South Jersey's 'Johnny Hockey' making waves on ice

BOSTON COLLEGEMEDIA RELATIONS BC's John Gaudreau already has a hat trick of championships.
BOSTON COLLEGEMEDIA RELATIONS BC's John Gaudreau already has a hat trick of championships.
Posted: February 19, 2013

A MAKESHIFT SIGN on an 8 1/2-by-11-inch computer printout greets you on the far right door of Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, N.J. It reads:

WELCOME TO THE HOME OF 'JOHNNY HOCKEY'

A certain buzz now surrounds this rink, where locals of all ages have laced up the skates since 1992. Everyone knows South Jersey's own John Gaudreau, the 19-year-old Boston College standout who starred in the recent world junior hockey championships.

Now, the kids walk around in their USA hockey jerseys. They all want to grow up to be like Gaudreau. Flyers forward Danny Briere, whose 14-year-old son Caelan plays at the rink, recently stopped by and told Gaudreau's father, Guy, to pass along his congratulations.

Gaudreau, from Carneys Point, N.J., seemingly wins everywhere he plays. When the U.S. team topped Sweden, 3-1, on Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia, Gaudreau became the first player to win a Clark Cup in the United States Hockey League, an NCAA championship and a gold medal at the world juniors. His tournament-leading seven goals in seven games, highlighted by a hat trick in the quarterfinal win over the Czech Republic, have only increased the notoriety of the humble, budding star.

"That was a special highlight of my life, getting the chance to lead that tournament in goals," Gaudreau says. "Just to play in the tournament and win a gold medal, that was just something special."

While a highlight of his still-burgeoning career, his recent international coming-out party merely added to the growing legend of "Johnny Hockey" - a moniker that, while an obvious play on Texas A & M's Heisman Trophy-winning "Johnny Football" Manziel, "couldn't be more appropriate," says Gaudreau's former 18-under coach, Jared Beach.

Always one of the smaller players on the ice at 5-8 and 153 pounds, Gaudreau is quick, a great stickhandler and an exceptional skater. His father threw him on the ice at the age of 2. Gaudreau was "barely even walking and on skates chasing pucks," says Jim McVey, a longtime family friend and Hollydell Ice Arena's general manager.

Guy Gaudreau, a self-described "rink rat" who played at Norwich University, would bribe his 2-year-old son with Skittles, placing pieces of the candy a few feet in front of him so John would have to skate over to get them. By the age of 3 - many bags of Skittles later - John Gaudreau was moving pretty well. By 5 he had developed a nice stride and pretty good stickhandling abilities.

Gaudreau went on to play at Gloucester Catholic High, which his father coaches, until his senior year, when his talent took him to Iowa. Playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, the premier prep league, he was coached by Jim Montgomery, who played parts of two seasons with the Flyers in the mid-'90s. Gaudreau earned rookie of the year honors en route to the first of his recent trio of titles.

A month later, the day of the 2011 NHL entry draft, Gaudreau was back at Hollydell playing in a summer tournament. He was on the ice when McVey, who had been watching the draft on his computer, came running in. The Calgary Flames had drafted Gaudreau in the fourth round, 104th overall.

"I was excited about how early I went," Gaudreau says.

Though Gaudreau might not have expected to hear his name so early, many might now consider his fourth-round selection a draft steal. Calgary general manager Jay Feaster and special assistant Craig Conroy flew to New Jersey last summer to try to sign Gaudreau. They will likely make another push this year.

"Since the time I coached him, I've been completely sure, it's just a matter of time and maturity, that he'd be at that level," says Beach, who has coached 11 NHL draft picks, including Winnipeg's Eric Tangradi. "I don't know if I'll get another kid like that."

But at least for now, it's Boston College hockey for Gaudreau, whose team-leading 37 points on 15 goals for the defending champion Eagles have him in the running for the Hobey Baker Award, given in April to the top collegiate player.

Back in South Jersey, though, family and friends are still digesting Gaudreau's recent overseas performance. For the gold-medal game, friends and family gathered for breakfast parties, chock full of eggs, bacon and mimosas, for the 8 a.m. start. McVey compared it to "Super Bowl Sunday in South Jersey."

As you can imagine, this has all been quite thrilling for hockey lifer Guy Gaudreau.

"You know what's really weird is, when we watch him on TV, it's kind of hard to believe that's my son. But then I get him on the other end of the phone, I realize it's my son," he says, laughing. "You look at him and you're like, 'Wow, that's pretty cool he's doing what he's doing.' And then you talk to him and it's same old John, always goofy as ever and goofing around. He's not too overwhelmed by any of that. He's just kind of 'Whatever.' "

Though Gaudreau might deflect much of the attention toward coaches and teammates, his recent exploits have certainly made his friends and family back in South Jersey giddy.

So much so that a parent at the rink took the liberty of creating a Johnny Hockey sign and taping it on the door himself.

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