It’s great to see he’s not scared of anyone. His stature is not going to bode well in fights, but it’s good to know that he’s fearless in a sense that he’s not going to let those guys push him around. That will deter guys from doing it, for sure. If somebody sits there and takes it, guys are more apt to continue to do it. - Brandon Bollig
CALGARY, AB -- Ryan Kesler fed Johnny Gaudreau a healthy slash.
Without hesitation, Gaudreau sticked Kesler back.
Brandon Bollig smiled.
“Players are going to start doing that to him even more now throughout his career,” said Bollig, witness to several healthy slashes to Gaudreau over the course of a 1-0 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday.
“It’s great to see he’s not scared of anyone. His stature is not going to bode well in fights, but it’s good to know that he’s fearless in a sense that he’s not going to let those guys push him around. That will deter guys from doing it, for sure. If somebody sits there and takes it, guys are more apt to continue to do it.”
Gaudreau has had little reprieve this season from the pokes, whacks and slashes.
As the leading scorer of the Calgary Flames with 17 goals, 22 assists and 39 points, the 22-year-old sophomore has been on the receiving end more than he’s given.
It’s not a surprise.
“I definitely notice it a lot more than last year,” Gaudreau said. “I obviously knew it was going to happen more this year coming in after last season. With the start I had and our team has been playing well right now so obviously we’re going to get it a lot more now so I’ve got to be smart.
“I think it’s pretty unique or special when you’ve got another team keying on you and they’re trying to eliminate you from being productive offensively. For myself, I think it’s special to have a team do that to you. You try to beat them and score a goal.”
He garnered plenty of attention in a rookie season last year that saw him net 24 goals and 60 points, and a Calder Trophy nomination.
The attention, or intimidation, has now increased for Calgary’s premier offensive threat.
“I have absolutely no problem,” Flames coach Bob Hartley said. “Johnny can dish it. That’s no problem, and I think that obviously teams are taking liberties at some point on Johnny because of his talent, because of his size, but I think that he’s handling it well. We’re always there watching for him also.”
Not that Gaudreau necessarily feels he needs special protection.
He’s taken it upon himself to let others know it won’t stand.
“I was getting it all game. I figured a few times I would give it back to them,” he said. “I’m a younger guy so I have to be smart when I’m doing it. You just can’t take it the whole game. You have to make sure you give it back and make sure they know I don’t like it.”
It’s far from ideal for the 5-foot-9, 157-pound winger fight those battles, though.
But, as Bollig pointed out, keeping Gaudreau out of danger isn’t the easiest of tasks.
“There are certain guys throughout the league that are more prone to do that,” Bollig said. “We know who they are and Johnny knows who they are. We have to do a good job as players and coaches of keeping Johnny away from those guys. But when it does happen, when he is out there against those players, it did put a smile on my face seeing him fight back a little bit.
“With a guy like me, it’s tough for me … certain players like that aren’t going to drop the gloves and fight me. It’s a fine line that I’m supposed to walk to deal with that. But knowing he’s not scared of players like that is big for our team.”
It’s old hat for Gaudreau.
As a member of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, a then-17-year-old Gaudreau led the team in scoring and was the subject of plenty of harassment. Leading Boston College in scoring his final two seasons before joining Calgary, the Hobey Baker finalist-turned-winner was met with a mitt or a stick, or two, or three, to try to knock him off his game.
Pacing the Flames hasn’t slowed the onslaught.
“It’s tough to play through,” said Gaudreau. “No one likes getting slashed on the wrist or in the back of the legs. I’ve been getting it all my life. It’s nothing new to me. The only thing you can do is find the net and score a goal. That’s the only way to make them stop doing that is to go to the net, create havoc, create offence.
“Thankfully I’ve been learning from it throughout my whole career. You’ve got to be smart with it and just try to create offence and try to put the puck in the net and that will ultimately shut them up and make them stop doing that.”
That’s one way.
The other, Bollig suggested, is making sure Gaudreau doesn’t have to fight alone.
“Not everyone has to go out and challenge, for instance in this example, Ryan Kesler to a fight,” Bollig said. “ With guys in there that aren’t scared to get pushed around and give him a couple shots is huge, regardless of who it is. It could be [Sean Monahan], it could be [Jiri Hudler] playing with Johnny. That sends a message that we’re not going to get pushed around.
“It doesn’t have to be a fight, but when guys are fearless in a sense that we aren’t going to let our younger or smaller guys get pushed around, it sends a message to the other team that we aren’t going to get pushed around.”