Worlds do wonders for Gagne

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Simon Gagne returned from last spring's world championship in Austria with more than a silver medal.

He came back with his scoring touch and confidence renewed.

Placed on a line with Joe Thornton and Rick Nash, the Philadelphia Flyers left-winger regained the offensive punch that seemed to disappear during his previous two NHL campaigns.

"I know I've had a good start to the season but maybe my season started at the world championship," Gagne said after yesterday's practice at the Flyers' facility in Voorhees, N.J.

"When you get to play with guys like Thornton and Nash, your role is not to dump the puck in the zone. You need to make some plays happen with those two guys.

"That was the challenge for me, to get going, and that's what the line did the whole tournament. It was a matter of putting one or two in and that's what happened, so it brought my confidence back. Sometimes you just need a bit of confidence and things build up."

Heading into tonight's meeting with the Calgary Flames (5 p.m., Sportsnet, Fan 960), Gagne has a league-best 23 goals one third into what may be a breakout season.

A solid goal-scorer in junior, the 1998 first-round draft choice registered 20-, 27- and 33-goal seasons in his first three NHL campaigns.

Then Gagne began to struggle.

He potted only nine goals in 46 games in an injury-plagued 2002-03 campaign. He had 24 in 2003-04.

A career that showed such promise appeared to be levelling off.

"I'm so glad I went to the world championship," he said. "I didn't play (elsewhere during the lockout), so I was not sure I'd be in great shape to be out there. But I was getting a chance to play with two great players, on the first line and the powerplay a little different role than I had the last couple years here.

"I knew the touch was there because I had some success scoring my first three years but, when you go away from that, you can forget a bit about it. I was being called a two-way player and when you hear that a lot, you think more defence than offence.

"The tournament helped me a lot."

Of course, there's another reason for Gagne's offensive surge. Skating on a line with Peter Forsberg most of the early season has been a boon for Gagne, which he'll happily admit.

"Yeah, that's another thing, too," he said. "I had a chance to play with two great players at the world championships ... but when you have a chance to play with a top player like that a whole season, it can't hurt you.

"It's amazing what that guy can do on the ice."


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