SLAM! Sports (By Stephen Knight) -- December 30, 1998
WINNIPEG - The French verb 'gagner' means 'to win'.
It' s something Team Canada forward Simon Gagne has imprinted on his birth certificate and on his mind at the 1999 world junior hockey championships.
The soft spoken native of Ste Foy, Que. is the only skater on Team Canada selected from the ranks of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
In short, he's something special, and the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League agreed as they made Gagne their first round draft pick (22nd overall) at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
Like many of his teammates, Gagne is riding the red and white wave of emotion that surrounds the team each time it hits the ice for a game at this 10-team, elite tournament.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," said Gagne, who plays for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "To play for your country at home in front of all these people."
Gagne averaged more than a point a game last season for the Remparts and ended up with 30 goals and 69 points in 53 games, but his role with Team Canada is a little bit different than that of the sniper he plays in Quebec.
"I see him being an excellent two-way guy," said Team Canada coach Tom Renney after practice Wednesday in preparation for an 8 pm (EST) matchup tilt with the Czech Republic. "He can generate offence and make things happen, but he's also a real defensive conscience. It's important that your centremen understand the game from the other side of the puck."
Gagne has no problem with emphasizing the defensive and checking elements of his game if it will help Canada win gold, something the country has achieved seven times in the 1990s but fell to a disappointing eighth place last year in Finland.
"My role is to be defensive," said Gagne, who represented Canada at the Under-18 tournament two years ago and played in the 1998 Top Prospects Game. "I play against the other team's top line and on important faceoffs, but I'll do anything for the team."
The scouting report on Gagne is that he's a good two-way player and excellent on the penalty kill. He'll need to be as Canada has gotten into penalty trouble in its two games against Slovakia and Finland. Canada has managed a 1-0-1 record in those two games and can vault into the medal round with a win over the Czech Republic.
Gagne has quietly impressed the higher ups at Canadian Hockey.
"First of all, he's a great skater," said Barry Trapp, director of scouting for Canadian Hockey. "He may be the best skater in the Quebec major junior league. He's a good two-way player and a good penalty killer and has good puck handling skills. He just brings a whole lot of things to the table."
Gagne's future looks bright and he'll likely be playing in Philadelphia with guys like Eric Lindros and John LeClair in about two years.
Gagne says this tournament and his draft day last June have been the two most exciting features of his young hockey life.
Now if only Gagne's family can get him to eat a bit more. To compete effectively over a long, grinding NHL season, a player needs to have some bulk.
"He's got a good frame on him," said coach Tom Renney. "He's got to add maybe 15 pounds, get a little bit stronger to play at the men's level. But once he does that, he'll not just play, he'll play a long time."
Representing his country, Gagne already has a taste of gold from the Tri-Nation tournament in 1997 in the Czech Republic which was won by Canada.
He'd like to add to the collection.