Here is the transcript of our amazing interview with Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Kurtis Gabriel. Enjoy!
Listen to the interview on Apple Podcasts here
Dan Esche: All right everybody, welcome to Brotherly Pod! It is Monday May 4th, 2020 – Star Wars Day here. Jim is here as well. He is usually over on ‘The Angry and Negative Show’. He’s making his valiant return to Brotherly Pod. Jim, how you doing today?
Jim Iacovone: Doing great. May the fourth be with you!
Dan Esche: That’s right, I guess. I’m not a big Star Wars fan.
Jim Iacovone: Neither am I, but I had to say it. [Laughs]
Dan Esche: Well, it is a very special episode of Brotherly Pod today. We have Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Kurtis Gabriel joining us on the program; Kurtis, how you doing?
Kurtis Gabriel: Hey guys. How you guys doing? I’m enjoying my time in the little quarantine and just hoping that it doesn’t last too much longer. But yeah, doing okay.
Dan Esche: How are you keeping busy up there during your days off?
Kurtis Gabriel: I don’t have a problem with that as a lot of my buddies know. Teammates and family members know I’m a busy guy, so I like to keep busy. My ideal day is just like an efficient, economical day where I get a lot of stuff done, and then I have my Sundays where I kind of slow down the pace a little bit and rest and then start all over again. So, I’m on Monday and I’m raring to go; got a good workout in and doing stuff like this. Talking to great people like you, spreading the good word about stuff, trying to grow my personal brand, and get better at hockey.
Dan Esche: Speaking of your personal brand, I figured congratulations are in order for winning the AHL man of the year for the Phantom’s. It’s your second time winning it; you also won it in 2015-16 with the Wild. What’s it like being honored for your community work like that?
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, you know it’s obviously nice. You don’t do it for that reason. I truly believe you get out there to really help the people that you’re out there with, and it’s not a personal thing. But I will say that what I have learned is that it does go both ways. So, I’m going out and helping people in the community you know giving them my time, sharing my stories, and my personal struggles whether it’s with kids in the hospital or talking to families and parents. I did a couple of locker room tours with kids in our locker room and that kind of thing; but I get something back as well and that’s a very beautiful thing. I think we can all invest in each other and not only think that is an unselfish thing, but it also comes back to yourself as in my case and it gets me kind of out of my world and hockey bubble of just constantly trying to make it. Never satisfied. You know, it’s kind of good to slow down and just realize that ‘Hey, I got things pretty good’ and you know these people really value my time. I appreciate that a lot. So it feels great.
Dan Esche: You have any personal favorite activities that you took part of in Lehigh Valley this year?
Kurtis Gabriel: Probably it wasn’t even a set appearance. I just went to the rink one day – just on an off day, and there was like a kids’ hockey tournament going on. A couple of the Russian guys – Rubtsov and Sushko, were in there too. We were kind of just bumming around the locker room; taping sticks, hanging out, sauna, steam room and whatever. And then I was like ‘Oh, there’s all this hockey going on’, so I kind of just went out there and they were out there watching the Russian guys and then I think I had something to do with a friend; we were taking photos for some guys that are helping with the Allied t-shirts, and we just took some photos around the rink and then all these kids just started realizing I was on the Phantoms and they started asking questions. The next thing I knew a little mob of kids following me around. Their parents and all that stuff too so I said, ‘Screw it. I got nothing else to do’. It was really cool because one of the kids actually spoke Russian really well so he loved it, and the Russian guys who were there loved it because they don’t hear that very often. So, it was kind of a win-win and it was a lot of fun.
Dan Esche: I’ve listened to your brothers’ podcast I believe called Conversations Worth Having. You talked about how your favorite hockey player was Milan Lucic, and you talked about fighting him. I went back and watched that fight and that could have been the main event of the next UFC pay-per-view. That was a solid fight. What’s it like looking up to a player like that and then going on the ice and throwing down with him?
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, it’s a very surreal experience. I mean I liken it to the first time just walking into Minnesota’s training camp and the first drill on the ice I’m paired up with Dany Heatley and I’m like, ‘What the hell is going on’? He is a legend and has the hockey culture of just being the biggest beauty. I kind of realized then when I was seeing this guy in front of me and we are battling for pucks in my first 20 seconds of training camp. It’s kind of the same kind of feeling. I played him [Lucic] once before and I didn’t get to fight him. He was playing on the higher lines and I was obviously playing on the fourth line. That was when I was with Minnesota. And then getting a chance with the Devils, when you know his role had kind of diminished a bit and I saw that he was on the fourth line. I knew going into that game; I mean all the boys and the trainers knew I was going after him; (the coach) everybody knew that I wanted to fight him. I was just trying to make a name for myself. Three times I tried to fight him on our first shift. We ended up finally going, and I’m like ‘Oh it’s actually happening! He is actually going to give it to me this time’. I guess I pissed him off enough (poked the bear enough). I just tried to hold on, try to stay on my feet, and try to give him some back. I think I scraped up his face a bit with his jersey and tried to even it out a little bit. I’d say he got slightly the better of me, but that’s okay and I’d love to be able to do it again someday.
