Luke Gallagher was only 8 years old during the Chiefs Memorial Cup run in 2008.
His memory is shady on how it unfolded, but remembers his friends and family members raving about stars like Drayson Bowman and Judd Blackwater, as well as “this local kid named Tyler Johnson.”
But it’s another member of that team that has made the biggest impact on him today.
Gallagher, a 16-year-old defenseman from Mead who was called up to the Chiefs on Tuesday, modeled his game after Jared Spurgeon – or at least has tried to. Spurgeon, a defenseman with the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, played with the Chiefs from 2005-2010.
Spurgeon is a small (5-foot-9, 175 pounds) defenseman renowned for his offensive acumen, and with Gallagher being on the smaller side himself (5-foot-7, 145 pounds), he said he’s always admired his playing style.
“I vaguely remember watching him play (in Spokane) and I was always like, ‘a little guy on defense, what the heck?” Gallagher said. “But now I’m in awe of his game. I think it’s amazing how he can be such a small defenseman yet excel at the highest level.”
Gallagher’s call-up has a lot to do with his future development, according to the Chiefs assistant coach Scott Burt, giving him a taste of pace and physicality in the Western Hockey League.
“It’s a bigger step. It’s a lot faster,” Burt said. “Our practices are double the speed he’s been through, and he’ll be the first to say that.”
His development will be important for the Chiefs’ future. Gallagher’s offensive skillset could add another dynamic to the team’s defensive unit in upcoming years.
“I think that’s been missing in our lineup this year,” Spokane head coach Don Nachbaur said. “We don’t have a lot of scoring coming from our back end.”
Spokane’s eight defensemen have combined for 90 points this season. In comparison, Portland, the team the Chiefs are trying to catch for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, has 185 points from its eight defensemen this season. Spokane’s U.S. division rival, Tri-City, has 181 points combined from its seven-player defensive unit.
Gary Redding, who coached Gallagher on the Spokane Braves (KIJHL) this season prior to his call-up to the Chiefs, said he saw flashes of that.
“Luke’s a phenomenal skater. His ability to see the ice and skate, it’s pretty special,” he said. “He does things where he’s able to know where to put pucks, when to make plays, when not to make plays.”
Before joining the Braves this fall, Gallagher played for the Edge School for Athletes in Calgary, Alberta. Competing with and against players serious about getting to the WHL refined his skillset.
“It put me in the right group of friends and took me a long way,” Gallagher said.
Saturday’s matchup against Tri-City won’t be Gallagher’s first action in a Chiefs uniform. Gallagher was brought up temporarily for one game this season against Edmonton on Nov. 26.
He would hardly consider that a significant moment, just a little taste of what it might feel like.
Now that he’s earned the full meal, he’s trying not to be a prisoner of the moment. But for the undersized defenseman that idolized the Chiefs players more than any NHL superstar growing up, overwhelming feelings of happiness and wonderment may be difficult to suppress at first.
“Getting a call to actually be apart of the team is a dream come true,” Gallagher said. “It’s been amazing.”
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