When the players take to the ice for the 2018 NHL All-Star Game in Tampa, Florida this Sunday afternoon, a face that is no stranger to long time fans of the MHL will be behind one of the benches.
For Gerard Gallant, it’s yet another in a string of accolades bestowed upon him this season.
The 54 year old from Summerside will be participating in his second All-Star Game as a coach. However, it’s what he’s accomplished with the Vegas Golden Knights – in their inaugural NHL campaign, no less – that has turned the heads of everyone, turned the league on its ear, and turned the unassuming bench boss known universally as “Turk” into a leading candidate for the league’s Jack Adams Trophy as NHL Coach of the Year.
The long journey for the man behind the bench of the improbable Vegas squad began in the MHL; and for Gallant, that first step was in very familiar territory.
Gerard Gallant’s introduction to coaching was somewhat circumstantial. When he retired from professional hockey as a player during the 1995-96 season, he was unsure what to do next. Playing the game was his life and for parts of 11 seasons, that life was played out in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning. After hanging up the blades, he did what came to him naturally; he went home to Summerside.
“I made my way home because (Summerside) has been my home for all my life,” Gallant explained. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Eventually, I was asked by Gerard Smith, who was coaching the Western Capitals, if I would help him out.”
Gallant agreed to help out. The following season, he took over the reigns as the team’s head coach.
It was a memorable debut.
The 1996-97 Summerside Western Capitals remain one of the most successful and important teams in MHL history. After finishing in first place in their division – then known as the Roger Meek Division – the Caps dispatched the Restigouche River Rats, Charlottetown Abbies and Dartmouth Oland Exports to capture the Callaghan Cup as MJAHL playoff champions. Though eliminated at the Fred Page Cup in Brockville, Ontario, they nonetheless advanced to the RBC Cup National JrA Championship as the host team for the tournament.
The Caps would advance to the RBC Cup final on the heels of a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the SJHL Weyburn Red Wings. Another 4-3 win, this time over the BCHL South Surrey Eagles, would earn Summerside the national title, the first team ever from the MHL to capture the championship.
It would be the first of many successes behind the bench for Gallant, made all the more special because it was won – almost literally – in his own back yard.
“I still think about it,” he said. “I grew up a few blocks away from (Cahill) Stadium. To have the rink full and to win that title was really special. It’s still one of the greatest accomplishments of my career.”
Since that afternoon when he put his hometown team on the national stage, Gallant, who left the Western Capitals bench after the 1997-98 season, has coached at various levels and earned many accolades. Whether it’s in the minors, the QMJHL – where he became the first person to guide a Maritime-based team to a Memorial Cup Championship with the 2011 Saint John Sea Dogs – or the NHL, Gallant, whose son Jason also spent time as a player with the Western Capitals, has typically been both well liked and successful in whatever locale he plies his trade in. Many of the coaching principals he adheres to today with the front running first year Golden Knights were established in him during his first coaching gig in a league he still holds in high regard.
“It’s a great league,” Gallant says of the MHL. “It’s a stepping stone for anyone to get to (the next level) and is very competitive. It can offer players a great opportunity. I enjoyed every minute of my time there.”
The NHL All-Star Game, featuring Gerard Gallant as Head Coach of the Pacific Division All-Stars, takes place this Sunday in Tampa, Florida. The puck drops on the first of three mini-games at 4:30PM Atlantic. Gallant’s Pacific Division All-Stars face the Central Division in the second mini-game of the day at 5:30PM Atlantic.
Will MacLaren – themhl.ca