He’s a good Buddy.
He refuses to divulge personal information about Johnny Gaudreau that might red-face the Calgary Flames star, even though he’s known the National Hockey League dynamo since they were young Americans.
Yeah … that’s Buddy Robinson, a lifelong close friend of Gaudreau’s looking one day soon to join the fellow Jersey product on the same hockey ice …
“I was four, and I think he was three,” said Robinson, when asked how long he’s known and played puck alongside ‘Johnny Hockey’. “His dad taught me how to skate. We grew up at that rink — his dad still runs the rink in Salem (N.J.), and we skate there all summer and see a lot of each other.”
They played minor hockey together, including high-school puck under Gaudreau’s dad for two years in New Jersey before Gaudreau left home to play with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints.
Meanwhile, Robinson, a native of Bellmawr, N.J., headed north to play with the Hamilton Red Wings in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and then with the Nepean Raiders in the Central Junior Hockey League.
But nearly a decade later, they’re still best pals, with Robinson unwilling to shell out a little dirt on his childhood friend, especially since he’s hoping to become a fellow big-league Flames forward.
“I don’t know about any of that stuff,” said Robinson with a smile when asked to spill the beans on anything juicy about Gaudreau. “He’s a hard-working guy on and off the ice, and he’s great to be around.”
Unfortunately for Robinson, all that time playing with Gaudreau hasn’t rubbed off on him skill-wise. Kind of tough, though, given the difference in body types, with the 6-foot-6 Robinson being nearly a foot taller than Gaudreau.
“You know what? I don’t think I’m going to toe-drag six or seven guys before I score a goal,” Robinson said. “But I might stand in front and ask him to shoot one in off my pads or screen the goalie for him. Different elements, right?”
“I always stand up for him. It’s tougher in high school when everybody’s got the cages on. But I’m never afraid to stand up for a teammate, and it’s no different with him. And if the time comes, I’m willing to do that for any of my teammates.”
Robinson’s hoping that’ll be for the NHL Flames after agreeing to a two-year, two-way contract with the club in the off-season.
“We’re together almost every day in the summertime, so we talk a lot,” Robinson said of his friendship with Gaudreau. “And he put some nice words out there for me to Calgary and the management, and they got a hold of myself and my agent.
“If there’s even a chance to play some National Hockey League games with a friend that close, it just doesn’t come around that often, and to have that opportunity, I just couldn’t say, ‘No.’”
So here he is, joining his fourth NHL organization after being undrafted out of juniors.
Following two seasons with the NCAA’s Lake Superior State Lakers, Robinson signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators. From 2012-17, he played in seven games with the big-league Sens, spending most of his time with the team’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.
He was traded in January 2017 to the San Jose Sharks, but since then, he hasn’t found his way back to ‘The Show’ with either the Sharks or the Winnipeg Jets, with whom he signed as a free agent last off-season.
“Everyone’s got their dream, and it’s my dream to play in the National Hockey League as a full-time player,” Robinson said. “I know I’m getting a little older, but I know I have what it takes, and to me, it’s just about finding that right fit with the right team and playing well when the time comes.
“Everybody gets their shot in training camp, and it’s about putting your best foot forward, and that’s all I’m just trying to do. I’m trying to make the guys around me better and trying to be a leader as an older guy and have some fun along the way, too.”
At 26, Robinson’s the second-oldest player of the signed players in Flames rookie camp.
“It’s been great,” Robinson said. “It’s always tough getting back into it in the first few days — you’ve got to get the lungs and the legs situated back into high-paced hockey. But it’s been good, crisp practices.
“I think the coaches are happy with our execution the last couple of days, and I think that’s all you can ask for this early in the season.”
Word around camp is Robinson’s got soft hands for a big guy, which could help him find a spot in the organization.
“Whatever I can do to make the team,” added the 226-lb. Robinson. “It’s been a long journey. Been on a lot of teams and a lot of years in the league, but I still feel young.”
UP TO SPEED
The new-look NHL has the Flames rookies practising at a fast pace in camp.
“It’s just all about speed,” said Flames diminutive draftee Matthew Phillips after Saturday’s session at the Saddledome. It’s about getting the puck and transition and playing fast and doing what you need to do to get it. It’s been fun, and it’s my kind of hockey.”
Phillips, a 5-foot-7, 140-lb. prospect, was asked if the quickness at camp is noticeably different than last year at this time.
“I think at practices, the tempo’s been a lot higher, and that’s probably the biggest change,” said Phillips, a 2016 sixth-round pick who counted 112 points last season with the WHL’s Victoria Royals. “And that’s good because it gets you used to playing fast and gets you on your toes and keeps you always thinking. I think you definitely practise like you play, and we’re doing a good job of practising fast with a lot of pace.”
Since the Flames rookies had to rise and shine on the Saddledome surface Saturday morning, there were few admitting if they’d stayed up late Friday to watch the veterans lose a 4-3 exhibition shootout to the Boston Bruins in Shenzhen, China.
For those who didn’t stay up — and we’re betting it’s all but one or two — a replay of the game on Sportsnet was keeping them occupied while in the dressing rooms during the rookie camp sessions at the Dome.