(It’s) completely surreal. We were just at the Hobey celebration for Johnny and then on a plane to Calgary, got in this morning and then got on the plane to Vancouver so it’s just hard to keep up with everything. - Bill Arnold
VANCOUVER, BC -- For the Boston College boys, it hasn’t sunk in yet.
Taking their first twirl as members of the Calgary Flames on Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, the fact that Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau have arrived in the NHL has yet to register with the pair.
“(It’s) completely surreal,” Arnold said. “We were just at the Hobey celebration for Johnny and then on a plane to Calgary, got in this morning and then got on the plane to Vancouver so it’s just hard to keep up with everything. I’m happy to be here, I’m just going to work hard and have some fun.”
Gaudreau too, he admitted.
“I never thought I would be playing for the Flames right now,” Gaudreau said. “When I got drafted I was just going to try my best to make the team someday. But I get to play a game here and it’s one of my dreams that I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. It’s going to be exciting.”
The pair was suiting up for Frozen Four semifinal action against Union College in Philadelphia on Thursday. Friday brought Gaudreau’s Hobey Baker Memorial reception, a set of entry-level contracts and a direct flight to Calgary. Saturday brought them to Vancouver for their first practice as a member of the Flames.
Sunday will see them square off against the Vancouver Canucks, facing the likes of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in their NHL debut.
That too, it seems, hasn’t sunk in.
“I didn’t really even think about those guys but now that you say their names it’s kind of nerve racking right now,” Gaudreau said. “It should be fun and I’m excited.”
Fortunately for the pair, there’s a few recognizable faces in the Flames locker room sprinkled in with some new ones to help them along the way.
The pair is already familiar with Bryce Van Brabant and Kenny Agostino, two collegiates who have also marked the start of their NHL careers after turning pro at the end of their respective seasons.
For a more veteran approach, though, Arnold and Gaudreau can lean on 31-year-old Mike Cammalleri.
“It’s exciting for them; you can’t help but to be excited for them,” Cammalleri said. “Playing today, they’re just giddy and anxious. It’s a pretty cool thing, a special thing. They look good, look good out there snapping around. Strong skill sets on them. It’ll be fun to watch them tomorrow night and play with them.”
It didn’t take long for the Gaudreau to saddle up next to Cammalleri, a vet of 11 NHL seasons.
Cammalleri made sure to make sure his fellow 5-foot-9’er didn’t feel bombarded with info in his first skate with the club.
“I [asked] ‘Is it a lot of information for you?’ and he said, ‘No, I’m okay’,” he recounted. “I said ‘If anything gets overwhelming, you can run it by me but just play and have fun’. I think he’ll be fine.”
Though it’s been 668 games since Cammalleri marked his NHL debut, he can appreciate what Arnold and Gaudreau are going through.
Even if he has a hard time describing the emotion.
“I remember it being a surreal feeling,” he said. “It almost felt dreamy to me. Looking back, you’re almost so present in the moment you feel removed from it. It sounds a little creepy. It feels almost like a Buddhist experience. I remember it being that surreal to me. I’m sure they’ll just have fun and be excited and play.”
Needless to say, they are.
“I’m pumped to be here,” Arnold said. “The adrenalin is going a little bit, the nerves are going a little bit. It’s good to get out there and get a skate in before tomorrow night -- I’ve been on a lot of planes the last 24 hours. It’s just fun to be here.”
It’ll be even more fun to mark their debuts 24 hours later, Gaudreau declared.
"I’m excited,” he said. “I’ve talked to all three coaches. They said just have fun and don’t worry about making mistakes. Enjoy your time in playing in your first NHL game -- there’s no plays so just make sure you’re doing everything right. If you have any questions just ask the older guys and they’ve all been a real help to me so far. It’s been an easy transition with all the guys helping me out here."