“I just did a 1,000-piece Jungle Book puzzle and now I’ve got this one,” Gallagher said of the map, laughing during a solitary walk on Tuesday, speaking from the fairway of the fourth hole of a local golf course.
“At first, in quarantine, I just went around the house and took care of things that I’d never do, but that didn’t last long. Now I’m big into puzzles, and since the Jungle Book and the map are the only ones my mom had laying around, I’m taking whatever she’s got.”
Like everyone in hockey and far beyond, Gallagher is figuratively treading water with the NHL on pause because of coronavirus concerns. He’s watching more television news than he normally would, chatting with friends via FaceTime since he can’t see them in person, working out alone five days a week in the garage of his parents’ home and crossing the days off a seemingly endless calendar.
“As a human being, the toughest part of this is outside of hockey,” Gallagher said. “You want everyone to be healthy and safe and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible here. As an athlete, the toughest part is not really knowing if you’re going to be back this season.
“You already have to kind of accept the fact that whatever happens this season is going to be a little bit chaotic. Whatever decision the League will make will probably be just a short-term one, depending on when we get back. By the sounds of it, it’s going to be a while still.
“In terms of us playing in the summer, I haven’t really landed on how I feel about that,” Gallagher said, joking that he has not played summer hockey since he was about 15, nothing about it organized. “The most important thing is that it doesn’t affect the way next year’s season goes. You want that to run as smoothly and normal as possible.
“Players want a Stanley Cup awarded this season and the fans want to be entertained. If we come back, I’m sure there’s a creative solution where both sides can be happy.”
For now, without ice or a standard gym, Gallagher is working to keep himself in the best shape he can for when, or if, the call comes to resume the season.
Along the way, he has amused himself by making, then posting a TikTok video that’s a huge hit on the internet, the 27-year-old wanting to prove he’s not the fossil that center Nick Suzuki, a 20-year-old teammate, ribs him that he is.
“What was behind that? Boredom!” Gallagher joked of the video, in which he sings to recreate a famous scene from the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” TV series. “Sometimes when I’m bored, I come up with poor ideas, but it was funny. I joke with Suzuki about what the young kids are always doing. He likes to call me old. All the young kids are TikTok-ing nowadays, so I decided to go on and try to act young. I tried to learn all the lingo, all the things everyone is saying.
“I wasn’t going to post it but when I made it, it took so [darn] long, a couple hours at least … all the editing, I didn’t know how to do it, I had to teach myself as I went along. I watched it a couple times and it made me laugh. I thought I’d let everyone else get a chuckle out of it but I wasn’t expecting to get the reaction I did. If it makes people laugh in a tough time, that’s great. But this TikTok-ing will last only until they let me go outside, and then I’ll stop putting all this time into these videos.”
Gallagher locked himself away in mid-March immediately upon returning to his offseason home from Montreal, not taking any chances after a cross-country flight. His parents, Ian and Della, live 10 minutes away; siblings Bree and Nolan are now under their roof, with his other sister, Erin, at her own home about 5 miles away.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced it was extending until April 15 its self-quarantine guidelines for team staff and players, putting Gallagher and hundreds of others in the League mostly behind closed doors for another two weeks.
“When I got home from Montreal, I couldn’t go outside even to do my groceries,” he said. “Now I can go to the store and go outside to get some exercise or go for a run. Everyone [in his family] is around here with nothing to do but annoy each other.
“It’s the boredom that gets you more than anything. When I first got back, I had to be careful around my parents, you don’t know if you’ve picked something up traveling. They’re doing the same thing, self-quarantining. I can talk to them and see them but that’s pretty much it. No friends, nothing like that, which is tough.
“You come home and we live in a small town where I’m close to my friends. I look forward to seeing them when I get back but we can’t see each other. Spending this much time with myself, I don’t know how other people do it. I’m driving myself insane.”
Gallagher said it made sense for him to promptly return home, unsure whether air travel would be completely shut down. His father, who has long trained him, has a garage full of equipment and, from a safe distance, could supervise his Monday through Friday workouts.
“I’m able to go over there and really take care of what I need to do, and at the same time get to talk to other people,” he said of his parents and brother and sister. “That could be the best part of my morning, which I normally hate, but then it’s back to my place, being alone.
“My dad’s around but he doesn’t hang around. He makes sure I have everything I need. It’s just me in the garage. He gives me the workout plan. Afterward, I’ve got to clean everything up, scrub it down, clean my path. But it’s been nice to have the equipment and stay in shape and keep the body ready.”
Gallagher has missed 12 games this season — 10 because of a concussion, one because of a knee injury and one because of food poisoning. He was within range of his third-consecutive 30-goal season — 22 goals and 21 assists in 59 games — when the League paused on March 12.
Typically, it takes Gallagher a few weeks after a season to heal the bruises he accumulates living on a rink’s dirty ice in front of the net, pounded by opposing defensemen. On Tuesday, three weeks to the day since his last game with the Canadiens, he felt recharged.
“I feel really good,” he said. “Those three weeks, they’ve made a big difference. I dealt with the concussion, I hurt my knee a little bit this year. You’re just banged up, so having the time off allows the body to heal, which is nice.”
At the pause, Montreal (31-31-9) is 10 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Having missed the playoffs last season on the final weekend of the schedule, more was expected of the 2019-20 team with much the same core. But two eight-game losing streaks, and another of five, all but ended the Canadiens’ postseason hopes.
“The hardest thing is that it felt that we were doing it to ourselves,” Gallagher said. “You go on one eight-game losing streak (0-5-3, Nov. 19-Dec. 1), which as a professional athlete you should never accept. You have to recognize the areas in which you made mistakes, but we weren’t able to correct those mistakes so it lasted eight games. We might have still been in a good position if we didn’t lose eight in a row again (0-7-1, Dec. 28-Jan. 9).
“And we still might have a shot if we hadn’t gone on a five-game losing streak after that (0-4-1, Feb. 10-18). The inability to identify and correct our mistakes is the really frustrating thing about this year. For the most part, we liked what we had but we just weren’t able to put it together.”
As his quarantine drags on, Gallagher stays in touch with teammates “with pretty much every group chat program you can name. From time to time, guys will chime in and put stuff on there. It’s usually just guys being bored, wanting to talk to someone, which is understandable. There’s not much to update, it’s just sharing useless information, but it’s nice to stay in contact.”
Wednesday, Gallagher said, would be much the same as Tuesday, which will be much the same as Thursday. A workout, more time alone, and a jigsaw that’s as much a puzzle as this NHL season.
“You want to stay ready and be prepared but you don’t really know what you’re preparing for,” he said. “We’ve always had dates and deadlines, you know you have to be ready that day. Now, it’s just a wait-and-see game. And we’re all in the same boat.
“We all hope for the best. You know these doctors are working their tails off, doing everything they can to make sure all our communities are safe. You trust the hard work they’re doing, which is going to pay off.”