You hear it all the time in the hockey world. That player, plays the right way. That player is a tremendous teammate. That player just gets it. That player, did it the right way. That player, is all heart and soul.
That player is Gabriel Fortier.
For that past four seasons Fortier has called the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League home.
Fortier has left an indelible impact on the cities and communities that he has played in over his time in the league both on and off the ice.
Gabriel Fortier’s major junior career ended like so many others in disappointment due to the horrific COVID-19 pandemic.
“Very disappointing,” confessed Fortier when asked about the shocking end of the season for the Moncton Wildcats and entire league.
“It’s difficult realizing what happened to us because it is so unrealistic.”
“I think for sure we believed that our group was ready to go far in the playoffs.”
“It is far more disappointing because of that, but life continues and I can’t keep thinking about the past,” admitted Fortier.
“I have to move forward, even if it was a hard moment.”
Fortier has taken this time to prepare for the next chapter of his career.
“Everyone in my family is safe, we are trying to stay positive.”
“My mom is working from home and my dad tries to stay busy, so he’s renovating almost everything in our house,” explained Fortier.
“I try to work out at least four times a week to stay in shape and to stay busy because they’re not much things to do.”
Fortier is extremely grateful for the sacrifices his parents have made throughout his career especially as he prepares to enter the pro level in the fall.
“They both made really big sacrifices.”
“My mom always wanted to go in the south during the summer, but instead she was buying me a new pair of skates for the next season.”
“I remember both of my parents getting back from work in a hurry, making dinner for me and my brother and then I would leave with my dad to get to my practice and my brother and my mom would go a different way to get to his practice,” explained Fortier.
“They both sacrificed a lot of family time to make us happy.”
“Max and I are both grateful of what they did for us.”
The game of hockey has a very unique way of connecting families especially brothers who share the experiences in the game.
Max Fortier had a monumental junior career with the Halifax Mooseheads parlaying that into a professional contract.
The rivalry was fierce, but nothing could ever break the bond between brothers.
“My brother was very important for me because he’s always reassuring me.”
“Before my first camp he told me how things work in this league and the fact that I played my first game in the league against him was so memorable,” confessed Fortier
“Since I was very young I was always playing with hockey with him around the house and the fact that he was much stronger and faster than me made me a better player for sure.”
Combined Maxime and Gabriel Fortier played a combined 529 games in the QMJHL.
Highly skilled, extremely fast, gritty and an unwavering passion to compete and win, that’s Gabriel and Maxime Fortier.
There’s no question the QMJHL will miss the Fortier’s.
Those that have followed the “Q” for quite some understand their impact. Amazing teammates, ambassadors, athletes and academics, the Fortier’s will undoubtedly be missed.
Fortier understood the writing was on the wall.
The highly skilled two-way forward understood the situation in Baie-Comeau and knew he would be leaving his second home.
“Honestly at first I was really emotional about leaving Baie-Comeau,” said a reflective Fortier.
“I kept thinking about the last three years and a half and how great the city, the fans, my teammates, the organization and my billet family were to the young kid who got there at sixteen.”
“On the other side I was really excited to join the Wildcats and go far into the playoffs.”
Fortier and the Drakkar lost in heartbreaking fashion in the first round of the President Cup playoffs last season to the Wildcats.
The Drakkar lost Game 6 and 7 on home ice, which had to be a bitter pill to swallow after loading up for a potential championship run.
Fortier had a brief glimpse at what playing at the Avenir Centre was all about. Fortier’s addition to the Wildcats roster was critical and undoubtedly would have put the Wildcats over the top.
“The first day I got to Moncton, everyone on the team made me feel like I was a part of the team.”
“To play at the Avenir Centre was a very special feeling,” stressed Fortier.
“Even if I was in Moncton for only two months, I saw that the organization is working so hard for their players and that everyone cares about your wellbeing on the team.”
“We had a very mature and focused group.”
“We all knew our strengths and weaknesses, we all knew our role to make the team the best it could be,” said Fortier.
“I think we had a good chance to go get that title.”
Even though his junior career ended in the disappointment of not having an opportunity to play and potentially win a President Cup and Memorial Cup Fortier will always look back fondly on his junior career.
“I would say the draft and my first year in the league,” Fortier said when asked what he would remember most about his time in the league.
“I was so proud to be in the league.”
Fortier required surgery during his rookie season, which made him realize how much the game meant to him.
“I had surgery on the shoulder before my first season so I had to watch forty two games from the stands.”
“I had to practice before the team and the first time I wore my game jersey was for a team picture, but it still felt special.
“It made me realize how much I loved the game and that I should always play my heart out because there’s always someone in the stands who can’t play, so I had to make it count.”
In 236 career games, Fortier scored 108 goals, 21 power play goals, 9 shorthanded goals and 13 Game winning goals while adding 121 assists, 122PIM’s and was a brilliant +45.
What did Fortier learn about himself as a person and player in his time in the QMJHL?
“I think it made me a more mature person,” Fortier said.
“I was kind of alone eight hours away from home, even if my billet family were so great for me and made me feel like I was their son, I felt like an adult at sixteen years old by making my own appointment for my hair, my driver’s licence and every little detail that you normally don’t do at sixteen.”
“Hockey wise I learned how to be a great teammate and a good player and person for the community.”
Fortier is putting in the work and remains focused on having an immediate impact at the pro ranks with the Tampa Bay Lightning organization.
“I can’t wait to get into the next level,” said Fortier.
“I got a taste of the AHL last year after my season was finished and it made me realize what I had to do to be better at this level and by knowing that, it helped my game a lot.”
Gabriel Fortier’s journey in the QMJHL has come to an end, but he can take solace in the fact he played the game the right way every time he laced them up.
There’s something to be said for a player and person who understands the importance of giving back to the game they love.
The cities of Baie-Comeau and Moncton will never forget Gabriel Fortier’s skill passion, pride and unwavering will to compete and win.
Gabriel Fortier did it all the right way.