Rocket defenceman Olivier Galipeau contributing at both ends of the ice

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There was no surprise when the Canadiens assigned veteran defenceman Olivier Galipeau to Laval at the end of September. Or that he was ninth, at best, on the Rocket’s depth chart when training camp began.

What’s surprising however, two months later, is that Galipeau has elevated himself into the starting six blue-liners, normally playing next to William Trudeau. And that he’s producing offensively, with two goals and eight points in 10 games. Also, although the Rocket’s struggling with a 5-9-4 record, Galipeau has a plus/minus rating of plus-3.

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“It was mostly about keeping my focus and doing the little details … staying ready for whenever the opportunity would come,” Galipeau told the Montreal Gazette this week following practice at Place Bell.

“And it did.”

The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder didn’t make his Laval debut until Oct. 27 at Rochester, in the team’s sixth game, producing two assists in a 7-4 loss. Galipeau was a healthy scratch for the next two contests but has missed only one of the last 10. He’s on a three-game points streak and has collected two goals and six points in his last six games.

“It didn’t matter if he was out of the lineup,” assistant coach Kelly Buchberger said. “In practice, he was the hardest-working guy. He’s a true pro. A smart player. Very intelligent and he has competed hard at a high level.

“I like his work ethic and the way he carries himself. He brings the young guys along with him in the morning to train. He’s the ultimate pro. We’d all like to see him play in the NHL one day.”

Born in Montreal and raised near Joliette, Galipeau produced decent junior statistics while playing for Val-d’Or, Chicoutimi and Acadie-Bathurst. He went to the Memorial Cup with the Foreurs and won the CHL championship with the Titan as a 20-year-old, defeating the host Regina Pats after receiving a bye to the final. He called it one of the best experiences of his career.

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Galipeau, now 26, went undrafted and has led a nomadic life while pursuing his pro hockey aspirations, having previously played for Providence and Chicago in the AHL, along with Atlanta and Fort Wayne at the ECHL level. Galipeau won a championship with the Indiana-based team but also divided the last two seasons between Laval and Trois-Rivières of the ECHL. Nonetheless, he remained undaunted.

“When you’re in the ECHL, you just have to keep working and try to make your way up,” he said. “When the opportunity comes, you try to stay there. It’s always about proving yourself. Trying to keep your focus. Once you prove yourself you have to do it every night, back it up every night. Putting in the details on the ice and taking care of your body so you’re ready to go.

“Stay focused on your dream and try to get that opportunity.”

Despite his age, Galipeau still has aspirations of one day playing in the NHL — if not for the Canadiens, another organization. But he also understands he can’t look far down the road and won’t take anything for granted, given how difficult it was for him to crack the Rocket’s lineup. He’s on a one-year, one-way AHL contract.

“I want to stay here,” he said. “I like this team. I think I’m an AHL player now. I can help a team win. Now it’s to back it up and prove I belong here and try to make it to the next level. I’ve been dreaming of (playing in the NHL) my whole life. Every year you hope you get a chance. Someone sees you; this organization or another. Hopefully I can make it to the next level.”

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Despite his recent offensive success, Galipeau won’t lose sight of what got him this far — keeping things simple and being hard to play against defensively while blocking shots and shutting down opponents.

“When points come, you get a little more confident with the puck, especially in the offensive zone,” he explained. “You find the lane a bit easier to the net.”

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