Dan Esche: That makes sense; because I was thinking about this, you know you don’t see too many players of your stature anymore. The role that you play is kind of diminishing in the league and one of the questions before I listened to that podcast was going to be: who’s going to be the guy that influenced you the most? And it totally makes sense that is Milan Lucic. I think you definitely fit his style really well. Were there any other players growing up that you idolized, that you kind of developed after?
Kurtis Gabriel: I wouldn’t say I developed after any of the other ones. But if you’re talking about skill players, Mats Sundin just because I was close to Toronto. He was just this humungous skilled guy who did everything the right way; soft spoken, so that was a good influence. And then just from watching on YouTube and stuff; like Wendel Clark. I never got to see him actually play, but that guy was an absolute pitbull on the ice and just did not take any prisoners and played the game really hard and I always loved that. So those are maybe my guys that I would pinpoint.
Dan Esche: I actually just put this in the notes a couple days ago; but I’m curious. You put a picture on your Instagram the other day with what looked like a pretty gnarly gash on your wrist. Can you tell us the backstory to that one? Because that was gruesome looking.
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, I know. I got a lot of backlash from people. I guess I am not that queasy and I should have thought of that, but I didn’t think it was that bad. It was just like a big cut. Anyway, so that happened in November of 2017. I had a really tough training camp that year (my fourth year in Minnesota) and I was down, and I was really working at getting back up there. I remember being told that I was looking good and I was playing well. I was really jacked up this game and we were playing our big rivals the Grand Rapids Griffins and we would always go to battle with these guys. And this guy Robbie Russo; I respect his game, but he is a little prick out there. He came down my wall and I was in my own defensive zone. He came down my wall and I just blew him up; I wanted to just crush him and I got him pretty good, and as I turned away from the boards he was still down on all fours right behind my feet. So, it was like that old school when you’re in grade school that tabletop thing where he stood up and I fell over the top of him. And my wrist… you know we have some open spots in our protection, so right here is a little bit open and I fell back and my wrist landed on the back point of his blade. It wasn’t much of a slice; it was more of like a just a crush down on a point on a blade (and you can actually see like the double edges of the blade), but it got two of my tendons and 75% of my median nerve. You would have thought that it would be bleeding a lot, but it just didn’t go deep enough for a lot of blood. So basically, what happened was I felt it crush down and I went, ‘Uh-oh’. I shoved my glove off and I stood there and I looked at it; and it just kind of bubbled up with blood. It wasn’t a lot, but then the pain set in from the nerve getting cut. I think if it was just the tendons, it would have been like ‘oh, that hurts’; but the nerve getting cut felt like somebody lit my arm on fire with gasoline. So I just started jumping like a deer, throwing my stuff off me and ran right down the tunnel, and then once they got a hold of me to kind of put pressure on it then it kind of kicked in that ‘I’m not going to be playing for a long time’. Like, I know this is bad and then I just went psycho; like angry mode, breaking stuff but I was trying to calm down. But I just knew that it was just going to be a long rehab and it was the most serious injury of my life, so I was really freaked out by it.
Dan Esche: Yeah. I was just scrolling through Instagram, and all of a sudden I’m looking at the inside of your forearm. Like, whoa! Do injuries around skates happen a lot? You see the hits and sometimes you fall on each other, or a group of people come together. Do skate cuts happen frequently?
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, a lot more than you’d think. So, that was the third time I’ve been cut by a skate; the other two were on my thigh that actually happened after a scrum. So, I got hit from behind and I stood up throwing my gloves ready to fight, and everybody jumped on us and then basically I’m at the bottom of the pile so there are skates everywhere. So, then I played another period. We went back into the locker room for the second intermission; I’m sitting there and the guy across the room is going, ‘Gabe, why is your leg bleeding’? I looked down, and I got blood going down my leg. It was very superficial, but it was a good two inches of superficial where it could have been bad. I mean your arteries are right there. Yeah, it happens more than you think. I think now guys are getting smarter. The guys who I played with who saw me get this injury and a lot of them put on the wrist guards; the kevlar here, and the socks when Erik Karlsson got his achilles cut. So, I think guys are starting to wear that more. There are companies trying to capitalize on making more full body gitch I think, with more Kevlar; but the problem is that it really shrinks when you wash it a lot and it gets crusty and guys hate dealing with it. So they have got to find one that’s really pliable, that really we should be wearing it from our neck to our ankles. Really, if they can get a full suit of that under our stuff.
