HOCKEY PREVIEW: Catch Him If You Can
After A Flashy Freshman Campaign, Gaudreau Looks To Keep Improving
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
“Ferris State has got to find a way to get a hold of this bouncing puck.”
ESPN play-by-play man Gary Thorne senses the Bulldogs’ anxiety.
The game clock reads 3:10. There’s only one goal keeping Ferris State from forcing overtime with Boston College, and sophomore forward Kevin Hayes just flicked the puck out of the zone. The Bulldogs converge on the center of the ice in front of BC goalie Parker Milner hoping to score the tying goal, but only one player on the ice knows where the puck is really headed.
After skating to the red line upon Hayes’ clear, Johnny Gaudreau slowly makes his way to the right side of the ice near the blue line. Eagle defensemen chip the bouncing puck away from Ferris State and Gaudreau swoops in, swiping the puck up the ice.
Everything that happens next is as close to perfect as a hockey player can come.
There’s a Bulldog poking from behind, but he’s about to become a pawn in Gaudreau’s game. Somehow Gaudreau speeds past the trailing Bulldog while kicking the puck off his skate. He glides to the left of the net and hangs the puck out, letting the defender think he’s going for the dump—and then, just as the defender starts to poke, he swings the puck back to the right and stops it on the inside of his stick as if it’s on his own handmade string, splitting both the man in front of him and the trailer. The goalie scoots over to the right, but he’s about to see something he’s seldom, if ever, defended.
“It’s very rare to see backhand shots on goal,” head coach Jerry York said. “It’s usually slap-shots or snap-shots, but the backhand is kind of a neglected part of the game. It gives goaltenders fits because they don’t see it in practice.”
It’d be impossible for a 5-foot-8 freshman to backhand a shot into the high opposite corner of the net, right? No one does that.
Well, Johnny Gaudreau does that. The puck zooms into the net with ease and all the goaltender can do is turn his head and watch as BC clinches its fifth national championship. Gaudreau then sprints to the crowd and jumps into the boards as he’s mobbed by teammates.
“I was just so excited to get that two-goal lead to make it such a big difference between a 2-1 game and a 3-1 game with three minutes left,” Gaudreau said. “I think it gave our team on the bench a little bit more calmness knowing that we had a goal that we could give away. I think that’s what helped us. We weren’t all intense and nervous because it was only a one-goal game. I think it gave a boost in calming us down.”
Six months later, as Gaudreau prepares for his second season at BC, he admits that although he was successful, he still may not have made the best play.
“Thankfully I went with my instincts, but, I mean, at that time of the game I really should’ve dumped it in like my coaches always say,” Gaudreau said.
It wasn’t his first time, though. His father, Guy Gaudreau, has seen him make the exact same goal before, but never against that type of competition or on that big a stage.
“I really didn’t see a lot of the little things that he did happen until I got to watch it on TV,” his father said, “And then I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty impressive goal.’ His entire life he’s always been able to do those kinds of things, but I never thought he’d do it at that level.”
York insists that he’s okay with Gaudreau taking advantage of his creative ability.
“I’d hate to stifle offense because it’s hard to score goals,” York said. “If you’ve got creative players you’ve got to let them play.
“Now, having said that, late in a game where we’re protecting a lead …” York began before stopping himself. “But he saw an opening and he went for it and he certainly has the freedom to do that.”
Even to those who know him best, it came as a surprise that Gaudreau had the opportunity to make the play he did.
“I’m very proud of him and surprised he did as well as he did,” his father said. “Usually freshmen don’t get those kinds of opportunities. He was very fortunate to have a coaching staff that gave him those opportunities.
“When you’re a smaller player it usually takes a while to climb up in the ranks and prove yourself. We knew that Boston College has always given the smaller players chances so it was a good fit for my two boys and for John especially. Coach York, when he talked to the two boys, he said he knew their dream was to play pro hockey, which may never happen, but he told them he’d do whatever he could to get them there, as far as getting them bigger, stronger, and prepared physically.”
“We thought he was going to be a remarkable player,” York said. “We had seen him play at some different levels where he was clearly really a top level player, but even having said that I was still excited to see how much he improved during the year and how he just got better and better as the weeks went on and months went on.”