Longueuil, Quebec is a long way from Long Island. But for Bruno Gervais, he just found it unreal that he was even getting drafted, by the New York Islanders nonetheless.
“The team that drafts you,” Gervais said at the beginning of a 25-minute chat, “even being a sixth rounder, it still always a special place in your heart.”
Gervais, 34, spent the first seven of his 13 seasons as a pro for the Isles. Taken 182nd overall in 2003, the Quebec native came to Long Island that September. That first camp was a good one according to Gervais. He impressed the coaching staff, including inflatable tent head coach Steve Stirling. The impression he left on the Stirling earned Gervais a spot on the team even at 19-years old. Unfortunately for Gervais — because the Islanders were trying to deal Mattias Timander and were unsuccessful in doing so — he was sent back to his junior team in Acadie-Bathurst.
After that 2003-04 season in juniors, Gervais came back to New York for training camp. This time, he found himself playing in Bridgeport. He would play in the AHL for two more seasons before finally getting the call to the show during the 2005-06 season. And as Gervais tells it, going from a little town like Longueil to Long Island had a big effect.
“For me, even though it was a shock, it was great for me and something special,” the retired d-man said. “I fell in love with Long Island. It’s like your first love.”
Gervais hasn’t forgotten his Island roots as he’s come back on occasion. He’s come back on his own, but is looking forward to bringing his family this year during the winter. One reason he picked the winter: He wants to see the team play again at the Nassau Coliseum and have him, his family, experience the atmosphere he did as a player.
“Everyone around the Island made it so nice for me,” he said glowingly. “The transition, everybody was so welcoming in the organization when I arrived there. It definitely made it a lot easier.”
After Gervais got the call to the varsity in 05-06, he played 27 games and notched seven points. No longer a rookie to start the 2006-07 campaign, Gervais was now a key part of the team.
Gervais called that season a great year not just for him, but the team as well.
“We had Ted Nolan and we had a lot, a lot of veterans on that team,” he said. Gervais — only limited to 51 games because of a high ankle sprain — injured that ankle early in that season and when he came back, immediately re-injured it thereafter. “Despite the setbacks, it was such a fun team. I think we had a rocky start, but quickly Teddy got the boat back on track and we had a good year. And we had that crazy run at the end.
“I think we needed ten or 11 things to go our way. Meaning us winning our games and the other teams beating the right teams so we could get in. Getting in was special.”
Gervais and the Isles would make the playoffs with an amazing final week. Winning four straight games and a memorable shootout in New Jersey on the final day of the season, earned the team their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. The Islanders were put away quickly in five games by the top-seeded Buffalo Sabres. That run though, still excites Gervais.
“To see the city take it to another level, the signs that were everywhere, and how loud and crazy the Nassau Coliseum got during that series, it was tremendous.”
One of the fonder moments Gervais took from that series was scoring his first ever playoff goal in game two — a 3-2 Islander win that gave the team a split heading back to Long Island for game three. “We only did one round, but try to imagine what it was like when these guys were winning four Cups in a row,” Gervais acknowledged. “The building was intense.”
The next two seasons for Gervais turned out to be his best as a pro. In 2007-08, he totaled 13 points in 60 games. While the year after that, 19 points in 69 games. Gervais believed his success was due in part to his offensive instincts that he showed in juniors and in the minors.
“My final year in Bridgeport I scored 16 goals. So when I started flipping time between New York and Bridgeport, I wanted to bring that offensive game as a part of my game in the NHL. I worked really hard to make that happen in the league, and it was good. Those years I gained confidence and maturity.
“I was lucky enough to be coached by Gerard Gallant, Daniel Lacroix. Lots of good coaches. They helped me elevate my game. Then you bring in the young kids. The (Chris) Campoli’s, (Kyle) Okposo’s, (Josh) Bailey’s, and the (Blake) Comeau’s. It was a really exciting time even though the results weren’t there as a team to make the playoffs.”
Although his team wasn’t able to get to the postseason, Gervais called every year on Long Island a gift and was very appreciative of the moment.
Towards the end of Gervais’s tenure, the Islanders were transitioning from an older core to a younger nucleus. There weren’t many bright days during that time — the Isles finished last in the league in 08-09 and fourth worst in 09-10 — but Gervais made the most of the situation.
“Obviously there was a lot of adversity. But as a competitor, you love to compete. And that was from all of us at the beginning of each year.”
Being 23 at the time, Gervais was also dealing with a bum knee that just wouldn’t get better. One of the summers during that time, he even started writing his retirement speech. Gervais did eventually find the help he needed in Quebec to get him ready just in time for training camp. It wasn’t the best situation for Gervais. Realizing he wasn’t the same player he used to be, he prided himself on being a good teammate and continuing to work hard.
