SUNRISE, Fla. – It's been a long road back for Gerard (Turk) Gallant.
The Summerside native, however, admits he is a different coach now than when he last served as a National Hockey League head coach.
“I hope so, definitely,” confirmed Gallant in a phone interview with the Journal Pioneer.
Gallant was introduced as the head coach of the Florida Panthers on Monday. Florida went 29-45-8 (won-lost-overtime losses) last season.
This is Gallant’s second head-coaching job in the NHL. He compiled a record of 56-76-4-6 (won-lost-tied-overtime losses) with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2003 to 2006.
“I thought I did a good job in Columbus to be honest,” said Gallant. “At that time it was an expansion team, in our fourth or fifth year when I took over. We probably weren’t ready to win.
“I feel we did a lot of things right there, but once you get to the point where people think you’re ready to win, although we as an organization knew we weren’t ready to win, there was pressure.”
After the Blue Jackets, Gallant had a stint as an assistant coach to Ted Nolan with the New York Islanders, Gallant took the 2008-09 season off from coaching and followed his son, Jason, who was playing with the Summerside Western Capitals of the MHL (Maritime Junior Hockey League) at the time.
“I did not plan on that year off, but nothing really came up that interested me,” said Gallant. “I took the year off in Summerside, relaxed, enjoyed it and the following March or April talked to Saint John about that job.”
The Saint John Sea Dogs hired Gallant as head coach in April 2009. All the Sea Dogs accomplished under Gallant was reach the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League finals all three seasons, win the 2011 and 2012 President’s Cups and the 2011 Memorial Cup.
Gallant said his time in Saint John, which was followed by two years as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, played a big role in where he is today.
“When (Shamrock, P.E.I., native) Mike Kelly and I joined Saint John, it was a very good team,” said Gallant. “We had a lot of talent, and people are going to see that with all the kids that are going to play in the NHL.”
A sixth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 1981, Gallant feels he has developed in all aspects of coaching since his days in Columbus.
“The fact I did not have a lot of head-coaching experience at the time was probably right," said Gallant. "But, now the last six or seven years, being back in junior, winning championships and the last two years being an assistant coach with the Canadiens, that experience is going to help a lot.”
Expect some Florida Panthers’s merchandise to resurface around Summerside.
The Panthers formally introduced Gerard (Turk) Gallant as the 13th head coach in franchise history on Monday.
Gallant joins Grant Sonier, Jim Clark and Doug MacLean, who coached the Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup final, as Summerside natives who have worked for the Panthers. It was during MacLean’s tenure that Panthers’s paraphernalia was quite visible in the Prince County city.
Gallant, MacLean and Sonier are all former head coaches of the Summerside Western Capitals’s junior A hockey team, and Clark served as a general manager and an assistant coach. Gallant coached the Caps to the 1997 Royal Bank Cup Canadian junior A hockey championship at Cahill Stadium.
Gallant will remain in Florida and will fly to Philadelphia on Wednesday for the NHL Entry Draft this weekend. The Panthers hold the No. 1 overall selection. He will return to Florida on July 6 for a development camp featuring draft picks and young prospects.
Gallant has received congratulations from every member of the Montreal Canadiens’s coaching staff, and he has received best wishes from quite a few of the players. Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban tweeted: “Congrats to Gerard Gallant on the new job. Very deserving. One of the best I’ve had.”
Gallant said he had a great two years in Montreal, and called the Canadiens “a first-class organization.”