Don caught up with Gabe Gauthier, who is one of those players who will enter training camp competing for a spot on the Kings’ roster. Gauthier, 24, did not record a point in three games with the Kings last season. He totaled 23 goals and 37 assists with the Manchester Monarchs. Here’s Don’s interview with Gauthier…
When Manchester coach Mark Morris looked down the bench at his players this last season, he saw a Monarchs team of young bucks, nothing like the veteran team he had the previous year. And when the Kings were suffering at the blue line and needed depth, the big club took the only veteran and team captain Jon Klemm to Los Angeles, leaving Morris’ squad seeking leadership.
Enter Southern California’s own Gabe Gauthier.
Born in Torrance and raised in Buena Park, the 24-year-old center took on a leadership role on a team in need of it, and at the same time had a productive season, netting 23 goals and 37 assists.
The 5-foot-9 Gauthier takes exception to those who would diminish his abilities or desire, and cites a willingness to go into corners and do whatever it takes to lead his team to a victory.
For Gauthier, life is pretty sweet right now as he works-out getting ready for training camp, focused on winning a roster spot. He’s had a few call-ups to the big club, but is looking to fulfill his life-long ambition of sticking in the National Hockey League.
Engaged to be married in August, Gabe Gauthier took a few minutes to talk about the value of leadership and what it is like to be a part of the organization he grew up watching.
Q&A: Gabe Gauthier
Question: How did this last season in Manchester go for you?
Gauthier: It was a good season, much different from the previous year because we had a lot of young guys on the team and not a lot of old veterans. It was a battle throughout the year and I use the analogy of a rollercoaster ride because it was so up and down, trying to find the right combinations and lines, just trying to get everyone on board with the same concept of playing. It was a little tough at the start, but then it started to come along and guys started to buy into the system and the rookies started to play like they had been in the league for a while instead of having that first jittery feeling of playing pro hockey. As the year went along we started to have some great games and we actually ended up in a battle for the playoff spot with just over a month ago. A lot of people doubted that we could do it, but we fought our way into a fourth spot and ended up playing the number one team in the league, the Providence Bruins.
Question: As a grizzled, old veteran of all of 24-years of age, did you find yourself thrust into a leadership role with so many young players on the team?
Gauthier: Yes I did, right from the start, especially at the Manchester training camp. I walked in and looked around at all of these young guys like I was 30-35 years old, walking around with all of these 20 year-olds. It was a responsibility that I saw coming right from the start and I was ready to jump to the occasion. At the time we didn’t have Jon Klemm who was our captain for most of the year, but a couple of the guys, Matt Moulson, Troy Milam, Matt Ryan stepped into that leadership role along with Peter Harrold and kind of took the team along, and then Jon Klemm came along, and that’s a wily veteran right there with two Stanley Cups, so that was a good thing to have. And then when he took off for Los Angeles for the rest of the season we were kind of looking for someone to take on that leadership role as a captain and there was one practice where the coaches didn’t come on the ice and kind of just observed and I took control of practice and I got the team ready to go for that game. When we came into the locker room I found a “C” on my chest and I was kind of weirded-out by it and I asked the coaches what was going on and they had appointed me captain for the rest of the year and that I showed great leadership responsibility. It was a great honor to be named captain for the remainder of the year and I definitely wore that “C” with the utmost respect and honor.
Question: That has to be one of those experiences you will remember the rest of your life.
Gauthier: Exactly, and it is a great thing to have on your resume because you are looked at more for your leadership and that goes a long way because teams always want to have guys who can be easily coached and also take responsibility for leading a team, perhaps even more so than for goal-scoring or play-making abilities. That is the huge thing about being a part of a team. You work together and you need leadership to work with the young guys and be a good example, even to the older guys. Just to be the even-keeled person other than the coach. Some players disagree with the coach sometimes, and there are boundaries when it comes to players and coaches, and to have leadership from players, to have a conversation about it, and doing all of that kind of stuff really brings a leadership aspect to that role.
