Let’s get one thing out of the way: Johnny Gaudreau is one heck of a hockey player.
Moreover, at various levels throughout hockey, he’s built a reputation as a clutch big game performer. Aside from during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Until Sunday night, that is.
Johnny Hockey’s big game bonafides date back many years.
As a junior star for the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, he was second in playoff scoring as a rookie as he helped his team capture a Clark Cup as league champions. He had assists on the series-winning goals in the first two playoff rounds, and had a goal in Dubuque’s rout over Green Bay to capture the championship.
Heading to the NCAA the following season, Gaudreau adapted quickly to college hockey. He was named most valuable player of the famed Beanpot tournament, with four points combined in wins over Northeastern and Boston University to capture the trophy. That same season, he went on a tear during the Hockey East conference playoffs: he had three goals (including game-winners in the conference semi-final and final rounds) and eight points. He scored a fantastic insurance goal – the back-breaker goal that cemented the victory – in Boston College’s 4-1 win over Ferris State to win the NCAA national championship.
Gaudreau also impressed at the 2013 World Junior Championship tournament. He led the tournament in goals and helped the United States capture a gold medal. He scored a hat trick against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals and a pair of goals against Canada in the semi-finals.
After going pro late in the 2013-14 season and joining the Flames, he’s put together a resume of highlight reel goals and tremendous performances in key regular season games. Among them: 41 game-winning goals and six hat tricks, including one just before Christmas in his rookie season against Los Angeles that signified his arrival as a top-flight NHL talent.
But heading into this playoff year, the whispers from hockey men were that sure, he’s a great player… but he’s only a great regular season player. While Gaudreau’s penalty shot goal in Game 5 made a significant statement to the contrary, his overtime winner in Game 7 – an unstoppable offensive force overcoming an unbreakable goaltender – has finally given Gaudreau a defining Stanley Cup playoffs moment to go with a constellation of highlights at other levels.
It was the right goal from the right player at the right time, and it put the Flames into a second round match-up with their greatest rival. And this series should give Gaudreau an opportunity to add to what’s already a very impressive list of accomplishments as a Flame.
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