Johnny Gaudreau’s black Under Armour shirt was drenched in sweat as he stood with a relaxed smile, holding the puck from his first NHL goal in the visitor’s locker room at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.
The 20-year-old had just made his debut with the Calgary Flames and scored on his first shot on goal.
It was a fitting end to a whirlwind weekend that concluded with a culmination of Gaudreau’s childhood dreams coming true, and he could finally take a breath and reflect on it.
“It was nice to get that goal out of the way,” he admitted. “I never thought that I’d ever get the chance to do something like play in the NHL. I was excited to be there. I had so many different emotions playing in that first game.”
Those emotions began four days earlier, on Thursday, April 10, in what would be the last time Gaudreau would compete in a Boston College Eagles uniform.
Despite receiving a goal from Gaudreau, the Eagles fell to Union College (N.Y.), 5-4, in the Frozen Four semifinals at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The loss crushed Gaudreau’s hopes of making it back to the final for the first time since he helped BC claim the 2012 title as a freshman.
The weekend, however, was just getting started for the 5-foot-8 winger.
Gaudreau remained in Philadelphia on Friday, and stepped up to the podium at Lowes Hotel, Center City to become the first player from New Jersey to accept the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
“There was such a great turnout from my high school and a few teachers came out to watch me win the Hobey Baker Award,” he reminisced. “There was a lot of help and support from them when I was in high school even to today. If I ever need anything I know that a whole lot of people are going to be there for me.”
It only seemed fitting that the ceremony took place just across the Delaware River from where Gaudreau had put a young Gloucester Catholic hockey program on the map. The Carneys Point, N.J. native spent three years at the South Jersey private school. The last of which, in 2010, saw him lead the Rams to their only NJSIAA Non-Public state championship appearance, where they fell to a powerhouse Delbarton program, 7-2.
“Those were a couple of great seasons that I had over at Gloucester Catholic,” Gaudreau said. “It’s definitely something that is pretty special to me to be able to help Gloucester Catholic get to where it is now.”
Following his trip to the state championships, Gaudreau transferred to Dubuque High in Iowa for his senior year of high school and joined the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.
While his offense was good enough to rank him fourth in the league in scoring with 72 points, and be named USHL’s rookie of the year, Gaudreau also developed a two-way game.
After a Clark Cup-winning season in Dubuque, Gaudreau headed to Chestnut Hill to join the storied Boston College program. Under the watch of BC’s legendary head coach Jerry York, Gaudreau was able to find a balance to his game and started to become a complete hockey player, both physically and mentally.
“I think a lot of it was that Coach York helped me out a ton off the ice and on the ice,” he said. “He wanted to make sure that we had a balanced schedule and we were doing well with our studies and working out. He is a great coach on the ice and I learned a lot from him. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
Gaudreau’s impact was immediate and he helped Boston College claim the Frozen Four title his freshman year. As a sophomore he competed for Team USA in the World Junior Championships. He finished the tournament tied for the team led with nine points and lead the USA to its third WJC gold medal. He saved his best collegiate season for last and finished his junior year with 80 points in 40 games.
Only two days after the conclusion of his junior season and a day after winning the Hobey Baker, Gaudreau signed an entry-level deal with Calgary, who had selected him in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Gaudreau, who admittedly is not a big fan of flying, hopped on a plane alongside fellow Boston College linemate and Calgary prospect Billy Arnold to join the Flames and prepare for their final game of the year.
Even though Gaudreau shed his amateur status and earned a spot on the U.S. Men’s National Team competing at the IIHF World Championship in Belarus this May, his work at Boston College is not complete yet and that starts with a promise he made to his mother.
“I promised my mom that if I wanted to leave early, I still had to finish my degree,” he said. “That is a promise that I’m going to make sure I keep.”