Dog days proving beneficial for Habs prospect

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Gallagher leading Hamilton in scoring heading into tonight’s game against IceCaps

St. John’s IceCaps’ winger Ray Sawada battles for position in front of Hamilton Bulldogs goalie Cedrick Desjardins (30) and Bulldogs’ defenceman Frederick St. Denis (32) during AHL action at Mile One Centre on Nov. 21. The IceCaps and Bulldogs square off tonight at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. — Telegram file photo/Joe Gibbons

It has not taken Brendan Gallagher long to adjust to life as a first-year pro.

The Hamilton Bulldogs rookie is leading the AHL club in scoring as he waits for a chance to attend his third NHL training camp with the parent Montreal Canadiens.

“Obviously, with the lockout, this season in Hamilton was a really good opportunity for me to come in,” Gallagher said in a recent interview..

“The Montreal organization has been watching every time you’re on the ice.”

So far, he is holding up well to the scrutiny, producing eight goals and eight assists for a team-leading 16 points through 25 games.

He has thrived on a youth-laden Hamilton team ­languishing at the bottom of the AHL standings as they prepare to take on the visiting St. John’s IceCaps at Copps Coliseum tonight (9 p.m. NT, Rogers Sportsnet).

The Canadiens chose the 20-year-old Edmonton native in the fifth round (147th overall in 2010.) Gallagher was among Montreal’s final cuts in the fall of 2011, and appears well positioned to get a serious look once the NHL resumes play.

“The lockout’s obviously different for everyone,” he said. “As players, we’re frustrated, the owners are frustrated and the fans are frustrated. It’s really good for nobody. At the same time, I can’t worry about it.

“Eventually, there’s going to be a deal in place, and everyone’s going to be happy once again. ... I see this as a really good opportunity.”

Gallagher has excelled while playing with a variety of linemates. He has also continued with a familiar crash-the-net style that enabled him to play four seasons in the Western Hockey League, starting at age 16, and earn a spot on Canada’s world junior squad last Christmas.

Thus far, he has racked up 39 penalty minutes, while constantly trying to prove that his limited size — he’s listed at five-foot-nine and 185 pounds — is not a detriment. Some opponents, such as members of the Toronto Marlies who have played Hamilton eight times (exhibitions included), are already starting to develop “a hatred” for him they way they did in junior.

“You take a beating every game. ... Players are bigger, stronger, but at the same time, I’ve dealt with that my whole life,” he said. “The game itself doesn’t change that much.”

But Gallagher has put on 10-12 pounds of added muscle under a program designed by his father Ian, who serves as the strength and conditioning coach for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, his son’s former junior team.

“It’s something I felt I needed to do,” said Gallagher. “At the same time, the most important thing for me is quickness. So I worked on my quickness more and made sure, if I was putting on extra weight, I remained just as quick.”

He is also adjusting to change off the ice.

Unlike many juniors, Gallagher did not billet with anyone while toiling for the Giants, because he could live at home with his family in Delta, B.C. Now, he rooms with fellow 20-year-old teammates Patrick Holland and Morgan Ellis.

Using a recipe book provided by his mother, Gallagher takes turns at the stove with Holland and Ellis when the team is not playing on the road.

“Cooking for ourselves is certainly tougher, but we do a pretty good job of taking care of our bodies, cooking healthy meals and making sure we’re ready to play,” Gallagher said. “It’s definitely something different than living at home, but it’s something we’re enjoying.”

Anticipating that he will eventually play for the Canadiens, Gallagher is also learning French — albeit slowly. He is taking a Rosetta Stone course, but does not find much time to study.

“It’s hard during the (season) to keep that up because of how busy we are,” he said.

“But every summer, I’m going to keep going away at it and just trying to learn each week. ... Maybe, in a couple of years, I’ll be able to speak it.”

 

GAMEDAY

• The matchup: St. John’s IceCaps (13-15-0-1, 11th overall in the Eastern Conference) at Hamilton Bulldogs (10-12-1-2, 14th and in the Western Conference), the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens

• Game time: 9 p.m. NL time, at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton

• TV/Radio/Online: Tonight’s game will be televised on Rogers Sportsnet and broadcast live on 930AM and online (stjohnsicecaps.com) with Brian Rogers calling play-by-play

• IceCaps’ leading scorers: Derek Meech (3 goals, 13 assists), Zach Redmond (8 goals, 7 assists), Spencer Machacek (7 goals, 8 assists)

Bulldogs’ leading scorers: Brendan Gallagher (8 goals, 8 assists), Gabriel Dumont (5 goals, 6 assists), Michael Bournival (2 goals, 9 assists) ...

• Notable lockout assignments to the Bulldogs:  Outside of defenceman Mike Commodore, no player on the Hamilton roster spent all of last season in the NHL, and Commodore appeared in just 30 games for Tampa Bay and Detroit. Five Bulldog forwards did play 30 or more big-league games in 2011-12 while splitting time between the AHL and NHL. They are  Louis Leblanc (42 with Montreal), Mike Blunden (39 games with Montreal), Aaron Palushaj (38 games with Montreal), Darryl Boyce (37 games with Toronto and Columbus) and Blake Geoffrion (33 games with Montreal and Nashville)

• Notes: After a stretch that saw him score just once in 21 games, the IceCaps’ Machacek has goals in his last three games  ....Meech and recent ECHL call-up Kael Mouillierat each are on a three-game assist streak for St. John’s  ... The Bulldogs have one of the youngest rosters in the AHL, with five rookies among the team’s top 10 point-getters ... The Hamilton blueline features two recent Montreal first-round picks, Nathan Beaulieu (17th overall, 201) and Jarret Tinordi (20th overall in 2010) ... The IceCaps and Bulldogs split a pair of games at Mile One in late November, with St. John’s winning the opener 3-1 and the Bulldogs prevailing 2-1 in the rematch ... Injured Bulldogs include Palushaj (ankle), defenceman Greg Pateryn (elbow) and Geoffrion, out indefinitely with a compressed skull fracture suffered in a game against Syracuse in early November ... Both tonight’s game and the IceCaps’ Saturday afternoon (4:30 p.m. NT) contest with the Toronto Marlies will be televised in Newfoundland. The game with the Bulldogs is being featured nationally by Rogers Sportsnet, while Saturday’s will be carried by the local Rogers Television (Channel 9 in the metro area) and on Rogers stations throughout the province that normally carry IceCaps home games ... After Saturday’s game against the Marlies, the IceCaps will begin their Christmas break, with players dispersing out of Toronto. The team will reassemble there on the Dec. 27 as the Icecaps prepare to finish off what will be an eight-game road trip. The first game after the holiday is Dec. 28 in Hamilton ...

Organizations: IceCaps, NHL, Montreal Canadiens Toronto Marlies Montreal organization Western Hockey League Giants Rogers Television

Geographic location: Hamilton, Montreal, Edmonton Canada Delta Toronto Tampa Bay Detroit Columbus Nashville Syracuse Newfoundland

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