Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning’s Gourde returns to where it all began, and where it almost ended

By JOE SMITH

SAN JOSE, Calif — Yanni Gourde sat back in his dressing room stall Wednesday afternoon, reflecting on returning to where his pro career began five years ago.

But the Lightning forward never forgets that San Jose was also where his NHL dream appeared to hit a dead end.

In 2012, Gourde dropped from the Sharks’ AHL affiliate to the ECHL, where he played for the San Francisco Bulls at the Cow Palace. You want the perfect metaphor for the 25-year-old’s steep climb to the NHL? Try the 25-plus steps that exhausted Bulls players had to make to get into the home dressing room between periods.

"It was really high," Gourde said, laughing. "I was like ‘Oh my God.’ Sometimes I’d take a chair and sit there for a second before going up. But it was fun. It was an experience that I kind of grew on, and it made me the player I am today."

Today Gourde is a key cog on the Lightning’s most complete line, joining Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat in shutting down opposing team’s top players. The line is relentless, tenacious and tireless.

That basically describes Gourde.

"What’s that bunny you put the batteries in? He’s kind of like that," coach Jon Cooper said. "He just is a worker."

Gourde, an undrafted and undersized (5 feet 9) forward, had to claw his way into the NHL. He seemed light years away while playing those eight games with the Bulls. He had bounced in and out of the AHL Worcester Barracudas lineup, struggling to find his way. Worcester coach Roy Sommer, who had noticed Gourde’s playmaking ability in juniors (124 points in 68 games with Victoriaville in the Quebec Major Junior League in 2011-12), saw potential in bringing him back after 38 combined games in the ECHL between San Francisco and Kalamazoo in 2013-14.

"Usually when a guy starts down there, they’ve got to take a different path," Sommer said. "Those guys do it the hard way. By the time you get them, they don’t want to go back."

Gourde credited Sommer for helping him make the transition to the pro game.

"Roy always used to tell me to, ‘Slow down, slow down!’ because I was trying to go 100 miles per hour every time I was on the ice," Gourde said. "And I wasn’t doing much because I was all over the ice."

Gourde harnessed his energy to become almost a point-per-game player (four goals, 20 assists) in a 25-game tryout with Worcester in the second half of the 2013-14 season, eventually signing a free agent deal with the Lightning. Sommer said Gourde was tenacious, creating a handful of scoring chances a game.

"The big thing with him was his stick-to-itiveness," said Sommer, who was at Wednesday’s game. "He didn’t give up and played the game the right way. It didn’t surprise me that he made the NHL."

Gourde’s breakthrough callup late last season, during which he score six goals in a 20-game stint, earned him his first one-way contract (two years, $2 million) in June. But Gourde didn’t want to sit on it. He stayed in a downtown Tampa hotel during training camp, refusing to assume that a roster spot was a given. Gourde settled into an apartment when the season started.

"Every time I’m on the ice, I’m like, ‘I want to be here tomorrow,’?" Gourde said.

And if Gourde’s start to the season is any indication — nine points in 15 games and plus-7 entering Wednesday’s late game against the Sharks — he’s on track to remain an NHL regular for a long time. Not that Gourde will stop climbing, never forgetting those steps at the Cow Palace.

"At that point, it was far from the NHL," Gourde said. "But all I wanted to do is get to the pro level, earn my living as a hockey player. It’s been a really fun journey since."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

Lightning re-signs goaltender Eddie Pasquale to two-way deal

The Lightning re-signed goaltender Eddie Pasquale to a one-year, two-way contract general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.Pasquale, 27, split this past season between the Syracuse Crunch and Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League. He...
Published: 06/18/18
Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

Lightning opens seven-game preseason schedule at home Sept. 18

TAMPA — The Lightning will open its seven-game preseason schedule at home with a 7:30 p.m.  game Sept. 18 against the Carolina Hurricane, the team announced Thursday.That is one of three home games the Lightning will play in a preseason sc...
Published: 06/14/18
Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Lightning trades Peter Budaj to Kings, acquires forward Andy Andreoff

Sixteen months after acquiring Peter Budaj from the Kings, the Lightning today returned the veteran goaltender to Los Angeles.The Lightning traded Budaj for forward Andy Andreoff, general manager Steve Yzerman announced in a news release.Andreoff, 27...
Published: 06/13/18
Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

Lightning set as early favorite to win the Stanley Cup in 2018-19

This past season didn't end the way Lightning fans might have hoped, but that's no reason to lose hope.In fact, oddsmakers are more bullish on Tampa Bay than any team in the NHL for next season.According to at least one sports betting site, the ...
Published: 06/08/18
Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

Washington has a new hero. His name is Devante Smith-Pelly

LAS VEGAS — Before Devante Smith-Pelly could relax or breathe or even start thinking about his game-tying goal, he had to start moving his feet.The period of recall began midway through the third period Thursday night, when the Capitals trailed, 3-2....
Published: 06/08/18
Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup wait is finally over. Who has waited longer?

The Washington Capitals won the first Stanley Cup title in the franchise's 43-year history Thursday night in Las Vegas.And still the St. Louis Blues and their fans wait. The Blues marked their 50th NHL season this year; 50 years without a Cup.He...
Published: 06/08/18
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: What could have been for the Lightning

As the Washington Capitals celebrate their first Stanley Cup championship, Rick Stroud reflects on what could have been for the Lightning, which came within a victory of eliminating Washington in the conference final.Plus, the Rays lose in ...
Published: 06/08/18
Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

Capitals win first Stanley Cup, eliminate Golden Knights in 5

LAS VEGAS — Alex Ovechkin put both hands to his head and screamed while he left the bench and skated into the thick of the Washington Capitals' joyous celebration. And right before Ovechkin hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Washington captain put ...
Published: 06/07/18
Updated: 06/08/18
Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

You might not recognize the name, but my words were probably some of the first you read after the Lightning won its first – and, so far, only — Stanley Cup 14 years ago today.In the days before social media, email newsletters and push not...
Published: 06/07/18