Dan Esche: It’s always something that as a fan always made me curious, because you see the super gruesome ones; you know occasionally somebody takes one to the face or you know the one on your arm or something. But the little ones, the superficial ones; it’s always been a question on my mind. Does it happen frequently? Because you see the ones with the collisions and skates flying everywhere; you know it’s not a tame sport by any means so I’m finally getting an answer to that one. You got anything you want to add over there Jim?
Jim Iacovone: Something that you talked about in the beginning there. I mean, you said you’re keeping busy and you know you’re still working out and stuff. What’s a typical workout look like for you during quarantine?
Kurtis Gabriel: So, I’m sure maybe my trainer from Lehigh will watch this or something. But you know, they sent us home with workouts and I did those a little bit. But as it started to draw on, and it starts to look like the AHL was probably not going to come back; I kind of started switching to my London trainer (my trainer from London, Ontario that Travis Konecny trains with, and Sanheim came in for a bit this year; Bo Horvat, Boone Jenner, lots of guys). So, we train together there. Mitch is an unbelievable guy; he is also the trainer for the London Knights, so he knows that if the NHL starts back up, I have a chance to go be a black ace potentially. So, it’s kind of like a hybrid program between a priming phase for getting you ready for heavy lifting or a priming phase just to keep me in shape for going back to maybe play with the Flyers (if that happens) or be a black ace. So, just kind of being prepared for all options. But a standard workout right now is three weeks of the first phase and now I’m on my second phase. So today I did legs you know from deadlifting. I got 215 pounds of weights from the people across the street. They are kind of rusty but I’m doing the best I can; one dumbbell that I can adjust. So, it’s kind of like legs on Monday; Tuesday I have this kind of intense mobility strength and stretching that I’m trying to work on from a guy through our gym who is unbelievable. He has really helped my hips in the last 4 weeks. And then Wednesday I do a hard 1.5 kilometer run, then come back to my house for an upper body workout and then another hard 1.5 kilometer on the track. That’s a tough day. Then Thursday its back to legs, Friday is back to upper body, and Saturday is kind of a light run. That’s what it is right now, and now I’m mixing back in the stickhandling too. Some off ice stickhandling and maybe get the rollerblades out.
Jim Iacovone: Okay, another question. You mentioned you idolized Mats Sundin and Wendel Clark growing up; and Milan Lucic was one of your favorite players as well?
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, yeah. He was just because the way he came up is kind of similar to me. He was undrafted to the WHL and he had a much better career in junior than me. He started to dominate and then he won the Memorial Cup. You know, he has that famous shift on YouTube that I have watched a thousand times where he runs over three people and fights somebody at the start of the game. It’s the coolest thing ever. He got drafted in the 2nd round by the Bruins in his second year of eligibility; I got drafted 3rd round by the Wild in my third year of eligibility. So we have some parallels. He is just a big powerful dude. He is supposed to be like 6’5”, but he’s got a back issue so he is like 6’3” but he is 235lbs. In the box I was telling him, ‘Man aren’t you trying to cut weight to get a little faster’? And he was like, ‘No. All I eat is chicken and vegetables. I can’t get any lighter; it’s like my bones are too heavy’. I’m like ‘Jesus this guy is an animal’. So, he is somebody I looked up to a lot. He scored 30 goals one year. He can do it all. He can play it any way you want to play it. He was just mean. Like he wasn’t right, sometimes he was just a little dirty but just mean.
Jim Iacovone: I think I’ll speak for myself. But I think a lot of Flyers fans can appreciate a player like Milan Lucic. A couple years ago we saw a lot of him, so we weren’t the biggest fans of Lucic. But, I will speak for myself. I appreciate players like that. I like a little bit of nastiness. He can score, he could throw his weight around a little bit, and fight. Somebody like a Wayne Simmonds who was here for so long. I want to ask you though; all these guys have something in common. They’re all bigger guys. What draws you to players like Mats Sundin, Wendel Clark, and Milan Lucic. When did you start to notice that these were some of your favorite players? Why did you want to model your game around a Milan Lucic?
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah. Even like Brendan Shanahan too. It’s just guys that can combine everything. Like, of course as a young kid I’m looking up to Crosby thinking he’s the coolest hockey player. And of course he and McDavid are the epitome of hockey players. But to me, the real ones that I want to watch are the guys that can combine every part of the game. Playing against the top players and being so mean and tough that you scare the lights out of them, but you would also score against them and drive possession against them. That to me is what hockey is about. Hockey is a man’s game. When we play physicality, the way we play it. You know I always say, I don’t know why women don’t have the physical version of hockey and a non-physical version. Real hockey is when it’s just two guys really in battles for pucks. It’s two guys and it is about who wants it more. You can be a small guy; like Wendel was like 5’11’’ and 200 and something pounds, but you can be smaller and mean as hell. But I just like that they combine all those elements into one hockey player and it is so tough to play that way. It’s so hard on your body, so hard on your mind. That’s what I love about hockey.
