By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
When Simon Gagne heard his name called at pick No. 22 on June 27, 1998, he was a little surprised.
“I never had any meetings with the Flyers before the draft,” Gagne said last Friday on a conference call. “I did have meetings with all the other teams in the league but never with the Flyers.”
The funny thing is, Gagne said, he was almost predetermined to play for the orange and black, as his father, Pierre, and Simon Nolet, a Flyers scout, knew each other from playing hockey.
Pierre Gagne, then a player for the Quebec Junior Aces, befriended Nolet when the two attended the Flyers’ first training camp in 1967. Nolet made the Flyers; Pierre Gagne didn’t.
Nolet went on to play seven seasons for the Flyers, with the 1973-74 Stanley Cup team being his last in Philadelphia. Still, the relationship between Nolet and Pierre Gagne lasted.
It was Nolet who recommended Simon Gagne to then-Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke.
“When I got drafted,” Simon Gagne said, “my dad told me, ‘You were destined to play for the Flyers. Simon was a good friend of mine and he’s the one that pushed your name at the table.'”
Gagne will be honored by the Flyers Tuesday night before their game against the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center for his contributions over 10-plus seasons.
It’ll be the third retirement ceremony this season for the Flyers, as they’ve already honored Kimmo Timonen and Danny Briere.
“I watched those two games and what they did before the game,” Gagne said. “Flyers fans always treat their players that helped them to have success really well.
“I’m really excited and honored to get the call from Mr. (Ed) Snider, Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall to do the same with myself.”
On Sept. 15, Gagne officially retired from the NHL after 14 seasons. Last year, he played in 23 games for Boston before leaving the team on Dec. 10, 2014 while his dad battled liver cancer.
Pierre Gagne died Dec. 26, 2014, and Simon Gagne never suited up again for the Bruins.
“Everything I did hockey-wise was always my dad and I together,” Simon Gagne said. “I felt that it was the right time to stop at the same time. It was just a perfect scenario.
“I knew at that time that was maybe my last game in December. We were in Phoenix and for whatever reason, I knew it.”
Against the Coyotes on Dec. 6, 2014, the final game of his career, Gagne registered just one shot on net but it found its way past Arizona goalie Devan Dubnyk.
At 8:34 in the second period, Gagne batted a puck past Dubnyk off a Daniel Paille shot. The play was reviewed, but ruled a good goal.
“I took the puck,” Gagne said, “brought it back to my dad and I knew at that time my dad … that there was nothing that we could do for him. It was just a question of time.
“So all that at that time, even if I did decide in September to announce that I was going to retire officially, I knew at that time it was the right timing.”
After 822 games with four teams — the Flyers, Bruins, Kings and Lightning — Gagne hinted his eight recorded concussions also played into his decision.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said, “the injuries that I’ve had in the past have been a constant for myself and for my family. I didn’t want to take too many other chances to push and push.
“I feel good, I’m healthy. I’m enjoying the life with my kids and I don’t have any symptoms from any concussions I’ve had in the past. And the game changed, too.”
When asked what his greatest memory as a Flyer was, Gagne said he had more than one. The one that stuck out to him first was not the one that comes to mind for most Flyers fans.
In 1999, Gagne made the Flyers out of training camp. For him, playing with Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Mark Recchi, Eric Desjardins and Co. was special.
The Flyers went to the Eastern Conference Finals that season, losing in seven games to the Devils. Gagne scored 20 goals and 28 assists in his rookie campaign.
“I had so much fun even if I was only 19 years old,” he said. “Those guys helped me to feel really comfortable as a young player in my first year.”
The other moment that Gagne recalled — the one most will remember him for — was the 2010 Stanley Cup Final run. More so the comeback in Boston.
Missing the first three games of the semifinals because of an injury he suffered in the quarterfinals, Gagne returned in Game 4 with the Flyers down 3-0 in the series to the Bruins.
In his first game back, Gagne scored and the Flyers forced another game and then another and then another. In Game 7, the Flyers were down 3-0 in the first period before Peter Laviolette called a timeout and then they stormed back for four goals including Gagne’s game-winner.
The Flyers ended up losing in six games to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.
With it all over, Gagne registered 264 goals and 535 points in 691 games in two stints with the Flyers. (He briefly played for the team in 2012-13.)
Gagne was a two-time 40-goal scorer and scored 20 or more goals in seven of his 11 seasons as a Flyer while also making the All-Star team twice.
Gagne was never a superstar but an above-average talent who was a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He was a solid two-way player with a knack for scoring big goals.
In the playoffs, he was always visible, potting 32 goals in 90 playoff games in the orange and black. And on Tuesday night, the Flyers will celebrate Gagne’s career.
So what’s next for the 35-year-old?
“Right now, just taking it easy,” he said. “I’ve got three kids now, so that keeps me busy. I’m the bus driver in the morning and at the end of the day I try to go pick them up.
“I got some phone calls from different places — not just for hockey. I just want to wait to pick the right moment under the right thing that will be great for me. Maybe some TV.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)