As his father, Guy, said, “If you have a small son, that’s where you want him to go.”
On the ice at 2
Already, Gaudreau has helped deliver a national championship, his goal against Ferris State in the 2012 title game sealing the verdict with three minutes to play, as the freshman took two defenders one-on-one for the score.
He is, as York said, the player that brings you out of your seat. You can’t look away.
“I think he is able to understand and process the game better than anyone I’ve ever played with,” Mullane said. “He finds himself in positions that other people aren’t because he understands the game and he can think so many steps ahead.”
He’s elusive, slippery, a Patrick Kane-type who always wants the puck. He reads players’ weaknesses, reads puck movement, knows where to be. And he isn’t afraid to go into traffic, even with the size disadvantage.
Part of that came from growing up in Carneys Point, N.J., on the ice, skates on at 2 years old, raised by a former college player who ran a rink. He couldn’t hold himself up that young, so he lay down on the ice.
There were drills pushing tires across the rink to learn to skate with only his lower body. There were full practices without pucks. He found his vision there, his skating ability.
“When I started both boys in hockey, it was because I loved the game of hockey,” said Guy, of Johnny and his younger brother Matt, who is also expected to go to BC. “I just wanted them to love the game and enjoy it more than anything else. I created monsters.”
When Mullane’s skate laces are wildly uneven, one side long enough to wrap around his waist, one shorter than a finger, he knows whom to blame. It’s a prank Gaudreau performs often, gleefully watching as Mullane takes the ice five minutes late.
Gaudreau doesn’t necessarily react quite so well when the joke is on him.
“That,” said Jim Montgomery, who coached Gaudreau in the US Hockey League, “was the only time where I noticed the Napoleon in him come out.”
But it makes sense. It fits. He is, as Mullane said, “that annoying little brother that just kind of hangs around and you love him for it.”
He needs the sauce off his pasta. He hates vegetables, the nutritionist at BC often scolding him for the lack of greenery in his weekly food journal. He favors Skittles and Mountain Dew and chocolate chip cookies. He giggles, often.
There is maturation that still needs to happen, which is one of the reasons Gaudreau’s family is fighting off the advances by Calgary to get him into the NHL. His father says he will play at least his junior season in Chestnut Hill, and perhaps his senior as well.
“He looks like he’s 12 and he still acts like he’s 12 sometimes,” Guy said. “He’s just finishing up puberty.
“Any player that’s played with him, in the locker room with him, will tell you that he’s still very young. He might be 19, but he’s still probably in the body of a 17-year-old boy.”
His game, though, far outstrips his physical readiness. He knows what he wants. He wants the puck. That hasn’t changed since he was 3 years old.
“There’s a tiger inside that little body that comes out every time he’s on the ice,” Montgomery said. “He uses his brains to win those one-on-one battles and loose puck battles, with his stick and his feet.
“That’s why people say he’s going to be able to do it when he goes to the pro level. Yes, he is. The best predictor of the future is your past and Johnny’s past is better than anybody’s.”