Big-game goalie Gaudreau living the dream with Team Canada

Big-game goalie Gaudreau living the dream with Team Canada

As soon as he could walk and talk, Ben Gaudreau wanted to be a hockey player.

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As soon as he could walk and talk, Ben Gaudreau wanted to be a hockey player.

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He was too young for real games, so parents Charlotte and Rob enrolled him in educational programs.

By the time he was five or six, Ben was old enough for the Tyke division. One problem: He didn’t want to play anymore.

Charlotte had to bribe him with a loonie to stay on the ice for practice.

“Honestly, as a player, I just couldn’t stand pacing up and down the ice,” said the Sarnia Sting goaltender of Corbeil, Ontario. “I had to get out.”

The solution was a change of position.

“They needed a goalkeeper and my parents knew I would probably quit if I didn’t change something, so they gave me a chance,” said Ben.

He was an instant hit.

“They can’t lift the puck at that age,” Charlotte said. “As long as he could keep the bottom of the net covered, he won quite a few games.

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“After that he told us he wanted to keep goalkeeping and play ice hockey.”

He had been wearing equipment loaned to him by a family friend. Soon his parents bought him his own equipment.

“There was no turning back after that, was there?” he said.

Not that he wanted to turn back. He loved his new position from the start.

“Just the feeling of being that last line of defense is pretty awesome,” he said. “It’s something I embraced and really enjoyed at a young age.”

Maybe there was more to it than that, his mother said.

“I think he mostly won games,” Charlotte said, laughing. “It’s fun to win, isn’t it?”

Gaudreau, 19, has won a lot since then. He will be aiming for the biggest triumph of his career when the IIHF World Junior Championship begins on Monday.

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Seattle Thunderbirds’ Gaudreau and Thomas Milic are the goalies as defending champions Canada open their group game against the Czech Republic in Halifax.


Gaudreau grew up watching the tournament with his buddies every year. They would play ministicks in his basement during recess and then go back upstairs to watch the game and eat and drink.

“The house would rock if these guys were down there,” Charlotte said. “…When they checked each other out, you could hear them banging on the walls and flying sticks. They had a great time.”

While spending his Christmas break in front of the television, Gaudreau dreamed of one day donning a Team Canada jersey at the World Juniors.

“It’s definitely something I’ve been working for since that time,” he said. “Seeing everything unfold is very special for me and my family.”

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His parents will be at the championship. So are his quarters, Jerry and Christine Bernardo, as well as an uncle, aunt, and cousins.

He only expects to see her after games.

“We’re busy here. We have to do what we came here to do, which is play hockey,” Gaudreau said. “That means resting and being with your team.”

Sting head coach Alan Letang is also an assistant coach on Team Canada.

“We talked quite a bit,” Gaudreau said. “It was good to share this experience with him. …

“He was always there to help me and guide me through things. I can’t thank him enough for that.”

The Sting always saw greatness in Gaudreau. In 2019, they made him the highest goalie drafted in the Ontario Hockey League in 17 years when they picked him seventh overall by the North Bay Midget AAA Trappers.

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Sarnia Sting goaltender Ben Gaudreau playing for Team Canada at the 2021 Men's Under-18 Ice Hockey World Championship. (Hockey Hall of Fame/IIHF Images)
Sarnia Sting goaltender Ben Gaudreau playing for Team Canada at the 2021 Men’s Under-18 Ice Hockey World Championship. (Hockey Hall of Fame/IIHF Images) jpg, cd


The San Jose Sharks draft pick made his debut for Team Canada at the 2021 U18 World Championship in Frisco, Texas. He was voted the tournament’s best goalkeeper after Canada won gold.

He is technically healthy and athletic. But he also has a flair for being in the right place at the right time, Sting goalkeeping coach Franky Palazzese said.

“He has a natural talent for reading plays well,” Palazzese said. “He cuts his angles well. His technical stuff on the ice, his edge work, is very good.

“But what stands out to me… (is) he’s just a guy making big saves in big moments. That’s not really something to teach. Nobody could teach that. These are nerves and a child’s way of thinking.

“Whether it’s 1-1 or 5-5, no matter how his game went, solid or not solid, he just finds a way in big moments when the team needs him.”

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He’s always been like that, even when he was playing in borrowed pads for the East Nipissing Vipers.

“He always seemed to excel in those tough games, those games that counted for everything,” said Charlotte Gaudreau. “I don’t know how many tournaments we’ve been to where games went to overtime or penalties and he always seemed to excel in those pressure cooker situations.”

In his early seasons, he was the team’s only goalie. He knew if he didn’t get through, the Vipers would be in trouble.

“He was always the guy who had to be there to make all the big saves,” Charlotte said. “I think he learned to deal with it from a young age. And also had a lot of success as a younger goalkeeper, which probably contributed to his confidence.”

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Hopes are always high for Team Canada, but especially this year, playing at home as the defending champions. Six feet tall and 172 pounds Gaudreau is looking forward to the challenge.

“There’s definitely a lot of expectations for us and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said.

Do these expectations come with pressure? Naturally. Gaudreau and his teammates applaud it.

“We all expect that pressure and want that pressure at the end of the day,” he said.

The calm, easy-going Gaudreau doesn’t feel any pressure like many of his colleagues, Palazzese said. If he concedes a weak goal or has a bad game, he can get it over with quickly.

“It doesn’t really bother him at the moment,” said Palazzese. “He’s a very even-tempered, even-tempered guy. He’s not a typical goalkeeper in the sense that on game day he’s not on the phone and he’s not wearing headphones and he’s super, super, super intense and pushing himself. He’s very relaxed.”

He finds a way to salvage safe goals, Palazzese said. And when it comes to overtime or penalties at Halifax in Halifax, he’s sure Team Canada can count on Gaudreau.

“He’s the guy they can save on for what they’re going to need,” Palazzese said.

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