‘That’s a special thing’: Red Wings’ Sam Gagner to match father in games played

Detroit News

Edmonton, Alberta — This was a neat milestone that forward Sam Gagner couldn’t help but smile about.

Returning to Edmonton, where Gagner twice played while now in his 15th NHL season, Gagner was to play in Game 946 of his career Tuesday against the Oilers. That matched his father Dave Gagner, who played in 946 games from 1984-99 (also 15 years).

“That’s a special thing,” said Sam Gagner, who the Wings acquired at the 2020 trade deadline, and has provided valuable veteran presence on and off the ice. “I don’t play one game in this league without his support, so it’s a real cool things and something our family cherishes for sure.”

And for it to happen in Edmonton, where Gagner was drafted sixth overall in 2007, was an added bonus.

“It means a lot (returning to Edmonton), it’s where I got my start, got my first opportunity, where I met my wife, and I still have family here,” Gagner said. “It always means a lot to come back. I have a lot of great memories here. Have friends. There’s been a lot of turnover since my first go around here, but the second time I was here, there are still some guys and I get a chance to catch up with them which is nice.

“Certainly it has a special place in my heart.”

Gagner jumped right into the NHL as an 18-year-old with the Oilers, and it wasn’t always easy with the expectations placed on a high draft prick.

So having a father who knew what the NHL was about and could be a sounding board, helped.

“Whether you’re in your first year in the league or the 15th year, you go through adversity and struggles and you need people to lean on, and my dad has always been that for me,” Gagner said. “We talk a little differently now to each other, and just the relationship, I have three kids of my own now, so you have a little different perspective of it.

“But he’s so supportive.”

Gagner has brought versatility on the ice, able to play in many different roles and, coach Jeff Blashill said, been a stand-up veteran in the locker room.

“A great leader since he’s been with us, just leading by example,” Blashill said. “He’s a no-excuse person. He looks in the mirror first for both us and our hockey team, and that’s an important thing for veteran type of players to show young players that you have to look in the mirror and get better and be accountable to yourself.

“He’s a calming influence on our team. He’s very cerebral and helps whoever is on his line sort through situations on the ice. He’s done a good job.”

Gagner is a potential unrestricted free agent this summer, and could possibly (although unlikely) be dealt before Monday’s trade deadline. If anything, the Wings could be interested in re-signing Gagner for next season.

Regardless, Gagner intends to reach 1,000 games somewhere next season, and more games beyond.

“I don’t put a number on it, I want to play as long as I can,” Gagner said. “I’m hoping for 1,500 but I want to be realistic. I still enjoy it, that’s the main thing. I’ll play as long as I can and as long as it doesn’t affect my family and kids growing up, being there as a father for them. That’s my No. 1 priority.”

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Rebuilding confidence

The Wings entered Tuesday’s game having lost five consecutive games and have gone 2-7-1 over their last 10 games.

Confidence appears to have waned over the last few games, and especially after falling behind early in games.

“When you’re on a real hot streak you’re expecting everything to go right,” Blashill said. “If something goes bad out there, it doesn’t bother you at all. We did a better job against Minnesota (6-5 shootout loss in which the Wings rallied), but when you get scored on early and you’re a team that’s struggling, you kind of slump a little bit.

“Against Calgary (Saturday’s one-sided 3-0 loss), we didn’t break the puck out of our end at all. We didn’t have the puck enough at all. We just taxed ourselves defensively.

“There’s only one way to get your confidence and swagger back and that’s to go out and find ways to win.”

Blashill wants to see his team to show the mettle it showed before this slump.

“We talked about it going into the Minnesota game, there are going to be bad things that happen,” Blashill said. “We have to be able to handle it and keep fighting. This team has shown a lot of fight at different times this season. In the last couple of weeks it hasn’t gone great, and some of that fight hasn’t been there.

“I don’t want to be remembered for that as a team. I want this this team to be remembered as a team that fought its way through everything every single game.”


Twitter: @tkulfan

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