PHILADELPHIA — Sometimes, Guy Gaudreau would put the nets back-to-back at center ice.
Sometimes, he would put each net in the corner, facing the boards, and have his players go three-on-three in a pie slice of the rink.
“We did this at the end of every practice for years and years,” said Mike Green, the head coach at Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken, N.J., and a longtime assistant to Guy Gaudreau for a series of South Jersey travel teams that featured Gaudreau’s son, Johnny.
On Thursday night, Johnny Gaudreau will lead Boston College against Union College in the NCAA Frozen Four in the Wells Fargo Center. Minnesota plays North Dakota in the other national semifinal, with the title game set for Saturday night.
A junior left wing, Gaudreau is widely regarded as college hockey’s best player, its most creative player and its most intriguing player. That’s his latest hat trick.
Gaudreau, who leads the nation with 77 points (35 goals, 42 assists) in 39 games and set an NCAA record this season by scoring in 31 consecutive games, is the heavy favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award, college ice hockey’s equivalent to college football’s Heisman Trophy. The award will be announced Friday.
Gaudreau has defied conventional wisdom since he was a 5-year-old dazzling his coaches and teammates with his skating, stick skills and surreal vision in those unorthodox three-on-three games.
But what was true then remains true today: Gaudreau is both celebrated for his uncanny knack for dominating hockey games as the smallest player on the ice and surrounded by skepticism about his ability to continue his success at the next level.
And the next level, at long last, is the NHL.
“It’s a man’s game,” an NHL scouting director who asked not to be identified said in discussing Gaudreau as an NHL prospect. “He’s a special guy. Maybe he’ll be one of the little guys who beats the odds. But the odds are not in his favor.”