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Gaudreau opens up about handling criticism, fear of flying and more

Johnny Hockey, Johnny Ham and Cheese, Fat Johnny and Ross Gaudreau.

Over the course of a recent 45-minute interview on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, Johnny Gaudreau revealed more about himself than he has over the previous seven years he’s spent in Calgary.

His fear of flying, his belief he’d never get drafted, his love for Ross on the television show Friends, how he handled his post-playoff criticism, his nicknames and how he blew his signing bonus were just a few things the soft-spoken winger felt comfortable sharing with hosts Paul Bissonnette, Ryan Whitney and Rear Admiral.

Oh, and did we mention his brief obsession with Iguana Wrestling at a recent World Championship?

Ya, you know, two guys tie their belts together and put it around the back of their necks as they line up chin to chin on all fours with an eye on pulling the opponent, a la tug of war.

“I would try to play against everyone on the team – I was like, ‘do you want a match? Let’s go!’” said the 165-pound Flames star whose U.S. team took to betting on their matches. “I did so many Iguana wrestles, and with my neck it was so bad for you. It was just stupid, but it was a lot of fun. You’ve got to get down pretty low and you can’t let your neck slide down or the belt will fly off and you lose. You’ve got to keep your head up.”

His favourite opponent was Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin.

“Ya, me and Larks. We would do it three, four, five times a night and we would wake up and I’d need like four or five Tylenol before I could go practice or anything. Your neck is just so messed up. I’m pretty sure Larks had to bandage up his knees from being dragged on the ground.

“I was good in the beginning and then Larks kind of got adjusted and started pulling me, dragging pretty good so I kind of stopped playing against him. I caught Larks cheating a couple times with his feet behind a chair so I couldn’t pull him and he could use that leverage.”

So much to unpack here.

“Noah Hanifin’s uncle came with us to the world championships too and he’s this big guy – 210, 200 – and I was just dragging him and smoking him,” chuckled Gaudreau, whose club looks to extend its three-game winning streak Saturday in Vancouver.

“He couldn’t beat me. I beat him like six or seven times and he was so mad.”

For the record, it didn’t affect Gaudreau’s performance in the 2017/18 Worlds, where he had nine points in ten games.

So why are we just hearing about this now?

Well, it had been four years since Gaudreau had been on the podcast, which is known for getting players to relax and open up while chatting with peers.

It was on the episode, released earlier this week, the red-hot Gaudreau admits the criticism he faced following last season’s playoffs was a new experience that did well to motivate him.

“I definitely wasn’t a huge fan of it – I think it was the first time ever being criticized for anything really, especially with hockey,” said Gaudreau, who has rebounded to sit amongst league leaders with eight goals and 14 points.

“I know how passionate Canadians are about their hockey. That’s what makes it cool to play in a market like this. I kind of looked at it both ways as like, ‘it kind of sucks, but make the most of it.’ Try to play well and hopefully they won’t be too pissed about the playoffs. I had a good offseason and came back and felt really good to start the year and am playing well right now.”

Gaudreau has never shirked his media responsibilities, but the 27-year-old rarely opens up like he did with the two former NHLers who did well with their research and approach to get Gaudreau to openly discuss a wide range of topics, including:

HIS FEAR OF FLYING

“I hate flying. I’m scared. Me and Monny (Sean Monahan) are awful with it, every takeoff.

“We are on the card table, me and Monny, and we have to stop playing cards for a little bit the first two minutes of the flight, put our heads down and take a few deep breaths. Flying out of Calgary it’s always bumpy, windy and snowy and clouds everywhere, It’s an awful place to fly in and out of in the first place. Every flight has turbulence. Me and Monahan are talking about buying an RV and travelling.”

SHOCK OF BEING DRAFTED (in the fourth round)

“I didn’t think I was going to get drafted at all. I thought I was going to go to college and play four years there and have some fun with Hayesy (Philadelphia’s Kevin Hayes) and then go back to Jersey Shore and rip it up there. I went to a couple of development camps and they said I was doing well. Then I went to (Boston College) and played well my first and second year. My third year me, Hayesy and (Bill) Arnold got together and kind of tore it up. I signed and was very fortunate I got put on the team. The Flames were in 30th the year before and so I don’t think they were expecting much for the team. We ended up making the playoffs and losing in the second round.”

BLOWING HIS SIGNING BONUS

“Me and Billy Arnold played one game (for the Flames) and we got our signing bonus cheques. I was still using my parents’ debit card in college — $300 a month and you spent it on food — you don’t want to eat at the dorm. You try to go to Chipotle. You don’t really have much for beer or stuff like that.

“I went back to school after playing in the NHL and scored a goal and was with my teammates. I was like, ‘This is awesome.’ I got a bonus cheque and I wanted to treat the guys and take all my classmates out to dinner so I went to some ATM and put the cheque right into the ATM and spit all $97,000 into the debit card. I was 18, 19 or 20 and didn’t know what I was doing. Took the boys out to dinner and had a good time there and probably spent the rest of it at some point that month.”

JOHNNY HAM AND CHEESE

“I remember Hayesy took me to (a sushi restaurant) and I said, like ‘There’s no chance I’m eating in this place.’ There was a little pizza shop right across the street and I was like, ‘Kev, just get me a ham and cheese or something – I’m not eating this.’

“I like it a lot more now, but I was in college and that’s all I ate – ham sandwiches and meatball subs and pasta …never really ventured out to the sushi.”

THE PRE-PLAYOFF RUMOUR HE WAS OUT OF SHAPE (perpetuated by Bissonnette)

“I think a (TV) reporter came out and said I came (to the bubble) out of shape. I think it’s because I was in close contact with someone in the bubble, so I was taken away from the main group. Then I guess they thought I needed a little more conditioning. My GM, (Brad Treliving) knows Biz and sent him a text. I heard a little bit about it – a few of my buddies sent a couple things. Then I saw Fat Johnny (meme) rolling around on a scooter on Instagram.”

GETTING “JOHNNY HOCKEY” TRADEMARKED

“I did it when I was in my second year of college. I guess some kids in Boston were writing ‘Johnny effin Hockey’ and putting my name and different curse words. My agent is just like ‘You don’t need all that crap.’ We just trademarked it and I don’t think I’ve used it for anything.

“I didn’t want something to come out that I wasn’t part of.”

HIS LOVE FOR FRIENDS

“It’s my all-time favourite show. I watch it every night before I go to bed. I need to watch TV to fall asleep. I’ve watched the series so many times that I can just close my eyes and when I hear them talking I know exactly what’s going on.”

Is he a Chandler or Joey guy?

“I’m a big Ross guy too. I like them all. The only character I really don’t like is Phoebe. She pisses me off.”

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