Jim Iacovone: I can definitely appreciate that. I kind of feel the same way when it comes to those guys, and I think that’s why they’re so beloved by the majority of the fans. You don’t find too many people out there who don’t appreciate what a guy like Milan Lucic or say a Wayne Simmonds does; especially the home fans. So, thank you for that.
Kurtis Gabriel: Even to go off that, like Crosby. I know you guys like the Flyers and have this rivalry and stuff, but you know we got to respect our opponents. But even he will mix in a fight once in a while just to show that he’s one of the boys and I respect the hell out of that. I mean my personal opinion is that I don’t think anyone should go through a year without fighting somebody. Of course, you know some expensive player is going to hurt his hand sometime here or there, but I just think there’s always a time where you can fight another team’s skill guy to get the team going when things are not going well. That’s just my personal opinion. So, if I am a coach (and I don’t think they would want me to be a coach), everybody’s going to have to at least get in one. [Laughs]
Jim Iacovone: I think we respect Crosby. He just never seems to drop them against anybody on the Flyers, as weird as that is. Right Dan? I mean, when was the last time we saw Crosby fight?
Dan Esche: Didn’t he fight Brandon Dubinsky or something a couple years back?
Kurtis Gabriel: He has fought like three or four times now. Actually, one of my assistant coaches Brett McLean in Iowa was with the first guy he fought (I think) off the faceoff and Crosby kind of rag-dolled him a bit. Sid kind of wrestled him more and McLean kind of wanted to punch him more. But obviously he’s protecting his body and his hands. I get that. But just get in the battle. The games that you remember are when you don’t even remember what happened because you’re so involved; the passion is there, and that’s what makes it so special. Of course it’s dangerous, but that’s why we love it. You sign up for it. You’re going to get hurt eventually.
Dan Esche: Looks like he’s had eight fights in his career.
Kurtis Gabriel: So, there you go. He has played maybe 12, 13, or 14 seasons. That’s pretty good. At least you know he’s doing something. I respect the hell out of that.
Jim Iacovone: If that’s the kind of game you play, playing in Philly for the Phantom’s or Flyers; that’s the kind of player that I think we appreciate the most. I mean don’t get me wrong, we love the skill guys. As I mentioned Wayne Simmonds – he’s beloved here and it’s not just for his goal scoring, but for his physicality, his leadership. He’s a great guy off the ice, but on the ice will punch your lights out. You know what I mean? I think we respect guys like that. You know you can do both things. Earlier like you said, that’s a hockey player.
Dan Esche: Heck, we had Eric Lindros for all those years here.
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, that guy was a mutant. He had the high end skill and then being 6’4” and 240lbs. His highlight video is some of the most crazy stuff you have ever seen. Like, three guys try to hit him. He blows one guy up that tries to hit him (sees him coming), another guy tries to run him and doesn’t think Lindros sees him coming, he blows him up, and then a third guy he lays him out he’s just sitting there like ‘what’? It’s just mental.
Jim Iacovone: Those were the days man.
Dan Esche: Well, the main reason I wanted to get you on the program today is because a couple months ago I came out. And when I found out the Flyers organization signed you, I was looking at the press release and going through the names and when I saw Kurtis Gabriel I was like, ‘Oh, the Pride tape guy’. You were a Devil last season, so we got to see a little bit of you both in the NHL and the AHL. But you know, I was ecstatic that you were here. That we had somebody like this to represent this community, in my community – in Lehigh Valley. And you know it was just incredible. So where did this all stem from? You know obviously you’re the first guy to use Pride tape in the NHL on a regular basis. Where did the idea come from? Did you have somebody growing up that was gay and maybe went through it, or is there some other reason behind it?
