Lightning journal: Yanni Gourde’s new contract helps diminish past frustrations

Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) before heading down the tunnel for warmups. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) before heading down the tunnel for warmups. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published Nov. 3, 2018|Updated Nov. 4, 2018

MONTREAL — Five years ago, Yanni Gourde decided to give professional hockey one more shot. He was in Kalamazoo, Mich., preparing for the ECHL season after being cut by AHL Utica in training camp.

Gourde told his wife, Marie-Andree, that if that season didn't launch him, he'd look for something else. "At some point you have to support your family," he said Saturday.

That feels so long ago and far away for the forward now that he has signed a big-money contract — an extension for six seasons and an average $5.166 million a year, announced Friday — but he remembers it clearly.

He remembers playing in front of small crowds with the San Francisco Bulls and Kalamazoo. It was far from glamorous.

That 2013-14 season turned into a roller coaster for Gourde. He got another shot at the AHL, signing a professional tryout with Worcester, but he didn't get signed to a full contract when his deal expired in March. For a day he didn't have a job, but the Lightning reached out quickly.

It offered the then-22-year-old an AHL contract to finish out that season, then a two-way NHL contract for the next two years.

"Yanni came up, and he did okay," coach Jon Cooper said about Gourde's first NHL taste in 2016. "He had things he had to work on. He went back down (to the AHL), and he worked on those. When he came back, he was a different player."

It turned out to be the perfect fit for a player who had bounced around. If Gourde, 26, finishes his new contract in Tampa Bay, he will have spent 12 years with the organization. And he doesn't have to worry about supporting his family anymore.

It's fitting that Gourde's first game since the contract was announced was Saturday in Montreal, about two hours from his hometown of Saint-Narcisse, Quebec.

Second’s not shabby

There's something about the second period for the Lightning. It has stood out in the middle frame consistently this season.

Recently, Tampa Bay has needed a strong second to make up for a slow start, for example after giving up early goals to Nashville and New Jersey last week. It had 17 shots in the second period against Nashville on Thursday.

But before that, the Lightning put up an NHL-record 33 shots on goal against the Blackhawks in the second period of a 6-3 win last month. 

So what is it about the second period?

"I was asking myself that," D Braydon Coburn said. "Last year we kind of struggled in the second period. For whatever reason maybe we're putting our foot on the gas because we've had some horrible first periods."

As the Lightning hits its groove and is able to roll lines well and keep other teams on the ice for longer shifts, it keeps momentum going.

That's what Coburn has seen in the second period, and what F J.T. Miller thinks the Lightning has struggled with in the first period recently.

"All of a sudden you feel a change when your goalie has to make a bunch of big saves when you get back on your heels," Miller said. "Obviously, you want to be the team that gets out to the faster start."

Coburn thinks that comes down to turnovers. The Lightning got sloppy with the puck against Nashville and it cost Tampa Bay in the 4-1 loss.

Sign of progress

Victor Hedman got on the ice at the end of the morning skate. He didn't skate with the team, but it's a good step for the defenseman, who has missed four games since injuring a shoulder in the win over Vegas on Oct. 26. … F Ondrej Palat did not make the trip for the games at Montreal and at Ottawa today. He has been out since blocking a shot in the Vegas game and is day-to-day.