The Prince George Cougars coaching staff makes no apologies for trying to control the minutes played of their 16-year-old rookie goalie, but are they being overprotective?
In the Cougars previous game, Gauthier was named second star with 22 saves, including a couple on Brad Morrison breakaways, in a 6-2 triumph over the Vancouver Giants.
Because he is in his first WHL season, Head Coach Richard Matvichuk and Associate Head Coach Steve O’Rourke have indicated they want to control Gauthier’s minutes regardless of how well he is playing.
“He’s a very competitive kid. Being 16 we have to manage what games he’s going to play and how much he’s going to play because basically, he’s going to be with us for the next three to four years so we want to make sure his skill set and his work ethic is kept in the right direction,” said Matvichuk after the Giants victory.
“He’s bound for the next-level he’s that good, he’s that talented, he’s got God-given talent and we know if we manage it properly he is the future for us for a long time.”
It’s difficult to interpret what that means as the coaches have a long range plan for him even if he is excelling in the short term.
While appreciating that the Cougars want to do what is best for the team and their prize possession, one could argue that youth should not be held against him.
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) December 6, 2017
If on a given night, he gives your team the best chance to win, then shouldn’t that be a priority?
And when one is hot, what difference does age make?
Tavin Grant, the Cougars 19-year-old goaltender, was superb on the road earlier in the season and was rewarded with the vast majority of the starts.
While Grant has cooled recently, Gauthier is getting better and better and his confidence is growing the more he plays.
“We have to temper enthusiasm because he’s 16. This was a terrific night for him and you expect that with being drafted high (9th overall in 2016), but like every 16-year-old he’s going to have highs and lows and goods and bads and tonight (Tuesday) he was on a high. He was excellent,” said O’Rourke after Gauthier crushed the Ice.
Although he has appeared in just 11 games, Gauthier is third in the WHL with a 2.82 goals-against-average (GAA).
His save-percentage (SV%) has climbed to .903, the exact same as Grant and just below Stuart Skinner of Lethbridge (.904) who played in 43 games as a 16-year-old.
Last season, Seattle Thunderbirds 16-year-old goalie Carl Stankowski had the pressure of playing every minute of all 20 playoff games.
He got his chance after starter Rylan Toth was injured.
Sure he was on a good team but the Thunderbirds would not have won the WHL title without him.
Stankowski finished the playoffs with a 16-2-2 record, a 2.50 GAA and 0.911 SV% before faltering like the rest of his over-matched team in the Memorial Cup.
Playing in a league championship series against the Eastern Conference-champion Regina Pats brings with it much more pressure than playing a regular season home game for the Cougars against Vancouver, Kootenay, or Victoria.
“There’s going to be nights when he has a tough night and again, we don’t want to get too high or too low because we’ve got a young kid that we don’t want to heap that huge expectation on him. We just want to make sure that Gauthier develops at the right rate and at the right games,” said O’Rourke.
Fair enough, but what is the right amount of games?
To be a dependable goalie, one has to be mentally strong.
To be a consistently good goalie, one has to have the ability to shake off a bad performance and Gauthier has already shown that.
He had a couple of rough games earlier this season with the Cougars and one bad game in the World Under-17 Challenge, where he was superb in the other three.
In Randy Petruk’s first WHL, the 16-year-old backstopped the Kamloops Blazers to the 1995 Memorial Cup championship.
I’m not trying to suggest that the Cougars have an elite team … the standings don’t lie.
Sometimes though coaches can over think these type of situations.
It’s become almost the norm in baseball that certain hurlers are on a pitch count.
The Cougars may want to restrict Gauthier’s playing time, but does it make sense that age alone restrict the amount of starts?
Talent, in comparison to the other choices, and circumstances, should be main determining factors.
.@PGCougars win 5-1 over @EdmOilKings for their 8th of the 2017-18 season, & their 3rd victory in the home barn! Brogen O’Brien with 2 goals, Taylor Gauthier stops 25 | #CityOfPG #Sports @mypgnow pic.twitter.com/QegLlvOASn
— Kyle Balzer (@KyleBalzer) November 18, 2017
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
Russia has been banned from the Winter Olympics. But don’t feel bad, Russia – even though you won’t win any gold medals, you did win the U.S. presidential election.
*Conan O’Brien of TBS
Detroit’s Silverdome was still standing after its first attempted implosion. Who knew the Silverdome would be tougher than any of the Lions teams who played in it?
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
The attempted implosion of the Silverdome was a complete fail. Somehow, they figure Matt Millen had a hand in this.
*Comedy writer TC Chong of Vancouver
Bol Bol, Oregon’s prized 7-foot-2 basketball recruit, (from Sudan) turned 18 last month. Rumor has it he was born on Nov. 14, 15 and 16.
*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon said he used drugs or alcohol before every game. “They also help after games,” said Browns fans.
*Comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com
Hartley Miller is the sports director and morning news anchor for 94.3 the Goat.
He also is the 94.3 radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars home games.
His column appears Fridays on myprincegeorgenow.com.
Send along a quote, note, or anecdote to email@example.com
Follow him on twitter: @Hartley_Miller