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Galchenyuk, Gallagher travel divergent paths to Habs

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher woke up in the same hotel room Friday morning, having taken drastically different paths towards the most important day of their respective lives.


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By the end of the morning, each was celebrating his spot on the Montreal Canadiens opening night roster.

The Canadiens cut seven players before their skate Friday, and neither Galchenyuk nor Gallagher were on that list.

"I was very happy," Galchenyuk said. "There's been no better feeling in my life so far."

The Canadiens also kept forward Mike Blunden, sending forwards Michael Bournival, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Leblanc and Patrick Holland and defensemen Mike Commodore, Frederic St-Denis and Jarred Tinordi back to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

The No. 3 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Galchenyuk may still be sent to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League after playing up to five games with the Canadiens. If he plays a sixth game, he's in Montreal to stay. He's one of 10 underage players across the NHL who will at least start the season with their respective teams.

While head coach Michel Therrien has gone out of his way to emphasize the point to Galchenyuk that he shouldn't feel any pressure to perform or make the team, he said it's been pretty difficult to follow his coach's advice.

"I won't lie and say I didn't feel any pressure," Galchenyuk said. "Obviously this is my first camp and being their first pick in the last draft, so I felt a little pressure going in. But I think I handled it pretty good."

Regardless of whether he stays or goes, after burning up the OHL in November and December and then going to Ufa, Russia, for the World Junior Championship with Team USA and coming back with a gold medal, the highlight to come Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs for Galchenyuk already makes this a tremendous whirlwind for someone who missed nearly all of last season with a serious knee injury.

"It's crazy what's happened to me the last couple of months," Galchenyuk said. "I started to produce really well in Sarnia, then I go win the gold medal at the World Juniors and now I'm playing my first NHL game tomorrow. I couldn't be happier, that's for sure."

As opposed to Galchenyuk, his training camp roommate Gallagher was the No. 147 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, one who stands just 5-foot-9, weighs 163 pounds, and who has always been the longest of shots to reach the NHL.

Right from the beginning of his junior hockey career, Gallagher has had to prove himself and work for everything he's received.

"When I was 16 years old in junior I started out as the 13th forward, then I worked myself up to the fourth line, third line, and I finished the year on the second line," Gallagher said. "So I've played that role. When I was 16, the only way I'd get in the lineup was on the penalty kill and blocking shots, so I learned to do that and I think that's really going to help me."

"I play for the people who believed in me, and that's my family. They made a lot of sacrifices for me. People are going to doubt me, and I understand that. But it doesn't mean I have to agree with it." -- Habs' forward Brendan Gallagher

In four short years, Gallagher's gone from being the 13th forward for the Vancouver Giants to having a spot on the Montreal Canadiens, proving all the doubters he's had his entire hockey-playing life wrong.

"I don't play for those people, I play for the people who believed in me, and that's my family," Gallagher said. "They made a lot of sacrifices for me. People are going to doubt me, and I understand that. But it doesn't mean I have to agree with it."

Therrien has made it somewhat obvious that Galchenyuk would at least start the season in Montreal right from the start of training camp, even though he refused to say so before Friday. Galchenyuk has been skating on the left wing of the second line from day one, with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta completing the unit.

But Gallagher's fate was a little less obvious. As recently as Thursday night, he was skating on the third of three lines in the Canadiens intra-squad scrimmage, and as an offensive player he has never been used in an offensive role since camp began.

Therrien suggested that Gallagher made it impossible to cut him.

"He has a tremendous work ethic, he's always around the puck, he's always going to the net," Therrien said. "And he's a good teammate as well. He always has a smile on his face."

That smile was probably absent early Friday morning, when Galchenyuk and Gallagher woke up in their hotel room to prepare for the bus ride to the Bell Centre to find out if their dream of making the NHL was about to become a reality or not.

"It was probably the longest morning I ever had, that's for sure," Galchenyuk said. "Practice was at 11, and we left our hotel at about 7:45, got here at 8:15 and I was waiting for like two hours. I didn't know what to do."

Gallagher had a great training camp prior to last season as well and was one of the final cuts, so Friday's experience wasn't entirely new to him.

"I guess it was pretty relaxed," Gallagher said of his morning. "We did the same thing we do every morning, fight for the first shower, head down to the lobby, get on the bus and just try to wake up on the way to the rink. Once you get to the rink sitting beside each other, you start to think about it and getting a little more nervous."

"I won't lie and say I didn't feel any pressure. Obviously this is my first camp and being their first pick in the last draft, so I felt a little pressure going in. But I think I handled it pretty good."
-- Habs' forward Alex Galchenyuk

Gallagher and Galchenyuk sat side by side in the Canadiens dressing room -- with the pictures of the franchise's Hall of Fame members staring down at them -- as their teammates were called in to speak with Therrien and general manager Marc Bergevin in the coach's office. They watched as one player after another came out and headed to his locker to begin packing his things for the trip back to Hamilton.

Galchenyuk admitted that he was counting the guys packing their bags so that after a while, it became obvious he was waiting to get some good news.

"I was the last one to go in," Galchenyuk said, "so I was feeling pretty confident."

When reporters were allowed into the Canadiens room, Gallagher couldn't hide how happy he was, while Galchenyuk was somewhat stoic in talking about the realization of a dream. Either that or he was simply shell-shocked.

He said his parents and sister were loading their two dogs in the car to drive to Montreal from Sarnia for Saturday night's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He calmly said he feels no pressure to make these five games count so he can convince the Canadiens to keep him, only that he wants to play the best he can so he can help his team win.

But the tough veneer was hiding the joy of an 18-year-old who is about to see a lifelong dream become a reality.

"I might be holding it in a little bit," he said, "but I'm pretty excited."

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