Throughout the season, tampabaylightning.com will periodically talk to Lightning players or coaches to get their first-hand account of a critical moment from the season or just what's on their mind currently.
In this installment, we hear from Lightning forward Yanni Gourde, who today signed a six-year contract that will keep him in a Tampa Bay sweater through the 2024-25 season.
Gourde had one of the most remarkable rookie seasons ever for a Lightning player last season, setting franchise rookie records for goals (25) and scoring (64 points) and recording the third-best plus/minus rating (plus-34) for a season among all players in Lightning history.
Gourde has continued producing for the Bolts in 2018-19, notching four goals and 12 points in 12 games and ranking tied for second on Tampa Bay for scoring. And now, after signing a long-term deal to remain in Tampa Bay, Gourde will continue producing for the Bolts for many more seasons.
As told to tampabaylightning.com beat writer Bryan Burns, Gourde discusses why he signed with the Lightning now rather than testing the waters as an unrestricted free agent following the season, why he loves playing for Tampa Bay and how he went from an undrafted, unheralded player toiling in the ECHL to one of the NHL's most dynamic players.
Video: Yanni Gourde signs 6-Year Extension
"This place is amazing. It's so much fun to be a part of this. The organization is a great fit for me, the way we play, the way I play. The city is amazing. I never really even considered playing anywhere else. This is where I want to be. This is where my family wants to be.
My agent and (Lightning general manager) Julien (BriseBois) were in preliminary talks over the summer about signing a long-term deal with the team. I think they wanted to keep me this summer, and obviously it didn't quite work out this summer but as soon as the season started I think Julien wanted to get a deal completed. They called my agent and tried to set it up as quick as possible. I think stability-wise, it's a great move for me and my family to sign a long-term deal here and not have to worry about what's going to happen after this season. My wife Marie [Marie-Andree Gourde] and I have traveled a lot throughout my career. It's going to be so much easier to be here for the next six years. We know everything about the area. Marie loves the area, is familiar with the area, feels comfortable here. It's just great we have that stability and will be around the same team. We had a lot of talks about what was going to happen after this season was over, but it was still pretty early in the process to be honest. Our priority was to sign here, and it just makes so much sense. This organization is just a great fit for me hockey-wise, and it's a great fit for my family off the ice. It was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I worked pretty hard to get to this point. I think back to my year in Kalamazoo [in 2013-14]. Marie couldn't even come with me because she had to stay home for a few months. I was all by myself in Kalamazoo and I remember asking myself, 'What's going on? What am I trying to prove?' Every time I step on the ice, I want to improve and get better. I wanted more. I wanted to, at that time, get back to the AHL. There were a few moments where I really doubted myself, like, 'What am I doing here? What's the end game here?' Before going to Kalamazoo, Marie and I had a talk and decided to just give it one last shot and see where it led. I'm going to be forever grateful for that last shot because from that moment I always took a step forward and every year I wanted to get more. And it happened. I'm really proud of how it happened. My story's different from everybody else. I'm pretty proud of where I come from and how much work I put in.
There were a lot of doubting moments along the way for me to reach this point. There were a lot of people who doubted me along the way too. And I'm so grateful that I proved them wrong every step of the way. Those doubters provided the fuel for me to keep going and prove people wrong. Even back in minor hockey when I was a kid, those doubts were just something that drove me. I wanted to be better just because I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I think I still feed off that. I just signed an incredible contract that will allow me to play with an organization I love and set up my family for life, but, for me, it doesn't stop there. I have to keep working and keep proving people wrong. Some people are going to say the Lightning paid me too much money or signed me for too long. I'm just going to go out there and prove people wrong and keep working my ass off and playing the same way. I'm the same person. I'm always going to be Yanni Gourde, and I'm always going to try to be relentless on the puck and be that type of hockey player."