It was 40 seconds Ben Gaudreau will never forget.
With the clock ticking and the Russians pressuring in the final game of the IIHF U-18 World Hockey Championships, the 18-year-old netminder was simply counting down the seconds.
“Knowing this was coming true and that we were going to win that game… that was just the best 40 seconds of my life,” he said.
“It was a lot of fun.”
The Sarnia Sting goalie backstopped Canada to the gold medal, making 31 saves en route to Canada’s 5-3 victory over Russia on May 6 in Texas.“Then I got swarmed (by teammates) and thought my hip was going to pop out. But it was awesome. There’s no better feeling.”
The Corbiel, Ont. native went 5-0 at the tournament, playing 240 minutes with a 2.20 goals against average and 0.919 save percentage.
His outstanding performance on the big stage didn’t go unnoticed by NHL Central Scouting. In their final ranking before the 2021 NHL draft, scouts rated Gaudreau as the #2 prospect among North American goalies.
(Three other Sting players were ranked: Defenceman Ryan Mast is 89th among North American skaters, forwards Ty Voit 107th and Nolan Dann 213th.)
“There’s been a pretty positive response since that tournament,” said Gaudreau, 18.
“I think it really helped me out and allowed me to kind of show them what I could do. There’s been a lot of good things since then.”
Canada’s junior team met and practiced on the ice just four times prior to the tournament, Gaudreau said. However, it helped that he knew or had played with most of Canada’s roster in minor hockey games, he said. It was also the fourth time Gaudreau had suited up against Russia, having also represented Canada at the U17 tournament.
“I’ve had that lucky chance of getting to play Russia a few times now. It’s always a good game,” he said.
Throughout the pandemic Gaudreau has stayed in his hometown of Corbeil, about 15 minutes outside North Bay.
Ice time is hard to find, so most weeks during the winter he drove four hours to rinks in Toronto for scrimmages and drills.
Ontario Hockey League players are set to report to training camp Sept. 4 with the season starting Oct. 7.
For Gaudreau, who is poised to become one the OHL’s top netminders this year, pulling on the Sting’s black and yellow can’t come soon enough.
“It’s been too long. I haven’t seen the guys in a really long time,” he said, noting the many encouraging messages he’s received from team staff and players.
“We all can’t wait to get back. We’ve got a great coaching staff in Sarnia.
“I think we have one of the best, if not the best, goalie coaches in the league by far. Franky Palazzese has been really important to my development. On and off the ice, mentally, everything.”