If ever there was a player destined to suit up for the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s Boston College freshman forward Johnny Gaudreau.
The first-year sensation was born in Carneys Point, New Jersey – and for now is the second most famous name to come from the Salem County town nestled on the Delaware River – on a day of incredible luck for his hometown Philadelphia Phillies.
On August 13, 1993, the Phils were on the verge of completing one of the most surprising regular seasons in franchise history, rolling out to a 73-42 record and leading the NL East by a hefty eight games over the St. Louis Cardinals. Trailing 5-4 to the last-place Mets at Veterans Stadium, the hosts roared back with a five-run ninth inning, capped by Kim Batiste’s pinch-hit grand slam off sad-sack reliever Anthony Young.
But that bit of serendipity apparently didn’t trickle down to the powers that be inside the big building on South Broad Street.
Gaudreau isn’t going to play for Philadelphia any time soon. He might dress for a game in his hometown arena a few years from now, but it will most likely be in the Red, Black and Yellow of the Calgary Flames, who selected him in the fourth round this past June.
If the praise from his more seasoned teammates is any indication, he may cause a little trouble for the Flyers and the other 28 NHL teams if his growth remains on track.
“Johnny’s skills are incredible. His own teammates will marvel the stuff that he does in practice. He is a team first guy, and that is a good recipe,” noted BC senior defenseman and captain Tommy Cross after the Eagles beat Maine for the Hockey East title on March 17. “He is very humble and for the most part he has been really consistent his freshman year and that is really impressive. I know that I admire some of the stuff he does on the ice.”
And despite being thrust into a program, run by legendary head coach Jerry York, which has made a national imprint thanks to five NCAA title-game appearances and three victories since 2000, the winger recognizes he’s only part of the puzzle.
“It is more important that we won the big trophy with the team,” Gaudreau admitted following a 4-1 victory over their bitter rivals. “We have had a lot of success from every single player on the team. We are so close in the locker room. We’ve been a close team together and that has helped up along the way.”
Krys Kolanos. Chuck Kobasew. Brian Boyle. Nathan Gerbe. Cam Atkinson. Five former BC Eagles during this current run of success who are currently employed by NHL clubs. All four were distinguished players on the Heights, but only Kobasew (in his lone season, a championship year in Chestnut Hill of 2000-01) made more of a splash than Gaudreau during his 19-goal, 39-point performance thus far.
That year, the pride of Osoyoos, BC – now a member of the Colorado Avalanche – skated onto a team that was loaded with talent and had revenge in their sights after losing the previous year to North Dakota. He departed for the pros armed with a 27-goal, 49-point campaign following a Kolanos-fueled OT win over the Sioux in Albany, but it appears Gaudreau is in it for the long haul.
One other thing both Gaudreau and Kobasew have in common besides white-hot freshman seasons, is that both took home Hockey East Tournament MVP honors. They did so exactly 11 years apart to the day, the latter after a BC win over Providence.
Gaudreau’s sudden emergence has taken some of the strain off a lineup which suffered some key losses – just as the 2000 team did before winning it all the next year thanks to the injection of players like Kobasew.
“We had some concerns coming into the year,” York said in February around the time of the Beanpot, whose MOP honors Gaudreau also won. “That senior class [Joe Whitney, Brian Gibbons, and John Muse] was such a dynamic class for us. Then when Atkinson, Jimmy Hayes and Philip (son of Ulf) Samuelsson left, all of a sudden we were looking at not just the Whitney, Gibbons, and Muse troika. All of a sudden, it became six. That was the heart and soul of our club.”
And now this 18-year-old figures to be a heart-and-soul type player for York, an unexpected bonus along with such skill at an early age. Heart and soul. Qualities which have defined a metric ton of talent for the Orange and Black. Qualities which Gaudreau will need to make it in the pros, as he clocks in at 5-foot-7 and barely over 150 pounds.
For Flyers fans, it will be another case of The Smiths, i.e. “I want the one I can’t have” watching this homegrown talent ply his trade for another organization.
For now, you can dream of what could be starting tomorrow afternoon, as his #1 overall seeded and #1 in the nation Eagles kick off NCAA tourney action against Air Force in Worcester at 4 p.m. (et), putting a 15-game win streak on the line.