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WAYNE YOUNG: Turk – now there’s a leader

Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard (Turk) Gallant
(File Photo)
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard (Turk) Gallant (File Photo) - The Guardian

Islander off to NHL all-star game, coach of the year should follow

The headline barely registered last weekend amid the endless cycle of stories about Donald Trump’s fitness to be U.S. president and Oprah Winfrey’s (maybe) bid to take him down in 2020.

But there it was.

‘Cooper, Laviolette, Trotz and Gallant to coach NHL All-Star game’

That ‘Gallant’ would be Summerside’s Gerard (Turk) Gallant, head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights – a team parked in second place in league standings at the all-star break.

That’s a big deal at the best of times but considering this is the Knights’ inaugural season, Gallant’s team is literally blazing a trail for new franchises in any sport.

Expansion teams are supposed to lose miserably for a few seasons, gradually improve and eventually – years down the road – compete for a playoff and maybe Stanley Cup run.

It will be fun to see how far they’ll go but at the season’s midway point, Gallant’s team has made believers out of most hockey pundits.

I first saw Gallant play hockey when he suited up as a young teen with the junior team in Summerside. He stood out and was soon scouted to play major junior hockey in Quebec where he continued to excel. On Jan. 22, 1985, he played his first game with Detroit in the NHL. By the time a back injury forced him to retire in 1995, he had collected 211 goals and 480 points in 650 NHL games.

Then he started coaching.

Once again, he excelled, first in junior hockey and later as coach or assistant coach with NHL teams in New York, Columbus, Montreal and Florida. He was nominated as coach of the year with the Panthers in 2015 but the next year, in what Don Cherry called “the worst firing in the history of the world,” the Panthers let him go.

But he wasn’t out of work long and last summer, Gallant was on his way to Las Vegas.

A few years ago, the USA Hockey Magazine published a story about what makes a great coach. The author listed five traits that separate “good” from “great” coaches. Gerard Gallant has them all – in spades.

The first is humility. Responding to his all-star selection last weekend, he said, “It’s not about me. It’s about the guys in the room that work hard every day…”

The author listed passion, compassion and communication as key traits that set great coaches apart.

Check. Check. And check.

Finally, he wrote that great coaches are great leaders, directing and motivating their players to reach goals, to find a way to have the players believe in themselves, and to work together to help the team grow by personal example.

There are ample testimonials from players past and present about Gallant’s leadership.

But perhaps the best compliment came from Panthers GM George MacPhee when he announced Gallant as the team’s new coach.

“Gerard is a low ego, hard-working person with an outstanding reputation of being a first-class guy. In the eight months of vetting, we never heard a negative word about Gerard Gallant, the person.”

That’s high praise for a modest Islander who has earned all that and more over as a player, coach and always as a leader.

He continues to make people in his hometown and province mighty proud.

- Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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