Like the nine players on his team eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, head coach Gerard Gallant of the Saint John Sea Dogs is looking to make it to the National Hockey League.
Unlike his players, the Summerside, P.E.I., native has already been to the big leagues, spending six seasons behind the Columbus Blue Jackets' bench (three as head coach) and another as an assistant with the New York Islanders. Gallant never make the playoffs as head coach of Columbus, and only worked 20 games in his last season before being dismissed by the Islanders.
But over the past two seasons Gallant has shown what he's capable of doing, making waves with the Sea Dogs. He won his second straight Ron Lapointe Trophy as QMJHL coach of the year in 2011 and won the Brian Kilrea CHL Coach of the Year award in 2010.
Gallant would like to get back to the NHL, but only if the fit is right.
"I'm not going to jump at something that doesn't feel comfortable to me," he said at the Memorial Cup tournament in Mississauga, Ont. "I'm not going to lose any sleep if I stay in Saint John next year or the next five years."
"I'm just like the players — if I get an opportunity and it's the right thing, I'm going to go."
But first he has a trophy to win.
Gallant will not only be up against the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in Sunday's Memorial Cup final, but their head coach Dave Cameron as well. Gallant and Cameron share a past as natives of P.E.I., and a potential future as both could be considered for NHL coaching positions.
Gallant and the Sea Dogs are preparing for their first appearance in the Memorial Cup final. Prior to playing and coaching in the NHL, Gallant competed twice for the Memorial Cup, but was unsuccessful at bringing home the hardware.
Gallant has coached in the QMJHL for two seasons now, and said that coaching junior hockey players — rather than dealing with grown men in the professional ranks — was a challenge to get used to.
"Working with kids age 16 to 20 is a huge adjustment," Gallant said. "They have lots of issues going on in their lives — they've got school every day and nine of them are on Central Scouting's list to get drafted this season."
"Most of the National Hockey League guys are married and have their families and they do their own thing. But, with the kids, they're asking for advice all the time. 'How do you get to the NHL? What does it take?'"
A serious man
The Sea Dogs entered the tournament as QMJHL champions and had a 10-0 record on the road during the playoffs. They dominated their first two games of the Memorial Cup, winning 4-3 against the Majors and 3-2 against the Owen Sound Attack in overtime. They dropped a 5-4 OT decision to the Kootenay Ice after resting starting goaltender Jacob De Serres and forward Simon Depres, but they had already secured a berth in the final.
Unlike their opponent in the final, the Saint John team will have had four days off between their last game and Sunday, which could be a good or bad thing. Gallant said that when preparing for the Memorial Cup final, you can't appear nervous around the players.
"The more pressure you put on kids, the tighter they get," he said. "And when you're tight, you don't win your game."
Gallant stresses to his players that hard work and dedication to the game of hockey will help them develop and achieve their dreams. He's a serious guy, but his players like to loosen him up.
"One day I was upset with the team, I kicked the toaster and put a big dent in it," he said. "They got me to sign it as a joke, and then when playoffs started they had it all done up for all four playoff rounds and 16 wins, and whenever we won a game they scratched it out on the toaster."
"It was a lot of fun and we had a lot of laughs."
They've also had a lot of fun at this year's Memorial Cup, finding creative ways to stay busy with four days off in between tournament games. The Sea Dogs have been to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Playdium, and to see The Hangover Part II. But what they really want is to get back on the ice.
On Sunday night, the Sea Dogs and Majors will have three periods (or more) to determine who is worthy of hoisting the Memorial Cup. Gallant said that if his team wins the tournament, the best part will be watching his players enjoy themselves after a long season.
"We won the Quebec league championship and we just sat back and watched the kids. It makes you feel real good to see your team work hard and compete hard every day."