TAMPA — Yanni Gourde isn’t the biggest player, or even the quickest. He’s not dazzling with the puck, nor does he possess the strongest shot.
But few can match his motor.
And it’s times like these, the dog days of a uniquely cramped season, when having a player like Gourde might be most valuable. Players are physically and mentally fatigued, but all coaches need to do is point to the Lightning’s 29-year-old center for inspiration.
“I think it’s pretty contagious,” linemate Barclay Goodrow said. “If you’re having a night where maybe your legs aren’t feeling great or it’s just not clicking for you, I think you can just turn to Gordo and he’s always going, he’s always buzzing, his legs are always working. He’s always giving that max effort. You just become so used to seeing it out of him just because he brings it every single night.”
Gourde takes pride in doing the little things well, being a nuisance defensively and a hound for the puck. Now, he’s being rewarded for his efforts in his stat line. His 13 goals through the Lightning’s first 34 games have already surpassed last year’s total of 10, in part because of a five-game goal streak that ended Saturday that is the longest by a Lightning player this season.
“I tell players all the time, when you’re attacking the net and you’re going to the net, good things usually follow you around,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And Yanni for a lot of his career, we used to call that blue paint area his office, because he’s scored a ton of goals from there. And now he’s scoring them different ways. But he continues to go to the net, doesn’t give up on plays, and he’s getting rewarded for it. And they’re going in right now, and we’ve needed him.”
Gourde has benefitted from not only taking the puck to the net, but also his resilience when he gets there, taking advantage of rebounds and putting them over the goal line. His past two goals, including his game-winner Tuesday against Dallas, were perfect examples.
“I just try to keep it simple,” Gourde said. “I try to go to the net. I try to play simple hockey, get the puck deep and go to work. I’m familiar with the guys I’m playing with right now. I know what they’re really good at, so we play a north game, we play fast, we get pucks to the net.
On Thursday, Gourde raced to a loose puck in the offensive zone, had his shot hit Stars defenseman John Klingberg’s left hand and drop to his stick, then put his second opportunity into the net.
“I just tried to shoot it,” Gourde said. “It’s pretty embarrassing, because I hit the defender in the (hand) and then I got the rebound. But it worked somehow, so I’m just trying to keep my game pretty simple, and as a line I think we’re doing a pretty good job, too.”
It’s a dramatic change from last season, when Gourde went through a frustrating 35-game goal drought.
“I definitely feel more confident with the puck,” Gourde said. “Maybe I’m getting more looks, more breaks. It’s a different game this year than last year. I take a lot of pride in every little detail of the game, just try to play the right way every single night, and I think that’s what I was trying to do last year, as well. This year is different, obviously, with getting in a little bit more looks offensively, but that’s all I think.”
Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde thinks back to last year when players reported to summer camp following a three-month pause. While other players might have needed time to get going, Gourde set the tone from day one.
“He only knows one way,” Lalonde said. “And it’s go, go, go. Where some of our guys were warming up into the task of coming back, he was already at this level. It’s the same thing when we came back to camp this year. It’s a unique schedule, where I think it’s human nature for there to be some ups and downs with energy levels. There’s only one level for him, and it’s go. And I think he is a very important key to our success. And I think he really helps our consistency, because he’s a go, go guy. He drives whatever line he’s on.”
Rookie Ross Colton said coaches have told him to try to match Gourde’s work ethic and energy.
“They’re always in meetings saying, try to emulate someone like Yanni Gourde because he just gives 100 percent every day in practice, in pregame skate, and you see it in the game,” Colton said. “He’s such a workhorse, and he does all the little things right, so coming up through through camp and even this year when I got sent down at the start of the year, they said, look at Yanni Gourde and just try to have that mindset of be the best player on the ice when you can and just give 100 percent, don’t lose puck battles and good things are gonna happen.”
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