Taste of action fuels NHL passion for Arnold, Gaudreau
VANCOUVER, BC -- It took but seconds for Johnny Gaudreau to introduce himself to the National Hockey League.
In his first shift, coming but 2:25 into the first period of Sunday’s 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks in the season finale, the freshly signed Calgary Flames forward picked the pocket of Daniel Sedin to turn the play up ice and generate the team’s first scoring chance of the game.
It gave a sample of what the 20-year-old Gaudreau could bring.
He saved the full course for 15:22 of the second period.
“Johnny, it’s always exciting to see him score his first goal,” special assistant to the general manager Craig Controy started post-game, “and with all the hype and to get it out of the way early was definitely probably something he’s going to be happy about and going into the summer.”
Joe Colborne deflected a point shot off the stick of Christopher Breen in Gaudreau’s direction. The Hobey Baker Award winner and NCAA scoring champion showcased his soft hands, adding a second touch in redirecting the puck behind Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom.
His first NHL goal came on his first shot on goal.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” Gaudreau said. “It was a nice shot by Breen. I just happened to be standing in the right spot. I got a nice little tap in goal.”
He downplayed the tally, just as his did his performance in the debut, an affair that saw the 5-foot-9 forward record 15:11 of ice time.
“I thought it was a little bit faster than I expected,” he said. “I thought I had a good practice (on Saturday) but I was a little nervous today. It was a fun game. I wish we would’ve come out with a win but it was a good experience for me to get my first game.
“Warm-ups, I looked down at the other end and a lot bigger guys than I expected. That was a little shocking but, you know, it was a fun game.”
The same can be said for Bill Arnold, who made his debut alongside his friend and Boston College teammate of three years after both came to terms with the Flames on Friday.
Arnold recorded 13:35 of ice and was 56 percent in the faceoff dot, though he admitted Henrik Sedin did get the better of him on his first career draw.
“Definitely crazy,” he said. "He was a little bigger than I thought. I’d like to have that one back. He got the best of me but I think I got him later in the game.
“I just wanted to go out there and move my feet. One of the things the coaches emphasized the past few days was stick on puck. I always had that in the back of my head and wanted to make sure that if I was doing anything, I was doing what they were telling me to do.”
The 21-year-old nearly managed his first goal, too, but failed to connect with captain Mark Giordano on the third period play. With Markstrom seemingly down and out, Arnold had the puck roll off the heel of his stick and dribble wide.
“Man, that was a great pass by Gio and I’ve got to bury those,” he said. “There’s no real excuse there. It was there, I was just holding my stick too tight. I’ve got to bury that next time. It hit the heel of my stick. That’s one…I’ve got to get that. There’s no excuse there.”
A goal from both would have almost been too perfectly scripted, Conroy admitted.
“I thought he had a great chance right in the first right in the slot and he had that one going, that 2-on-1,” he said. “I was hoping that was going to go in for him. It would’ve been nice to see both guys get their first goal.”
Goal or not, the experience accomplished exactly what Conroy had hoped heading in.
It made the newest additions to the Flames hungrier for the calendar to flip to September.
“I mean, a little taste of it and you just want more,” Arnold said. “It’s unfortunate the season’s over but it definitely gives you motivation for the summer.”
Added Gaudreau: “I think it’s definitely a good experience to have before next season and before I come back to training camp and all that. It was a fun experience and it’s going to help me I think towards next season.”
Consider it mission accomplished from Conroy’s camp.
“It’s exciting for all of us,” he said, throwing the likes of Sean Monahan, Kenny Agostino and Bryce Van Brabant into the mix. “You’ve watched them and you’re hoping they do well. This is the future of the Calgary Flames. For me, I’ve been here when Jarome (Iginla) was here and all the other players but to actually see these guys play and draft them and see them come up, it’s great.
“It’s exciting for me. You want them to do well because they’re the future of the Flames.”