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Simon Gamache returns from Europe for another shot at an NHL job

He wants it bad and, if perseverance carried any weight, he'd surely get it. The 26-year-old Quebecer has bounced around like a lacrosse ball since scoring 74 goals and ringing up 184 points for the Val d'Or, Que., juniors in 2000-2001, when he was named Canadian major junior player of the year.

NHL cameos with the Atlanta Thrashers, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues followed. Couldn't stick. He played in Bern, Switzerland, last year.

He led the Swiss league in scoring, which is nothing unusual because he scores goals wherever he goes. His defensive liabilities are what have done him in.

"It's a lot to do with timing," he says of his up-and-down career. "There are only 20 spots on a team and I'm a goal scorer so that cuts (job openings) down to two lines."

Whether he's been playing in the ECHL in Greenville, N.C., or in the AHL in Chicago, where he won a Calder Cup, he's never given up is hope of a full-time NHL job.

Gamache signed a two-year contract with the Leafs last June and he'll probably begin the season with the AHL Marlies - but not if he can help it.

"You want to keep dreaming the dream," he said after participating in fitness days on the opening day of Leafs camp Thursday. "You think good things about yourself.

"You keep thinking you are good enough to play in the NHL. I've done pretty much every league now so I want to graduate. It's time to play in the NHL and to score in the right place."

He's played all of 37 NHL games since his glory days in Val d'Or and he has scored four big-league goals, but here he comes again.

"It's every kid's dream and I don't think I finished what I started years ago," he said of his chance to impress at the Leafs camp.

Playing in Switzerland was a blast but it wasn't the ultimate goal.

"I really wasn't where I wanted to be," he said. "I want to try for the NHL again.

"This is what I want and I'm very positive right now. I intend to make the Maple Leafs. I didn't come back to think I'm going to play with the Marlies. This is the reason I am here, to play with the Maple Leafs."

At 26, he's still young enough to forge an NHL career. Getting to play in all key situations with his Bern team helped.

"I feel I learned a lot by going (to Switzerland)," he said. "It was a great experience but it's time to do real business now."

He's five-foot-eight and 185 pounds and his size might have been a detriment when he came out of junior and a lot of NHL clubs decided he was too small for their liking. With the league's crackdown on obstruction in recent years, Gamache figures he has an enhanced chance now.

"There's not as much hooking and grabbing and stuff so I believe in my chance," he said. "This could be it this year."

He hasn't ready for the big time when he left Val d'Or.

"When I finished my junior, I wasn't a complete player," he said. "I wasn't as good defensively as I was offensively. I was not ready for the NHL when I came out of junior."

Three NHL teams and nearly seven years late, he's convinced he's ready now. Coming off a holiday in Thailand with his girlfriend and the summer beside a lake in Thetford Mines, Que., he's relaxed and upbeat. He doesn't know much about the Leafs but was happy to latch onto this chance.

"I know they haven't won for 40 years," he said. "They're a team that wants to win and this is a hockey town."

He was happy to reconnect with Leafs assistant coach Dallas Eakins, who was a teammate with the AHL's Chicago Wolves.

By the smile on his face, it's easy to see he is still having a lot of fun chasing his dream.

"It's getting better and better," he said. "I'm surprised sometimes.

"I tell myself, 'Oh, my God, that's a long time, playing 15 years like a lot of guys do,' but this is only my seventh pro season and I can't wait to get on the ice to get better."


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