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Gervais discovering recipe for success in Tampa Bay

by Lonnie Herman / Tampa Bay Lightning
TAMPA -- Bruno Gervais stood in front of the electric burners ready to cook his specialty, chicken with asparagus. Throw in a side of pasta. He had everything he needed, all the ingredients. The cameras were ready to roll.

"It was so easy. I created the sauce and then I created the marinade for the chicken," Gervais said. "It turned out great."

His cooking show on Long Island lasted only one episode, but he had more confidence on the TV set than he did on the ice for the Islanders last season.

And it showed.

"I had a big-time loss of confidence with New York," Gervais said. "I was asked to do stuff on the ice which I've never done in my life; it was a change, and that was a tough period. I was just lost. Last year, they asked me, 'What can you bring to the team?' I wasn't sure anymore; I just didn't know. It was the situation and the timing and everything that was going on. A lot of things were going on in my head."

In 2008-09, Gervais had put up 19 points for the Islanders and was steady on defense, and in 2009-10, he added another 17 points. But in 2010-11, everything Gervais had accomplished was unraveling in a string of injuries. In December, he fractured his cheekbone, a result of an on-ice fight. In March he took a shot off his foot and sat out the remainder of the season. His production fell to only six assists for the season -- and his value to the Islanders fell even further. By June, they had shipped him to the Tampa Bay Lightning for future considerations.

He signed a one-year contract with the Lightning and prepared for a new adventure. The first time he walked into the Tampa Bay locker room, he spied a conspicuous sign and took it for an omen.

"The sign said, 'Get Better-Stay the Same-Or Get Worse. Every Day. It's Your Choice,'" Gervais said. "That's what I've been telling myself all through life. That was my motto: 'You can do better.'"

Gervais felt at home, but if he thought the sign heralded instant success for him with the Lightning, he learned differently as soon as the season got under way. Gervais spent 19 of the first 25 games watching from the stands as a healthy scratch, including one stretch of nine consecutive games and another of eight in a row.

"It's hard," Gervais said of sitting out night after night. "If the same thing would have happened to me at 21 or 22 years old, I'm sure it would have been a lot harder on me."

But Gervais was 27 now, and had learned a few things.

"Last year (2010-11) was the worst year of my career -- tough injuries, being scratched, a lot of things happening," Gervais said, "but I would never trade that year for anything in the world. I've learned the most that year. I know that things can switch really fast."

There was something else at play for Gervais, a factor that would prove immensely helpful. This coaching staff that he dealt with every day was different than any he had known.

"My relationship with the coaches here helped me through the period when I wasn't playing, in a big way," Gervais said. "I had a big talk with (Lightning coach) Guy (Boucher) before training camp started. He wants to know about the person and it's really good that he gets to know the guy, gets to know the person, the human behind the hockey player. At first, I was just watching what he was doing. He kept talking to me. I did almost every warmup, so even though I wasn't playing at all I felt like a part of the team"

Boucher was noticing a few things about his new defenseman, too.

"I had heard that he had lost a lot of his confidence and when you know that, it takes time to get back your game," Boucher said. "He has the ultimate perfect attitude. Playing or not playing, always a big smile. You can't get better than that, so when you see that, you want to find the spot for him."

If his attitude was earning him some notice, the Quebec native came about it honestly and early.

"It's a little cliché, but I got to say, it's the way I was brought up by my parents," Gervais said.  "You see a lot of parents that put a lot of pressure on kids to score goals or pass or make points but the only thing that my dad ever said to me after a game -- and I could come home after a big win and I scored two goals -- the only thing he would ever ask me was, 'Did you give it all? Did you give everything you had?'
Bruno Gervais
Defense - TBL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 9
SOG: 42 | +/-: 0
"I didn't even answer -- I would never have an answer for him, but I would answer inside my head to myself. He would ask, 'Did you have fun? Did you enjoy it?' I would sit back after some games, even if we won, and I'd realize and say to myself, 'I had more. I could have given more. Yeah, I had fun, but I was a little lazy on this play or I went through the motions on this play.' Even after practice he'd ask, 'Did you work hard? Did you have fun?' He wouldn't even listen for the answer; it was just for me to think about it."

Gervais learned to appreciate the game early in his pro career from three of his Islanders teammates.

"Doug Weight, Mike Sillinger and Bill Guerin taught me a lot as well about appreciating every day; appreciating that your teammates are the one thing you're going to miss the most when you're done," Gervais said.

But being done, not playing again in the NHL, was something Gervais feared as his self-assurance slipped.

"You always think about not being able to play in the NHL because there is a big part of it that's timing -- being in the right place at the right time and having the right opportunity," Gervais said.  "I know a lot of players, tons of players that are now playing in Europe, but they could play in the NHL -- they are really good players, but timing, contract-wise, something happened or the team was rebuilding. There are so many different reasons that at some point you realize, 'This might happen to me.' You've got to keep your hopes up."

And if it never happened for him in Tampa Bay?

"If the year ended with me playing in only eight games and getting scratched all the rest of the time, I still would give everything I had and I would go home and say, 'I tried everything to get in the lineup; I did everything right,'" Gervais said. "There are times that there are events you can't control. Control what you can control, don't worry about the stuff you can't control."

It never came to that.

When Victor Hedman went down with a concussion and sat out 13 games in January, the window of opportunity opened for Gervais. Even just a crack was more than he had before.

"When I started playing I felt confident -- being in the lineup wasn't anything new because I was part of the routine," Gervais said.  "The little things make a big difference, like the routine before the game, the routine in warmup, lots of stuff that I had been a part of, so it all seems normal once I got in the lineup."

Gervais made his mark and has now appeared in 19 straight games, even getting time on the power play. He's responded with a career-high four goals and has provided the Lightning with steady defensive play.

"He's one of those guys that seized the day," Boucher said. "Slowly, he's been convincing us that he should stay in the lineup. We've seen a major progression in his game."

"Guy told me, 'Do what you're best at and do it as best you can,'" Gervais said. "I thought, 'Yeah, I love to skate, I love to get involved in the play and be talking out there.' Now I love coming to the rink and I can't wait to beat the other team; I can't wait to play against them, where before I was, like, 'Gee, I hope I don't mess up tonight, I don't want to sit in the stands again.'"

Gervais may not be sitting in the stands again for a while, as long as he keeps elevating his level of play. He's cooked up his own recipe for success in the NHL.

"You've got to keep your hopes up," Gervais said. "I got lucky when I got a chance here, and now I'm trying to make the best of it and enjoy every day. The big thing is I got back to playing hockey like I can play, like I want to play, like I like to play."
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