Maxime Fortunus In-Depth: Newest Assistant Coach Talks About His Career, Calder Cup Memories and Whether He Is an AHL Hall of Famer

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

After exactly 1,000 AHL games combined with hundreds more in the ECHL and DEL, the Texas Stars top defenseman in every statistical category, Maxime Fortunus, called it a career earlier this month.

Before he was announced as an assistant coach for the Texas Stars, 100 Degree Hockey was able to sit down with him over Zoom for an extended interview. Given the quality of Fortunus’s answers and the sure interest of the Texas Stars fanbase in his replies, I have decided to post a lightly edited transcript of our conversation in the interest of not leaving anything out and letting the always loquacious Fortunus speak for himself.

100 Degree Hockey: First, congratulations on your career. You're done now, and it has to be a little weird, right?

Maxime Fortunus: Thank you. It's a different mindset once you're home in the morning, and you don't have to worry about going to workout or anything. I still wouldn't be in that part of the summer yet where you have to workout, but yeah, just getting back to the home type of schedule, taking care of the kids and bringing the kids to school.

HDH: Are you back in Canada now? [Ed. note: Fortunus spent the last three seasons in Germany while his family mostly stayed in Canada.]

Fortunus: Yes, I just got out of quarantine yesterday, so I was out and about all day.

HDH: Your family had to stay in Canada this year though so you haven’t seen them all season, is that right?

Fortunus: Yeah, it was hard, especially this year. Usually they could come and see me during the season. But this year with the whole situation they couldn't even come over. I got the chance to come over before Christmas, actually, which was much needed mentally. So it's so good to be back just because it was a weird season even over there. Just everything was shut down; they had a massive lockdown since November.

HDH: You had been in Fischtown for two years before, so you knew what things were going to be like generally, but then this year was completely different.

Fortunus: Exactly. No one could have planned for this. You can't really get ready, Everybody in the world kind of got surprised. It was different for everyone. It was hard for a lot of people and, I mean, we were pretty lucky that we got to keep playing and doing the things we love. We still felt for a lot of people all over the world; we’re getting a chance to do that while they’re stuck home or living in really bad situations.

HDH: It's bizarre. Honestly, it's weird for me to have you retire because you were one of the first guys on the Texas Stars. You were part of the first team, you're about my age, and you're retiring. Not that I'm anywhere close to being a professional hockey player, but it’s still weird to see someone moving to that next stage in life. How did you even approach this decision? How do you go through it?

Fortunus: It's been a while since I've been playing, so you kind of know it's coming. You have to prepare yourself. One of the things I'm grateful for and that my wife always reminds me is, ‘Max, don't forget that you're pretty lucky to decide when to go on your own. You didn't get an injury or something that forced you out.’

That's where we're grateful for, but it's always hard.I remember the last month of the season every game you think about it. You kinda have a little countdown in your head where it's like, ‘Alright, I got 13 more games left.’ It's always going down and down, and it puts everything in perspective, I’ve been around a lot, you know, and I’ve done a lot of things. At the same time, being over in Germany for me was a really great experience and I'm really happy I did it. I met some great people and made some really good friends. 

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

At the same time coming back to the family was something that needed to be done. I'm not regretting anything I did. It’s a wonderful career, but it's a step in a way to restart. 

[Ed. note: At this point, Fortunus’s next step with the Texas Stars was not yet revealed. We later joked about how much he had to keep a tight lip on that news during this interview.]

HDH: When you were in Springfield four years ago now we didn't get a chance to talk at that point but what was your decision to go out to Europe? That's an opportunity a lot of guys have who are in your position. How did you make that decision when it came down to it?

Fortunus: When I started in Springfield, that year I finally signed in November. It was the first time in my career where I didn't have a contract on August 1 for training camp, so it was kind of a stressful situation for the first time in my life. I had a really good season over there, but at the same time didn't really want to get stuck in the same situation for the next year, you know, being in a one year contract. At that time, in the talks with Springfield, I didn’t really know if I was going to sign back there. I found out at the end of the season that they would have signed me again, but at the same time, I kind of made my decision before to go over to Germany.

I knew it was a step I was gonna take at some point in my career. I'm really happy I did it later. Some guys, you know, don't have as much patience as I do. For me playing in the American Hockey League has been so good to me over all those years. I love that league, always loved it, and I thought it was a really good league for me. It was always about making it to the next step, even my last year in Springfield, my goal was always to play in the NHL. I've always had that in the back of my mind, so I'm a really persistent guy, trying to always try to reach my goals that way. But at the same time, I knew at some point I was going to try to go to Europe and see how it was and experience it.

HDH: As you mentioned, your AHL career spanned 15 years and 882 regular season games. That's an incredible AHL career on its own. What are your reflections on it as you hang it up?

