MONTREAL—Meet Brendan Gallagher, 30-goal scorer.
This wasn’t supposed to happen—at least not in the eyes of the general public. Not for a guy who was too small to play in the NHL. Not for a guy who was drafted 147th overall in 2010. Not after he shattered fingers in his left hand in consecutive seasons. Not after he had three plates and over 30 screws implanted to repair the damage. Never. Not in a million years.
But here we are.
And if you really knew anything about Gallagher before he stepped into the best league in the world as a scraggly 20-year-old, you might have been among the few who figured he’d defy the odds to become a 30-goal scorer. He breached 40 three times as a teenager in the heavy-hitting Western Hockey League, and he put up 10 in the only 36 games he ever played in the AHL.
But it was never about how many; it was always more about how.
The Gallagher who seemingly put his life on the line on every shift with the Vancouver Giants and Hamilton Bulldogs is the same Gallagher who’s rounding out the sixth season of his NHL career; engaging in battles with players twice his size; fighting for every inch of the ice—especially in the areas where nothing is given—and more often than not coming out ahead. Generously listed at 5-foot-9, weighing in at 181 pounds (soaking wet and holding 10-pound dumbbells in each hand maybe), but playing like an absolute giant.
"He’s a guy who goes to the net and isn’t afraid to get to the areas around there," said Canadiens coach Claude Julien prior to his team’s 4-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday. "He will always score goals in today’s hockey doing that."
The 29th of Gallagher’s season came in different fashion. He won a won battle near the end boards and transitioned it into a hope play by turning around to fire a blind shot towards the slot.
It was just over five minutes later that Gallagher parked himself in the high slot, engaged 6-foot-4 Red Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson and tipped a shot from Canadiens defenceman Mike Reilly.
It fluttered through Coreau’s legs and found its way over the goal line.
Gallagher’s 30th goal was also his 49th point of the season, topping his career-best—recorded in 2014-15—by two.
He allowed himself a rare smile post-game after sporting a frown for most of what’s been an incredibly trying season for his Canadiens.
"It’s not easy losing," Gallagher said.
Especially not for a guy who admitted on Monday that in his youth he used take his ball and run home the minute things didn’t go his way in a meaningless game of street hockey with friends.
You can imagine how much dropping 49 of 77 games has done to him.
"I think we’re all pretty competitive guys and any time you go through loss after loss you sit there and try to come up with solutions, and when you’re not able to, you just kind of feel like you’re failing," Gallagher said.
But his effort has never waned, his resolve has never broken, and his spirit is indomitable.
That’s what makes Gallagher the example several young players in Montreal must follow if the Canadiens are to emerge improved as early as next season. Max Pacioretty may be the captain of the team, but there’s no question that the 25-year-old sparkplug is its thumping heartbeat.
"I think he’s a true leader," said 22-year-old Nikita Scherbak. "He’s the player who’s going to show up every game, so I’m trying to learn as much as possible from him."
Scherbak may have wanted to pull out a notepad when Gallagher, with 20 seconds remaining in this game with no playoff implications, lunged in front of a shot and blocked it with his foot.
Scherbak was also standing right beside Gallagher in the locker room as he showed more leadership by heaping praise on Paul Byron for scoring his 19th of the season and said he’s cheering for Alex Galchenyuk to come out on top of the team’s scoring race.
"I hope he gets to 20 goals," said Gallagher of Galchenyuk—who scored his 19th of the year and his 48th point with 4:26 remaining in Monday’s game.
When he was asked about his major accomplishment of the evening, Gallagher blushed and said, "I don’t really like talking about it," and "I’m just happy to get it out of the way."
With five games remaining in Montreal’s season, who knows how many goals he’ll finish with? Whatever the total ends up being, it’ll surpass what most would have ever expected from him.