NHL all-star Johnny Gaudreau returns to his roots

NHL all-star Johnny Gaudreau returns to his roots
Young hockey players watch their favorite player practice at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Feb. 29 before the Flames’ game against the Flyers. Bottom, Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau. Photos by Peter G. Sánchez

Young hockey players watch their favorite player practice at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Feb. 29 before the Flames’ game against the Flyers. Bottom, Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau.
Photos by Peter G. Sánchez

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PHILADELPHIA — The love for Johnny Gaudreau was evident hours before the puck dropped, as the 22-year-old left winger practiced with his Calgary Flames teammates here at Wells Fargo Center the morning of Feb. 29, before that night’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Young junior hockey players from Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, where Gaudreau first laced up his skates many moons ago, were clad in their hero’s number 13 jersey, pressing their hands to the glass as they watched him skate down the ice with effortless speed and slap shots at the goal. His workout finished, they leaned over the railing, pens in hand, as Gaudreau made his way to the visitor’s locker room. He was happy to oblige their autograph requests.

For the Carneys Point native and rising National Hockey League star, returning to his hometown area was “exciting” and a chance to see family and friends.

The young athlete’s homecoming was in the midst of a season that has seen Gaudreau currently lead his team in goals (24) and points (63). Drafted in 2011, he made his professional debut in 2014 and was named to the NHL all-star game the past two years.

“He’s worked hard to get here, and he loves the game,” said his father, Guy, hockey director at Hollydell Ice Arena and hockey coach for Gloucester Catholic High School, where Johnny played on the school team. He estimated that 4,000-5,000 people from Hollydell and Gloucester Catholic would be at the game rooting for Johnny.

Bishop Dennis Sullivan joined Gloucester Catholic staff, alumni and friends in a suite at the arena to take in the game. With him was seminarian Ryan Meehan, who was a teammate with Gaudreau for three years on Gloucester Catholic’s ice hockey team and keeps in touch with him.

At Gloucester Catholic, as he has done in his NHL career, Gaudreau “handled the puck well, knew how to get away from defenders, and put the puck in the net,” Meehan said, adding that his friend’s recent success hasn’t changed him on the inside.

“His humility is still there. He’s an amazing kid.”

The Flames were beaten by the Flyers, 5-3, but Gaudreau extended his assist and point streak to eight games in the loss (a streak snapped in Calgary’s loss to Boston last Wednesday).

With his team currently 12 points out of the postseason picture, “we’re fighting for a playoff spot right now,” Gaudreau said. Talk of a possible long-term contract extension with the Flames, as well, has not seemed to affect his daily preparation for games.

“We have a great squad, and Calgary is a great city,” he said. “I’m trying to help my team as much as possible.”

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