Yanni Gourde remembers ten years ago when he was a fledgling forward at the pro level in the ECHL, taking a 100-foot long staircase from an upstairs dressing room to the ice level to play for the San Francisco Bulls at the storied Cow Palace, where a disco ball hung above center ice.
It delivers perspective on how much he’s accomplished now with a home in a state-of-the-art practice facility as he prepares for his 400th National Hockey League game, tonight at 7pm when the Seattle Kraken take on the New York Rangers at Climate Pledge Arena.
“It’s remarkable,” said Gourde. “Playing here, in front of this crowd, at this level, it’s quite a journey and a lot of work.”
“That’s a lot of games.”
Gourde, undrafted out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from Victoriaville and earning 44 points in 38 games across San Francisco and Kalamazoo, eventually stuck in the AHL for nearly 400 games and then became a major piece of two Stanley Cup titles in Tampa Bay before being scooped up by the Kraken in the expansion draft.
The impact Gourde’s had on players around him, and his teammates, brings important notice. Let’s start with the word, passion.
“He loves the game,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He competes, he works, he loves working at his game, he’s a guy who’s won Cups and is still out there every day looking for something to improve and get better at.”
“He came through the East Coast Hockey League, came through the American League, and kind of the old fashion way of earning everything, every step of the way. It’s a nice benchmark for him.”
With nine points in the last nine games and expected to center a line with wingers Brandon Tanev and Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gourde looks no further than a room growing in maturity, weathered by a stunning 3-2 overtime loss on Sunday but using three days to recapture a focused approach.
“I’m super confident in this group,” said Gourde. “It’s a challenge and another great team that comes into our building. A lot of talent on that team. They play fast, they do everything right. It’s going to be a fun game.”
Martin Jones will start in net for the Kraken.
The Kraken, four points behind the second place Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, will seek their first win in franchise history over the Rangers, who begin a four-game, six day trip. Not much has changed under their head coach Gerard Gallant, who will be behind the bench for the 100th game in his Rangers career.
His core of Mika Zibenijad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin (tonight’s starting goaltender) is intact. The expectations though are heightened after a trip to the Conference Final last season, and now embark on a west coast swing with little excuses after travel.
“It was a good time for this break,” said Gallant. “If we play flat in the first period, I’m not going to blame it on this.”
Tonight’s matchup, a Hockey Fights Cancer game presented by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, will feature the Kraken wearing specialty jerseys in warmups with an array of in-game activities to support the event. More information including auction items in support of the event are available at 933kjr.com.
The Rangers come off a 4-1 win over Arizona on Sunday, led by Panarin’s 22 points in 17 games.
KRAKEN PROJECTED LINEUP, 11/17: