Crunch Rookie Taking Advantage of Opportunities
Danick Gauthier started the season as the odd man out.
With the Syracuse Crunch already loaded with talented forwards and further enhanced with players being sent down from Tampa Bay as a result of the NHL lockout, the rookie had trouble cracking the lineup.
Crunch coach Jon Cooper told Gauthier to expect to be sit out most nights, and the 21-year-old suited up for just 10 games in the first three months of the season.
"It was hard to be scratched almost every game, but I just kept working in practices, and I got a couple chances," Gauthier said.
"Every chance I got on the ice, I needed to make a good impression for the coaches," the Quebec-native added.
With players called up due to the end of the lockout, Gauthier hasn't wasted any time claiming a regular spot in the lineup. The 6-2, 210-pounder has recorded three points in the past three games, including the game-winning goal against Rochester Jan. 9.
"We get him in and he's getting points and he's keeping up," Cooper said. "He practiced hard, he listened to the things we wanted done, and as much as it probably sucked for him to not play those games, he got better."
Gauthier has spent his career making the most of each opportunity he's received.
During his first two full years in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Gauthier was assigned to the checking line and never recorded more than 30 points in a season.
"We had a packed team, so I was playing on the defensive line," he said. "I think that's what helped me now to be a better player – offensive and defensive."
But in his final year of juniors, Gauthier's role changed. In 66 regular season games, he led the Sea Dogs in goals (47) and points (86), and added 21 more points in 17 postseason contests.
Having already gone undrafted, Gauthier had a few teams approach him about signing a professional contract. He eventually signed a three-year, two-way deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning last March.
"I was a little bit disappointed when I was 18," Gauthier said about not being drafted. "I kept it in my mind that I wanted to be a hockey player."
Cooper has already noticed improvement in Gauthier's skating ability, and sees him as a budding power forward with the ability to mix his "nastiness" with a scoring touch.
"He's a big body with a heavy shot," Cooper said. "He's the type of guy that can own the puck down low. He's going to have to be that type of guy."
With an increase in ice time and team responsibility, Gauthier may not have as much of an opportunity to take part in one of his off-ice personal interests - tattoos.
Gauthier has seven tattoos and each one has a different meaning, whether its to mark the birth of his sister or the nickname given to him by a friend back home - "El Creido," which translates to "the confident."
"It's not cocky," Gauthier said, "Just a nickname my friend gave to me."
With his play of late, Tampa Bay is confident they made a good decision when they signed Gauthier as a free agent prospect.