NHL

Feeling it: Flames' Gaudreau enjoying reversal of fortune with renewed confidence

They are not trained as sports psychologists, but Johnny Gaudreau's teammates say they know the reason for his stunning reversal of fortunes this season with the Calgary Flames.

Calgary teammates heap praise on 'Johnny Hockey' following hot start to season

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau skates during a game against the Montreal Canadiens in late January. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

They are not trained as sports psychologists, but Johnny Gaudreau's teammates say they know the reason for his stunning reversal of fortunes this season with the Calgary Flames.

After all, self-belief is essential for any offensive-minded player to succeed at the NHL level, regardless of past accomplishments and eye-popping statistics.

"I think he's having fun, and he's got confidence," Flames centre Sean Monahan says of his diminutive linemate. "Johnny is going to get looks, night in and night out. When they're going in, you get that feel in your game where you want to be that guy."

The Flames need Gaudreau to be that guy if they hope to qualify for the playoffs in the star-studded NHL North Division.

"You can just see the confidence," says Calgary captain Mark Giordano. "Everyone sort of laughs about that, but even the best players need that confidence, and you can tell he's feeling it.

"He's finding those spots where you need to be to put the puck in the net — and then when he's getting the opportunity, it's going in."

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Is it ever. Gaudreau opened the 2020-21 season with a nine-game point streak. He is tied with Elias Lindholm for the team-lead in scoring with six goals and 11 points heading into Saturday's clash with the Edmonton Oilers.

Not bad for a guy coming off a first-round playoff loss to Dallas in which he failed to collect a single even-strength point in six appearances.

The understated swagger is back for the man they call Johnny Hockey.

"I just feel really comfortable," the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Gaudreau said this week, clearly not wanting to heap praise upon himself. "I feel good."

The Boston College product struggled for much of last season amid a near-constant chorus of trade rumours. A former Hart Trophy nominee, Gaudreau saw his production drop from 99 points in 2018-19 to a career low of 58 points in 2019-20.

Gaudreau's six-year, $40-million US contract expires in the summer of 2022. He is not expected to re-sign in Calgary.

The reasons? Well, his apprehension boarding airplanes is well-known, and NHL teams in Western Canada are forced to fly much more than teams on the eastern seaboard of the United States.

His fiancée Stephanie works as a nurse at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and Gaudreau's tight-knit family lives about 70 km away in Salem, N.J.

Regardless of whether Calgary chooses to trade Gaudreau before his contract ends or hold on, his re-emergence is welcome news for Flames fans enduring a brutal mid-winter cold snap.

"He's just one of those players that when he gets hot and he gets confident, there's no real way for the other team to stop him," Giordano says. "We have got to keep that going. It's nice to watch."

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A fourth-round pick of the Flames in 2011, Gaudreau is not exactly known for his backchecking prowess. But Flames head coach Geoff Ward says No. 13 arrived in training camp this season with a renewed focus on keeping the puck out of his own net.

"I think he and his entire line are dialled into what they are doing defensively," Ward says. "And I think that detail is allowing them to play with the puck more."

A staple on Calgary's No. 1 power-play unit, Gaudreau has three goals and three assists with the man advantage.

"The power-play has been productive early for us, and he's a main guy on the power-play," Ward said. "So I think both those things are giving him a lot of confidence. I think they're allowing him to get more puck touches. And then as a result, when he gets time and space with the puck, he can usually do things with it.

"It's been a great start."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicki Hall

Freelance writer

Vicki has written about sports in Canada for more than 15 years for CBC Sports, Postmedia, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. She has covered five Olympic Games, 10 Grey Cup championships and one Stanley Cup Final. In 2015, Vicki won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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