Saturday, November 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

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

RECOMMENDED READING


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 joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Comments

Red-hot Lightning leading NHL in more than wins

Nikita Kucherov, top left, celebrates with teammate Steven Stamkos (91) after scoring against Florida Panthers goalie James Reimer. [AP photo]The Lightning (15-2-2) enters tonight’s game against the visiting Islanders (10-6-2) leading the leagu...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Brayden Point becomes ‘the heartbeat’ of the Lightning

Brayden Point becomes ‘the heartbeat’ of the Lightning

TAMPA — A local TV crew set up shop in front of Brayden Point’s locker stall the other day, waiting for the Lightning forward to be ready.Then, captain Steven Stamkos walked into the room for his scrum. It didn’t take long for the TV crew to change c...
Published: 11/17/17
Lightning pummels Stars for fifth straight win

Lightning pummels Stars for fifth straight win

TAMPA — The Lightning welcomed Ben Bishop back with a classy, fitting video tribute in Thursday’s first period. The sellout crowd of 19,092 at Amalie Arena gave Bishop, the greatest goalie in franchise history, a standing ovation. It was an emotional...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Lightning journal: Specials teams in the spotlight vs. Stars

Lightning journal: Specials teams in the spotlight vs. Stars

TAMPA — C Braydon Point’s shorthanded goal tipped the game in the Lightning’s favor and the three penalties it killed during the second period kept it that way in Thursday’s 6-1 victory against the Stars.Dallas entered the game with an NHL-best 30.2 ...
Published: 11/16/17

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Stars game

There was a classy, fitting video tribute to former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop in the first period. Think of all the moments in his five seasons in Tampa Bay. It had to be emotional for Bishop, who calls Tampa his second home. He touched his heart a...
Published: 11/16/17
Lightning vs. Stars vs. Bishop vs. No. 1 PP in NHL

Lightning vs. Stars vs. Bishop vs. No. 1 PP in NHL

Stars’ G Ben Bishop returns to Amalie Arena tonight for the first time since his last home game as a Lightning, which came before last season’s trade deadline.The teacher vs. the pupil (Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy) is one story line.He...
Published: 11/16/17
Lightning hold ‘Military Appreciation Night’ tonight

Lightning hold ‘Military Appreciation Night’ tonight

The Lightning will wear special camouflaged jerseys during pregame warmups tonight as part of "Military Appreciation Night."The jerseys include a nametag of an honorary service man or woman who will be present during the warmups, either on the team b...
Published: 11/16/17
Rick and Tom podcast: The hottest team in sports plays in Tampa Bay

Rick and Tom podcast: The hottest team in sports plays in Tampa Bay

The hottest team in sports plays right here in Tampa Bay, as the Lightning has started the season 14-2-2, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy leads the NHL in wins, Steven Stamkos leads in points and Nikita Kucherov leads in goals scored. In the latest episode...
Published: 11/16/17
Jones: The goalie who could make us forget Ben Bishop

Jones: The goalie who could make us forget Ben Bishop

TAMPA — Former Lightning goalie Ben Bishop showed up at Amalie Arena on Wednesday.So how’s the big guy doing?Don’t know. Don’t care.Sorry, that’s wasn’t meant to be mean. Bishop is a great goalie, a good guy and a class act. He helped turn the Lightn...
Published: 11/15/17
Lightning Strikes podcast: Ben Bishop vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Lightning Strikes podcast: Ben Bishop vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

In our latest Lightning Strikes! podcast, Joe Smith and Tom Jones discuss Ben Bishop’s return to Tampa, his legacy with the Lightning, and the play of new No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.They also talk about the emergence of Vladislav Namestnikov, th...
Published: 11/15/17