There were kisses blown to a hostile crowd, skirmishes that included a David-vs-Goliath size mismatch and no paucity of animosity at last week’s final of hockey’s World Junior Championships.
At the end of the match, however, Team USA’s best players under 20 years old had prevailed comfortably over host Sweden, exacting vengeance for an Under-18 final that saw diminutive goalie Hugo Havelid steal gold for the Swedes two years earlier.
On the medal stand, no one stood taller than the newest Ducks forward, Cutter Gauthier, who garnered not only a glittering medal but also honors as the tournament’s top forward.
“It was everything I’d dreamt of ever since we lost the U18s against Sweden in Germany there. That day was definitely marked on my calendar,” Gauthier said during an introductory teleconference on Wednesday. “We couldn’t have planned it out any better, being in Sweden against Sweden in the gold medal game, against their fans, and winning the gold. It was the biggest taste of revenge one can get.”
Gauthier, the No. 5 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, was dealt from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Ducks in exchange for defenseman Jamie Drysdale and a 2025 second-round draft pick just days after his triumph on the international stage.
After his initial private decision not to sign with the Flyers last spring, Philadelphia general manager Daniel Briere started shopping him all but inaudibly, then softly and ultimately with a quiet fervor after the World Juniors both raised his trade value and made it abundantly clear he had no intention of signing his entry-level contract.
Not only did the Flyers trade Gauthier, the organization and its periphery went on the offensive at once, making Gauthier’s lack of desire to be part of the franchise a referendum of sorts. Coach John Tortorella said he didn’t “know Cutter from a hole in the wall” and team president Keith Jones said “if you don’t want to be a Flyer, you’re not going to be a Flyer.”
Gauthier was decidedly less eager to control the narrative surrounding his situation, saying it was a personal and family matter that was multifaceted rather than being attributed to a single motivation or incident.
“Being just a 19-year-old kid trying to somewhat silence and kind of slow down what a whole NHL franchise is saying about me is pretty tough,” Gauthier said. “Seeing what they had to say, it’s kind of tough being in my position knowing that what they’re saying is kind of inaccurate. It just shows that I didn’t want to move forward being with them.”
One of the strangest aspects of the fallout surrounding the swap was an exchange between reporter Anthony SanFilippo and former Flyers defenseman-turned-TV analyst Chris Therrien during which it was suggested that former Flyer Kevin Hayes, now with the St. Louis Blues, had his “fingerprints all over” Gauthier’s decision.
Gauthier went out of his way to clarify that Hayes did not influence his reversal in any way, shape or form, and called those harassing Hayes online “gutless.” Like Hayes, Gauthier has now been subjected to the revolting underbelly of sports fandom and internet trolling.
“Yeah, my DMs right now as I read them are pretty crazy with what people are saying right now. There’s been thousands and thousands of messages,” said Gauthier, confirming that he, like Hayes, had received death threats over his franchise preference.
For all the “down-bads” and “things he wouldn’t wish on (his) worst enemy,” Gauthier said he had largely felt reassured by the support of his inner circle as well as the hockey world as a whole. That included his father Sean, a former pro goalie who played one NHL game and gave him a netminder’s brain to pick, as well as his mentor and one-time coach, former Duck Ryan Kesler, who told him about all Orange County had to offer.
“My head’s kind of spinning. Obviously, I’m super excited and ready to go that we were able to get the trade done with the Ducks and I can’t be more thrilled about Anaheim and what they’ve got coming up here,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier said he already had been contacted by Ducks players including Leo Carlsson and Troy Terry. He was eager to join their core and “chase the dream we are all dreaming.”
Ducks coach Greg Cronin prefaced his thoughts by phone with an appreciation of the outgoing Drysdale and what he brought to the table. But there was no equivocation about his enthusiasm for Gauthier’s eventual arrival, which Gauthier said would likely be after he finished this season, his second, at Boston College. Cronin said he had talked to former colleagues in the program he helped found and that helped train Gauthier, the U.S. Men’s National Team Development Program, who “spoke volumes about this kid’s impact.”
“I have a lot of faith that [GM] Pat Verbeek’s vision for the Anaheim Ducks is very accurate and very well thought-out,” Cronin said. “You can’t get a player like Gauthier without giving something up, because we don’t have anybody in our organization like him.”
Gauthier, who relishes elevated stakes, said what some described as “the clutch gene” is what he considers simply “playing hockey.” The forward, who can line up at center or wing, said he patterned his game after Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Mathews, who like Gauthier spent a substantial portion of his youth in Arizona. He also admired Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, and said he relished his three-position versatility since it gave him 12 potential roster spots instead of four and offered his coaches greater flexibility.
“I’m a two-way, kind of a complete-package player. I love to score goals, I love to set up plays, I like to play a physical game as well. I think I check every box,” Gauthier said. “Whether it’s penalty kill or power play, I love playing in every situation. I like when the coach can look down the bench and if we’re up a goal with a minute left or we’re down a goal with a minute left, he has outright confidence in me playing and helping the team win.”
Drysdale arrived in Philadelphia on Tuesday and scored his first point, an assist, as a Flyer on Wednesday in a 3-2 victory over Montreal. Despite his closeness with Trevor Zegras and other Ducks, he seemed decidedly more pleased than Gauthier had been to arrive in the City of Brotherly Love.
“My phone blew up from people around the hockey world saying it’s an unbelievable place and a first-class organization with a lot of great guys on the team,” Drysdale said at a news conference.
While Gauthier won’t join the Ducks until later this spring at the earliest and they’ve already played both games against Philly this season, Gauthier figures the fire in his belly will still be burning the first time he strides onto the ice at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena in a Ducks jersey.
“Chaotic. Chaotic, for sure. I’ve got that date circled on my calendar, big time,” Gauthier said. “I can’t wait to go out there and play my game in front of those fans, and, um, do my thing. So, I’m really looking forward to that game.”