© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Gerard "Turk" Gallant
Gerard “Turk’’ Gallant is guzzling a can of Zero Coke mid-morning moments after entering his home on the outskirts of Summerside.
He will likely have tossed back four sodas by day’s end, well down from the 10 or so daily pops he would drink during his playing days in the National Hockey League.
He has never been one for tea or coffee.
Gallant, 50, washed down a breakfast of steak and eggs with chocolate milk while speaking with The Guardian about his long career in hockey that now sees him readying for the 2014-15 NHL season as the Florida Panthers new head coach.
His tasteful personal hockey shrine in the room he describes as the “one we are never in’’ offers a snapshot of an impressive run in professional hockey that spans three decades and counting.
Two of his five framed jerseys adorning the walls are from his days with Detroit — Gallant’s team for nine of his 11 years playing as a leftwinger in the NHL, tallying 211 goals in 615 regular season games with the two teams. He also scored 18 playoff goals.
On Detroit, he played with legends like the late bruiser Bob Probert and Steve Yzerman, one of the league’s all-time top scorers.
Gallant always wore #9 during his junior career, but the number indelibly linked to former Red Wing great Gordie Howe was not up for grabs when Detroit drafted Gallant in 1981. He settled for seventeen.
Leaving Detroit was the toughest part of his career. He felt a strong tie to the Red Wings franchise.
“I’ll never forget the day that I signed with Tampa and I was devastated because I left Detroit,’’ he says.
“I was in a great place in Detroit for nine years. I loved every second of it. It was a great organization. Great people. Great team.’’
Gallant also laments how his playing days ended. He felt he should have played much longer than he did in the NHL but a bad back did him in. After surgery, he had no pain, but his mobility had been greatly reduced.
Suddenly, he was not the same player. He retired at 32.
“I thought I had some offensive skill, I had some talent,’’ he says reflecting back on his playing days with not the slightest hint of bravado.
“I could score some goals...a big part of my game was getting involved physically, whether it was fighting (he racked up 1,674 penalty minutes in the NHL) or playing the body.’’
His retirement as a player, however, did not mark an end to his days in hockey. He turned his attention to coaching.
He spent parts of three seasons as the head coach in Columbus before being fired from the Blue Jackets in November 2006.
He was stung by the firing delivered by good friend and then Columbus GM Doug MacLean, who made clear it was the organization not his fellow native Islander that was really firing him.
“It was tougher on Doug than it was on me that day,’’ he recalls.