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Gourde ready to make jump to NHL regular

The 25-year-old played a big role in Tampa Bay's postseason push and the Crunch's run to the Calder Cup Finals

by Bryan Burns /

AMALIE Arena was in a frenzy after the Tampa Bay Lightning rallied from a 4-1 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks with three unanswered second-period goals in a late March regular season contest with serious playoff implications.

When midseason AHL call-up Yanni Gourde netted the game-winner 4:25 into overtime, the resulting celebration produced perhaps the loudest decibel level heard in the arena all season.

After Victor Hedman poked the puck away from Chicago's Artemi Panarin at the blue line, Gourde skated onto the loose puck and started a break the other way. With Trevor van Riemsdyk hustling to close him down, Gourde raced through the neutral zone into the offensive zone and snapped a shot from the top of the circles, beating Blackhawks' goalie Scott Darling low to the glove side.

The Lightning won 5-4 and kept alive their faint playoff hopes.

"It was just a great moment, an amazing moment for me," Gourde recalled.

Video: CHI@TBL: Gourde buries OT game-winner on a breakaway

Gourde had plenty of highlight-worthy moments during the 2016-17 season.

The 25-year-old center from Saint-Narcisse, Quebec played in 20 games for the Lightning in 2016-17 and scored six goals, many of them important ones as the Bolts made a late push for the postseason.

After the Lightning fell short of the playoffs, Gourde rejoined the Syracuse Crunch, helping them reach the Calder Cup Finals, where they fell in six games to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Gourde recorded nine goals and 18 assists for Syracuse in the playoffs (second-most on the Crunch) and, on most nights, was the best player on the ice. He was an all-situations player too, featuring on the Crunch's top line, earning minutes on the power play and proving invaluable with his tenacity on the penalty kill.

In the offseason, Gourde was rewarded with a two-year, one-way contract worth $1 million per season, a remarkable achievement for a player who, four seasons earlier, was stuck in the ECHL.

"It's nice to have the deal, but I don't want to sit on it," Gourde said. "I've still got to show what I'm capable of doing on the ice, and I really focus on working hard every night and trying to make the team. That's what I'm focused on right now. I don't really see long term. I want to see tomorrow what's going to be."

A bit player entering the 2016-17 season, Gourde now finds himself potentially holding a more expanded role in 2017-18. Provided he makes the team - an all indications are he should - Gourde can provide scoring punch in the bottom six while shuffling where needed between center and either wing. He has the ability to slot into a top six role in a pinch. And he will likely get time on the Bolts' penalty kill as well as a chance to play on the second power-play unit.

Video: TBL@MTL: Gourde one-times second goal of the game

"Whatever level you're at, you always want to get more, you always want more ice time, you always want to get on the power play and the PK," Gourde said. "I tried to do that in Syracuse, and I'll try to bring that element here in Tampa."

Gourde scored five goals in the Lightning's final eight games last season before ripping it up for Syracuse in the AHL playoffs. His confidence should be at an all-time high entering 2017-18, especially with the security of a two-year contract in the back of his mind.

But Gourde is not one to get overly cocky.

"I'm not usually a very confident person," he said. "I just work hard and that's where I get my confidence from. That's what I'm trying to do on the ice. Every day, I try to improve. I try to get better. That's probably where my confidence is coming from."

That highly-motivated, driven mentality paid off for Gourde in 2016-17, producing the greatest season of his hockey career and a new contract.

The Lightning are hoping he can build off that breakout year to reach even higher levels in 2017-18.

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