Going into the weekend, the last time Johnny Gaudreau scored three goals in one hockey game was the season before he came to Boston College, when he was playing in the United States Hockey league (USHL). Back then, his team was the Dubuque Fighting Saints, his coach was a former NHL center named Jim Montgomery, and over the course of 60 games, Gaudreau scored 36 goals.
On Saturday night in BC’s NCAA Northeast Regional game, after almost three full seasons of college hockey, 74 goals and 90 assists, Gaudreau netted his first collegiate hat trick in BC’s 6-2 win over the Denver Pioneers, his former coach’s team. Nearly four years later, it seems that being around Montgomery still brings out the goals in Gaudreau.
“Johnny Gaudreau—he’s the one, he’s the straw that stirs the drink,” Montgomery said after the game.
Before many of the fans in attendance at the DCU Center in Worcester even had a chance to put down their own drinks, Gaudreau had already put the Pioneers down a goal. Just 25 seconds into the first period, Gaudreau slid into the slot and belted a pass from Kevin Hayes past Denver goaltender Sam Brittain. The Gaudreau-Hayes-Bill Arnold line had the Pioneers by the throat within the first minute of the game, and it never let go.
“The first shift was our worst nightmare,” Montgomery said. “We didn’t have our center down low, and our wing rotated high without communication, but they did make a high-end play, and Johnny made no mistake about it.”
Five minutes and five seconds later, Arnold fed Hayes to double BC’s lead, and four minutes and four seconds later, defenseman Michael Matheson sprung Gaudreau on a breakaway. Tearing toward the boards, Gaudreau swept behind the left side of Denver’s net and wrapped around the back, dropping the puck through the inches of space between Brittain’s sliding blocker and the post. With more than 10 minutes remaining in the first period, the game was, in effect, already over.
“His ability to find open ice, and like that third goal, you know, we scouted it—and I know coaching him that he comes down the strong side, he’s gonna fake that shot, he’s gonna try and get that goalie to go down, he’s gonna go for the wrap around on the far post,” Montgomery said. “But until you see that creativity, and you see that head fake and the shoulder drop, you don’t realize….”
From that point on, the hat trick watch was on, and every time Gaudreau touched the puck in open ice, a buzz of energy spread through the crowd. By game’s end, BC’s top line would account for all six of the Eagles’ goals, and less than halfway through the second period, Gaudreau had the hatty.
Comparisons are often drawn between Gaudreau and Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, and Gaudreau’s third score was of the opportunistic Kane variety. Trapping the puck in the corner by the boards, Gaudreau saw an opportunity and banked a shot off the back of Brittain. It wasn’t a pretty finish, but the puck knuckled down to the ice and slid into the goal.
“It’s hard not to produce on the score sheet when you’re playing with Kevin and Bill,” Gaudreau said.
Arnold would get on the score sheet for BC’s sixth, and though Denver netted two goals in the third period, BC cruised to a confident finish with the third and fourth lines icing out much of the game.
After the game, a resilient Montgomery credited BC head coach Jerry York and his players for their win. Asked what he wants a little more of for his team going forward and what his squad needs, Montgomery’s answer was simple: “John Gaudreau.”
“No, I don’t mean him,” Montgomery elaborated. “I mean a clone.”