TAMPA — Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde might need to hide some tissues in his pocket Friday night.
The arrival of the Seattle Kraken heralds the return of an old friend — former Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde.
“Yanni was a huge part of our success here, a huge part of both Stanley Cups,” Lalonde said. “It’ll be a little emotional, but we’ll celebrate it. ... I might start crying.”
Friday will be the first time Gourde skates on the ice at Amalie Arena since he won the Stanley Cup with the team in July.
The celebrations were short-lived, as Gourde was one of three key players — alongside Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn — left unprotected by the Lightning for the expansion draft. The Kraken selected Gourde to join their franchise team.
“It’s definitely special,” Gourde said Tuesday. “I was super excited to join the Kraken and try something new and try to bring as much leadership, as much as what I do to this team.”
While he was happy to start a new endeavor with his wife, Marie, and 3-year-old daughter, Emma, he also was a little hurt that he didn’t get to leave Tampa on his own terms.
“I wish I was protected,” Gourde said. “But I’m grateful for the opportunity (in Seattle). I’m grateful for being here ... and it’s great to be in an inaugural season.”
Through 15 games with Seattle, Gourde is tied for fourth on the roster in points (5-6—11) after missing the first four games recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He’s a leader, too, wearing an “A” on his sweater as one of three alternate captains.
“It’s great to have that leadership role and be seen as a guy like that,” Gourde said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t change who I am, it doesn’t change what I do. I try to go on the ice and bring as much energy as I can, do the right thing night in and night out.”
Gourde, who flew into the area on Thanksgiving, isn’t sure how much time he’ll have to splurge at his favorite local spots like Fresh Kitchen or Tampa Meat Market, but he’s hoping to catch up with old friends before the Kraken leave for the second half of their back-to-back road trip Saturday against the Panthers.
His former teammates hope they get the chance to spend some time with him, too.
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“We’ve talked a little bit since he’s been gone,” Lightning wing Mathieu Joseph said. “I was really close to him and his family. They’re great people and he was a big mentor for me growing up the last couple of years. We had some good talks in general about our games and we’ve counted on each other when sometimes it’s a little harder. He’s a good friend and I’m excited to see him.”
One of Joseph’s favorite memories was Gourde’s Game 7 goal against the Islanders last season during the Stanley Cup semifinal, a one-goal game that propelled the Lightning to their second straight Stanley Cup final series. Off the ice, Joseph fondly remembers the moments they shared during the celebratory boat parade after the Cup win over Montreal.
“He deserved that goal that (Islanders) game,” Joseph said. “I was really pumped for him.”
The Lightning gave Gourde his start years ago as an undrafted free agent and he went on to have a successful six-year NHL career with the team.
“(They) were a great organization to me and my family,” he said. “...And I’m super excited to be back in Tampa and play in front of these fans because they were honestly phenomenal to me throughout my career there. I can’t wait to see them.”
As for coach Jon Cooper, he’s confident Gourde will be recognized the way he deserves when he hits the ice Friday.
“It’s tough watching those guys in another jersey,” Cooper said. “Hopefully the crowd gives him the ovation that he deserves.”
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