Columbus Cottonmouths enforcer Alex Gallant has two older brothers who play hockey. For the Gallant brothers, fighting is a family affair.
Gallant, who just turned 21 in early December, is the youngest of the three. His oldest brother, Brad, 26, played college hockey at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick. His middle brother, Brett, 25, is in his fourth season with Bridgeport of the AHL.
The Gallant brothers began training at an early age. Alex and his brothers worked with Joe Borden to develop their boxing skills.
"Joe trains a lot of players," said Gallant, whose Cottonmouths host Huntsville Friday night at the Columbus Civic Center. "I started when I was about 12-13. He shows you what to do and how to punch. You work on techniques."
Gallant remembers his first fight. It took place when he was trying out for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.
"I was 16 at the time," Gallant said. "I knew what role I was going to play. Both of my brothers had been enforcers in that league."
Gallant announced his intention to sign with the Cottonmouths last summer. But he was recovering from shoulder surgery and didn't arrive in Columbus until mid-November. Surgery was his only option after suffering a shoulder injury in three separate fights.
"It's not quite 100 percent," Gallant said. "I can pretty much do anything
with it. I waited to come here until more than five months after the surgery, which was at the end of May. I separated it all three times, once when I was 19 and twice when I was 20. I played last year, but took the whole year off from fighting. Then I had the surgery."
Since signing with the Snakes on Nov. 14, Gallant has played in 20 games and accumulated 158 penalty minutes. He's been in 14 fights against 11 different opponents. Gallant fought Knoxville's David Segal, Louisiana's Tyler Barr and Knoxville's Ben Schoeneberger twice each.
"I didn't know much about the guys I fought," Gallant said. "I'd have to say the toughest guys I've fought were Tyler Sheldrake (Mississippi RiverKings), Chapen LeBlond (Mississippi Surge), Barr, Corey Fulton (RiverKings) and Segal."
Gallant plays a very specific role on the team.
"The enforcer has a big role," Gallant said. "If you don't have one, some guys will run your skilled guys. If a team has a fighter, they can deal with me. If you didn't have fighting in the game, guys would be starting with the stick work and slashing. It would be dangerous. The fans love it and it's a big part of the game."
Gallant not only stands up for teammates who have been roughed up by the Snakes' opponent. He can also fight to energize the team.
"My favorite time to fight is when we're down 2-0 or 3-0," Gallant said. "It's my job to give the guys energy. The game can turn around fast. It's the best feeling when that happens."
Gallant has the green light from Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard. There are a couple of situations in which it's not prudent for him to drop the gloves.
"We only have three lines of forwards. If we're shorthanded and getting down to two lines, it's not a good time for me to fight," Gallant said. "If we're up 2-3 goals and the other team starts running around, it's my job to settle things down."
Gallant contributes in other ways.
"Jerome and Brad want guys with other skills. I bring energy by delivering a big hit and getting under their best player's skin," Gallant said.
Gallant has seen the Snakes turn a corner around the midpoint of the season.
"When I first got here, we lost five in a row," Gallant said. "Nobody was ready to quit. We've got great leadership on this team. We added a few guys like Neilsson (Arcibal), Sam (Bowles) and Preston (Shupe). We've just flipped things around since the new year. We made big pickups and everybody came together. Everybody gets along so well and works hard. We know when to be serious and when to have fun."
The Snakes are currently in sixth place in the crowded SPHL standings. Entering the weekend's play, they are poised to make a run at the team's third President's Cup in 10 years.
"Any team can win on any night," Gallant said. "If we come out and lose both this weekend, we'll drop in the standings, but if we can win both, maybe we can jump a couple of spots."
After Friday night's home game, the Snakes will travel to Southaven, Miss., to take on the Mississippi RiverKings on Saturday.