Gagnon-Laparé returns to Halifax, excited to be ‘back on the good side’ of Wanderers’ Grounds atmosphere
Canadian Premier League

From hero, to villain, to hero again?

Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé was unveiled on Wednesday as the first newcomer on the Halifax Wanderers’ 2024 roster, but he’s hardly a stranger in Nova Scotia.

The Québécois midfielder has returned to the east coast after playing for the Wanderers in 2021 and 2022, then spending the 2023 season at York United FC.

He fully emerged as one of the Canadian Premier League’s best box-to-box midfielders last year, playing 23 times for the Nine Stripes and providing five assists, helping push them toward the playoffs.

This off-season, though, the 28-year-old Gagnon-Laparé decided the best course of action for himself was a return to Halifax.

RELATED: Wanderers sign Canadian midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé through 2025 season

“It wasn’t an easy decision. I feel like I’m in a part of my career where time is ticking, and it was sort of the same mindset as when I signed for York; I just felt like things weren’t exactly how I felt they should be for myself,” said Gagnon-Laparé from his home in Sherbrooke, Que. “It’s the kind of tough decision that you have to make and then live with afterward. It just felt like a good fit for me to go back [to Halifax].

“I wouldn’t say it’s a gamble, because I feel like from the discussion I’ve had with the coach and everybody it just felt like the right decision, but you can never really predict how it’s going to go. But I just have a good feeling right now.”

Gagnon-Laparé left the Wanderers shortly before Patrice Gheisar was announced as the club’s head coach last year. Still, he had a first-hand look at their progress in 2023 by playing against them twice — first in June at York Lions Stadium, and again at the Wanderers Grounds in early September.

Although York won that game in Halifax — in fact, they were the only CPL team not to lose at the Wanderers Grounds last year — Gagnon-Laparé was nonetheless impressed by his former club’s evolution over the course of just one season.

“They were well organized offensively, and very tough to play against,” he said. “They wanted to be the ones who enforced what was going to happen in the game, and I felt like they had the right ideas to do that. Every team wants to be the one that’s leading and that’s dictating play and how the game is going to go, but honestly what surprised me the most was how quickly they were able to put it together, with a start of the season where things weren’t necessarily going for them in terms of results.

“You could already see that there was something they were trying to build, and you could sense that progression all the way throughout the season from each time we played them, I feel like it got more and more difficult. It’s a league where things can change really quickly from one season to the next, but this year a new guy came in, and a lot of new players, and I know sometimes that can be a tough recipe to deal with.”

Lorenzo Callegari (L) and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé (R): the Wanderers’ new midfield duo? (Photo: Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Wanderers FC)

Aside from Gagnon-Laparé, just three players remain in Halifax from the 2022 side: Andre Rampersad, Aidan Daniels and Zach Fernandez.

Rampersad and Gagnon-Laparé made a good pair in central midfield before, but perhaps even more exciting is the prospect of Gagnon-Laparé now sharing the middle of the park with Lorenzo Callegari. The two both ranked among the top outfield players in the league (per 90 minutes) last year in successful passes (Gagnon-Laparé eighth, Callegari first), successful long balls (18th and third), and passes into the final third (seventh and 10th). If Gheisar opts to play them in a double-pivot, or even with Gagnon-Laparé in a more advanced creative role, the Wanderers could well have one of the CPL’s best midfield setups in 2024.

Above all, though, Gagnon-Laparé is excited to be back at the Wanderers Grounds — and back in the crowd’s good graces. Naturally, as a former player, he didn’t get the warmest welcome in his return to Halifax last season, but the passion of the Wanderers faithful has an impact on either side.

“It’s something you can’t take away from them, they’re a passionate crowd,” he said. “It was just fun to be part of that atmosphere again. You have to be focused, especially when you play against them because you’ve got an extra opponent to deal with.

“It’s just going to be fun to be back there and to be on the good side of the crowd again.”

Gagnon-Laparé’s first chance to enjoy that Maritime atmosphere in 2024 will be the Wanderers’ home opener on April 27, when they host Atlético Ottawa.