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GAUDREAU PUSHING FOR GOLD

The 23-year-old winger has his sights set on claiming the World Championship with Team USA

by AARON VICKERS @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

COLOGNE, Germany -- Johnny Gaudreau will finish as he started. 

Ripping it up on the international stage. 

Gaudreau, who kicked off his season at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September as a member of the energetic, intriguing Team North America, is closing out his hockey year skating in his more recognizable red, white and blue as a member of Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship. 

"It's been a crazy season," said Gaudreau, who led the Flames with 43 assists and 61 points despite missing 10 games because of a broken finger in 2016-17. "It was a lot of fun playing in the World Cup there with Team North America. A lot of the guys here with us on the team today were a part of that group. We kind of wanted to play for our own country at the time but it was still a pretty cool experience playing for Team North America. 

"Now at the end of the season to get the chance to play for Team USA and the United States of America … you always want to take advantage of that. When I got the call I was eager to say yes. 

"I was pretty excited I got to come out here."

The 23-year-old forward had two goals and four points in three games at the World Cup for Team North America, a team comprised of the top players 23 and under from Canada and the United States. The group finished fifth in the tournament.

It was a vastly different experience from the one he currently finds himself in. 

Now he's representing his nation. 

And, the Salem, NJ native suggested, little compares to representing the Stars and Stripes. 

"It's a pretty special feeling," Gaudreau said. "I think if you ask any player that's representing their country it's a great honour, but for me personally I grew up watching USA Hockey play in the Olympics and in World Championships like this. I always wanted to be a part of this. 

"It's pretty cool."

Gaudreau would know. He's done it enough.

The winger had seven goals and nine points in seven games to help Team USA to a golden finish at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. Gaudreau led the under-20 event in goals with seven, and was named as both one of America's top three players and to the tournament's all-star team. 

Video: See the best of Johnny Hockey from 2016-17

After making his Flames debut in Game 82 of the regular season in 2013-14, Gaudreau graduated to the World Championship stage, net netting eight assists and 10 points for the United States -- 10th in overall tournament scoring. 

It's a bit different on the world stage this time around, though. 

"I think this year I'm just coming as a little more of a leader and a little more of an older guy, even though we have a really young team and I'm one of the younger guys too," he said. "I'm just a little more experienced. That first year in Belarus I kind of got my feet wet playing against NHL guys in that tournament and got ready playing for the Flames for my first season. This time around it's a little different. 

"I have experience here. I have experience playing in the NHL. I feel a little more comfortable."

Gaudreau, he expressed in his exit interview in Calgary, didn't feel like his season should be over after the Flames were swept in four games of their Western Conference First Round series against the Anaheim Ducks. 

He didn't like the way his season ended, so he chose to prolong it. 

It's with the hopes that he can learn, in part, to help prolong his next go-round with the Flames. 

"I want to get used to trying to play in all of May," said Gaudreau, who sits fourth in tournament scoring behind Russian forwards Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks (13) and Vadim Shipachyov of the Vegas Golden Knights (12) with 11 points (six goals, five assists).

"It's something that, me personally, I want to get better at. Obviously the Stanley Cup Playoffs go deep into May and into June. I want to make sure I have experience playing in those months. Also, I missed 10 games from my injury. I was frustrated I didn't play the full 82 games. It was a big concern for me, so I wanted to come out and play some more hockey. 

"I didn't feel my season was quite over yet. 

"I got to come out here and keep playing with some really skilled players. I'm really happy I got the chance to."

And, of course, set a better tone for his summer. 

A golden one. 

"This would be a nice ending to my season here, winning gold," he said. "They haven't won in a while. 

"I think it would be special to end my season like that."

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