number of tickets we could get was 14, and I used them all. It’s great to have the support of my family here, especially my dad. He’s had such a big impact in my life.”
A lifelong fan of the Patriots, Flynn has been counting down the days to puck drop in Foxborough. You’ll recall that he even visited Gillette Stadium back in July for the Winter Classic press conference announcing the details of the event. Having grown up in Lynnfield, located just over an hour from Gillette Stadium, Flynn is taking plenty of pride in being on site. After testing the ice surface on Thursday, the speedy forward expects the conditions to be even better on game day.
“It’s good being back home. You can feel a lot of energy among the guys. It will be good for us. It was obviously really hard to do anything out there today. I don’t think anyone expects the ice to be great, but I’m sure it will be better by game time. We’ll just try not to fall down,” cracked Flynn, who, like Condon, had a tough time fulfilling every single ticket request he received. “It’s cool being at Gillette Stadium. I’ve watched some Pats games in the past here. Being here and see the rink, it’s going to be awesome.”
A FRESH START: Winning Friday afternoon’s game would mean everything to Michel Therrien’s troops. Not only would they go down in history on the right side of the scoresheet, but they also believe it would provide them with some important momentum heading into 2016.
“It could change a lot. Everyone’s seen our division and how tight it is. Every night we’re looking at scores, and you can go from first place to out of a playoff spot almost with two points. So, I think that first and foremost, where we have to concentrate is the two points. They’re having a lot of cameras and there’s been a lot of buzz about this game. I think if we can pull out a good game and get the victory, I think it could be a good jumpstart for things to come,” explained Pacioretty, who has one goal and two points in three games against the Bruins during the 2015-16 campaign. “It’s a big stage and it could do a lot for our club. We have to make sure we come out from puck drop.”
P.K. Subban believes the magnitude of the occasion will provide all the incentive the Canadiens need to offer up a performance that just might bring a good amount of positive vibes their way going forward.
“I think for us right now it’s about building confidence from one shift to the next shift and not looking too far ahead. We have an opportunity to do that again, and I think that this is perfect for us,” offered Subban, who leads all Habs rearguards with 26 points on the year. “Everybody can get up for a stage like this and feel refreshed, right? Your family and friends are there and everybody is watching. You want to be at your best. I think when we’re at our best, there aren't too many teams that can compete with us.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Rapid Fire - December 31
Memories of another time