By Simon Gagne | Special to LAKings.com
I was two years old when I skated for the first time. My mom and my dad took me to a rink in Quebec City. It was a rink outside that was for public skating. At first, they gave me a chair to help me stand up. I don’t remember this part because I was so young, but my parents tell me that after 30 seconds, I pushed away the chair and I started skating by myself.
I think I am the hockey player that I am because of my family. They were a big influence on me. Hockey was always in my life growing up.
Hockey is huge where I am from. The Quebec Nordiques were still there when I was born. They moved to Colorado in 1995. Until I was 14, I was a huge fan of the Nordiques. Hockey was what everyone talked about. The sports page of the newspaper was always about the Nordiques and if they won or lost in the game the night before. The same thing was true when people watched TV, everyone was attached to them. Other members of my family were big hockey fans too. My dad and my grandfather were both hockey players. Everything around us was hockey so I guess that’s a big reason why I enjoyed skating that early.
The first year that I put on skates I was just skating. At three years old, in September, I started skating with a group of young players. Normally, we would start playing hockey around five years old but they gave me a chance to start a little quicker because I could skate better than some of the other players.
I had a chance to meet my coaches from when I was a little kid and they told me that I was a great skater. They could tell that I was better than the other ones and it was almost natural for me. Some of the other players had to get help with a chair but I was ahead of those kids because I had started skating when I was two years old.
Winter was for hockey and the summer was all about soccer. My dad pushed me into soccer because it was a good discipline for me to keep myself active in the summers. It was also a way to keep myself in shape and have fun outside at the same time. When I started to get a little older, when I was about nine years old, I started playing AAA hockey and participating in summer hockey tournaments.
My first year of Juniors, I played at 16 years old. I had no clue of where I was a target in the draft until I went to the Under-18 tournament with Team Canada. When I was projected to be a first round pick, that caught me by surprise and that’s pretty much where everything started. Everything pushed me to want more.
I was a huge Nordiques fan and I was a huge fan of Michel Goulet when I was a little younger, and when I was older, around nine or 10, I had a chance to watch Joe Sakic and he was definitely my role model growing up. I had a chance to see him start in Quebec City and play with him on Team Canada.
Junior hockey was a great experience. Here in Quebec, hockey is the Number 1 sport. In my time it wasn’t very popular to play hockey in college in the states so the route to play hockey was to play in the Quebec Junior Hockey League and if you were able to make a team and get drafted, then it was a great time. I had a chance to play for my hometown team, the Remparts. One of my best times in hockey was in Juniors with that team. They even retired my jersey in 1999!
When I was first drafted I was really happy, but at the same time I was a little disappointed because I had so many meetings with teams that said they would draft me if I was still available. Around picks 14 through 17 I was a little worried, because teams that I had talked to were not picking me. Finally, Philly took me with the 22nd pick. There were a lot of teams that had given me some hope, but never drafted me. When I heard my name, I was really excited. My wife (girlfriend at the time), my parents, my brother, and my grandmother were all there with me at the draft.
After being drafted, I played one more year in Juniors at age 18. The next year, Philly kept me as a 19 year old and I went right away to play with the Flyers. They gave me a chance to show what I could do right away and at a young age. I was surrounded by a lot of great players and coaches that helped me to get better.
My first NHL game was against Ottawa in Philly and I definitely remember it, but the first one I’ll always really remember was a preseason game that year. I was wearing an official NHL jersey playing against Washington in Washington. I was playing against full-on NHL players. That’s the one I remember more than my first real game. I remember it because my family drove from Quebec to Washington. My wife was there too. I made the starting lineup and I was next to Chris Simon. I was 19 years old and he was one of the toughest guys in the league so it was pretty special.