ILLUSTRATIONS - THEO LAMAR
Entering his seventh NHL season as a Calgary Flame, Johnny Gaudreau made waves on his way to the NHL earning the Hobey Baker Award in 2014 as the NCAA’s best player while playing for Boston College and for his role in winning a gold medal for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. This past season, he finished eighth overall in NHL scoring thanks to his precision, stick-handling, and an exceptional offensive intelligence.
You succeeded in a difficult transition from college to the NHL. What advice would you give another player based on your experience?
You need to learn a lot really quickly. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself not playing in the NHL very fast. Coming into training camps out of shape and not as prepared as the rest of the team, that is something that isn’t just going to hurt yourself, but will hurt your team. That’s something that I had in the back of my mind when I was working out over the summer in the gym and on the ice. It’s not just for me, it’s for the rest of my team.
Coming into the league, you get the chance to play against players you grew up watching and admiring. What was it like playing against top players like Sidney Crosby?
I was in shock when I got to play against Sidney Crosby the first time. You see him on the ice and hear from different players in interviews [that] he is the hardest working guy on the ice. It’s not surprising how successful he is because of the way he works. When you see the most skilled guys in the league, and their teammates are talking about how hard they work, that’s something that you pick up on.
What has your experience been on the camaraderie that is built between teammates on an NHL squad?
From the first day that I got here, even though we went through different coaches, the majority of the guys that I was playing with are still here. From the first rookie camp and that first year as a rookie, they made me feel really welcome. They didn’t make me feel like a rookie, they made me feel like I was a part of the team. That was the mindset we had in the Flames organization, and that is the mindset we have now. That is something that has stuck with our team and our identity, and it has been great to be a part of it.
The goal for the team is to win, but what is your personal goal to contribute to that bigger aim?
It’s about getting better every day. You don’t take practice or workouts for granted. Mark Giordano is one of the hardest working guys on our team on the ice and off the ice. It’s easy to get better when you have your captain working as hard as he does every day. I’ve been fortunate to learn and train with him for the past five to six years, which has made a difference for me.
Is there a specific part of your game that you’d like to improve on?
Each year, my aim is to get better in the defensive zone. Being smart in your own defensive zone and helping your team out at that end of the ice isn’t as much fun to do but it helps your team win games. That’s something I’ve been aiming to get better at over the years. I’ve been fortunate because Mark takes a lot of pride in his defensive game. He is a guy I get to skate with and play against in practice every day, and that has helped me in the long run.
"When you see the most skilled guys in the league, and their teammates are talking about how hard they work, that's something that you pick up on."
The odds of making it into the NHL are so extreme and most people look at size as a major factor. How did you maintain the belief that you could make it, especially as a smaller guy?
Growing up, it was my parents. My dad was always a smaller guy and grew up playing hockey. He always made sure that I believed in myself, and would say, “when you are playing with bigger guys, you gotta be faster than them and work harder than them.” [Having] that mindset was really important. When I got into the NHL, my first year I got to play with a guy named Jiří Hudler who was a smaller guy and won a Stanley Cup. He really helped me believe in myself and made sure I was working hard each day. He was a role model for me when I was playing with him.
Of all of the goals you’ve scored, which one was the most meaningful to you?
It was my first NHL goal. I came out of college and I got to play one NHL game that entire year. I remember it like it was yesterday. All of my college teammates and roommates were at school and watching it in the dorms. Snapchat was big and they were all sending me videos of them celebrating in these small dorms, crowded around a tiny TV. When I look back, it’s kind of amazing for them to have supported me like that. I will always remember that and it will always stick with me. I had my parents at that first game, and they were pumped and excited to see me score. My dad coached me for 15 years and always believed in me, and my mom supported me the whole time. To have them there in that moment, for them to be there that night and celebrate after the game, it was pretty special.