NEW YORK - When the NHL schedule was released in June, Johnny Gaudreau couldn't believe his good fortune. The Calgary Flames' rookie sensation from South Jersey wanted to see when his team would be playing the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
There are few breathers in an NHL schedule, but Gaudreau got one at a good time.
Calgary played Friday night at the New York Islanders and doesn't return to the ice until visiting the Flyers on Tuesday.
Gaudreau's eyes were as wide as the goal mouth when he saw that. It would mean three full days in Philadelphia without a game. Of course, when the 21-year-old player known as Johnny Hockey surveyed the schedule before the season, there was no guarantee that he would be in the NHL by this point.
"At the beginning of the season I looked at the schedule and was hoping we would get to Philadelphia as soon as possible," he said last week after a morning skate at Madison Square Garden, his first time in that vaunted building. "I noticed the game was a little bit down a ways, and my goal was to try to stay up as long as I could because it was something I really looked forward to."
Then, still savoring the thought, he added: "Thankfully, I am here."
It's amazing, considering the successful rookie season the Gloucester Catholic product is enjoying, that there was once any doubt he would remain with the Flames.
Not only is the 5-foot-9, 150-pound Gaudreau the Flames' third-leading scorer, with 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points , but he was named an injury replacement in the All-Star Game, where he earned two assists.
What his teammates have admired is the way Gaudreau, last season's Hobey Baker Award winner as the college player of the year from Boston College, has handled all of the notoriety.
"We have welcomed him with open arms, and obviously you see the things he does on the ice that are electrifying, but he is such a good kid off the ice, too," said Calgary center Joe Colborne.
One of his biggest rewards for this splendid season is three nights at his family's home in Pedricktown, Salem County.
"Honestly, this is one of the best situations," Gaudreau said. "To be in Philly three full days there, we will have a few practices, but other than that I get to go home, have some home-cooked meals, and stay in my bed."
Yes, it will be like old times, except now he is an emerging star, and his appearance in Philadelphia could create a Mike Trout-like local frenzy.
Trout, the former Millville High star, drew thousands of local fans when the Los Angeles Angels visited the Phillies for two games last season. Gaudreau is expected to have a similar impact.
"People that don't even know much about hockey are coming to the game to support John," said his mother, Jane Gaudreau.
His father, Guy Gaudreau, said the family has purchased a club box, which includes 30 tickets for the game. And he said a sizable contingent will be at the Wells Fargo Center from South Jersey.
"I think there are about 4,000 to 5,000 who bought tickets for the game," Guy said.
Guy Gaudreau is the hockey director at Hollydell Ice Rink in Washington Township, Gloucester County, and he said the rink will close Tuesday at 5 p.m. because so many people are going to the game.
"Everybody is going to be in Philadelphia," he said.
Jane and Guy are attending the first five games of Calgary's seven-game road trip. The journey began Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
"It's surreal, watching my son play in Madison Square Garden," said Jane Gaudreau, who also has two daughters and another son.
After Calgary's 1-0 loss to the Rangers, the Flames won, 3-1, at New Jersey the next night and lost, 2-1, to the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y., on Friday.
The Flyers game represents the fourth stop, and two nights later Calgary will be in Boston, another place where Gaudreau is popular because of his outstanding college career.
Jane Gaudreau said she and her husband have seen almost all of their son's games live on television, despite some very late starts. They have missed Johnny's games only while watching their other son, Matthew, play at Boston College; they still caught the Flames games on replay.
While competing in last year's NCAA Frozen Four for B.C., Gaudreau got to play at the Wells Fargo Center. Now he is returning as a professional.
When Gaudreau was asked which was more special, playing in his first All-Star Game, in Columbus, or coming to Philadelphia, he hesitated momentarily before answering.
"Both are pretty crazy," he said. "That was a really cool experience playing in the All-Star Game, just walking in the locker room and seeing some of the names in the locker room, it was pretty eye-opening."
Then, after deliberating, he added: "Coming home to Philly will be probably just as exciting as the All-Star Game."
Gaudreau will try to not run around much while he is home, although on Monday afternoon his jersey will be retired at Gloucester Catholic.
While his family members are trying to keep his return to the area as low-key as possible, they can't contain their excitement to have him home for a few days.
"We miss him a lot," Jane Gaudreau said.
Guy Gaudreau, who coached Johnny in youth hockey and at Gloucester Catholic, added: "We don't see him often, so doing this is pretty cool."
And having his parents on the majority of this road trip, and especially in Philadelphia, is cool with the young player.
"It is exciting for me and them," Johnny Gaudreau said. "They have done so much for me, and it is pretty special."