Johnny Gaudreau gives advice to small players in Players’ Tribune

Watch as Johnny Gaudreau scores a hat trick and caps the Calgary Flames overtime win against the Boston Bruins.

Everyone knows about Marshawn Lynch’s history with Skittles, but the popular candy also played a part in the development of Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau.

Gaudreau’s father grew up loving the game and even built a rink in New Jersey that Gaudreau had at his disposal growing up.

“When I turned two, he started trying to teach me how to skate. It didn’t go so well, given that I was still getting a handle on walking,” Gaudreau wrote in a light-hearted post in The Players’ Tribune Tuesday. “But he’d put me out there and hope for the best. So there’d I’d be in the middle of the ice, floundering around, while I imagine my dad was off to the side, shaking his head.

“I guess he decided the reason I wasn’t doing double axels was because I needed motivation, so as a new teaching strategy he began throwing Skittles on the ice and getting me to chase after them. Out of necessity, I’d crawl towards each individual Skittle, desperately reaching. After a while, I guess my desire for sugar coaxed me to get up and start skating a few strides between them. In general, it’s not recommended you throw debris on the ice, but I guess there are some perks to owning your own rink.”

When you see Gaudreau carve through opposing teams in the NHL it’s hard to imagine the Pacific Division all-star ever lacked confidence. However, after being cut from an all-star team as a teen he became disheartened and doubted his future in the sport.

“[My dad] refused to let me believe that I wasn’t good enough. ‘They don’t like you because you’re small, John. That’s it.’ He’d always plant that seed in the back of my mind that I was going to prove everybody wrong. I was going to force people to ignore my size because of my production.”

Gaudreau grew up idolizing smaller players like Danny Briere and Martin St. Louis and used their success in the NHL – plus encouragement from his dad – as motivation. He went on to become a star at Boston College, even winning the Hobey Baker Award in 2014 for being the best hockey player in the NCAA.

Despite all that and the fact he has become one of the NHL’s most dynamic young forwards, he still gets chirped about his 5-foot-9, 157-pound frame.

“Everyone handles it differently, but I’ve never been a big chirper myself because the sound of the goal horn is loud enough.”

Gaudreau gave the following advice to smaller players hoping to make it:

— “You’re always going to have people on you about your size, so do what you can to be in on the joke. Last All-Star weekend, Ryan Johansen brought out a little kid during the penalty shootout and scored a goal with him. So as a gag, Jakub Voracek came up to me and asked if he could use me as a prop for his shot. I thought it was hilarious.”

— “Next piece of advice, keep your head up. Always. You’re not built to take heavy shots, so you have to be twice as careful out there.”

— “Try that move out, look silly, and get better. As long as you’re smaller, your best skill needs to be your effort. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing or if you’re getting cut from teams. If you have the talent, the right person will find you.”

Gaudreau’s Flames have plenty of ground to make up for if they hope to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season. They return to action Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sportsnet ONE.

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