Frozen Four feels like a homecoming for Gaudreau
CALGARY, AB -- It's been quite some time since Johnny Gaudreau stepped on to the ice at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Over a decade, in fact.
The last on-ice experience the Boston College winger had at the arena came when he participated in an intermission activity during a Philadelphia Flyers game when he was kid.
"When I was younger, I got to play with the Mites On Ice in between periods, but that's all about I got to play in Wells Fargo," Gaudreau said.
Now, he's just a few days away from hitting the ice in Philadelphia when Boston College faces off against Union at the Frozen Four on Apr. 10.
"I went to a ton of games growing up, was always a big Flyers fan so I'm excited to get back there and finally get a chance to play in the arena and play in front of my hometown," he said.
The Flames 2011 fourth round pick hails from Carneys Point, NJ, which is just 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia, and will have plenty of support when he and the Eagles take to the ice at Wells Fargo, with family and friends picking up tickets in droves.
"It's something pretty special," Gaudreau started, "to get a chance to come home and play in the Frozen Four with a great team, great coaches. My brother's on the team as well so it's pretty special moment and I'm trying to take it all in right now. I'm pretty excited."
Playing in one's hometown in such a high-stakes game -- the winner advances to play for the NCAA Championship -- can be a double-edged sword for some players. Yes, there will be plenty of familiar faces in the stands cheering you on but the pressure is cranked to a whole new level. You're under a microscope and every shift you play could be -- and likely will be -- placed under a microscope.
However, that kind of intense scrutiny is something Gaudreau is accustomed to. He's the nation's leading scorer this season with 35 goals and 77 points in 39 games and is playing on college hockey's top line.
Being in the spotlight is something that one would have get used to when playing at such a level, and neither he or his head coach Jerry York are concerned about the pressure of playing at Wells Fargo next week.
"Usually it's very, very positive," York said of having players return home. "We've played in Boston twice in Frozen Fours in the last 15 years or so. All of the local kids played even better. I think it's something we look forward to.
"I think it's all positive, from my standpoint. Johnny gets to get some cheesesteaks down there and he'll be excited to be home. It's a real plus for us ... We're saving the Gaudreau family some gas money too."
Preparations for the battle with Union are underway for the Eagles and while it is a bit of a wait for the Frozen Four to get started, they've become used to lengthy stretches between big games this year.
Boston College drew a bye in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, waiting for over a week to face off against Notre Dame in the quarterfinal. They fell 2-1 in the best-of-three series to the Irish and were forced to sit out out again while they waited for the NCAA Regionals to get underway.
The key to staying focused, according to Gaudreau, is maximizing their time together in practices.
"I think it's making sure we have good practices throughout this week," the 20-year-old mused. "Right now, we're playing good hockey and we've got to make sure we're energized during practice. This is the fun time of year; it's playoffs, it's fun to be at practice, it's fun to be hanging out with all the guys this late in the season.
"The energy is going to be high and we've got to make sure to keep practices up-tempo."
Another big factor for the Eagles will be their top line. Comprised of Gaudreau, Flames prospect Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes have been almost unstoppable since being placed together midway through the season.
From Dec. 6 to March 16, the trio combined for 45 goals and 109 points. In their victories over Denver and Lowell in the Northeast Regional last weekend, they combined for eight goals and 19 points and a plus-21 rating.
If the Eagles advance to the Apr. 12 game in Philadelphia, their top line will likely play a big part in their success.
"Kevin and Billy are tremendous hockey players," Gaudreau said. "It's been a blast this year, playing with them ... we're not just all offensive. Billy Arnold is probably the best two-way player I've ever gotten a chance to play with. We've got to make sure we're playing good defensively and then contributing offensively.
"Thankfully, that's what we've been doing so far so we've got to make sure we keep that same momentum going forward."
York isn't at all surprised that the trio have gelled together so well this year.
"I thought they would be an excellent, excellent hockey line because all three are very, very talented players," he said. "All three are very close friends off the ice. You put that combination together and you've got quite a line.
"They're everything I thought they would be."