Frozen Four: Will Gaudreau's dominance translate to the NHL?

Posted: April 10, 2014

Sometimes, Guy Gaudreau would put the nets back-to-back at center ice.

Sometimes, he would put each net in the corner, facing the boards, and have his players go three-on-three in a pie slice of the rink.

"We did this at the end of every practice for years and years," said Mike Green, the head coach at Bishop Eustace Prep and a longtime assistant to Guy Gaudreau for a series of South Jersey travel teams that featured Gaudreau's son, Johnny.

On Thursday night, Johnny Gaudreau will lead Boston College against Union College in the NCAA Frozen Four in the Wells Fargo Center. Minnesota plays North Dakota in the other national semifinal, with the title game set for Saturday night.

A junior left winger, Gaudreau is widely regarded as college hockey's best player, its most creative player, and its most intriguing player. That's his latest hat trick.

Gaudreau, who leads the nation with 77 points (35 goals, 42 assists) in 39 games and set an NCAA record this season by scoring in 31 consecutive games, is the heavy favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award, college ice hockey's equivalent to college football's Heisman Trophy. The winner will be announced Friday.

Gaudreau has defied conventional wisdom since he was a 5-year-old dazzling his coaches and teammates with his skating, stick skills, and surreal vision in those unorthodox three-on-three games.

But what was true then remains true today: Gaudreau is both celebrated for his uncanny knack for dominating hockey games as the smallest player on the ice and surrounded by skepticism about his ability to continue his success at the next level.

And the next level, at long last, is the NHL.

"It's a man's game," an NHL scouting director who asked not to be identified said in discussing Gaudreau as an NHL prospect. "He's a special guy. Maybe he'll be one of the little guys who beats the odds. But the odds are not in his favor."

The 5-foot-8, 159-pound Gaudreau has a tough decision ahead of him. When this season is over, Gaudreau must choose whether to sign with the Calgary Flames, who made him a fourth-round draft pick in 2011, or return to Boston College for his senior season.

Although he's focused on helping his team to its second national title in three years, Gaudreau admits the decision has weighed on his mind - and created a difference of opinion within his family.

Gaudreau said his mother, Jane, wants him to return to Boston College; earn his degree in communications; and spend another season playing with his brother Matt, an Eagles' freshman.

Guy Gaudreau, the rink manager at Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, sees things from a different angle.

"As a hockey person, not as a father, I think he needs another level to play at," Guy Gaudreau said. "As his mom and dad, we think it's very important that he get his education."

Johnny Gaudreau admits he has been wrestling with his decision.

"It's tough," Johnny Gaudreau said. "My mom really wants me to stay, and I want her to be comfortable with my decision. I feel like either will be a good decision for me."

Gaudreau played three years at Gloucester Catholic High School with his father as the coach. He was a magician on the ice, once scoring 10 points (five goals, five assists) in a game against Green's Bishop Eustace team.

"I knew him, and we couldn't stop him," Green said. "He was just smiling at me the whole time."

Gaudreau skipped his senior year at Gloucester Catholic - another reason his mother wants him to experience his senior year in college - to play in Iowa for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League.

He was 17 years old, stood about 5-foot-7, and weighed about 140 pounds. He scored 72 points (36 goals, 36 assists) in 60 games and was named the league's rookie of the year.

His coach at Dubuque was former Flyer Jim Montgomery, who is now the head coach at the University of Denver. In the regional semifinals two weeks ago, Gaudreau scored six points - three goals, three assists - in a 6-2 win over Denver, the second-highest total in an NCAA hockey tournament game.

"Montgomery knew him, knew he had to stop him, and Johnny goes out and does that," Green said.

Gaudreau chose Boston College in part because of veteran coach Jerry York's experience in developing smaller players. Gaudreau scored 44 points (21 goals, 23 assists) in 44 games as a freshman, was named the MVP of both the Beanpot Tournament and the Hockey East conference tournament, and helped the Eagles to the national title.

Gaudreau has improved each season, according to his coach.

"He's a dominant, dominant player at our level," York said.

Quiet and unassuming, Gaudreau is hockey's version of a basketball gym rat.

"If the Flames told him he had to play for nothing, he would do it," Guy Gaudreau said. "He's happiest when he's on the ice."

Gaudreau said he is motivated by skeptics who question his ability to play in the NHL because of his size.

"I've heard that my whole career, and it's always motivated me," Gaudreau said. "It still pushes me to prove people wrong."

On the ice, Gaudreau is like a basketball point guard with a feel for creating and identifying opportunities for himself and his teammates. He plays the game with flair, favoring no-look passes and seeing angles and openings that few other players can imagine.

When Gaudreau was a freshman, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose referred to the athlete's "three-dimensional vision" and compared him in that regard to Wayne Gretzky.

Green believes much of Gaudreau's sense of anticipation is an innate talent. But he also believes Guy Gaudreau brought out qualities in his son with those unusual three-on-three games at the end of every practice.

"Guy let him be that creative," Green said. "It was like they were playing in the schoolyard, just having fun and using their imaginations.

"Johnny learned to see everything on the ice. He always knows where everybody is on the ice because he knows they could be anywhere."


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|