Fortunus: For me, I think, first of all, it’s the people I met and the people that helped me along the way. There's a lot of people that helped me. My parents, my brother, my family have been so helpful, all throughout my career like even in juniors. Once you get to pro, it's a completely different ballgame. You're not home. You move to a new city, and you don't know anyone. Having my wife and my kids around always helped me feel at home.

Everywhere I went, we met so so many good people. That’s the beauty, I think, of the hockey player and the hockey life. Every August, you go to a new city or you go back to your city, and then you meet new people every year. You meet new friends in a new environment, so that part is something that we'll never forget. I have some people that I call now my best friends that I met playing in the American Hockey League so that's the first thing that popped in my mind.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

HDH: It's interesting. When I tweeted out that you had retired, I think it was the best performing tweet I've ever tweeted. It got the most likes, more than even when you guys won the Calder Cup. Fans but also former players, guys you’d played with and coaches too, liking and commenting on the news. Have you gotten outreach from any of those folks?

Fortunus: The funny thing is I woke up on a Friday, the day after I got back in, I think I opened up my Facebook and I just got on Facebook last year. And all the sudden I saw a post that I was retiring so I was like, ‘How do they know? I haven't announced anything!’ [laughter]

My wife was joking, ‘Well Max, you don't have a choice now but to retire!’ I guess they're kind of kicking me out of it, I guess. Then I posted something that it was time for me to retire and then I got so many comments from friends and family and people that were fans. Just to see that, it's such an honor and I'm really grateful for all those people that just gave me just a little bit of words, saying congratulations. For me I think it’s all about respect. I always try to do everything I did with respect. With my former teammates and the staff and the teams, especially for the fans, and when you treat people like this, I guess I was trying to leave a mark, a respectful mark on everyone.

HDH: To be more specific, let’s talk about your six years in Texas. I think you, Travis and Justin Dowling, maybe have the lengthiest stays in Texas. People still remember you quite fondly even though you haven’t been here for six or seven years now.

Fortunus: For me, Texas is home for us. I've been pretty lucky. Even if I went to Germany and I went to Springfield and Iowa, but if I look overall on the average in my career I've been pretty lucky and stable, which is kind of unusual for a hockey player. A lot of times, they get a guy who plays one year, two years somewhere to go somewhere else in one year, two years then somewhere else again. So, for me to be able to play in Manitoba for four years and then in Texas for six years. For a family life, you can't ask for anything better than that.

You get to, especially for us in Austin, be part of a hockey family. Two of our kids were born there [Mayla, age 9 and Mao, age 6, were born in Texas. Malik, age 14, was not.]. Our kids went to school there. So you got to meet the other side of hockey. You're able to live in the Austin community a little bit more, meet people outside of hockey. It was home for us where we had a life outside of hockey. We had some great times in Austin.

HDH: It's interesting because the other model is like Chris Mueller. Every year he signs in a new place, and obviously he does really well and he's a fantastic player, but he doesn't have five years, six years in one place. There are guys like you and Tom Kostopolous, and that’s a different experience from guys like Mueller or TJ Brennan.

Fortunus: Yes, it is [a different experience]. You can't ask for anything better than that, to be able to play in a city for that long. I remember when my wife actually was talking to Travis Morin’s wife at one point and she's like, ‘You guys realize how lucky you guys are just to be able to be in the same place?’ Especially in the American Hockey League, you just never know what's gonna happen, who's gonna take your spot or where you gonna go in a year. For him to be able to stay there for 10 years, it is crazy in the AHL. You don't you don't see that ever, so it's fun that we got to be there for so long.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

HDH: Have you talked to Travis Morin since announcing your retirement?

Fortunus: Yeah, yeah, we actually talked. We stayed really really close. Our kids were really close when we were in Austin. We will be talking at least every couple weeks, every month for sure. We always send a text here and there. We stayed really really close as we got to know each other a lot during my six years over there and became really, really good friends. It wasn’t just hockey for us. It was a completely different relation also outside of hockey.

HDH: Among those six years, obviously the highlight, I think for a lot of folks, was the Calder Cup win over St. John's. Looking back now, seven years on, what do you remember about your time there and that season specifically? What are you going to always remember about your time in Texas?

Fortunus: So the first thing I remember is when I got back to Austin. We were still in August, and I was at the rink and it was just me and [then head coach Willie Desjardins] in his office. We were just talking about the season before and how it didn't end up the way we wanted. [Ed. note: Texas lost in the second round to Oklahoma City.] And the first thing he told me is, ‘Max, this year, we don't just want to win, we have to win.’ That’s what he told me, ‘We have to win.’ I was like, okay, that's where he wants to go, and that's where I want to go, and we’re on the same page.

I think he set a really good base with our leadership group that year to really take the reins in the locker room. We had a group who was willing to do the hard things to bring guys together. We had a season that started strong, and we were all confident in what we could accomplish.

