FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tara Gaudette was up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, as on so many days, with a stack of bread slices in front of her and sandwiches to make. Three boys, two sandwiches apiece.
She spent hours, it seemed, making sandwiches, a summer off from her job as a teacher just as busy as her time on. She has three boys’ hockey schedules to negotiate and a husband who often goes directly from a 24-hour shift at the Taunton Fire Department to his other job as a plumber.
This is how they make things work.
It is something that has always made an impression on their oldest son, Adam Gaudette, a 21-year-old forward prospect for the Vancouver Canucks on the cusp of making the NHL.
“Coming from a blue-collar family, my parents work really hard,” Gaudette said this week after a game in the Foxboro Pro League. “I see them doing that my whole life and I have that drive to work hard and do extra things on and off the ice.
“I think just growing up in a household that was blue collar, works hard to support your family, that just gave me a little something extra that maybe most people don’t have. A lot of people don’t have that work ethic and I’m lucky enough to have it.”
It was evident in everything that happened this past season, a revelation for the hockey world, if not for the Canucks staff that has watched him over the years. Gaudette’s hat trick in the championship game helped Northeastern University win the Beanpot, a tournament featuring the four major college hockey programs in Boston, for the first time in 30 years. He won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in NCAA Division I, with 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists) in 38 games. He signed an entry-level contract with Vancouver on March 26 and made his NHL debut three days later.
“For me it’s such a bigger picture than just last year,” Canucks director of player development Ryan Johnson said. “Even going back to his freshman year, there was a question of him going back to the USHL (United States Hockey League) for another year because there was still some rawness in his game, and not in a bad way, just growing into his body, coordination and things coming together.
“But from the time I watched him early in his freshman year, I remember going back to our group in Vancouver consistently saying every six weeks I see this guy it’s just a massive, massive jump and improvement.”
It was the culmination of a multiyear process, one that started when he was 14 and had to choose between baseball and hockey as a late bloomer who wasn’t quite getting the attention of others his age. It was also the culmination of a relationship with the Canucks that started when Judd Brackett, now their director of amateur scouting, identified Gaudette as a player with potential, enough that Vancouver selected him in the fifth round (No. 149) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
His rise to the NHL was never a sure thing. The Gaudette family, unconvinced that he would be selected, didn’t attend that draft in Sunrise, Florida.
The Canucks, though, saw something in him. They saw the work ethic born of watching Tara and Doug go about their lives. They saw that commitment and how it could enhance his raw talent, the dedication that could sharpen his body into one destined for success in the NHL.
“His freshman year at Northeastern he wasn’t this fancy-type player or highly skilled player that you would have seen his junior year in his Hobey Baker year,” Johnson said. “I could see that and I could see that it was going to come together slowly, but what you did see was this dog-on-a-bone compete [level] and that he finished every check and with that character, with that compete level, when everything did come together, you knew he was going to be a scary player.”
It was there from the beginning, when Tara recalled that he was so intent on improving his game that, even at 15, he would take the ice to do skill work with 10-year-olds. Anything to better his game.Â
“The way he approaches things, the way he works, the way he competes,” Johnson said, “for me the combination of his skill, his hockey sense, you mix that with a compete and a relentlessness, it’s a real dangerous combo and it’s something that I was able to recognize in him early, which really amped up my excitement for him as a prospect.”
The Canucks got to see it firsthand at the end of the season, when Gaudette played five NHL games and not only saw that he fit in on the ice — a realization he said dates to a shift in his first game, when he picked up the puck in the defensive zone and wheeled up the ice, just like he had done a thousand times — but established a comfort level with the organization heading into training camp.
But it won’t be easy. Vancouver has a lot of bodies entering camp, especially at forward, having signed free agents Jay Beagle (32), Antoine Roussel (28) and Tim Schaller (27), who each could cost a younger player a roster spot. But Johnson believes in Gaudette (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), who is determined to make the roster even though he has gains to make when it comes to size, strength and speed.
“He’s had an incredible offseason, he’s continued to work and try to improve and I’m excited to see even a more evolved product,” Johnson said. “I think [we will see] the best version of Adam come September.
“I expect him to come in and have a huge training camp for us.”
Gaudette sounds ready to do so.
“I’ve always been kind of a guy who’s been looked down on, that won’t really get anywhere, but I embraced that, took that in and turned it around and used it as motivation,” Gaudette said. “I think that, no matter what, people are going to doubt [me] at every level. I’ve already heard it about the NHL and nothing would make me more satisfied than to just go in and prove them wrong.”