“Even though those were tough years,” he said, “and we saw a lot of guys come and go, from a personal standpoint, I tried to enjoy every day. I always tried to give a little extra to the community and the fans. Even inside the organization, I knew everyday was special. That’s why Long Island is so close to my heart.”
Gervais’s last season with the Isles came in 2010-11 before he was dealt to Tampa Bay for future considerations. Following his stop in Tampa, he played in Philadelphia and their AHL affiliates, and then played two seasons in Europe in the DEL. He would retire in 2017.
Some might not remember, but after the 2008-09 campaign, Gervais was the recipient of the Nassau County Athlete of the Year Award. When asked about it, the night quickly popped up in his head.
“Yeah, it was a banquet at some hotel I can’t remember the name of,” Gervais noted. “I was actually really proud to win that award. Ann Rina (still with the team) helped me submit my case to the NHL for the award for Long Island. That’s definitely something I took pride in. It was actually really nice.” Winning that award prompted Gervais to start his foundation in Quebec.
Because he was such a young kid when he won the award — age 23 to be exact — Gervais realized as an athlete, it matters just as much off the ice what you do off it.
“My thing was as long as I’m going to be in there, I want to share that. See the smiles on the kids faces. I tried to share with as many people as I can and touch as many lives as I could. Only a moment, maybe even just ten minutes with a kid instead of them worrying about their health or situation; that’s why I started the movement on the Island with the same kind of mentality and brought it back here.”
Gervais still has an amount of fan fare with the Isles faithful. He is on Twitter and still has roots with the franchise. But what he remembers most about the fans — their friendship.
Being one of the younger players on a older team when he came in, Gervais liked the comradery of going to the team events, and just hanging out having a good time. The good value, hard-working people Gervais came to associate with, he liked their passion and their honesty.
“They really just wanted their best from you. They wanted an effort and to see you left everything out there.” That family mentality really stuck to Gervais and still does with some of his friends still on the Island.
Knowing the great people, and getting to play with great players — Mike Sillinger just to name one — also made a major impact on Gervais.
Hard to believe, the quiet kid from Quebec when he first arrived, would turn to be one of the biggest pranksters during his stay with the organization.
Gervais spoke of some stories he could tell and some that might not be suitable for the younger crowd. One he recalls is the time he was supposed to live with Okposo and Comeau.
“The team ended up waving Blake and picking up Nate Thompson off waivers. They told Nate he was staying and we said come live with us. We found a place with five bedrooms, and that’s also the year with drafted Bailey, who made the team. Tim Jackman also got called up, so he came to stay with us because when you got called up, you come stay in the fifth room. So we had five guys, and Nate had a black lab named Diesel. We called that the ‘Frat House’.”
During that time, Gervais also knew a cop who lived around the area and got him involved in his plots. He asked the cop if he could arrest someone as a joke. Gervais and the team were holding the Super Bowl party that year at the Frat House and planned for it to happen that night.
“We got the cop to be looking for a hit and run. And I gave him all the information of Campoli’s car. So he came in looking for Campoli. Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, they were trying to make phone calls to anybody he could. And I told the cop to be a as big a prick as he could be to everybody. I loved it.
“So I ended up getting in a heated argument with him and the guys were holding me back. And he ended up cuffing me and Campoli. We’re siting in the back of the cop car with everyone stunned. The cops opened up the car and said that they got a call from their boss and that they had to call the arrest off. Campoli, handcuffed, looks at me and says, ‘You f***er! Are you serious?'”
That arrest prank would go on for a yearly. Gervais admitted to doing it again a few years later to a rookie, John Tavares.
“I got him arrested in New York City on a drive-by with a city cop that was a really good friend of mine. John was just a young kid, he was underage. We walked outside of the club, me, him, and Weight. Told him to hold my drink while I stepped away. Two cops were right there, asked if he was of age, and arrested him. He was panicking.”
Gervais how now traded in his old pranks for a full-time job — taking care of his three kids. Gabriel, who’s five. Lea, two. And his youngest, Sofia, one.
He has also found a gig working with the television station RDS (the French TSN) up in Quebec during the hockey season. On the side, he coaches one of the pee-wee AAA teams in his hometown of Longeuil.
It’s a blast,” Gervais said of coaching. “These kids are just about to get into high school and now hockey is a part of their program. Just trying to help and be there as much as possible. Teach and help the parents and the kids through that transition from high school to juniors.”
Even after all these years since he put on the uniform, Gervais still appreciates everything the Isles organization and Long Island did for him in his seven years and how they shaped the person he’s become.
“The New York Islander organization helped build me and helped me understood. They helped grow me in to that person to help as many kids and lives as possible.”