Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau probably should have selected his words more carefully.
But there was a lot more to Gaudreau’s interview Friday with a Philadelphia sports radio show than what you likely read on the headlines — his comment that “it would be sweet” to someday skate for the Flyers, not far across the Delaware River from his hometown of Carneys Point, N.J.
It’s no secret that Gaudreau was raised a Flyers fan, but the Lady Byng Trophy-winning left-winger isn’t going to be leaving Cowtown anytime soon.
He’s signed for five more seasons with the Flames, tied for tops on the team salary charts at US$6.75 million per campaign.
And both before and after his response to a question Friday about eventually taking his talents back home, the 23-year-old puck-whiz raved about the fan support in Calgary.
The sound-byte that everybody is talking about comes when one of the radio hosts tells Gaudreau, “We would like you to play here at some point, Johnny. When are you a free agent?”
A few moments later, after both Gaudreau and the other radio voices respond that he’s inked to a long-term contract, he asks, “Wouldn’t you love someday to come home?”
“Yeah, it would be sweet,” Gaudreau replied. “I’ve got a ton of family here and all my friends … Actually, I have a wedding here this weekend in South Jersey and all my friends come back here. All my good friends and kids who I’ve played with all my life are from South Jersey.
“So it would be sweet to play here someday. You know, you never know in sports, but a lot of support back here in South Jersey and the Philly area. They follow me pretty well.”
Gaudreau has quite a following in Calgary, too, where he was the Flames’ leading point-producer in each of the past two seasons and where his No. 13 jersey is now the most common fashion choice for the Saddledome faithful.
Friday’s clip likely caused some nail-biting in Marda Loop and McKenzie Towne, Silver Springs and Saddle Ridge, but you’ll be less nervous if you listen to the entire interview.
“It’s a little different — every morning, you wake up, you look out your window and you see the mountains. Looking out in New Jersey, you don’t see the mountains,” Gaudreau said on the same radio appearance. “It was a cool transition. I go to Starbucks every morning and before I leave the Starbucks, I’m ending up taking three, four, five pictures and have little kids running up to me. It’s really cool. They’re really passionate about their hockey over there and it makes it a lot of fun playing over there, too.”
Immediately after his comment that it would be “sweet” to star in the City of Brotherly Love, Gaudreau again praised Calgary’s puck-crazed supporters.
“It’s been awesome. They’re so passionate about their hockey over there, and it makes it fun to come into the rink every day and practise,” Gaudreau said. “You’re in the middle of practice on a Tuesday and there is 50, 60, 70 people in the stands … It’s crazy, just the way they love their hockey.
“I think two seasons ago, we were third-to-last or fourth-to-last and still sold out every night, cheering us on. That’s the type of fans they are. They’re great to us, and I’m really fortunate.”
VALIMAKI SIGNS DEAL
Flames general manager Brad Treliving crossed another item off his summer to-do list Friday, finalizing a three-year entry-level contract for defenceman Juuso Valimaki. The 18-year-old Valimaki was the Calgary club’s first-round selection — No. 16 overall — in the 2017 NHL Draft.
Valimaki, a native of Nokia, Finland, spent the last two seasons on the blue-line for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. Last season, he netted 19 goals to go along with 42 assists for 61 points and 34 penalty minutes in 60 regular-season games which placed him seventh among WHL defencemen in points scored.