Former in-state rivals Brock Boeser (Waterloo Black Hawks) and Adam Gaudette (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) met again in the NCAA Championship Regional in Cincinnati. Although they played rivals once more, the two are part of the 71 NHL Draft picks from the USHL playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Less than one year ago both Boeser and Gaudette were selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2015 NHL Draft. Boeser appeared on stage after being selected in the 1st round, while Gaudette, a 5th round pick, was able to share the moment with close friends and family back home.
“I was excited when I got picked by Vancouver,” Gaudette said. “It didn’t matter what round, just getting drafted is every kid’s dream. I was at home with all of my family, and if I went down there not everyone would have made it, and it wouldn’t have been so special.”
“That was a great feeling,” added Boeser. “I can’t explain it.”
Boeser has become a household name with the University of North Dakota this season. The Burnsville, MN native finished second in NCAA freshmen scoring with 51 points in 38 games, including 25 goals. Gaudette finished tied for 11th in NCAA freshmen scoring with 30 points in 40 games, matching his USHL point production during his draft season with 10 fewer games.
Both have made positive strives in terms of individual development, but more importantly both have been major contributors to playoff teams.
“Last year in Waterloo I grew as a player and matured a little bit,” Boeser said. “I think the coaching staff there and all the players there helped me evolve as a hockey player. They made the transition to college hockey a lot smoother.”
In 36 years of USHL history, only two head coaches have reached 1,000 games: P.K. O’Handley (Waterloo Black Hawks) and Mark Carlson (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders). O’Handley recently earned his 600th career win, the first time a coach has done so in USHL history. Carlson is not far behind.
The players both benefited from coaching and development from O’Handley and Carlson, and still keep in touch with their junior hockey mentors.
“Playing for him was unbelievable,” Gaudette said. “He taught me so much and just coming into the league as one of the young players, and not knowing what to expect, he really helped me. He teaches you so much and cares so much.”
“I still text coach O’Handley every once in a while and when they played in Fargo I went to their hotel and got to see them for a little bit which was nice,” Boeser added. “I talked to my roommates from last year and talk to old teammates in the USHL and college. The connection I made there is tremendous and they’re probably life-long friends.”
Both freshmen played big roles in the game, but Boeser’s Fighting Hawks came out on top 6-2. Boeser finished with a goal and two assists. They would follow up Friday’s win with another on Saturday, advancing to the Frozen Four in Tampa, FL.
The NCAA hockey season is quickly coming to a close, and final exams will quickly approach. Soon both players will look to travel back to Vancouver for summer camp and provide another crucial benchmark for the Canucks front office.
Both players feel they have made positive strides in their development and are excited for what may be on the horizon.
“I keep the focus on the season and focus on the workouts and the ice training,” Boeser said. “Vancouver will talk to me every once in a while after games, but they mostly just let me play and think they’ll worry more about stuff after the season.”
“I think I’ve continued to be a two-way player,” Gaudette said. “Obviously I think my production has gotten better since last year with fewer games. I want to continue to work hard and stay on pucks and always outwork the other team.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.