Phoenix rookie relishes opportunity to compete with elite hockey talent
Ethan Gauthier didn’t need to travel too far when the Sherbrooke Phoenix selected him first overall in the 2021 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Entry Draft.
Gauthier, who was born in Scottsdale, Arizona, has spent most of his life in Drummondville, about an hour drive away from Sherbrooke. The 16-year-old moved to Quebec in 2010, after his father, Denis, decided it was time to retire from the National Hockey League (NHL).
His father also played in the QMJHL, suiting up for the Drummondville Voltigeurs between 1992 and 1996. Although Gauthier isn’t playing for his hometown, he is walking down a similar path that Denis took to the NHL. And he is trying to glean as much as he can from his father.
“He’s been where I am right now, so he knows how it works and how to get to the higher level, so it’s special. There aren’t a lot of players that have the chance that I have, to have a dad that lived a professional hockey career, so I have to take it the best I can,” said Gauthier.
While Drummondville is only a short trip down the highway, Gauthier was sent to live with family friends in Sherbrooke. He told The Record that it hasn’t stopped his parents from coming out to support him. They’ve
always followed him wherever he played hockey.
He also has an older brother, Kaylen, who, coincidentally, is in his fourth season with the Voltigeurs. Although both he and his brother have excelled on the ice, he said his parents never put any pressure of them. Denis was always able to separate the coach from the father.
“He never, you know, points were not important. It was just the way you play, the way you work, you know, the work ethic, and that’s what he tried to bring with me and my brother when we were young, just being a good person, and a good teammate,” said Gauthier.
And that philosophy of focusing first on work ethic, and letting the goals come as they may, has stuck with Gauthier. He isn’t letting the pressure of being a first overall pick seep into his mind every day. It’s in the past, and he just wants to be the best version of himself.
He did, however, admit that it was a struggle transitioning from midget to junior, especially since last season was cancelled to the pandemic. Gauthier didn’t have a lot of competitive ice time last year, and the rust showed in the first month of game action.
“Obviously, it was pretty hard at first. I came from midget AAA, but we didn’t play, so I basically went from bantam to junior hockey, so it was a pretty hard step, but I think I was ready for it. It was just maybe the first couple games, a couple weeks, adjusting to the junior level,” he said.
After a slow start, though, Gauthier is starting to heat up. He has 10 points in 19 games this season, and five points in his last five games. He credits his growth on the ice to the coaching staff. They’re putting a lot faith in him, Gauthier explained, and it’s giving him confidence.
While he continues to practice, improve and grow on the ice, Gauthier has already ticked off one box on his milestone list when he played his first game against his brother. He has always been a die hard Voltigeurs fan, so it was a strange experience being on the other side.
“It was so special being back, pretty weird being on the other bench, but it was a special moment for me and like all my family and friends and mostly for me and my brother we’ve been talking about that moment for a long time, it was just so nice,” said Gauthier.
The Phoenix have dispatched of the
Voltigeurs twice so far this season. And Gauthier will have another opportunity to best his brother at the end of December, when they face off against each other in a back-to-back on Dec. 30 and 31, a New Years Eve showdown.
Sherbrooke has enjoyed a magical run just two months into the 2021-2022 campaign. They sit first in the QMJHL with a game in hand over the second place
Charlottetown Islanders. There’s a long way to go, though, and the Phoenix will have a target on their backs every game.
“We just want to be better. We don’t want to stop working out because we’re first, we want more, we want to be first in the [Canadian Hockey League], we want to go for the cup […] I think everyone believes in this group, the coaching staff, the players,” said Gauthier.