MONTREAL – When two talented rookies nicknamed “Gally” join the same team at the same time, something has to give.
So 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher will get keep “Gally,” likely based on seniority, while 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk will now he known in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room as “Chuckie.”
Both youngsters, who are training camp roommates, along with veteran Mike Blunden were informed Friday they will start the season with the NHL club.
“We were both in the dressing room and guys would say ‘Gally’ and we’d both look,” said Gallagher. “It kind of got confusing.
“Guys have been calling him ‘Chuckie.’ That might stick. But I’m just happy I won this battle and I get to keep my nickname.”
Coach Michel Therrien said Galchenyuk, the third overall pick at the draft in June, will be in the lineup when the Canadiens open the lockout-shortened NHL season by playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Gallagher may only be called upon to play his first NHL game if centre Tomas Plekanec, recovering from sore ribs, is unable to skate.
Galchenyuk called making the squad the best day of his life.
“It’s crazy what’s happened to me in the last couple of months,” said the slick passer and shooter, who should start on the team’s second line with Brian Gionta and either Plekanec or Lars Eller. “I started producing really well in Sarnia and then we get the gold medal at the world juniors (with the U.S. team) and now playing here in my first NHL game.
“I couldn’t be happier.”
Montreal assigned forwards Michael Bournival, Gabriel Dumont, Louis Leblanc and Patrick Holland and defencemen Mike Commodore, Frederic St-Denis and Jarred Tinordi to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs.
The cuts left Montreal at the roster limit of 23 players, but one will have to move when centre Petteri Nokelainen returns from a back injury.
The jury is still out on whether Galchenyuk, who can play centre or left-wing, will stay with the Canadiens for the season or be returned to the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League. He can play five NHL games without using up a year of eligibility for eventual free agency.
“We’ll give him a good chance and we’ll see,” said Therrien. “The more we saw of him the more it was clear he would be here on Saturday night.”
The five-foot-nine Gallagher was picked in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. The energetic right-winger had 10 goals and 10 assists in 36 AHL games with Hamilton this season.
“He has an extraordinary work ethic,” Therrien said of Gallagher, a small but pesky forward who is constantly buzzing around the net. “And he’s a good kid and he’s great to have around the team.”
Blunden, 26, had two goals in 39 games for Montreal last season. He is not expected to dress against Toronto and will be a depth player on the roster.
The Canadiens want to give Galchenyuk a good look in the NHL. He has been seated beside Gionta, the captain, in the dressing room to help him stay focused.
“He’s extremely skilled,” said Gionta. “But as a young kid in junior he can maybe get away with pulling back, or cut-ups, or cut-backs.
“But with the back pressure in the NHL, that’s where the learning curve is. Trying to keep him north-south will be the biggest thing.”
Goaltender Carey Price was not on the ice for practice but Therrien said he will be able to start in the season opener. Price appeared to injure his groin while making a stop on Max Pacioretty in a shootout during an intra-squad game Thursday night.
“The medical team felt that to have him at his best (Saturday) night that he have a therapy day,” he sad. “Carey told me ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there.'”