BATTLING HIS WAY TO THE TOP
Nearly two years later to the day, Gallant appears to have made the most of that opportunity in the form of his first career NHL contract with the New York Islanders.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” Gallant said. “(Islanders General Manager) Garth Snow and my agent started talking, and they told me that wanted to put me on an NHL contract. Obviously when you grow up playing hockey, you want to get to the NHL. I can’t thank the organization enough.”
One glance at Gallant’s career stats or a quick search of his name on YouTube tells you exactly how the Summerside, PEI native has cemented his place in the organization. Although he’s listed at a deceptive 6’0, 185 pounds, Gallant has made his mark defending his teammates and providing a spark by dropping the gloves night in and night out.
Midway through his third season as a Sound Tiger, Gallant ranks second in the AHL with 23 major penalties and third in the league with 179 penalty minutes. Bottom line – opposing teams pay attention when #44 is on the ice.
“Pound for pound, there’s no one tougher in the league,” Sound Tigers forward Blair Riley said. “You’ve got to understand too, he’s an undersized guy. He’s usually fighting guys who are 30 to 40 pounds heavier and three to four inches taller than he is. He doesn’t just hold his own, he wins nearly every fight.”
It was one of those fights that put Gallant on opposing teams’ radar, on one of the biggest stages the AHL has to offer. The Sound Tigers were at Giant Center in Hershey just one week after Gallant had signed his PTO, and veteran enforcer Joel Rechlicz had just netted his first goal of the season to give the Bears a 3-1 lead. Gallant and Rechlicz lined up against each other on the ensuing center-ice faceoff and engaged in what Yahoo's Hockey Blog Puck Daddy ranked the #2 fight in all of professional hockey that season, trading and landing punches for nearly 90 seconds.
“This fight was different in the sense that only pure exhaustion was going to end it,” Sound Tigers play-by-play broadcaster Phil Giubileo said. “In that fight with Rechlicz, Gallant demonstrated he had the heart to be an AHL player – that he was willing to do whatever it takes to defend his teammates. It’s not likely he’ll be a goal scorer or a flashy player, but that desire has helped him improve his game to the point where he’s an effective 4th liner and one of the most dangerous tough guys in the league.”
Gallant earned an AHL contract for the 2011-12 season and continued to improve all aspects of his game. Although he was limited to 25 games last season, he worked this past offseason to continue to develop his all-around game.
“This past summer I worked Allan Andrews Hockey Camp back on P.E.I. and I skated with the junior team back home as well,” Gallant said. “I know I need to be faster and stronger, and that’s what I focused on.”
Sound Tigers head coach Scott Pellerin watched Gallant from the opposing bench for two seasons during his time as an assistant coach for the Manchester Monarchs, and gained even more respect for Gallant when he joined the organization this season.
“You knew what he brought to the ice and saw his physical style of play,” Pellerin said. “Now that I’m on the same side, I can see his commitment level, his energy, his work ethic on and off the ice. Those are the things that show me what a dedicated player he is.”
Riley joined the Sound Tigers early last season, and sees a lot more to Gallant’s game than what fans are used to seeing when he drops the gloves.
“For the guys that are in the locker room here, we see that Gally brings other things to the table,” Riley said. “He can really shoot the puck…we try to tell him all the time, just shoot the puck more. He’s got a really deceptive shot, and sometimes he tries to make the smart, reliable play, but sometimes he’s got to be more confident in his shooting ability because he can definitely score.”
Gallant recently saw more ice time on the third line with Riley and Scott Campbell, and Pellerin hopes Gallant can succeed in his expanded role and increase the team’s depth at the forward position.
“At the beginning of the season we had a lot of numbers, and there were times where I couldn’t play him as much as I wanted,” Pellerin said. “Every player has to understand the defensive side of the puck and awareness away from the puck, and I think he’s gotten better at that. He’s getting an opportunity because he deserves it. I want to see how he plays with more ice time and where he can take it.”
Gallant took advantage of his first opportunity, and now hopes he can take advantage of this next one to further his career to the next level.
“Ever since Day One, they started working with me on my skills and skating, and they haven’t stopped,” Gallant said. “The organization has some good people in place to make you a better player. I know my role, and I’m going to work hard on every shift and take care of my teammates.”
Riley believes the sense of responsibility that Gallant has for his teammates is what makes him so popular in the locker room.
“We moved stalls in the locker room this year and now we sit beside each other, “ Riley said. “I don’t know if he’s learned anything from me, but I know I’ve learned from him - the mental side of fighting…it’s tough to know going into a game you could get into an altercation. You can ask every guy on the team and there’s no one who is more respected than Gally.”