And then for me in that season. I'll always remember we had a game in Oklahoma. And I think we were down, probably like, 3-1 after the second period. And for some reason, I remember... I have Colton Sceviour in my head in the locker room just laughing, and we're all in the locker room down 3-1 after two periods and guys are talking and laughing in between periods. I'm like ‘What is going on?’ We're down 3-1, and guys are laughing. The guys were like, ‘We're okay. We got this. We know we're gonna win. It doesn't matter what the score is, we know we're gonna win.’ And we ended up winning that game in overtime. And that’s when I said to myself, ‘We’re winning the championship. No one’s going to touch us.’

We just knew what was going to happen that year, so we had something really special. Once you get to the playoffs, the guys were on. We all had a goal, and we weren't going to stop. We had to go through some pretty good teams in the playoffs. It was such a good run, and guys had such a focus on the goal to achieve. For me, it was for sure winning the Calder Cup, I mean it took me twelve years before I could actually touch it, it was such a good feeling. We put in so much work. Especially with all the fans there in Texas, it was the highlight of my career.

HDH: I think for me the moment I knew you would win it all was in the Toronto series where you guys were down 2-0 in Game 7 and came back and won it 6-2.

Fortunus: Oh yeah, as soon as we scored one, because I remember we came back a lot in those playoff games. Yeah, I guess with Toronto another anecdote. Before the game, Willie calls me in the office again before Game 7 and he's like, ‘Max, I'm thinking about coming to the locker room with a Toronto Marlies jersey and saying ‘We can't get beat by these guys’’ And I'm like, ‘Willie we’re good. We got it, the guys will be fine. We'll just keep it the same. He really really really wanted to beat them. He knew they were a team we needed to beat. And, yeah, when we were down by two and then as soon as we put one, you can see that the whole bench from Toronto just kind of dropped. They knew it was coming right away. I still remember that feeling. You could look at the bench and they're like, ‘Oh no, it's happening.’ The guys were so relentless in those playoffs. Guys knew that no matter what happened, even if you were down, you got a goal scored on you, we all knew that we were gonna find a way to do it.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

HDH: Personally, and with no disrespect to St John's at all, when you guys won that series against Toronto, it was like okay, yeah, this is it.

Fortunus: Yeah, for sure. That was almost the final right there. That was the hardest series out of all of them. They’re a team that everyone wants to beat all the time.

HDH: I don't know how much you paid attention in 2018 when Texas went to the final again. Toronto in Game 7. 50/50 chance at it, and it was just a tough way to go out for the team overall. Toronto, even though Texas doesn’t play them very often, seems like a distant rival for the Stars.

Fortunus: Oh yeah, we've always been. For me personally, I had played in Manitoba before so we would have 12 games against them every year. So we would have some big battles against them so it's always been. It's a team that I've always liked to beat and want to beat.

HDH: I’m not asking to be egotistical about it but, with 1,000 games and just the numbers that you put up, it seems like you may have just finished a Hall of Fame career. And we'll talk about that when it comes, but I imagine it's probably like a weird thing to consider that you, your name, may be up there, very soon, among some pretty decorated folks.

[Fortunus pauses to consider the question.]

Fortunus: I haven't even thought about that. To me, I've never seen myself in that way or anything. I've never been the type of player who really stood out in terms of points [Ed. note: Some modesty from Fortunus here, who leads all Stars defenseman in every meaningful offensive statistic for all-time.]

I've always tried to be the guy who works hard and shows leadership, and that showed a lot of respect. That, to me, was the key. Everywhere I went, it was about the way I treated people. The way you treated your staff and your teammates, and that's what I want to be remembered for, the guy who was really respectful in the locker room and the rest. If it one day comes, we'll see, but for me, as long as I've shown respect and guys thought that I showed respect to them then that's all I can ask for.

HDH: I was talking with some of the guys with Texas about this. I don't know if anyone will wear 18 again in a few seasons in Texas. I could see that happening after your six seasons. I believe your junior team (QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar) retired your jersey, right?

Fortunus: Yes, I was in training camp in Dallas, and I got to leave for a couple of days to go over there with my family. It was a big honor. That was really surprising, very surprising, That's not one of those things that I think about. I've never been a guy who's big on what my stats are going to be. I play because I love the game and I want to win. Basically, that's the only thing that drives me to competition is the drive to win every night. That was a really really nice honor for me to retire the number. We'll see what happens [in Texas].

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

HDH: The team has been around now for twelve years and obviously tons of players have come through but just kind of as we wrap up here, it is obvious that people here still adore you and that you're always well-liked in Texas.

Fortunus: That is awesome. We can’t wait to be back there at some point. My two younger kids know they are Texans, probably some of the few French Texans. [laughter] We can’t wait to go back there and have them see where they were born and meet back there with their old friends. I've met so many nice people in Texas. It's really a second home for us and a lovely place for sure.

Maxime Fortunus was announced as a Texas Stars assistant coach last week. You can read coverage of that news on 100 Degree Hockey here. Special thanks for Max Fortunus for his generosity with his time.