From Gloucester Catholic to NCAA fame

Posted: April 14, 2012

In one sense, Johnny Gaudreau's freshman season at Boston College was nothing less than remarkable.

In another, it was nothing more than typical.

Gaudreau has been skating circles around conventional wisdom for years. He has been too short, too light, and too young at every level of ice hockey.

He has dazzled and dominated them all.

He did the same thing as an eight-year-old playing with the 10s, and as a 12-year-old playing with the 14s.

He did the same thing at Gloucester Catholic, where he scored 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 14 games as a 5-foot-5, 135-pound junior.

He did the same thing as a 17-year-old in the United States Hockey League, winning Rookie of the Year honors, scoring 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) in 60 games and leading the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints to the Clark Cup championship.

So why would Division I ice hockey be any different for an athlete whose skill set and supernatural sense recall the sport's greatest player? Ever. Yeah, the guy who used to wear No. 99 and was known as The Great One.

It was ESPN analyst Barry Melrose, commenting during the NCAA tournament, who compared Gaudreau's "three-dimensional vision" to that of Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.

Gaudreau is fast, but he turns on the afterburners to race away from such comparisons. He's still coming to terms with his success as a 18-year-old true freshman who led Boston College to the national championship last weekend in Tampa.

"It's overwhelming," Gaudreau said the other day from Boston. "When we won it, and I was on the ice with my teammates, I was happy and sad at the same time. It was a dream come true."

The Anthony Davis of college ice hockey stands 5-foot-8 (maybe) and weighs 155 pounds (possibly, after a second helping of spaghetti in the school cafeteria).

Davis is the 6-foot-10 freshman phenom who led the University of Kentucky to the NCAA title in basketball. He's likely to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in June.

Gaudreau, from tiny Carneys Point in Salem County, had nearly the same impact in his sport. He is 18 and looks 15. He's not supposed to be able to use his stick skills and uncanny anticipation to control play in the rough-and-tumble world of Division I hockey.

But there was Gaudreau on April 7, scoring another highlight-film goal to help Boston College to a 4-1 victory over Ferris State in the Frozen Four title game in Tampa.

"Big-time goal by a big-time player," Boston College coach Jerry York said of Gaudreau's goal, a backhander that landed top-shelf after he split two defensemen.

Gaudreau is a hockey kid, through and through, a product of the sport's youth subculture of odd-hour skates and travel teams and long road trips. His dad, Guy, is the rink manager at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell and also the head coach at Gloucester Catholic.

Johnny Gaudreau always played "up" as a youngster, competing against older athletes. He always was the best player on the ice because of his stick handling, edge control, and knack for the game seeing two and three steps ahead of everybody else.

There's no teaching that. I remember watching him when he was a junior at Gloucester Catholic in a game against rival Bishop Eustace. He scored five goals with five assists. Just an average 10-point night.

It was as if he was playing basketball on the ice, a slick point guard who specialized in no-look passes and trick shots.

It was more of the same in junior hockey. As a senior in high school, Gaudreau lived with a host family in Dubuque and lit up the United States Hockey League as one of the circuit's youngest players.

True to hockey's humble code, Gaudreau said his big goal as a Boston College freshman was "to try to play in every game."

But his talent would not be contained. He just moved up another level and outplayed his elders again, same as always. He finished second in scoring on the best team in the country with 44 points (21 goals, 23 assists) in 44 games. He was the Eagles' best player down the stretch of the regular season, with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in the final 18 games.

He was named the Most Valuable Player of both the prestigious Beanpot Tournament - a 60-year-old New England institution that matches Boston's four Division I hockey teams and draws capacity crowds of 17,000-plus to TD Garden - and the Hockey East conference tournament.

In the Hockey East title game, Gaudreau scored the first two goals and stunned observers with a blind pass to teammate Pat Mullane for another score.

"In my head, I knew there was no way a 5-foot-6, 150-pound kid could be that dominant," Mullane told the Boston Globe that night. "But he proved me wrong. . . . I went back to the bench and looked at him like, 'Where do you come up with this stuff?' "

Gaudreau was a fourth-round pick by the Calgary Flames in last June's NHL draft. Calgary will own his rights for four years.

His future is mapped out, like one of those 3-on-2 rushes down the ice that he sees unfolding before everyone else: Another season or two with Boston College (he'd like to play with his brother Matt, who has committed to the Eagles), a berth on the U.S. team at the junior world championships next year, and eventually a spot on an NHL roster.

Of course, some people think he's too small.


Contact Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports

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