While Yanni Gourde was busy preparing for Thursday night’s career NHL game No. 400, team staffers were in a dressing room corridor admiring his bobblehead doll likeness to be given away to fans next week.
Some teams mass-produce bouncy-headed figurines of dozens of players, but others keep them limited to symbolize something or somebody special; the Kraken are falling into the latter category after putting much thought into who would be the standard-bearer for the franchise’s first attempt at the product. The team’s eventual choice of Gourde had plenty to do with his being named last season’s Fan Favorite award winner, the perception of him in the dressing room and his increased commitment to off-ice community involvement.
Gourde himself, while scratching and clawing through the lowest ranks of hockey’s minor leagues, never suspected an NHL team would someday want to give away a likeness of him. But he views it merely as a nice byproduct of what he’s really celebrating this week; having made it further in hockey than even he ever dreamed possible.
“It’s my 400th NHL game. … I didn’t really think I was going to play one, ever in my life,” Gourde said. “So, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.”
Gourde went undrafted in major junior hockey and was ignored by the NHL after winning a league scoring title with the Victoriaville Tigres by 23 points over the next closest contender. Instead, the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder latched on with the lower level pro ECHL after an AHL tryout and played 336 games in both leagues before the Tampa Bay Lightning called him up for good.
During that time in the upper and lower minors, Gourde learned what it would take to stay at the NHL level.
“Don’t stop working,” he said. “Believe in your dreams. I just wanted to get better every single day. It led me to here and I’m super happy to be able to play at this level.”
And he lets teammates know it constantly, both in games and at practices. Though he’s “a little more banged up” than he was after his 100th game, two Stanley Cup rings later — captured with Tampa Bay in 2020 and 2021 before the Kraken took him in the expansion draft — he feels great mentally and still enjoys himself immensely.
Gourde ranks in the top 10 among active, undrafted NHL players in career goals (103; eighth), assists (140; eighth) and points (243; seventh) despite ranking 24th in games played. He entered Wednesday with nine points his past nine games — his two goals and seven assists tied for fifth most on the team.
“I mean, it’s remarkable playing here, playing in front of this crowd, playing at this level,” he said. “It’s quite a journey. It’s been a lot of work, obviously. But I’ve enjoyed every part of it and it was fun. And I’m enjoying myself, I’m loving it. I love coming to the rink every day.”
On Tuesday, when the team was doing a 3-on-3 scrimmage during practice, Gourde’s voice could be heard constantly chirping from the bench at his opponents.
“You watch him every day, you watch how he goes about his business, and he just loves the game,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said. “He competes. He works. He loves working at his game. He’s won Cups and he’s still out there every day looking for something to improve and get better at.”
Hakstol also spent years as a minor pro hockey defenseman and feels Gourde’s climb to the NHL has helped him endure.
“He came through the ECHL … he came through the AHL kind of the old-fashioned way of earning everything every step of the way,” Hakstol said. “So, it’s a nice benchmark for him and there’s a lot more to come as well.”
The bobblehead release will be one small thing coming Gourde’s way near term; going out to fans at next Wednesday’s home game against San Jose. Gourde and the rest of the Lightning team had bobbleheads made of them after winning the Cup, but this is his first individualized one, replete with his highly recognizable mustache.
“They make it so accurate these days,” he said.
- Carson Soucy was back in the lineup for the Kraken on Thursday after his late-game penalty led to a tying Winnipeg goal Sunday in an overtime loss to the Jets. Kraken coach Hakstol had said earlier in the week that Soucy’s penalty had been addressed and he considered the issue to be in the past.
- Thursday night’s game was the Kraken’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night. The team wore specialty jerseys during warmups while goalie Philipp Grubauer — who is injured and didn’t play — had a specialized mask made. Fans were able to bid on both items throughout the game.
- The national anthem was sung by Paul Klein, who recently completed treatment for cancer and was joined on the ice by his doctor.
- Jared McCann had been held without a point in four consecutive games before scoring his team-leading sixth goal off a deflection just 2:45 into Thursday night’s contest.