Kurtis Gabriel: Well first and foremost, it is awesome you came out man. Super courageous and brave of you. It’s awesome. It’s obviously it’s not as ideal and as perfect where we want it to be, but it’s better than people coming out 30 years ago so at least there’s more of a connection and community through online that links people together. But personally for me, you know I’m not going to lie. Like I said, I’m kind of refining my story as I have to tell it more. I’m a white male just like you. I was raised playing hockey at a high-level, kind of insulated from a lot of stuff. I played with a bunch of African American guys. I never had a problem with them because that’s how I was raised. My mom raised me to be a good honest person, treat people how you want to be treated, or sometimes treat them the way they want to be treated. Don’t judge them anything more than for their character or their kindness. Everything else doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be judged on anything but that. So going into that season with the Devils, I was living with my ex-girlfriend in the summer; and she had a really good friend (two friends actually) that she met at work at the clothing store where they worked. The two girls (one girl was already out and the other girl wasn’t) kind of hit it off and then they became a couple and I kind of saw from the beginning how the one girl that came out recently had to deal with that. Her family was a family of two doctors obviously who liked things are certain way and didn’t support her right off the bat. And she’s just such a sweetheart of a person, like such a kind loving person that made me feel so welcome even as just as my girlfriend’s boyfriend. I just thought that that’s crazy. She’s not know out being an idiot, partying a bunch, or not taking care of responsibilities or her school that her parents were paying for; sure, you know, lay the law down. But she didn’t do any of that and she’s a good person and she’s just loving who she wants to love. That kind of stuck with me and I was like ‘wow’. So moving forward, when I got called to the Devils unexpectedly and stayed three months which was unexpected and the best time of my life. We had Pride tape night coming up and they put out the Pride tape with the rainbow tape. So, I’m sitting there and all the guys are putting it on their blades for warm-up which they’re instructed to do and I kind of thought that I had put different colored tapes on my blades for warm up on like Cancer night. I’d rather put it on like the bottom of my shaft or the top near my grip instead because I was really trying to do everything I could to stay in the NHL. I didn’t want to change too much you know? So coming off after warm up, all the guys are taking the pride tape off their sticks and putting it back to the real tape. Since mine was so out of the way up to the top of my stick and wasn’t bothering me, I just figured you know it was just a split-second decision. It truly was. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. I just instantly thought ‘what’s the point of taking it off, I’m sure people would like to see that’. That was all I thought about and I went back to play against Montreal Canadiens trying to stay in the NHL. So I go out and start playing. We had been playing a bit better and I was really getting my confidence going. I scored a goal on Carey Price, which is the best feeling of my life. It was my second goal but I really got to see it happen. I knew I was going to score, and then I got to score and celebrate. I just caught the biggest emotion of my life and then boom; after that I’m getting messages about me playing well but it’s also blowing up that Pride tape is on my stick and people took notice of that and zooming it in on the screen and all that stuff. So I was like ‘Wow, what a cool night’, and then I found out it was broadcast back home in Canada nationally. So I was like ‘Wow. What a night for me’ and it looks like it’s going to help other people too. So that’s really where it came from and when I saw the response, I just thought that it takes more effort for me to take the tape off my stick than leave it on, so let’s just keep rolling with it.
Dan Esche: And I can confirm. I am a Phantoms season ticket holder. I have been for a couple years, and no matter what happened this year; win, lose, whatever. I’m in section 209, which is right above the opponent’s net and no matter what whether it be one or two times a game, I would just be watching you skate by and I would see that tape and it puts a smile on my face. You know, it doesn’t have to be big. I am not asking people to wave banners or go marching in a parade, but you know the show of solidarity means more than anything. And you know, doing that ‘it’s just a piece of tape’ like you said, but it means so much more.
Kurtis Gabriel: Exactly. It’s really all it is. Jeff McLean and Dean Petruk who created it became really good friends of mine, huge supporters of mine. I had them down for a couple games with the Phantoms, and had food with them up at the Dime afterwards there and got to talk it out and again they’re just so supportive. These are the kind of people I want to be around. I will be honest, the LGBTQ community are the most accepting people around. So if people don’t realize that, I mean there’s a reason for that. They are accepting because they just want to be accepted and everybody just needs to see it from that perspective. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s not hard. We are human beings, we are capable of putting people on the moon and stuff. I think you can understand when it’s time to be a good person and accept someone for who they are. I have a new girlfriend that I just started a relationship with. I’m over the moon about her. I could not imagine somebody putting me down for loving her. That’s crazy. Like, I’m falling in love with her; why would I want to get hate from people because of my sexual orientation? It’s just mental. So, I just don’t get it and I don’t subscribe to it and I think it’s crap.
Dan Esche: I mean, this is more or less the second time that I came out. The first time was senior year in high school, and that went about as well as you would expect that to happen. It never really bothered me. There’s only so many times somebody can hurl the same slur my way without it just becoming whatever. It doesn’t mean anything. But my other at the time, it did affect him. I saw that and I always felt really guilty that we agreed to do that. And it had weighed on me for – what’s it been 6 or 7 years since and I was never ashamed of it; I don’t have any reason to be. But at the same time that guilt was kind of already there. The people knew (friends and family knew); but as I kind of put myself out there you know on social media and stuff like that, you know a lot of these people don’t know me. I have been writing for various sites covering different sports for quite a few years now, and the podcast and all this stuff that gave me this following. That’s 3,000 followers that don’t know me personally and didn’t know that. And we all know Twitter right? It’s no Disneyland. It’s not the happiest place on Earth by any means. And it was kind of like, I want to be out there and put myself out there and be who I am. But at the same time, Twitter is a freaking cesspool you know and I was kind of nervous about that. But I was building up to it for a little while and the Bell Let’s Talk Day was at the end of January or so, and I thought ‘well, now is as good a time as ever’, right? And I put it out there, and the overwhelming support of hundreds upon hundreds of people that were followers, friends (maybe not such good friends), and just total strangers that were going through the hashtag. That support just – it was so unexpected. I was expecting there to be maybe more split decisions – positive and negative. And there were a few shitheads (for lack of a better term). But for the most part, that support was overwhelming for the hundreds of people that reached out and it’s a feeling I’m never going to forget.
