Here’s Johnny! Gaudreau is a “Shining” example of skill over size. At every level of hockey, he’s defied the odds and his detractors by proving size doesn’t matter. Ryan Kennedy explores Johnny Hockey’s rise in this in-depth profile.
From the Hollydell Arena he runs in New Jersey, Guy Gaudreau can practically see the hockey-mad city of Philadelphia, though in the small town of Carney’s Point, hockey has historically taken a backseat to the other major American sports. The most famous person to come out of the town is actor Bruce Willis, but there’s a new name on the scene, and it happens to be Gaudreau’s son John. Yes, in Carney’s Point, one of the most dynamic and unlikely hockey talents in generations is simply known to friends and family as ‘John,’ once a tyke whose dad put Skittles on the ice for him and his younger brother to skate toward while Guy was coaching 16-year-olds. “It entertained them for the hour,” Guy said. “They were really wired up by the time they were done.” But outside the confines of Riverside South Jersey, that tiny tyke is Calgary Flames right winger Johnny Gaudreau, a.k.a. ‘Johnny Hockey,’ a prospect whose legend grew so fast that the Flames literally had a private jet pick him up after his college career was finished so he and Boston College linemate Bill Arnold could be whisked away to join the NHL as soon as possible. And while Arnold is still learning the pro game one season later in the minors, Gaudreau is one of the top-scoring rookies in the NHL – not to mention one of the smallest in recent memory. When Calgary drafted Gaudreau in the fourth round in 2011 out of the USHL, the youngster was listed at 5-foot-6 and 137 pounds. He’s not a whole lot bigger now, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting together one of the most impressive pre-NHL careers around and silencing the many doubters he had.
“I’ve definitely been questioned at every level,” Gaudreau said. “When I was in AAA hockey it was whether I could make the jump to the USHL, or going from USHL to college, college to NHL. There’s always been those little people doubting me. A lot of people didn’t think I could make it, but I tried to prove them wrong.” Even his current GM in Calgary was on the fence back then. Brad Treliving was the assistant GM in Phoenix in 2011, and while there was no arguing with the fact Gaudreau had scored 36 goals in a USHL circuit where offense is earned the hard way, the most glaring numbers involved height and weight. “You can’t deny the skill set,” Treliving said. “But let’s be honest: we were worried. How is it going to translate? The credit goes to him. He’s been told he was too small since he picked up a stick and skates, and all he does is go out and play.”
Of course he’s one of the smallest players on the ice and of course he’s dominating, spinning off defenders behind the net and bewitching the helpless goaltender. He was one of just two outside players brought in to play on the Boston Icemen team for that tourney, and it would mark his early landing point in Alberta. For a kid who grew up on the East Coast and then played USHL in the Midwest, Gaudreau still had a lot to explore when he got to Calgary for his first rookie camp this past summer. “I had never seen a mountain before in my life until I got to Calgary,” he said. “Then the next day, I was hiking on one.” Johnny Hockey, top of the mountain. Seems about right. This is feature appears in the Feb. 16 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.