Benjamin Gagné was traded to the Saint John Sea Dogs from the Quebéc Remparts just before the end of 2018. As an overager in the QMJHL this would mean his junior career would finish in the Port City.
Drafted 13th overall in the 2014 QMJHL Entry Draft, Gagné played two and a half seasons in Drummondville before joining his hometown Quebéc Remparts in 2016. He was named captain of the Remparts prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
Gagné recently returned to his hometown of Quebéc during a Sea Dogs road trip that saw them play Shawinigan, Quebéc and Blainville-Boisbriand in back-to-back-to-back nights. Saint John would fall 1-0 in a close game to the Remparts, but Gagné appreciated the time he had to reconnect with familiar faces.
“I saw a lot of guys I used to play with, I tried to enjoy every minute I was there. Obviously I wanted to win, but that’s part of the game. You’re not always going to win, but I had a lot of fun seeing everyone again.”
Three games in three nights is a part of junior hockey Gagné says you never quite get used to. As a veteran defenceman on a young Sea Dogs squad, he’s been tasked with playing some big minutes against the league’s top players.
“It’s always tough, it’s a grind and it’s a mental challenge, you have to fight through mental obstacles. You have to find energy wherever you can especially in a three-in-three. You’ve just got to grind it out and give it everything you’ve got. At the end you’re going to be tired that’s for sure, but that’s part of the game and you get a well-deserved break after that. The second half of the season is always hard, every team steps up their game. The physical presence is always more noticeable during the second half, everyone is hitting more so I end up getting hit more. It’s just another mental battle that you’ve got to fight through. It’s a grind, but you’ve just got to find gas somewhere.”
The veteran defenceman had an immediate impact when he joined the Sea Dogs after the Christmas break. In his first eight games with the club he contributed two goals and four assists while helping the team to five wins, their best streak of the season.
“It’s been really fun, the guys are amazing, the coaching staff as well–the whole organization is amazing. Honestly, I’ve been treated like a pro since I’ve been here. I’ve just been really enjoying it so far. I’ve gotten a ton of ice time and the chance to showcase what I can do, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The impact Gagné has had in his short stint in Saint John will hopefully be felt for years to come. Saint John’s rookie defensive core of William Villeneuve, Jérémie Poirier and Charlie DesRoches have benefited immeasurably from the experience brought by Gagné and fellow 20-year-old defenceman and Sea Dogs Captain, Michael Campoli. For Gagné he’s trying to take what he received as a rookie in the league and pay it forward.
“I just try to give them as much as I can. If they have questions, I try to give them the best answers I can from my experience. I try to show them by example what it takes to play big minutes and put in a consistent effort night in night out. I want to be there for them and give them opportunities and show them what it means to play as a 20-year-old in this league. Then again, I hope they don’t play as a 20-year-old in this league because I hope they turn pro as early as they can (laughs). I just want to be there for them the same way vets were there for me in the past.”
It can be hard to pinpoint special moments in a career as consistent as Gagné’s, but with almost 300 games in the QMJHL he can recall a few memories that will stay with him beyond junior hockey.
“For me it was the draft. It’s the highlight of every guy’s career–it’s a special day. My first rookie year was something special. It goes by fast. When you get in the league everyone tells you “enjoy it, it’s going to go by really fast”, but you don’t believe them. Now I’m near the end of my junior career and the five years have completely flown by. My time in Quebec was a big highlight for me, that’s my city and to be the captain there and to play with two of my best friends was a special memory I’ll keep with me. Then being able to finish my career in Saint John playing some big minutes, showing everything I can do to scouts and recruiters while helping all these young guys entering the league has been incredible.”
As for after junior, Gagné is still weighing his options.
“I’ve thought about it a little bit. I’m trying to set some goals for where I want to be next year, and I’ve been in contact with different Universities and I think those are great opportunities for me as a next step. If I end up getting a pro contract here or in Europe, we’ll see what happens. I haven’t decided completely what I’ll do but I have options and I’m excited to take that next step in my career whatever that may be. It is bittersweet to be done in the QMJHL, but I think I’m ready for what’s next.”
After all is said and done at the end of this season Gagné hopes his attitude on and off the ice and the passion he brought to every game will be something he’s remembered for in Drummondville, in Quebéc, in Saint John, and across the QMJHL.
“I just want people to remember that I was a team guy and I had the team’s success at heart. Sometimes I get mad or frustrated, but I want everyone to know it’s only because I want to win and I want to do my best, no matter where I am. I want what’s best for the team. I push myself hard and I guess that’s why I expect a lot out of my teammates. I just want to be remembered as a hard working, team first guy.”