Kurtis Gabriel: Preach man! That’s exactly what it’s about. Like, I can only relate to my own personal things. It’s like when I played in Minnesota, I didn’t feel really welcome too much in that locker room to be honest and I don’t think I could perform the way I wanted to. I didn’t feel accepted. I’m an eccentric dude when it comes to hockey. Like, I love hockey. I’m crazy about it. I play with a lot of passion. To do what I do, I get pumped up. I go to Jersey and it was unbelievable. I changed the music in my fourth game. Rookies don’t do that. Maybe they thought I was a little crazy, but they’re like ‘Hey, he’s going out there and backing it up or trying to back it up’. I just felt love from everyone in the whole organization and I was able to play the best hockey I’ve ever played. So, I can feel what you’re saying, and I understand that kind of feeling in a different way. And it’s just being accepted. You want to be accepted for who you are. I know I’m a good person. You know you’re a good person. So why the heck can’t we get respect from people that we respect? It just doesn’t make sense. But at the same time, we got to fight back with this not with hate but with compassion. Right now, these people fight us with hate and we fight back with compassion. You got to take pity on them a little bit. They weren’t raised by people that have the proper kind of education maybe, or they are not educated. But everything is on the internet now, and there’s not an excuse to not know that this is a very natural part of the world and that it doesn’t freaking matter. So, I’m just hoping that we keep pumping this message out. I am sure there will always be people that are haters of everything; there’s always good and bad of everything. But we can kind of tilt the percentage to be much more heavy and more accepting.
Dan Esche: I made it to the Pride Night this year for the Phantoms; and the building is decked out, and the fans are decked out. It just it feels good to be in an environment surrounded by people that are on your side or are supportive. It made this time coming out so much better than the first. It’s just given me a fresh outlook on life. I noticed that I’m more positive everyday, you know just kind of happier. I’m not keeping it a secret. And it was never really a secret, it’s just something I wasn’t overly open with. It just wasn’t (at the time) worth it to me to put myself back out there again and have it go wrong the way it did the first time. You know, I didn’t want to do that; but at the same time, I just wanted to be super open and that’s just what it came down to. So I said, ‘Screw it. Whatever happens here’. You know, come whatever may – when I made the announcement. The support – it’s just a day I will never forget. The feeling I had that day with my DM’s and mentions and just flooded with people you know going ‘congratulations’ and reaching out and supporting. It was such a great feeling and I wish I did it earlier.
Kurtis Gabriel: And everybody should feel that way. I wish I could like tag it on. It’s like you know African American people, Asian people, and Latinos come to watch hockey. It doesn’t matter your background. It doesn’t matter. I had someone reach out recently and said that even with the LGBTQ stuff that they felt Trans people were kind of swept under the rug a bit. I’m like, ‘No. You’re in there. You got a letter in there. I’m on your side too. Let’s go. We will keep talking about this, and keep making it more normal. But you can also be a bad person and be you shouldn’t be viewing them any differently. You know what I mean? Like, I can be a straight dude and be a bad guy. You can be a gay dude and a great dude. You’re better because you’re a good dude not because you are gay. It doesn’t matter. Just be a good person. Help people push love into the world and help people help each other. Things get better. It’s a very simple process that people just need to know; because some people are just insecure about some things, and they kind of push hate online and hide behind their keyboard. But if you have the inclining to ever post something negative on somebody’s social media to put someone down; you need to check yourself, look yourself in the mirror and ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’. Because there’s clearly something you’re insecure about that you’re projecting that you need some help with, and you have got to do some in introspection and self-exploration to figure out why that is. Make the world a better place by not putting that stuff out there.
Dan Esche: Well said. You know, I’ve never really talked about this on air. Around the time that I did I said thank you for everybody that reached out, but I never told my story. And I’ve been waiting to find some time to do an episode during the season. But obviously during the season we cover the Flyers quite a few times a week, and just never had time with the playoff push and stuff coming up. But now with the season on pause, I wanted to get somebody on that meant something to myself, to the community; that can come on and be such a positive influence and you were the first person I thought of. I cannot thank you enough for showing up here today.
Kurtis Gabriel: No problem. I really appreciate it. I love doing stuff like this. The more I can talk about this, the more people it will reach, the better it will all get for everyone. Thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it guys.
