Taking It Higher
As Upperclassman, Gaudreau Looks to Bring Dazzling Game to Another Level
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Rensselaer goaltender Jason Kasdorf had the post covered. Not an inch was free. At 6-foot-4, Kasdorf specializes in taking up space. Even with the puck and an open skater dangling through the zone, there wasn't much of a chance for Boston College to create a scoring opportunity with Kasdorf covering the near post as he was.
Johnny Gaudreau isn't most players in the country. He saw what stood in front of him and processed it in an instant. Blazing through the right faceoff circle, Gaudreau gave the slightest nod toward the net to commit Kasdorf to the post and effortlessly circled the net with a patented wraparound in mind.
Kasdorf, an all-American-caliber goaltender in his own right, sprawled to his right to thwart the effort. He managed to kick it wide, just enough to keep the game 4-2. Gaudreau failed this time around, bested by a very worthy opponent. That scoring chance, though, came from nothing. Another opportunity Gaudreau created because he can do what few others can.
"I know how lucky I am to have skills with the puck like I do," Gaudreau said, reluctantly speaking of himself before instantly crediting everyone else on the ice for his own brilliance.
"Billy Arnold made a great pass, so I could take it with speed. Adam Gilmour did a good job rushing the net, and I just tried to wrap it around. Unfortunately, I mishandled it a bit, and the goalie was able to get over."
Starting his third season of college hockey, Gaudreau's exploits are well known. His generously listed 5-foot-8, 159-pound frame never impresses anyone. It's easy to be underwhelmed by him off the ice as well. In a world where "humble" and "classy" are used to describe every superstar athlete that doesn't openly mock his competition, Gaudreau brings it to a new level.
Sunday's 7-2 win over RPI was the 81st game of his career; his three points brought his total to 99 in a shade more than two seasons. Not once has he taken credit for the dazzling stickhandling that leaves defensemen scrambling or simple shots he manages to make unsaveable.
Even as the obvious star on a roster dripping with NHL talent, Gaudreau seems uncomfortable with his status as the catalyst and linchpin of the dominant BC offense.
"People want to talk to me after games," Gaudreau said. "I know it's part of it, but it's important that it's always just in the back of my mind, especially with all the young guys we have. What happens on the ice is more important. As a junior and a leader, I have to set a good example for (the young players) and show them that what's important is what's on the ice just like the older guys did when I was a freshman."
Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane, Steven Whitney, the list goes on, the Eagles' roster is annually filled with truly great college hockey players. The 2013-14 club is no different. However, for the first time since Gaudreau landed in Chestnut Hill, he and BC aren't the consensus favorite to win Hockey East. They aren't among the top choices to win a national championship either.
Their odds are good, of course, but Massachusetts-Lowell and Miami are the clubs rightfully atop the list of pundits and media types alike. Great players fill those rosters as well, none quite like Gaudreau. With that, the 2013-14 season is a potentially defining year for the junior. BC is a young team, especially on defense. Their goaltenders are inexperienced, and the offense doesn't boast the depth it has in previous years.
They have Gaudreau, though, and his continued excellence makes BC as much of a contender as any team in the nation, especially as the young, talented players around him adjust to college hockey.
"We don't have the same roster we had when I was a freshman," he said. "Our freshmen are great hockey players, though. It's not easy to come in right away and put up the same numbers you did before. They're going to help us win games."
Gaudreau's right that it isn't easy for young players to contribute instantly. This is the case for most, not him. As a freshman in 2011-12, Gaudreau scored 21 goals and assisted on 23 more to finish second in scoring behind Kreider on a national championship team. He improved on this as a sophomore, and he expects to do the same this year, knowing he must for his Eagles to get where they were two seasons ago.
"Definitely, " he said when asked if he feels pressure. "We all know we have to produce on the ice.
"I remember the feeling of my freshman year when we won all those trophies. Last year, only winning (the Beanpot) didn't feel very good. I know both feelings now. I've always been motivated, but I'm even more motivated having experienced both of those."
Sunday afternoon, Boston College's home schedule opened with a 7-2 win against RPI. Despite the scoreline, RPI carried a majority of the play, especially in the first period, outshooting BC, 13-2. When those first 20 minutes expired, the score read 1-1.
Freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko made a handful of quality saves in his collegiate debut. Senior Kevin Hayes scored the Eagles' goal.
It was Gaudreau's assist, naturally, that made the play. His work to maneuver through the tightest of holes and draw defenders then the awareness to leave the puck for the charging Hayes was yet another defining moment for the celebrated winger. The Eagles, rightfully, have more to prove than they usually do this season. Other teams are more experienced. Other teams performed better down the stretch last season.
Those teams don't have Johnny Gaudreau. He won't be the sole reason BC wins championships this season if it does. There's no question, though, that he'll be the biggest.