Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Johnny Gaudreau can leave the place where he grew up knowing this, at the very least: he is the best player in all of college hockey.
No matter the end result of Saturdays NCAA championship game between Minnesota and Union, the speedy Boston College winger was immortalized as the 34th winner of the Hobey Baker Memorial Award on Friday night.
"I never saw this [Hobey Baker Award] happening, but Coach York has put me with great players in my career," Gaudreau admitted. "It's hard not to play well when you're playing with such great players."
The 20-year-old native of Carneys Point, New Jersey ended his junior campaign with 36 goals and a national-best 80 points over only 40 games. He recorded at least one point in 34 of his final 35 contests, tied Maine's Paul Kariya for a Hockey East record with a point in 31 straight, and completed a three-game NCAA postseason by accumulating four goals and eight assists.
Gaudreau is only the third student-athlete from The Heights to earn the honor, after forward David Emma in 1991 and defenseman Mike Mottau in 2000.
Less than 24 hours earlier, a visibly upset Gaudreau sat at the dais in the postgame interviews along with York and two of his teammates, soaked with sweat, still clad in his uniform, rendered unable to speak more than one sentence without his lip quivering and his voice trailing off. No. 1 Union had advanced with a narrow 5-4 victory, and Gaudreau couldn't slip one final shot before the buzzer past goaltender Colin Stevens to keep the game going.
It was clear the Calgary Flames' fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft didn't come close to envisioning that his run for a second national championship in the last three years would be cut down two wins shy of the goal.
For one night, at least, fellow top-flight prospect and Dutchmen defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere stole the spotlight and gained the satisfaction of moving on. Yet, Gostisbehere was locked out of the top three selections for the Hobey Hat Trick, and Gaudreau remained the prohibitive favorite even before the initial 10 finalists were selected.
Despite the hype machine having been cranked up full blast ever since his freshman season of 2011-12, where he scored 44 points in 44 games and helped the Eagles to their fourth championship since 2001, Gaudreau remained in control of his future. Not long after accepting the honor, both he and senior line mate Bill Arnold took the leap from Chestnut Hill into the NHL. His contract is a three-year, two-way entry-level deal with a base of $832,500, a signing bonus of $92,500 per season, with an average annual value of $1.85 million, incorporating performance bonuses.
"It's difficult," Gaudreau said about leaving Boston College. "It was a special three years here and I'm going to miss it a lot. I'll have my family there and I'll have Billy's family there, who I'm really close to. It's not me alone. It's going to be a special experience."
It's interesting to note that in the years a BC player has been selected for the Hobey, the club has come up painfully short in the postseason.
Twenty-three years ago, can't-miss prospect and Devils draftee Emma racked up 35 goals and 81 points to lead the Eagles, fresh off a Hockey East title and surprise visit to the semifinals in 1990. With expectations raised, the dream of a national title was cut short after a two-game, first-round defeat to Alaska-Anchorage.
In the first year of the new Millennium, the senior Mottau -- soon to be on his way to the New York Rangers' system -- netted 43 points in 42 games and was a force in all three zones. Despite a return to the national championship contest, one BC lost in overtime in front of a home crowd to Michigan two years prior, Mottau was powerless to stop a three-goal North Dakota blitz in the third period of a 4-2 loss.
Both players also saw their NHL dreams deferred.
Emma only participated in 34 games with the Devils, Bruins and Panthers between 1993 and 2001, bouncing back and forth between North America and Europe for 10 seasons. Mottau's ascension was stunted by the Rangers' avoidance of developing talent, and though he is now a veteran of 321 contests, did not become a regular on the blue line until New Jersey took a chance on him during the 2007-08 season.
"Johnny Gaudreau is the straw that stirs the drink," Denver head coach Jim Montgomery said after the soon-to-be Hobey winner ended the Pioneers' season with a three-goal, three-assist performance on March 29 in the opening game of the Northeast Regional.
The straw, standing at a mere 5-foot-8 and weighing less than 160 pounds, will now have to find a way to make a splash in a bigger drink, with higher stakes. Gaudreau and Arnold will be available to make their professional debuts when the Flames take on the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday. Thus, the odometer which ended up reading 78 goals and 176 points in 119 games will be rolled all the way back to zero.
"Johnny Hockey" will head to the Show with some wise words of warning to the rest of the league from a humbled opponent.
"You try to finish your hits on him but you can't be too aggressive or you'll look foolish," said Union head coach Rick Bennett, whose defense held Gaudreau to a mere goal and two assists on Thursday.