by Ryan Smith | AHL On The Beat
The American Hockey League is unique in the sense it provides many purposes for many types of hockey players, both for younger prospects and experienced veterans.
In the case of Springfield Thunderbirds forward Adam Gaudette, who at age 27 has already seen action in 218 NHL games and 97 AHL games, his arrival in the St. Louis Blues organization served as a restart of sorts.
Without doubt, Gaudette is seen as a hockey legend at his alma mater Northeastern University, where he set college hockey ablaze in 2017-18 when he tallied 60 points (30 goals, 30 assists) in just 38 games to capture the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player. He wasted little time parlaying that into a nearly immediate jump to the NHL the next season with the Vancouver Canucks, the franchise that had selected him in the fifth round in the 2015 NHL Draft.
A 33-point effort in the shortened 2019-20 season in Vancouver had Gaudette’s game soaring, but as was the case with so many other players and people across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into his career plans.
Over the next three years, Gaudette spent time in three different NHL organizations, including extended AHL time in Toronto to start the 2022-23 season, but his fortunes were about to change.
On the evening of Feb. 18, 2023, the Blues began re-tooling their roster by trading one of their cornerstone players, Ryan O’Reilly, to Toronto in a deal that sent three draft picks back to St. Louis. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong wanted a little bit more, though, and Gaudette, along with 21-year-old forward Mikhail Abramov, was also included in the deal.
For Gaudette, a chaotic three-year period of his life and career was about to look a lot more familiar when the Blues assigned him to Springfield, about a two-hour drive from his hometown of Braintree, Mass.
“It’s definitely been a long and difficult three or four years bouncing around,” Gaudette recollects. “It’s tough on me and my family, but every year, I’ve focused on improving my game on what I’ve needed to improve on to be an everyday player in the NHL.”
It became apparent early in his Springfield tenure that the well-traveled winger’s newest landing spot would be a terrific match. He put up 17 points in 25 games to end the 2022-23 season to help lead Springfield into the postseason, all while continuing to move his wife, Micaela, and newborn son, Micah, back to his home state.
After inking a new contract with the Blues in the summer, Gaudette arrived in Springfield camp with firm boots on the ground, and his start has been nothing short of sizzling. He has raced out to the top of the AHL leaderboard in a host of categories, including goals (13), points (20), power-play goals (six), and game-winning goals (four).
To the T-Birds’ leading man, he sees a very easy reason for his terrific start.
“I think there’s definitely a correlation between being close to family and close to home with my performance on the ice. I’m a homebody. I’m a little more situated, a little more comfortable, and not as far away from my family.”
Now a little over a year old, Micah Gaudette is beginning to see more of his dad’s games in person, and Dad sure notices.
“He’s starting to realize I’m out on the ice playing and he points to the ice and says ‘Dada.’ It’s definitely a special feeling.”
This new life as part-hockey player, part-dad has also allowed Gaudette to see the bright side of things even after a bad game.
“Every day, regardless of what goes on, I come home and he’s as happy as can be and wants to play all day. It’s a lot of time away from home and a lot on my wife to be alone with him, so when I come home, it’s a relief for her and it’s fun for me because I get to see him all wound up and excited.”
If comfort in his surroundings is one part to Gaudette’s recipe for success, the other part is that “C”-ingredient that every athlete longs for – confidence.
However, Gaudette sees his confidence in a more well-rounded way in 2023.
“I’m not in awe like I was my first few years, and it’s not just confidence in scoring, it’s confidence in your abilities to go out there and do the right things and play the right way. That’s how I think you get rewarded in this game, doing the right things and working hard every shift, doing the small things right.
“I feel more confident (than at Northeastern) because my overall game, defensively, and on all sides of the puck has been solid. I’m bigger and stronger, so when I have the puck in the corners battling, I feel more comfortable making a play. I feel like I’m seeing the ice better, and the game has slowed down for me.”
With an AHL Player of the Month honor and five multi-goal games already under his belt this season, the next item many in St. Louis and Springfield anticipate is a recall to the Blues. While Gaudette does not deny thinking about it from time to time, he also has past experience to keep himself grounded and patient.
“I’ve been in situations like this before, where I felt like I deserve a shot and it never really came. I’m not too focused on it; I just know when the time comes for me to go back up, I’m going to be a totally different player from when I was last in the NHL. I’m excited for that, and I’m going to be a better player.”
While some veteran players would have trouble gearing up for AHL play after getting accustomed to life at the game’s highest level, Gaudette’s inner competitor does not allow him to take any night for granted.
“Regardless of what league I’m playing in, I just want to win, and this sport is a lot more fun when you win. My goal is to develop my game but to be a leader here and help these guys succeed and put this team in a good spot to make a playoff run.”