It is unusual to see a true freshman suit up for a Division I hockey team. Then again, John Gaudreau is not your typical freshman.
Only months removed from leading the Dubuque Fighting Saints to a Clark Cup Championship and being named the USHL Rookie of the Year, Gaudreau is preparing for his latest challenge: playing for the Boston College Eagles.
Even though the 5-foot-7 center has succeeded at every level, he recognizes that playing for the preseason No. 5 Eagles will be a unique challenge. The USHL, he says, is fast but not as fast as the college game. As a 17-year-old, he is not as developed or experienced as the players he will be competing against, as most college hockey players spend two years in leagues like the USHL honing their skills.
“Since I’m only a true freshman it’s going to be hard work to try to get into game speed and transition into the college level,” he explained.
Last year, Gaudreau was faced with a similar challenge. After playing for the Gloucester Catholic Rams and for the AAA Team Comcast, he made the jump to the faster-paced and more intense USHL.
That story ended with a championship, gaudy statistics, numerous individual accolades and invaluable experience. It also ended with him being drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) by the Calgary Flames, something he hadn’t expected.
The Flames think highly of the Carneys Point native. In a meeting, Ron Sutter, the Player Development Coach, called him one of the most skilled players in the draft and told him if he put on 30 pounds he might even play for the Flames in the future.
Right now, though, Gaudreau is focusing on making the most of his time at Boston College. Originally committed to Northeastern University, he decided to leave when the coaches who had recruited him, including head coach Greg Cronin, moved on to different teams.
As soon as he was released from his commitment, the phone started ringing. Hockey powerhouses like North Dakota, defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, and New Hampshire all vied for his attention.
In the end, he chose BC because of its emphasis on up-tempo, skilled hockey.
“A lot of the guys who go to the NHL from the team are small players,” Gaudreau said. “BC’s known for small players, and we [Gaudreau and his younger brother, Matt, who is also committed to BC] thought it was the best fit for us.”
So far, Gaudreau has been proving he belongs on the Eagles.
“In our initial practices, it’s clearly evident why he has had such success in midget hockey and the USHL,” Boston College head coach Jerry York said. “His hockey IQ is exceptionally high. His creativity is in a special category.”
“We feel as though he’s going to be an integral part of our club this year.”
Known for his quickness, creativity and on-ice vision, he is both a playmaker and a finisher. While he says that he uses the Philadelphia Flyers’ Danny Briere as a model, he has elicited comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane Cam Atkinson.
In practice, he has played on lines with BC stars such as Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney.
“I was watching them on TV last year and now I’m playing with them,” Gaudreau said. “It’s pretty exciting to be on the ice with them let alone playing with them.”
He is also working on freeing himself from the “too small” label by gaining weight.
“He was most excited that he put on eight pounds in a month. I said ‘that’s college food for you, you better translate that into muscle,’” his father and Gloucester Catholic hockey coach Guy Gaudreau said, with a laugh.
“I have pretty good meal plan here so that helps me out a lot,” Gaudreau, who went from 147 to 155 pounded, added.
Despite all of his success, Gaudreau is remaining grounded. He understands that, as a true freshman, he has a tough road ahead of him. His main goals are to play every game and contribute as much as possible to the team’s success. One day, he hopes to win a national championship and fill the shoes of past BC greats.
He is also not forgetting where he came from and how he got there. Gaudreau dedicated his life to hockey, giving up everything from proms, dates and his senior year of high school at Gloucester Catholic.
“It’s definitely worth it now, getting drafted,” Gaudreau said. “Just looking back on my hockey career, I’d still give it up—all the proms and stuff—to keep playing. I had to do it. That’s why I’m here.”
And when asked what contributed most to his success, he gave much of the credit to his father, a co-manager at the Hollydell Ice Arena in Washington Township.
“Whenever I have time to skate, I have free ice whenever I want. He’s pretty cool about that and he always hops on the ice with me, teaching me stuff,” Gaudreau explained. “He’s always been there for me so he’s probably one of the main reasons why I’ve been able to play at this level in the USHL. Hopefully I can play as well at the college level as I did in the USHL.”