VANCOUVER - Brendan Gallagher was on the phone describing his first professional goal in the American Hockey League and, as the words tumbled from his mouth, he began to laugh.
“It was kind of the typical goal that I used to score in Vancouver,” said the former Giants captain, now a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs, farm team to the Montreal Canadiens. “We were on a power play and there was a shot from the point. The puck was just sitting there and I kind of dove at it. It was hard to tell that I actually put it in the net. It wasn't a pretty one but obviously it's the way I'm used to scoring.”
Gallagher and the Bulldogs will be in Abbotsford this week for games Friday and Saturday night against the red-hot Heat. Abby is first overall in the AHL with an outstanding 12-2-2-2 record while Hamilton is last in the North Division at 6-8-1-1.
The Bulldogs are young, Gallagher explained, and experiencing some growing pains. The silver lining is quality minutes for rookies like himself. He leads Hamilton in points with 10, shots on goal with 55 and is tied for first in goals with six. He's on the first-unit power play but also third in penalty minutes with 31.
In other words, he's doing his thing. Gallagher may be listed at 5-9 but thinks and plays like he's 6-5. There isn't a crease in hockey he hasn't crashed. In a game Nov. 17 against the Toronto Marlies, he managed to collect minor penalties for roughing, tripping and goalie interference plus a 10-minute misconduct.
“It's the way I have to play,” said the 20-year-old right winger. “The reporters here have taken note of it and I've done a few interviews about it. It's something I have to do to be successful so I've been in a couple of scrums and I've gotten a few goalie interference penalties.”
He figures he is coping well. Lately, he has been skating with AHL veterans Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont.
“I think every level you go up, the biggest difference is the size and strength and skill level of the players,” noted Gallagher, a fifth-round pick of the Habs in 2010. “I feel like my four years in Vancouver prepared me really well. Obviously there was a little bit of an adjustment period but I feel I'm picking up everything pretty quickly. So far, so good.”
Giants coach Don Hay couldn't suppress a smile Tuesday when told Gallagher is piling up the penalty minutes in addition to leading the Bulldog offence. That's the Gallagher he knows. In four seasons with the Giants, Gallagher scored a franchise record 136 goals while accumulating 359 penalty minutes.
“It sounds completely like Brendan,” nodded Hay. “I'm sure he hasn't changed one bit. He's a competitive young man. That's what he's about and that's how he plays every shift. He does a great job in hunting down pucks, which takes a lot of courage. He is willing to take a pounding and create a bit of a disturbance to score some goals. He was a pretty valuable member of our hockey club for four years and one of the all-time favourite Giants.”
Off the ice, Gallagher is making the adjustment from junior player to pro. He lived at home in Tsawwassen during his entire WHL career because his dad Ian works for the Giants as their strength and conditioning coach. So Brendan didn't even go through the billet experience like most of his Giant teammates.
Now he is sharing an apartment with fellow Bulldog rookies Patrick Holland and Morgan Ellis and learning the art of cooking. On Monday, it was his turn to play chef.
“I made pasta and meatballs and I was Skype-ing with my mom and she was making the same thing,” he said. “She talked me through it so it turned out pretty well. We have a good time here going shopping and trying to figure out what we need to eat healthy and make good decisions for our bodies."
Gallagher says it will be nice to play close to home this weekend when the Bulldogs meet the Heat. Dad Ian has been back east to watch him play but he hasn't seen his mom, two sisters and little brother since he left for training camp two months ago.
“I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “It will be nice to see my family and go home for a nice home-cooked meal after we get in on Thursday. But the most important thing is they want to see a win.”
He still keeps a close eye on the Giants, talks to captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen frequently and is well aware of their struggles this season. He is convinced if they follow the path laid out for them by Hay and his staff, the victories will eventually come.
“I know it's kind of tough there right now and that they're searching for wins,” he said. “I expect them to improve. I'm a fan of the Giants now and I just hope they can turn it around.”
A-NOTES: Game time both nights at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre is 7 p.m... Former Montreal Canadiens great Yvan Cournoyer will make a special appearance on Friday while Saturday's game is bring-your-dog-to-the-rink night. The $5 'dog ticket' will go towards the Abbotsford SPCA.
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