Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Live at Amalie Arena: Yanni … Gourde

TAMPA — Yanni Gourde, Lightning rookie water bug, the man who came from nowhere, was trying to explain himself, at least the part of himself that was his first name.

Yanni?

It doesn't exactly send shivers down spines at ice hockey rinks.
But Jean-Guy and Manon Gourde hit on it while living in the village of Saint Narcisse, Quebec.

"They saw a movie when they spotted a name in the credits at the end," Yanni Gourde said.

Yanni, the Greek pianist and songwriter. You probably remember his album Yanni: Live at the Acropolis. Or not.

"They've never listened to him. They just liked the name," Gourde said.

He added: "I like country music."

Like Yanni Cash.

Forget all that. Gourde's story is the kind they should write songs about. The 5-foot-9 center, a study in perpetual motion, had a goal and an assist Thursday night against New Jersey in his first NHL playoff game. This after he missed an open net early in the game when the puck skipped and he fanned on his shot.

"You have to stay at it," Gourde said.

He is a study in that.

He joins a long line in undersized and undrafted Lightning history. Marty St. Louis went undrafted. Tyler Johnson went undrafted. So it went with Gourde, who this season stunned us by setting Lightning rookie records for goals (25) and points (64). Vinny Lecavalier was once a Lightning rookie. Steven Stamkos was once a Lightning rookie. Nikita Kucherov was once a Lightning rookie.

Yanni Gourde the hockey player is indeed named after Yanni the musician. (Ruth Eckerd Hall)

Gourde has been nothing short of a sensation. His legs keep churning. He never stops. He and his linemates, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli, get in your face and stay there. Gourde leads the way.

You don't see many 26-year-old NHL rookies. Gourde is late to the dance. And he plays that way. It's as if anytime he's out there, someone is going to tap him on the shoulder and tell him it was all a dream.

Ten years ago, he was an 18-year-old in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He kept coming. A few years ago, he was playing in Daly City, Calif., having accepted a demotion to the AHL. He thought about going to college to study civil engineering.

"I felt close to the end of hockey," Gourde said.

Now he's a Lightning secret weapon who isn't a secret anymore. He credits the work ethic of his father, who owned a grocery store, and his mother, who works in insurance.

"When you look at the road he's taken … the reason he has done so well in the NHL is that the process he used to get here, he keeps it up now," Killorn said. "It just took him a lot longer. What makes him so good is persistence, his relentlessness. He has a ton of energy and it seems he never runs out of it."

So missing that early chance Thursday didn't make him blink. Neither did going 13 games without a goal near the end of the season. Gourde acts like he's still trying to make the team out of camp, though camp is long gone.

Then there was his first playoff game and goal, his heart pounding the whole time.

"I think I appreciate it more, from where I was, a long journey to the dream of being a pro," Gourde said. "It took me so long to get here, that's why I appreciate what I'm living right now. It's lots of ups and downs. I just kept grinding to have a chance and Tampa Bay gave me a chance. It's been amazing since then. I just go out there like I want to stay here."

They should write a song about this guy.

Maybe Yanni the musician could record it.

Yanni the hockey player never listens to the other Yanni.

"Absolutely not," he said with a smile. "I'm sure he's great."

He and his wife, Marie, are expecting their first child, a girl, early next month. They don't plan to name her at the movies.

"Emma," Yanni Gourde said. "Emma."

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029.

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