Amid the suspension of the 2019-2020 NHL season, it has been a pleasure to keep in touch with current Philadelphia Flyers players. This “check-in” is a little bit different. On yesterday’s conference call was Simon Gagne. The retired left winger spent the majority of his fourteen-year NHL career with the Flyers. Here’s what we took away from checking in with Gagne:
“I’ve been still playing once in a while, once or twice a week.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
Once a hockey player, always a hockey player. Retirement doesn’t mean hanging up the blades. Simon Gagne says he’s far away from the shape he was in while playing in the NHL.
“I could be ten pounds overweight.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
Every time, I will choose to be ten pounds overweight of Simon Gagne’s playing shape. Chances are that he is more than capable of skating circles around most people. Since retirement, he’s been in Quebec. It’s where his kids go to school.
Canada Misses Hockey
Simon Gagne has been in Quebec for about five years since he retired. During this pause of the 2019-2020 NHL season, Gagne is always being asked if the NHL will finish the season. If 24 teams are eligible for the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens could be in.
“I’m sure if they come back, even if it’s this summer, I know people here in Quebec and in Canada will watch the game. That’s for sure.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
The idea of 24 NHL teams making the playoffs provides a boost for the NHL. During this pause, we’ve had the NFL Draft, baseball in the form of the KBO, and “The Last Dance” documentary. Of the big four sports in the United States, the thirst for hockey has yet to be quenched. An expansion into a 24 team playoff means a spotlight in 24 different markets. From Quebec, Canada to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, hockey is back on.
Relationship with Alain Vigneault
“I was the only player that was 16 years old on my team. Alain was a tough coach. He was hard on players, but he was just coming back from a couple years with the Ottawa Senators in the NHL.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
Alain Vigneault and Simon Gagne go way back. Gagne recalls that his first big challenge was playing for Vigneault when he was sixteen. Most coaches at that age are easy on the players, but Vigneault had different standards. It’s why he can squeeze the best performances out of his players. Now, Vigneault is more of a “player-coach.” Having Vigneault as a coach when Gagne was sixteen prepared him for the NHL.
“But Alain, like I said, was coming back from the pros and he brought that culture back in a junior team. Like ‘Hey guys, we practice, but after practice, you got to go in the gym and lift some weights for 30 minutes or ride the bike for 30 minutes.’”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
Admittedly, Simon Gagne said he would usually go to the post-practice workouts if Alain Vigneault was going to be there. At the end of the season meeting, Vigneault brought that up and told Gagne about it. The culture that Vigneault brought from his time with the Ottawa Senators to junior hockey was all about preparation for the NHL. A year later, Vigneault landed the head coach job with the Montreal Canadiens. That end of the season meeting with Vigneault opened Gagne’s eyes about having the chance to play in the NHL.
“Alain told me that he was pushing to get to me at the draft table, but at the end he was not the one to that decides the pick.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
Ultimately, Simon Gagne’s teammate on the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) was selected by the Montreal Canadiens. That was Eric Chouinard, who also had the same agent as Gagne. There is a big probability that if Alain Vigneault got his way at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, the Philadelphia Flyers may have selected Chouinard instead (or maybe Scott Gomez). Even in 1998, Vigneault had a keen eye for draft day talent.
Is it truly a conversation with Simon Gagne if “The Comeback” isn’t brought up? He was one of many players that kept the rally going to knock off the Boston Bruins in the 2009-2010 postseason. The difference between the Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-2010 and most other teams is that this particular group of players refused to be down on themselves. Overall, the feeling was that while the Flyers were down 3-0 in that series, they could just as easily be up 2-1.
“When JVR scored that first goal, we all looked at each other and said, ‘Could this be possible? Could we come back in this game?’ We all felt confidence and everything built on that. When we scored the second goal, we had the feeling we could come back and win that game.”Simon Gagne; 5/18/2020
That’s everything that the city of Philadelphia embodies. Sometimes, all you have to do is never quit and keep pushing. That was Peter Laviolette’s message to the team on the bench in game seven. True grit helped the Philadelphia Flyers overcome historic odds.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports