Johnny Gaudreau is coming off his best season of hockey. He hopes to continue his success throughout this tournament in Minsk.
Say this for Johnny Gaudreau: He has a knack for making people pay attention. In his first ever game at the World Junior Championship, Gaudreau scored a hat trick and then he did in his NHL debut last month against the Vancouver Canucks. And in Team USA’s opener in Minsk Arena, Gaudreau scored his first senior men’s national team goal on a fierce shot using a defenceman as a screen.
If the international community did not know about “Johnny Hockey” before this tournament, they will now.
“I’ve been working all my college career on getting shots through a screen using the defenceman,” Gaudreau said of his effort. “I’ve been getting better and better at it over time.”
Gaudreau said that New York Rangers forward and at the time Boston College teammate Chris Kreider tried to teach him how to create offence using shots like that in his first few weeks as a college freshman in 2011.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” laughed Gaudreau. “Throughout that season Kreider helped me out and I just tried to get better and better. It’s a big part of my game now.”
Gaudreau is getting better and learning from his very preliminary World Championship experience. With NHL veterans on the team and other young players with more international experience than he possesses, the New Jersey native is soaking it up.
“There are a lot of really good players here who are leaders on their teams,” Gaudreau remarked about the makeup of his team. “It’s good for me to play with these players, watch them on the ice and be in the same room with them. I learn a little bit more every day.”
Gaudreau was perhaps the most exciting amateur prospect in college hockey this season. In 40 games with Boston College he scored 80 points, averaging two points per game. He attributes his success to playing with Kevin Hayes, who also happens to be on this Team USA squad, and his coach with Boston College, Jerry York.
“It’s been a whirlwind season and I got to play with Kevin Hayes, who is a great player who has helped me out a lot,” said Gaudreau. “Coach York also put me in situations to improve my game and become a better player.”
Once Boston College’s season was over, Gaudreau turned pro. In making the jump to professional hockey, the change has been noticeable. Despite early success, Gaudreau will have to work at it to perform at the elite level of his sport.
“It is a lot different than the college level,” he said. “I think that game I played in Calgary really helped me out in preparing for this tournament. I didn’t know what to expect for my first game with a lot of veteran guys, veterans like Jiri Hudler and Mike Cammalleri told me to relax and play my game out there. But playing that first game helped me come out here and play a little bit more positive.”
It is promising to see an American player with the enthusiasm Gaudreau has for representing Team USA at the World Championship. There’s a certain wide-eyed awe in being a part of the team at this tournament but also the calm, mature demeanor of a young professional seeking to contribute.
“It is special every time you put on the USA Hockey jersey and play for the country,” he said. “I’ve got the chance to do this a few times now and it is an honor and a privilege to wear it and that the coaching staff and Jim Johannson (Assistant Executive Director, Hockey Operations) trust me to come out and play for this team.”
Needless to say, this trip to the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship caps the most thrilling season Gaudreau has experienced to date. It’s a fact not lost on him.
“It is exciting. Every single time you step on the ice you and put on a pair of skates it is special. Not everyone gets the chance to play in tournaments like this or play in the NHL so you have to make the most of it. Just play my game.”