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Rookie Gallagher making impact with Bulldogs

The Canadian Press

12/5/2012 5:33:16 PM

VANCOUVER -- 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 on the weekend while the Bulldogs visited the Abbotsford Heat for a pair of games, which the clubs split.

"The Montreal organization has been watching every time you're on the ice."

So far, he is holding up well to the scrutiny, producing six goals and five assists in 18 games. He has thrived on a youth-laden Hamilton team that is languishing at the bottom of the AHL standings.

The Canadiens chose the 20-year-old Edmonton native in the fifth round (147th overall in 2010.) The former Vancouver Giant 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. The guys in the negotiation are doing everything they can to get hockey back.

"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, which it is, and try to take advantage of it as best I can."

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 WHL, starting at age 16, and earn a spot on Canada's world junior squad last Christmas.

Thus far, he has racked up 33 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 Giants strength and conditioning coach.

"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 Patriick 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. It's good to learn."

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."

He said the Bulldogs still have a lot of learning to do as they try to put together some wins. But Hamilton coach Sylvain Lefebvre said Gallagher has been "steady, pretty consistent."

"But it's always an adjustment for those young guys," Lefebvre said. "You can't take this league lightly. It's a good league, and a lot of guys underestimate it -- and they're up for a rude awakening sometimes."

But the Bulldogs coach believes that the likes of Gallagher and Holland can make the necessary adjustments.

"They're good professionals at an early age," said Lefebvre. "They have good working habits and that's what helps them get through it."

Accordingly, Gallagher does not try to get caught up too much in the significance of his first pro season. While many of his peers are quick to snap pictures of almost everything, Gallagher said he, Holland and Ellis do not even have a camera to record scenes of their rookie season.

Instead, they will just store the special campaign in their memories.

"It's something we enjoy and will remember for a long time," said Gallagher.