June 11, 2014

BC's Gaudreau goes from Heights to Hobey

By Andrew Merritt

Johnny Gaudreau became the third Eagle to win the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's most coveted individual prize. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

PHILADELPHIA — Johnny Gaudreau’s past and future stared at each other from across the ballroom in downtown Philadelphia like teenagers at a school dance. For just a brief few moments, with a few hundred people watching, they met before parting again for good.

On one side, you had the Calgary Flames, a moribund NHL franchise desperately in need of a star since the departure of Jarome Iginla. On the other side, you had the dozens of teammates, coaches and fans from Boston College who came to see the Eagles’ golden boy just one more time.

In the middle was Gaudreau, taking his final steps as a Boston College hockey player.

Those steps brought him up to the dais with former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, St. Lawrence senior Greg Carey and St. Cloud senior Nic Dowd. Rendell was there to present the 2014 Hobey Baker Award, and while Carey and Dowd each had tremendous seasons, there was very little doubt that Gaudreau would walk out of the Millennium Ballroom at the Loews Hotel with college hockey’s biggest individual honor in tow.

And when the April 11 ceremony was over, that’s just what he did. Rendell announced Gaudreau as the winner of the award to a long round of applause from the somewhat partisan crowd of BC supporters who had come to Philadelphia in hopes of seeing their Eagles lift another national championship trophy.

Just hours before the ceremony began, word leaked out that Gaudreau had signed a contract with the Flames that would bring him to Calgary this year and nullify his senior season at BC. Much like the Hobey voting, it was an unsurprising development, as Gaudreau’s incredible junior season and the Flames’ desire to get him into the NHL fold sooner rather than later were strong suggestions that Gaudreau was moving on.

Gaudreau was a Hobey candidate a year ago, and an argument could be made for him being a more deserving choice than St. Cloud’s Drew LeBlanc, who had eight fewer goals and one less point than Gaudreau in 2012-13. But there was some kismet in Gaudreau winning the award this season, as the ceremony took place in conjunction with the Frozen Four in Philadelphia, some 25 miles from his hometown of Carneys Point, N.J.

“It’s definitely exciting to win it wherever you are, but being close to home, I had a whole bunch of family and friends here, and they got to watch me play last night,” Gaudreau said. “It’s really exciting, and I’m pretty happy to get the chance to be a part of this.”

About “last night,” Gaudreau’s big moment was overshadowed somewhat by the Eagles’ loss to Union the night before in the national semifinals. Gaudreau had a goal and two assists in the game, bringing his season total to 80 points — the most by a college player since Peter Sejna’s 82 in 2002-03.

Gaudreau had hoped to become just the sixth Hobey winner to also take the national crown. Instead, he and the Eagles were headed out of Philly before the night was over.

“It’s tough to win this and not be playing with my team tomorrow night,” he said. “The guys were here supporting me, and I wish I could’ve done a little bit more to help them get to that Saturday night game.”

Regardless of whether he did enough to help his team in the semifinal — and it’s hard to believe he didn’t — Gaudreau was simply masterful in his third and final year at BC. Not only did his 36 goals, 44 assists and 80 points all lead the nation, his next closest challenger had 15 fewer points. Of course, that challenger happened to be his linemate Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.), who along with Gaudreau and Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) formed undoubtedly the best trio in the country this year. Hayes was also one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

“It’s been a memorable experience playing with those two guys,” Gaudreau said. “Kevin Hayes is a great, great player, offensively and defensively. Bill Arnold is one of the better players I’ve ever gotten the chance to play with, offensively and defensively, and those two guys have been great friends off the ice. I’m excited to see how well they’re going to do at the next level.”

The 5-foot-8, 159-pound Gaudreau is the latest in a long line of diminutive Eagles who have played well beyond their size. In fact, it’s become a hallmark of coach Jerry York’s Boston College teams to have at least one pint-sized powder keg in the lineup. Brian Gionta, Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe have been the cream of that crop, and all three advanced to find success in the pro ranks.

“Right from the get-go, he’s added a whole dimension to our team, similar to the Gerbes, Atkinsons and Giontas — a smaller player, but strength on their skates made them play a lot bigger, and creativity off the charts,” said York (Watertown, Mass.). “Ben Eaves had that also. Really a pleasure to coach, and he’s going to play in Vancouver on Sunday, so that should be interesting.”

Indeed, Gaudreau was headed out the door to begin his pro career, and it didn’t take him long to make a splash at the next level, either. Two nights later, he tipped a Joe Colborne shot past Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom for his first NHL goal.

Gaudreau had a friend with him in Arnold, who also signed with the Flames the afternoon before the Hobey ceremony. Though Hayes wasn’t coming with them — he’s a Chicago prospect who elected not to sign before the playoffs — it was a chance for the two new Flames to bring some of their BC magic to Calgary.

“Johnny makes that line go. It’s his skill level; he draws two or three defenders every time and it really opens up the space for me and Kevin, and just getting to play with them, two Hobey finalists, was a really special thing for me,” said Arnold, who had a hit and played 13:35 in his NHL debut.

A car waited outside the hotel to take Gaudreau, Arnold and their families to a nearby airport where the Flames had chartered a plane to bring their two newest players up to Canada. And it had to wait a while.

Gaudreau spent about an hour meeting with well-wishers and autograph seekers, and taking photos with the Hobey Baker trophy. It’s the third time Hobey has gone to Boston College, after Mike Mottau (Avon, Mass.) won it in 2000 and David Emma (Cranston, R.I.) won it in 1991.

Gaudreau had plenty of time posing with the trophy. But he and his family also had a chance to take photos with a new Flames jersey that had his name and new number (53) on the back.

In the snap of a few camera shutters, Johnny Gaudreau’s impressive past gave way to his promising future.

This article originally appeared in the May edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

Twitter: @A_Merritt

Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com