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THE MOJ: Delta’s Gallagher family showing more toughness through adversity

Hockey has been a nice escape for Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, whose mother Della is battling brain cancer. Montreal Canadiens photo

Pressure. Every player in the National Hockey League feels it.

Whether it’s from the fans, the media, the organization or just internally, it’s always there whether you’re a 40-goal scorer or a role player just trying to stay in the lineup.

Under normal circumstances, time with family and/or friends is an escape. It’s time when you can just get away from what’s going on at the rink and forget about the stress.

But for Delta’s Brendan Gallagher, now in his 12th NHL season with the Montreal Canadiens, going to the rink has become his escape.

In August of 2021, his mother Della was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer (Glioblastoma) in which she was told that she might have a year to live, perhaps maybe a year-and-a-half if she was lucky.

Almost three years later, she’s beating the odds.

“Right now, she’s as good as can possibly be. When we first got the original diagnosis, it was rough but the amount of people that have reached out and helped us…the first call I made was to (Vancouver Giants owner) Ron Tiogo, who put us in contact with someone who reached out to USC for us,” said Gallagher after the Canadiens lost 4-1 to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night at Rogers Arena.

“From there, things got rolling. She was originally taken care of in Canada but we needed a little bit more and we got her down to USC where she got phenomenal care. She’s in good spirits.”

Brendan has always been known as a tough, gritty player who is willing to pay whatever price it takes to win. Most believed that toughness came from his father Ian. In a previous life, this agent played against Ian Gallagher in the Western Lacrosse Association and can personally vouch that the former Vancouver Burrard was probably the toughest player in the league pound-for-pound. Ian Gallagher has been involved in hockey for many years as a strength and conditioning guru and works with several NHL players in the off-season in Ladner.

But Ian isn’t the only one who’s a fighter in the family.

“It’s incredible how tough my mom is. When it all first happened…her attitude in the hospital…she was making the nurses laugh. She is where she is at right now because of her positivity. She’s been a fighter her whole life and she’s not done yet. She’s going to keep kicking butt,” Gallagher said proudly.

Gallagher has been dealing with his mother’s health issues for a while now but coming to the rink has allowed him to do what he loves to do and provide a brief respite from the situation.

“Originally it was kind of a shock and I wasn’t able to forget about it but I’ve gotten better as she’s gotten better and I think my time at the rink is a place where I feel comfortable. My teammates have been incredible as well. I’ve been pretty fortunate that way,” said Gallagher.

One of Gallagher’s closest friends on the Canadiens is linemate Jake Evans, who says Gallagher’s attitude has been amazing throughout the ordeal.

“He doesn’t bring it up too much because he doesn’t want the extra attention but there’s been a few times where things were tough. I think it has to be one of the hardest things in the world to do but he comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face and works his butt off. He’s a true inspiration battling through that and his mom is putting up an unbelievable fight as well,” noted Evans.

In an attempt to raise awareness for May’s Brain Cancer Awareness Month, Gallagher’s sister Bree, a student-athlete who plays soccer at the University of Calgary and his brother Nolan, a new member of the Burnaby Fire Department, are running in the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 5 to raise funds for the cause. The goal is to raise $15,000. As of Thursday afternoon that total sat at $13,032.

Gallagher isn’t too surprised to see Bree taking part, telling us she just completed a half-marathon in 1:45:00 but he had to poke some fun at Nolan’s participation, which has him worried.

“I don’t know how she’s going to do but surprisingly my brother is going to be running it with her. I don’t know. I don’t know how this is going to turn out but I’ll be there watching them,” chuckled Gallagher.

Gallagher was very complimentary to the care Della received in Canada but he and his family believe that there needs to be more and that’s why they have started this initiative.

“Hopefully that (treatment received in the U.S.) becomes available to everyone in Canada. That’s the goal here. We want it to be available for everyone because we know without it our mom wouldn’t be here right now. That’s the initiative going forward and I’m proud of my sister and my brother,” said Gallagher.

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* Vancouver got two goals from Nikita Zadorov in the first period to jump out to a 2-0 lead, The two teams exchanged goals in the second with Conor Garland scoring for Vancouver before Juraj Slafkovsky replied for Montreal. Nils Aman tallied for Vancouver in the third to finish the scoring. Vancouver goalie Casey DeSmith made 16 saves in a winning effort while Montreal’s Sam Montembeault stopped 21 of 25 shots.

* Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet has been praising his team’s ability to get inside in the offensive zone while denying the opposition the same defensively. “Playing inside is will, grit and getting there…it’s just getting there. The first goal with Laff (Sam Lafferty) in front, the goalie couldn’t see it. They weren’t moving him and we scored. Those are the goals we’ve got to find,” stated Tocchet.

* A trio of Montreal Alouettes made an appearance at the game with the Grey Cup in tow. Receiver Tyson Philpot from Delta and defensive lineman Brock Gowanlock from Cowichan as well as receivers coach Mike Lionel from Vancouver were shown on the video board during a break with the Cup. It was ironic that they were wearing Canucks jerseys with the Habs in town.

* TSN analyst Craig Button was working the Habs TV broadcast and we asked our former colleague for his thoughts on the Canucks and their chances in the Western Conference. “I think there are six legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup. You have the Canucks, Edmonton – you can never rule out Vegas – and then you have the three teams in the Central (Division). The Canucks didn’t get here by accident. They’ve been really good. We know how good Demko is and the defence has been so good. Lindholm has to give more – I think he’s going to be a key. Not just in two-way play but he has to give more on offence. They’re a team that plays hard and I love what Tocchet has done with them. He is trying to harden them. I always say the playoffs are about who can go the hardest the longest. Rick knows that. That’s what he’s trying to do with this team.”

Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.

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