Dan Esche: Anything else Jim?
Jim Iacovone: No. Nothing that I can really piggyback off there. I mean, I’m a big believer in live and let live. You know, everyone goes through their own stuff. Everyone has their own journey and you kind of have to respect it. Kurtis, I did want to say though; it’s rare to talk to somebody who enjoys playing the way that you play, and then can turn around and have the same compassion for his fellow man. It’s really a cool thing to see. And you don’t really see or come into contact (at least for myself) with too many people like that; who have that kind of open mind where I can go and kick the shit out of this guy because it belongs in the game, and then turn around and say I need to include these people and let them be who they are. Do you know what I am trying to say there?
Kurtis Gabriel: I appreciate that. That means a lot man. I think a lot of guys in hockey are; I just think some people are just more introverted and some are more extroverted. I am a pretty open and extroverted guy. This is me being myself and that’s what everybody should do. If they don’t think they should be open about certain issues, then don’t. That’s great and you will be accepted that way. But I think a lot of guys are like that. For example, so I know this is been a big thing in Flyers nation and stuff since I signed, but you know obviously I had that suspension for hitting Nolan Patrick. But this is how hockey guys are, this is how we are. On the first day of training camp we’re in the Flyers main team locker room, and I walked around the corner and there’s Nolan Patrick (who I never met in my life). I immediately go ‘Hey man. What’s up? How you doing?’ and then I said, “Hey, I totally didn’t mean to hit you like that man. I was so committed and I was so fired up. I am trying to stay up here, and there was a little turn at the last second…mostly my fault obviously”. And he goes, “Dude, it’s fine”. So I asked him, “Did it affect your head” or whatever, and he touches the back of his head and says, “No, I got a puck in the ear and like all different other stuff”. It’s guys like that that I like playing with and playing for. Being in that environment just for training camp, I could tell that those guys are a great group of guys. It’s why they have success and are a close-knit team. They have all those personalities, and I hear from all the guys coming down and watching as much stuff as I can that they have a great environment there. So I think there is a lot of guys like that. some guys just more open about it.
Jim Iacovone: For sure. It’s really a beautiful thing to see man, because you don’t see too many human beings actually being their true genuine self. Like, we’ve had guys on and you can tell that they’re using their recording personality or who they want to project. Whereas talking to you, I get the sense that we just met Kurtis Gabriel today. You know what I mean? We didn’t meet your projection of who you wanted us to think you are.
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah. Like I said, people who are putting hate online need to some self-exploration. I have been doing that hardcore since I got home from this quarantine. I didn’t have the season that I wanted; it didn’t go any way the way I wanted it to go. So I had to come back and not project that on my family and be an asshole around the house and grumpy and stuff. I needed to go and deal with my own stuff and write it out long hand and figure out what’s bothering me, what went wrong, and what I can fix next time. Life’s a journey; you don’t stop learning from the day you’re born to the day you die so if you think you got it figured out (and I have many times). And as many times as I’ve said I had it figured out now, but you really never do; and you have got to just constantly manage it and work on it that’s trying to live your best life. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make the most of myself and I think authenticity like you’re saying is what people are really drawn to. I know when I listen to Spittin’ Chiclets, Bizz and Whit or just RA and Mickey are just being themselves; truly being themselves for better or for worse and that’s what brings people in. I’m trying to learn from that as much as possible. If you love me, love me. If you hate me, hate me. That’s all well and good, just respect me.
Jim Iacovone: I did have one question here. So, your first NHL goal was against the Ottawa Senators. You remember who the goalie was and if you could take us through your memory of the goal? I know it’s kind of cliché, but I always enjoy hearing the story.
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, so it was against the Ottawa Senators shortly into the second period, and it I was on Anders Nilsson. My good buddy Brett Seeney (whose dad is my real estate agent back in London); he snapped the puck back to me on the faceoff and he told me, ‘Gibber, you shoot this if you get it’. You get this feeling; I don’t know if guys who score 50 get this feeling, but I just kind of knew I was about to score. I just knew it was going to come to me. I shot as hard as I could, and it was going wide of the net. Nilsson reached up to corral the rebound and it went off his glove and into the back of the net. I didn’t see it go in, I saw everybody’s reaction. I kind of just put my hands up and looked at the bench like, ‘Got one!. [Laughs]. I’m doing more than fighting and hitting here. But that one was nothing compared to the one I said on the Pride Night against the Canadiens, just because the way the game had gone there in that situation. I was kind of out of it, we were out of it (New Jersey), but Montreal was fighting for a playoff spot and they were kind of on a tear, and we’re a bunch of young guys trying to stay in the NHL. You know, we had the door open a little bit, it was trying to shut it behind me (didn’t get to do that). But, just the way the goal happened it came and it rimmed around. I’m hard on the forecheck, I take my man, knocked the puck kind of off. I just realized that I got to get to the net and I beat my man to the net. Then my good buddy Connor Carrick makes a nice move at the point, shoots it through, and I saw it all the way and was able to like turn 180 degrees backwards, hit it down, tip it, and it fell right to my feet and I was able to backhand it in. I knew I was going to score right when I left the corner going to the net, so that was another feeling and I was like ‘Oh my God, I scored’. I got to celebrate that one and screamed. All the training I’ve ever done, and all the crap I’ve been through; it was the best feeling my life man. Jumping into the boards – oh my God – I can’t even describe it.