Question: The stats don’t lie. You had a productive season with 23 goals and 60 points, but people see 5-foot-9 and think, “Another undersized forward,” what is your response to those critics who say that you are simply too small to play this game?
Gauthier: I laugh. I seriously do. I laugh and I have had to deal with this for ten years now and I all I do is just laugh and play my game and not let that stuff affect me. People have their opinions, people can say what they want, but no one can control how I play or what goes on in my heart when I step out onto the ice, and when I go on the ice I give 100% every shift. I don’t look at being a smaller guy as a hindrance. I use it to my advantage, having a low center of gravity and I don’t shy away going into corners and muck it up a bit. Sometimes those critics have never been in that position and they are looking for something to talk about.
Question: There is likely an opportunity in the Kings’ training camp when it comes to a third or fourth line centerman. Have you already started thinking about that?
Gauthier: Yes. After being swept by Providence, I took a couple of weeks off just to recuperate and rest the body a little and now I am already back into training and getting ready for the next season whether it be in Los Angeles or Manchester I just focus on trying to get better as a player and the stuff that they ask me to work on a get better at and I’m working on those as we speak.
Question: You were kind of banged-up a bit this season.
Gauthier: I had one injury at the end of the season, and MCL injury, a mild sprain that sidelined me for about four weeks. I came back for game two of the playoffs and played the remainder of the playoffs. It was a difficult injury to have, more so because of the playing period of time, a crucial time of the season. It affected me because I wanted to play and get into the atmosphere of playoff hockey. They guys played great and battled hard without me, so that was good to see.
Question: You are now 100% recovered now?
Gauthier: Yes, I am.
Question: Tell me about your call-ups to Los Angeles and what that was like for you.
Gauthier: The first time I got called up was something I will never forget since I grew up watching the Kings. When I got the call we were playing at home against Hershey and we’d had a bad loss. At that time I didn’t feel like talking to anybody, but the coach called me and said to pack my bags for Dallas because the Kings were playing against the Stars and I was to report for practice and then Hextall called me and asked if I was ready for The Show, and I said yes. I went home and packed. I called my parents and they cried. At the time I was with my girlfriend, who is now my fiance, and she cried because she didn’t know how long I would be gone, so I said don’t worry about it – it is a good thing – and I’ll be back, I just don’t know when. That is the tough thing about being called up because you can be called up for a couple of days or for a few months, so the timeline is very TBA. It was very exciting though. The first time I step onto the ice I’m facing-off against Modano and I just really absorbed all those emotions because it was just such a huge honor to put on the jersey of a team I followed as a kid. Then, my first actual game at Staples Center I had about 150 family and friends at that game. It was a great experience. I learned a lot from the players and coaches about what it takes to play in the National Hockey League.
Question: Perhaps the “local kid makes the Kings” angle is not one that gets played-up enough.
Gauthier: I was born in Torrance and grew up in Buena Park. I was there for 13 years and then I left home to pursue hockey.
Question: So you obviously saw a lot of games at The Forum?
Gauthier: Oh yeah, we had season tickets at The Forum and just as soon as my dad got off work we would hop in the car and head out to the Great Western Forum and we saw some great games. We’d get there pretty early so I could watch warm-ups and try and get some sticks (laughs).
Question: Any memorable games that stand out?
Gauthier: Definitely when we got to see Gretzky score his 802nd goal. We were at that game, they were playing the Canucks and McSorley gave him a pass from nowhere and he just buried it into an empty net and did his famous running on the ice dance. That was a very memorable moment. Almost every game we were at had some kind of an impact on me because I just watched and I’d observe the guys and I told my dad I wanted to play in the NHL, and he just said to work hard and one day I would be there, so I just observed, and I really watched the centermen, John Tonelli, Steve Kasper and Corey Millen, all sort of little guys, and just see how they played and how they took face-offs.
Question: You mentioned you got engaged. Congratulations. Do you mind sharing your fiance’s name and the big date?
Gauthier: Thanks. We are getting married on August 3rd in New Hampshire. Her name is Tammy Gray.