Gerard Gallant didn’t like being fired from his first NHL head coaching job in Columbus, although it seems he learned quite a bit from the experience.
It also helped lead him to this All-Star Weekend as coach of the Panthers-heavy Atlantic Division team.
The Panthers have three players — captain Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Aaron Ekblad — representing their division in both Saturday’s skills competition as well as the revamped tournament-style All-Star Game on Sunday.
“It’s a real nice honor,’’ Gallant said. “Our team has done a lot of nice things this year and that’s why I’m sitting here today.”
Gallant’s road to South Florida started in 2006. After a 5-9-1 start to the season, Columbus general manager Doug MacLean — who coached the Panthers from 1995-98 — was ordered to fire his old friend Gallant.
MacLean had known Gallant since he was a youngster and was Gallant’s high school teacher and coach in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.
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“It was the toughest thing I ever had to do,’’ MacLean said recently.
After being canned by the Blue Jackets, Gallant went right back to work trying to get back to the bigs.
Gallant’s travels took him to the New York Islanders as an assistant and also to Saint John, New Brunswick, where he coached a powerhouse junior hockey team led by current Florida top-line winger Jonathan Huberdeau.
After spending two years as an assistant with the famed Montreal Canadiens, Gallant interviewed for the vacant Panthers job during the summer of 2014.
Although Gallant was going up against the likes of former Stanley Cup-winning coaches Dan Bylsma and Marc Crawford, he stood out and impressed in his first interview with the team’s power brokers.
Gallant wasn’t fancy and wasn’t trying to be. He was simply himself in those interviews and that, along with the various coaching experiences gleaned from his post-Columbus days, led to him being offered the job as the 13th coach in franchise history.
He recently signed a two-year contract extension through the 2018-19 season.
“The more experience you get, the more confident you are in making decisions,’’ Gallant said. “I just do what I do.’’
Gallant has an easy-going way about him while around his team, but if a call goes against the Panthers, watch out.
“He always looks like he’s ticked off,’’ Jagr said. “Look at him on the bench. He’s an emotional guy.”
Considered a players’ coach after spending parts of 10 seasons in the NHL with Detroit and Tampa Bay, Gallant doesn’t come down on his guys too often, and that style has helped the Panthers keep an even keel throughout the past two seasons.
Like their coach, the Panthers don’t get too high on themselves when they’re winning and don’t get too low when they’re losing.
“He’ll go to bat for his players, and we all appreciate that,’’ Luongo said. “We know he has our back 100 percent.
“Sometimes he’s hard on guys, sometimes he lays back. He knows when to push the buttons, and that’s a good feel to have for a coach. You don’t want one extreme or another. He knows how to handle the room.”
Gallant averaged over 36 goals per season with the Red Wings from 1986-90 and said even in being honored this weekend he doesn’t feel like an All-Star despite his being asked to coach the team with the Panthers atop the Atlantic Division.
“That’s why it’s special, because my team is real good,’’ Gallant said.
“I don’t consider myself an All-Star coach. I’m just another coach. I would have loved to have gone as a player, but as a coach it never crossed my mind.’’
When, where: Saturday-Sunday; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville.
Schedule, TV: Saturday: All-Star skills competition, 7 p.m., NBCSN; Sunday: All-Star Game, 5 p.m., NBCSN.
Panthers in skills competition: Jaromir Jagr (accuracy shooting, shootout); Roberto Luongo (shootout); Aaron Ekblad (hardest shot, skills challenge relay, shootout).