The Staals, the Sutters, the Tkachuks, the Gretzkys: hockey loves family stories.
At the next NHL draft, in three weeks, we can add the Gauthiers to the list.
If all goes as desired, Ethan Gauthier, from the Sherbrooke Phœnix, will hear his name in the first round. The latest NHL Central Scouting rankings ranked him 16th among North American skaters. This makes him the main prospect from the QMJHL this season.
In fact, his whole family history is linked to sports. “It comes from my grandparents, my parents, my uncles, lists Denis on the phone. We have an athletic, intense, disciplined side. It seems to be in our DNA. »
It’s not just for boys: Quoting a physical education teacher who met his three children, the father claims that his youngest daughter, at 16, is “the best athlete in the family”!
Denis Gauthier met his wife Stéphanie just weeks before he himself was drafted in the first round, in July 1995, by the Calgary Flames. So both parents know better than anyone what awaits Ethan over the next few weeks, months, years. The mother also says she is “proud and excited” as this stage approaches, but not “nervous”.
The pride can also be heard in the voice of the dad who, although having followed his boys step by step in hockey, tried to erase himself as much as possible, so as not to impose on them the pressure of the one who has lived it all. before them, much less that of knowing the career he had.
His presence, however, “changed everything”, confirm Ethan and Kaylen, met in Sherbrooke at the end of April. “We’re lucky to have him close to us,” Ethan continues. When things are not going so well, whether on the hockey side or off the ice, when we have questions, he is there. He helps us, supports us, he wants the best for us. We never felt any pressure from him. »
In this draft year, which is crucial in the career of a hockey player, “his father helped him put things into perspective”, adds Stéphane Julien, head coach of the Phoenix.
“He always told him: have fun, play hockey and whatever will happen will happen,” the pilot continued.
“Of course I have advice to give, but I never wanted to impose expectations on my children,” adds Denis Gauthier. I always wanted them to feel free to make mistakes, to have bad days. Sometimes they didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I respected their wishes. »
This does not prevent frank discussions from taking place. One, in particular, is mentioned as much by the sons as by their father.
Parenthesis here: unless you follow Quebec junior hockey diligently, the name of Kaylen Gauthier does not evoke anything particular for the average fan. And that’s quite normal.
He himself does not hide it: he considers it an “feat” to have even reached the QMJHL, even more to have played four full seasons there. At 21, he says he is “extremely proud” of his career, which has earned him a scholarship to UQTR. He will join the Patriotes on the college circuit next season.
The natural of the family has always been Ethan. “The talent, he always had it,” notes Kaylen. He was always the best in his age group. But at a certain level, you can’t trust just that anymore. »
“We talked about the level of potential I saw in him, the kind of player he could become, versus what he showed on the ice. It caused a click, “says the 46-year-old ex-defender.
Aware that a father is not always the best messenger to convince a teenager, he asked for Kaylen’s help. So the following summer, Ethan joined a training group of older players, with whom he could compete athletically, but who kinda “brought him into his place”. Which, in short, pushed him to find the balance of self-confidence “which he did not lack and which he still does not lack!” said the father, laughing.
His eldest, he believes, deserves a lot of credit in “Ethan’s transformation”. And today, those who once bickered endlessly have become “practically inseparable.”
The intervention clearly paid off. After a long and difficult year in the Midget AAA ranks, spent only training since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020-2021 season, Ethan Gauthier became the very first pick in the QMJHL Draft , held by the Phoenix.
Last summer, he delivered a dominant performance with the Canadian U18 team at the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament – 6 goals in 5 games. In Sherbrooke, in his second season as a junior, he was given “a bigger role in the roster” with one of the strongest clubs in the QMJHL. “I think I’ve matured,” he says himself.
At 17, he was promoted to the top line, with Joshua Roy and Justin Gill, two of the league’s top forwards in 2022-23. Today we praise his attention to detail, his hard work.
“From the start of the year, you could tell he was in the right frame of mind; he wanted to learn, to be better, underlines Joshua Roy. He’s not the biggest build, but he’s so physical… He brings a lot of momentum to our team, and everyone loves him in the locker room. I’m really not surprised what happened to him. »
And if he was seen as a younger “natural”, it is more his intensity and his positioning in front of the net that are now perceived as his main assets. He is not a thoroughbred like those who will be drafted in the first round before him, explains Stéphane Julien.
However, “he is one of the best players in net”.
“He scores the majority of his goals inside the face-off points,” continued the Phoenix head coach and general manager. It’s not trivial, it’s not luck. His hockey sense in the offensive zone in possession of the puck is very high. Julien dares to say the name “Tkachuk” as a comparison – we suspect that he is talking about Matthew. “North American style, good player on 200 feet, physical, going to the net,” he summed up.
“It disturbs”, abounds Kaylen Gauthier.
His linemate Justin Gill, two years his senior, boasts of his “solidity” on skates despite his size. “If you try to tackle him, he’ll surprise you and maybe you’ll end up with all four irons in the air,” he warns.
After a campaign of 69 points in 66 games, followed by a harvest of 11 points in 11 playoff games, different predictions place Ethan Gauthier near the end of the first round. His positioning in the classification of hopes has not been a distraction for him from the season, insists Stéphane Julien. His 16th place among North American skaters is a great honor, says the principal concerned, “but it’s not really representative of what will happen in the draft.”
Whatever the outcome, Gauthier knows he will have a lot of people behind him. Starting with his parents, who would relive the butterflies of the first round, 28 years later. And by his eldest, enthusiastic to “watch and encourage [his] little brother”.
What’s not to love about family stories, deep down?