Last year, Boston College was -- easily -- the most talented and deepest team in college hockey. The Eagles were crowned a deserved NCAA champion at the Frozen Four in Tampa, beating Air Force, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota, and Ferris State in the NCAA Tournament.
Along the way, future New York Ranger Chris Kreider nabbed many of the headlines, as did Carolina Hurricanes draft pick-turned-trade-chip Brian Dumoulin. Goalie Parker Milner was a rock for the Eagles.
In watching BC roll through two shutout wins in the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass., a freshman forward who wasn't as highly-touted as Kreider was standing out to my eye.
Johnny Gaudreau had great numbers in his rookie season at BC, scoring 21 goals and averaging a point per game over 44 games.
The Flames draft pick is back in school -- as he should be -- and he is off to a special start in his sophomore season with the Eagles. Boston College is 8-1, and Gaudreau already has seven goals and 12 points. Five of those seven goals have been game-winners, including an overtime winner against UMass that completed BC comebacks from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits, and a dagger-iffic goal in the third period of BC's win over rival Boston University Sunday.
Boston College fans -- never ones known for holding back -- have started up a catchy campaign for their best player to win the sport's most prestigious award, the Hobey Baker Award.
(Our friends at BC Interruption have more, including shirts!)
It's quite rare for an underclassman to win the Hobey, which is voted on by a national committee that has a tendency to favor juniors and seniors. In fact, since freshman Paul Kariya won the award at Maine in 1992, only Michigan State goalie Ryan Miller (2001) and North Dakota forward Ryan Duncan (2007) have won the award before their junior year (both were sophomores).
However, it isn't every day that a player like Gaudreau comes around. He is an impact player, thanks to world-class speed and skill that isn't too shabby, either. He can score goals, pass, and he flies around the ice whenever he's on it.
The Hobey isn't meant to predict NHL success, but Gaudreau is a bona fide prospect at the next level. I don't care how tall he is (5-7). Like Nathan Gerbe, Gaudreau has a chance to make it as a pro because of his skill level and his competitiveness.
When I asked him about Kreider last year at the regional in Worcester, legendary head coach Jerry York told me that he doesn't ever want his players to leave school early unless they can play in the NHL right away.
In the case of Gaudreau, if he listens to York (and, frankly, he'd have to be a dummy not to listen to York), he should spend at least three years at BC. Because of his size, he won't have a great shot at going to the NHL immediately, but he'll get there eventually.
Last year's Boston College team was the best that I've seen at the college level in my eight years of calling games for Minnesota Duluth. They skated, passed, defended, were disruptive in all zones, and had elite goaltending. With so many pieces back, and the job York and his staff do at recruiting, there's a chance this team is even better.
There are serious tests on the schedule. There's a home and home with BU, a game at Minnesota, a return trip to Northeastern (the only team to beat BC so far), games with a good-looking New Hampshire team, and the annual Beanpot. But barring something unexpected, the Eagles will be there in the end.
All that will do is boost the visibility of the diminutive Gaudreau, whose star is shining brighter with every goal he scores. He keeps up this pace and the Gaudreau-bey Baker craze will spread well beyond Chestnut Hill.