When ‘Johnny Hockey’ comes marching home again

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) – When the Delaware Valley last saw John
Gaudreau of Carneys Point, New Jersey, he represented Boston College in
the early national semifinal against Union in the 2014 Frozen Four which took
place last April.

He was fresh off an eight-point performance in a two-game NCAA regional, the
prohibitive favorite to be voted the top player in all of college hockey,
and soon to record a goal and two assists in his final collegiate contest, a
5-4 loss to eventual champion Dutchmen.

On Tuesday night, he stepped onto the ice at Wells Fargo Center for the
Calgary Flames against his hometown Philadelphia Flyers. He did so as a Calder
Trophy candidate, with his number retired by alma mater Gloucester
Catholic a day earlier.

He’s also trailing behind him a cute little nickname — that started as a
harmless on-campus thing — which he’s decided to file for a trademark, a la
current Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

“I’d trademark it if I were him, too. When everyone’s calling you something,
somebody’s going to use it for their benefit,” said Flyers winger Wayne

Gaudreau, the 5-foot-9, 155-pound forward has encountered a large dose of
success less than a year into his professional career. The soon-to-be 22-year-
old should be wise not to let “Johnny Hockey” (TM pending) ever get the best
of him.

Business is business, and in the league’s attempt to sell the game and its
dynamic players, you have to engage in a little cult of personality — let
something splashy speak for you when you’re operating several inches shorter
and more than two dozen pounds lighter than the NHL’s average player.

It’s easier when you’re coming in hot, torching any and all outside
expectations which come with small stature and a fourth-round selection.

Gaudreau hit southern Alberta last spring as the reigning Hobey Baker Award
winner, and scored in his first NHL game on his very first shot.

In his first full campaign for a Flames club angling for playoff position
thanks to an infusion of youth, he ranks second to Nashville’s Filip Forsberg
in points for all rookies (44) and is tied for fourth in goals (15) by
freshmen. He also gained a bit of fame (or infamy depending on your
perspective) at the All-Star Game for being Jake Voracek’s shooting proxy.

Even to be considered for the Calder and potentially breaking the chain of
a long line of Hobey hopefuls who flickered out once they reached The Show, it
could cause a little bit of an identity crisis for those not ready to handle
the responsibility.

A homecoming is always good for proper perspective.

At Gloucester Catholic, the Rams uniform suspiciously looks a lot like his
Boston College duds, down to the color scheme, piping and trim. Gaudreau
played three years there, under his father Guy, before departing for Dubuque
of the United States Hockey League. After honoring him on Monday, no one will
wear his No. 3 again.

“It was exciting for me, to head back to my old high school, to see a ton of
teachers who really helped me improve in the school aspect of things. I would
have never gotten to BC and done as well at BC if it weren’t for a ton of help
from people at that school. I’m fortunate and very honored to be a part of
something special like that.”

Another good thing to provide some grounding is a scoring slump.

Until his secondary assist on Jiri Hudler’s game-winner in overtime, Gaudreau
failed to register a point in three straight games, his longest drought since
opening the year pointless in five. He also hasn’t scored since a two-goal
effort on Jan. 27 against Buffalo, a span which reached 15 games.

Cue the perfunctory questions about the length of a college season against the
six-month slog in the NHL, but Gaudreau’s got a good grip on where he stands.

“It’s definitely more of an adjustment, going from a 40-game season to an 80-
game schedule and it’s something I need to learn throughout my career,”
Gaudreau said following a morning practice session.

That schedule has been incredibly providential this week.

In addition to returning to Philadelphia, Gaudreau’s next stop on Calgary’s
road trip just so happens to be on Thursday, when the speedy winger returns to
his adopted home of Boston for the very first time as a pro. It’s nothing
short of a crash course in front of the cameras and learning how to operate in
tight spaces when everyone wants a piece of the action.

“Yeah that’s a little bit of a change, the media. There’s a lot more than I’m
used to,” he said after the Flames’ 3-2 overtime decision. “You know I get to
see a ton of friends and family and it’s an exhausting trip but at the same
time it’s something I try to take all in.”

The nostalgia’s going to wear off, though, and pretty quickly as the Flames
are trying to lock up a playoff berth over the final 19 games. That’s the
business to which John Gaudreau the hockey player should be tending, and not
some vague notions of cashing in on a manufactured persona.

How he balances team success with personal recognition will determine just how
far another in a long line of Jerry York-coached champions can hold up in the
North American pressure cooker.