Jim Iacovone: Good for you dude. I got goosebumps listening to it.
Kurtis Gabriel: Thank you.
Jim Iacovone: Coincidentally enough, you are the second guest we’ve had on the show that scored on Carey Price. I think it was on this show. Dan, it was on this show right? We had Riley Cote on and he scored his only NHL goal against Carey Price. As great as Carey Price is, anyone we have on ends up scoring on him.
Kurtis Gabriel: Yeah, because we score the rebound greasy goals. Like, I shouldn’t have beat my guy to the corner. If that guy did his job, he sees the puck, I don’t tip it, and I don’t score. He can’t control that. I didn’t beat him clean, but that’s funny that you mentioned Cote because I had recently been just trying to talk to people and get more connections. You know more phone calls to people that really are passionate about things, and he’s obviously he is passionate about a lot of stuff right now. I really got to talk to him for a long while about that. He’s got some really cool perspectives on things. Really cool guy. That’s someone that I am really happy that is in my corner too, along with Todd Fedoruk the play-by-play guy in Allentown. Just great former Flyers and former tough guys that get it. They get it and they tell me to continue to be my authentic self; and it’s going to take me a long way, so it means a lot to coming from them.
Jim Iacovone: Good stuff man. That’s awesome.
Dan Esche: I do like recalling the first NHL goals. We interviewed Carsen Twarynski a couple weeks back and he just went straight through it. I played in high school for a while (and granted, it’s just high school and not professional or anything), but I was a goaltender and every time they had a backup goaltender they put them out as a defenseman so everybody could play. I scored three goals in my life, and for the life of me I can’t remember any of them. Every time we interview a pro player, they can go through a play-by-play, second-by-second, and they can break down their goal. I always just found that fascinating.
Kurtis Gabriel: Oh yeah. We are so passionate about what we do. Scoring a goal, contributing to a team, trying to win a game, is the best feeling. Nothing’s ever going to compare to that. Hats off to the guys that score all those goals every year. They live in a different world than me. It must be a hell of a lot of fun, but you kind of just reorientate yourself around what is going to make you successful. You know I’m not there yet. I may not ever get there but I’m going to die trying. I’ve always wanted to be in the NHL and be the best fourth-line guy that can bring toughness, momentum, and bring something to a team that there ever is. I’m going to try like heck to do it. If I don’t, that’s okay; I’ll find something else. But right now, that’s still the goal and it’s getting to that point in my career but I still have a chance I think. So hopefully I can get to one more training camp and give it all I got.
Dan Esche: Well, no matter where you end up next year; whether it’s back in Lehigh or somewhere else, you definitely have a fan here and I am sure I speak for Jim as well. We will be supporting you wherever you end up.
Kurtis Gabriel: Thank you very much guys! Yeah, I’m big fans of you too. You guys are great. This has been a great conversation putting it out there and seeing what people think.
Dan Esche: Alright. Well. You got anything else Jim?
Jim Iacovone: No, that’s it. Thanks a lot for hanging out Kurtis, it was a real pleasure talking to you today.
Kurtis Gabriel: No problem. I hope to hopefully see you guys maybe one day if I’m playing for the Flyers or something. That’s the goal, so maybe we can get together. That would be sweet.
Dan Esche: Alright everybody. We will wrap this up here for today. I’ll be back Thursday with Anthony for Flyers A.D. We will be reviewing the 17-18 and then the 18-19 Flyers seasons I believe. And that’s the only other show on the docket here. Oh, and I got O&B tomorrow. It’ll be over at O&B Puck, so check that out of everybody. But until next time, goodbye and good night.
***Thanks for reading our interview with Lehigh Valley Phantoms forward Kurtis Gabriel!
Don’t forget that you can listen to the interview on Brotherly Pod (Episode #36). Please leave us a review and any comments that you may have. If you have not done so already, please remember to subscribe to Brotherly Pod and support all of the awesome content that is available on www.brotherlypuck.com and all of the shows that are on Brotherly Pod. Brotherly Pod is available on all of the major and not so major podcast platforms that are out there and it is FREE, so please consider subscribing so that you do not miss any of the great content that is regularly created.