The two sweethearts from Summerside, P.E.I., looked like any couple on a vacation in Las Vegas. Happy, relaxed and maybe even settling into early retirement. They could have been visiting Vegas for the first time or the 50th.
Preparing to provide the entertainment capital of the world with its first taste of a made-in-Vegas major league sports team? Not so obvious.
It would be difficult to discern Gerard Gallant was once a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Even moreso to gather he was once one of the most feared punchers in the NHL. He carries none of the swagger associated with today's professional athlete. He and wife Pam look like your neighbours. Salt of the earth, as they say.
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Therein lies the key to Gallant's success as a coach.
"Turk is one of those guys who deals with people one-on-one. There's no B.S. He doesn't put himself ahead of anyone and he does what he thinks is best for the team," said former Columbus Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean. MacLean has known Gallant since he was a 10-year-old kid hanging around the rink.
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"Gerard is one of 11 kids. His mom Rosie ran the canteen at the rink in Summerside and he was there all the time," recalls MacLean. "Then I started to notice him as a player. Average skater. A little better than average skill. Tough as they come. And with an elite level of hockey sense and vision. Gerard knew the game and could play the game. Simple as that. He's a hockey player."
Gallant played his first game in the NHL at 163 pounds. He played much bigger than his weight.
It was a different time but the accomplishment remains remarkable.
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Thirty-plus goals and over 200 penalty minutes in a single NHL season. Gallant did it in four consecutive seasons from 1986 through 1990. Turk, as Gallant is still known today, scored goals and got in fights.
"It was easy pickings back then," said Gallant. "There were 10 guys on every team who liked to fight. I always felt if I got in a fight in the first period, I had a better game." Gallant's strength as a coach is his ability to communicate. It's innate. It's who he is. When he has something to say - he says it. He'll pick his spot in terms of making sure he's respecting an individual and not embarrassing someone in front of their peers.
"I'm just Turk. Everywhere. Same guy in practice, on the bench, in the room, at home," he said.
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One NHL executive says Gallant is more accomplished on the tactical side of the game than he's given credit for.
"His first job as an assistant in the NHL was with Columbus and Dave King was the coach," says the exec. "Gerard may not have had a lot of tactical background at that time but he Dave sure did. And Gerard absorbed a lot from Dave. Gerard is street smart first and foremost. But he's also a sponge. He learns every day and he keeps his eyes and ears open."
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Gallant is now the head coach of an expansion team with a total of three players signed at this point. GM George McPhee will draft 30 players on June 21st but Gallant is focused on what he'll do once the players are assembled.
"I haven't tried to draft out team in our head. Not once," he said. "I'll coach the players we get. And as long as we're working hard - we'll be just fine."
So, what's with the nickname?
"I couldn't remember where it started but my brothers told me a few years ago," said Gallant. "My uncle had turkeys. And I used to run around and chase them. So they started calling me Turkey. Then they shortened it to Turk. Which I prefer."