BOSTON — On Saturday, about the time the Anaheim Ducks were starting their second period against the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, Pat Verbeek was in the hallway outside the visitors’ room at Boston University’s Agganis Arena. The Anaheim general manager wasn’t focused on what his team was doing in the present.
He was addressing part of its future.
Nineteen days earlier, Verbeek had acquired the rights to Cutter Gauthier from the Philadelphia Flyers for Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round pick. On Saturday, Verbeek seemed quite pleased he had done so. As he concluded his conversation with the Boston College sophomore, Verbeek extended his hand and pounded Gauthier on the back.
Gauthier, who scored two goals in second-ranked BC’s weekend sweep of the No. 1 Terriers, had made a good impression. The night before, Verbeek, standing in Section KK at Conte Forum, watched Gauthier and the Eagles beat their archrivals. They had also talked over dinner for the first time since meeting at the 2022 NHL Combine.
“I wanted to show him I’m not just a one-dimensional player who can score,” said the left-shot center, the No. 5 pick in 2022. “I can play a 200-foot game. Be trustworthy like my coaches see in me, whether it’s playing a defensive game, locking it down. Or being productive offensively, too. I thought I had a good weekend. Shut down one of their best players. It was a fun weekend overall to get the wins.”
Less than three weeks ago, Gauthier was being threatened with his life.
Gauthier leads the Eagles with 19 goals. Only two more players in college hockey have more. He recorded his 19th in Saturday’s second period when he loped after a loose puck, approached the right faceoff dot and snapped the puck through Mathieu Caron.
“Our coaches do a great job prescouting the goalies,” said Gauthier. “I heard he had a weak five-hole. That’s one of my favorite things to do. So I thought a quick shot would beat him. Thankfully it went in.”
Yet this past weekend, BC coach Greg Brown approached Gauthier with an assignment. Brown wanted the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, with help from linemates Oskar Jellvik and Andre Gasseau, to butt heads with Macklin Celebrini, BU’s dynamic No. 1 center. Celebrini is expected to be the top pick in the 2024 NHL Draft because of his complete game: speed, agility, explosiveness, hockey IQ, shot, competitiveness.
Gauthier took it on.
In Friday’s 4-1 win at Conte Forum, with the Eagles having last change, Gauthier hit the ice regularly when Celebrini started his shifts. Gauthier used his size, reach and skating to stay above Celebrini and limit the freshman’s opportunities. Celebrini had five shots and zero points. Gauthier scored an empty net goal to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead.
“They were able to get on top of those guys a lot and not give them too much free ice,” Brown said. “And also generate a few chances for our side, too. We presented Cutter with that challenge and he was excited for it. He did a great job.”
Gauthier did not have as many head-to-head shifts against Celebrini when the Terriers had last change on Saturday. But the Eagles kept BU’s No. 1 center scoreless at five-on-five. Celebrini scored his only goal during six-on-five play, albeit with Gauthier on checking duty.
Gauthier tipped his hat to Celebrini. But he was pleased with Brown’s trust in deploying him for endgame duty for the second straight night.
“It’s huge,” Gauthier said. “When the coach is looking down the bench, sees your number, has confidence and trust in you to go out and get a job done, that’s everything you want as a player. You want to have trust within your coach to put you in any situation, whether you’re down a goal or up a goal. I’m thankful the coach believed in me and we were able to get the job done.”
It is the kind of panoramic work that Brown and Greg Cronin, Gauthier’s future coach in Anaheim, insist on receiving from heavy-usage players. Even on campus, coaches have a thing for pro-style portfolios: detailed stickwork, skating above pucks, not cheating for offensive chances. Gauthier is learning these components.
Even amid trying circumstances.
Back to baseline
Gauthier should have been flying. He and fellow BC teammates Drew Fortescue, Jacob Fowler, Ryan Leonard, Aram Minnetian, Gabe Perreault and Will Smith had won gold for Team USA at the 2024 World Junior Championship on Jan. 5 in Sweden.
All of that crashed. Everything exploded after the trade.
News came out that Gauthier had decided not to sign with the Flyers. A podcaster claimed ex-Eagle Kevin Hayes was involved in Gauthier souring on the Flyers. Flyers chairman and CEO Dan Hilferty expected a “rough ride” for the prospect. Gauthier received death threats online.
Time has helped stabilize Gauthier’s life.
“After the trade happened, it was definitely an awkward couple days, just with many haters reaching out and all that stuff,” said Gauthier. “But that’s what’s going to happen after trades. I had to do what was best for my future. That’s what I did. I’m not going to worry about what people say. They’ve got no effect on what I do on the ice.”
“Just having your family next to you, being with you is huge when you’re going through situations like that,” said Gauthier. “Having some close friends of mine live nearby, it’s great. You can’t complain when you have all the support in the world right next to you.”
All of it — the trade, its aftershocks, the time spent with Verbeek — puts the NHL even closer within Gauthier’s reach. The dream is real. Gauthier’s objectives, however, are elsewhere.
“Being in the position I am, I would have never thought of this in 20 years of life,” said Gauthier. “I’m in a pretty fortunate situation. But I’m not worried about the pros right now. We’ve got a job here. We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great group of guys in that locker room. Right now, I’m looking forward to next weekend, the Beanpot and many more championships coming our way.”
(Photo: Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images)