09/30/2012 5:49 PM
By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – Brendan Gallagher won’t be the biggest player on the ice at the Hamilton Bulldogs’ training camp, but that’s nothing new for the 5’9”, 175-pound right winger.
A native of Edmonton, Gallagher was the Montreal Canadiens’ fifth-round pick in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft. He played five exhibition games with the club last season before being returned to his junior team, the Vancouver Giants, where he wrapped up a four-year Western Hockey League career as the club’s all-time leader in goals and points.
“My size is something people notice about me right away,” Gallagher said recently via telephone from Montreal where he has spent the past few weeks preparing for the Bulldogs’ training camp, which got underway Friday at Brossard, Que.
“It is the one thing people always want to critique me about, but it’s something I can’t change so I don’t worry about it. Being a smaller player has never affected my game, it’s something other people notice but I don’t pay attention to it. I always play the same way. I don’t believe that because I am small I won’t be able to play in the NHL one day. I believe in myself as a player.
“The WHL is a very competitive, physical league so when I went there as a 16-year-old I had to learn how to protect myself on the ice as a smaller player and I am sure it will be no different in the pros.”
With the NHL on hiatus due to the lockout, Gallagher, who turned 20 on May 6th, is looking forward to bringing his talents to Hamilton.
“You train all summer and hope for the chance to come in and play for the Canadiens, but at the same time I am really excited to be going to Hamilton. It’s a great opportunity to be around a new team and a new group of guys. It’ll be the start of a new chapter in my career.
“We’re all fighting for jobs; it will definitely be a competitive training camp. I hope we can put together a good team and I hope to get a chance to contribute to it.
“The Giants got knocked out of the playoffs in April, so I have been training since then and getting my body ready. It was a long summer and there was a lot of discipline involved. You have to enjoy the work you do at that time and I think I made the most of it and I hope it pays off.”
Gallagher expects the quality of play in the American Hockey League to be high given the number of NHL players who have been assigned to the league.
“There are a lot of good, young, established NHL players that have been sent to the AHL and it will only help all of us who have to compete at that level. I am sure the management and coaching staff in Montreal will be watching those games to see how we do against guys like that.”
Gallagher said he gained plenty of experience during his time with the Canadiens last fall. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the club on November 16th, 2011.
“I was able to stick around for a while in Montreal and I learned a lot in the exhibition games I got to play. The veterans were great; they really helped me out and were great leaders and mentors. I leaned on those guys as much as I could and I am going to come to Hamilton and try and use all that I learned last year.
“Brian Gionta is a smaller player and I tried to talk to him as much as I could and Josh Gorges really took me under his wing. They gave me pointers and made me feel comfortable. I couldn’t thank either of them enough for the help they gave me.”
Gallagher said the flight home after being cut was a tough one.
“I got over it pretty quickly when I realized what I accomplished. But at the same time I got cut because they didn’t think I was good enough and I had more to do. Coming back to junior I knew I had more to prove and more to work on. I carried that through the summer and hopefully I can show the management in Montreal that I have continued to improve and taken the necessary steps to get better.”
Despite only playing 54 games last season Gallagher led the Giants in scoring, recording 41 goals and 36 assists for 77 points. He was named captain last January when incumbent James Henry was traded to the Moose Jaw Warriors and represented Canada at the World Junior Championship held at Edmonton and Calgary.
Gallagher, who didn’t advance past the selection camp for the 2011 Canadian junior team, contributed three goals and three assists for six points in as many tournament games, including a one-goal, three-point performance in the third period of Canada’s’ 6-5 semifinal loss to Russia. Canada claimed the bronze medal with a 4-0 win over Finland.
“I saw both sides of it: getting cut and getting the great opportunity to play on the team. The year I got cut was one of the toughest things I had to go through. It was a tough day. But the next year, getting the call that I had made the team was great. It was so cool to represent Canada; the support we got from the fans was tremendous. It was such a good experience.
“We came up short against Russia and I think that’s something we all think about and it is tough to deal with. It would have been great to win a gold medal, but we were proud of our bronze. We knew the hard work we went through as a team to get it. If it wasn’t for one bad period against Russia it could have been a different story. Overall it was a very positive experience.
“It’s a very competitive tournament and every year there are good teams that don’t get medals. We went there with one goal in mind and to come home with a bronze is something we can be proud of. There are a lot of memories that go along with that medal. As a team we got along so well, we had a good group of guys.”
Gallagher, a ninth-round pick by the Giants in the 2007 WHL Bantam Draft, finished his junior career with 136 goals and 144 assists for 280 points in 244 games. He recorded 19 goals and 17 assists for 36 points in 42 playoff games.
“It was pretty cool to be drafted by them and to get a chance to play in front of the hometown fans. I was very fortunate to be able to play my entire junior career in Vancouver.”
Gallagher, a first-team WHL All-Star in 2010-2011, said he benefitted greatly from playing for four years for Giants head coach Don Hay, who also was behind the bench for the Canadian juniors.
“He was a great coach to have as a 16-year-old who was coming to junior without much understanding of the game. I knew the offensive side, but he was a really good teacher of the defensive side of the game. He taught me to be a complete player at both ends of the ice who plays 60 minutes a game and comes to play every night.
“He prepares all his guys to be good people; he prepares them for wherever their life takes them after junior, whether it is to school and work or pro hockey. He wants you to carry yourself in a manner that will get respect and that has really helped me. It helped me grow up and become more mature.”
It would seem fitting that Gallagher would suit up for the Giants as his father Ian has been the club’s strength and conditioning coach since its inaugural season in 2001-2002.
“My dad has been there since day one. Four years into it we moved to the Vancouver area so when I was growing up I always tagged along with him to the games.
“As a young kid I looked up to so many of the guys and they were so good to me. It is funny to run into them at alumni gatherings and they talk about when I was a little kid filling up the water bottles. I learned a lot from those guys, the Giants do a great job keeping their alumni involved so the current players get a chance to know them and see what made previous Giants teams so successful. It’s good to have role models at that age.”
Gallagher was around the Giants when they claimed the WHL title in 2005-2006 and won the Memorial Cup as the host team the following season.
“It was a pretty crazy experience to be at the final game when they won the Memorial Cup. Obviously in my junior career I wanted to win a Memorial Cup but was never able to do it. But I will remember those great runs the Giants had and the players who went on to have great success like Milan Lucic.”