Carter Cloutier doesn’t really remember his first glimpse of hockey, but apparently, it was love at first sight.
“My mom (Tina) tells me the story because she remembers it way better than I do,” he says with a chuckle.
Carter was 3 or 4 years old and his family was at Glacier Ice Rink at a public skating session.
“I was learning how to skate and I guess I really liked it. After the public skates there’s usually practice for the real hockey players,” he said. “I saw them with bags walking into the rink and I followed them all the way to the locker room because I didn’t know what it was. I just saw these bags and hockey sticks.”
The youngster told his parents: “I want to do whatever they’re doing.”
Now 18, Carter Cloutier is playing for the Wenatchee Wild of the British Columbia Hockey League, a Junior A league. Wenatchee is in north-central Washington, the only team in the BCHL located outside of Canada.
Since the U.S.-Canada border is still closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wild isn’t scheduled for any league games once the season begins next month. Washington isn’t allowing games, either, so the Wild has been driving to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to scrimmage teams there.
Loading up for a road game is nothing new for Cloutier, who started out playing for Glacier’s house team, but from sixth through eighth grades was playing for a team in Glenwood Springs.
“My mom or dad would pick me up after school three to five times a week and we’d go straight from school to practice and then come back,” he said. “That was a big sacrifice they had to make. Weekends we’d go to all the mountain towns, Telluride, Durango, Steamboat, Crested Butte, and play those teams.”
Cloutier’s dad, Ethan, played baseball at Mesa State for two years (1994-95). Carter laughs at how a slick-fielding, hard-hitting second baseman had two sons grow up to be hockey players. His older brother Blake attends Colorado Mesa and played for CMU’s club team until it disbanded when Glacier closed.
“He definitely tried,” Carter said of the baseball path. “I played baseball all the way up until I got really serious about hockey. I played for the Junior Mavs competitive (baseball) team in Junction for several years but it got to the point where hockey became year-round and I couldn’t do it any more. I had to pick if I wanted to keep playing hockey to have fun and (play) baseball, or just baseball or really wanted to pursue hockey, and I made the decision to stick with hockey.”
It led him to the decision to move away from home in high school to play for the Colorado Thunderbirds AAA club team. It was hard for a 14-year-old to move in with a billet (host) family away from home, but his parents could regularly visit him in Parker, where he was living and attending Ponderosa High School, which helped.
“It’s a little different than other sports, like football or baseball. You can’t really just play for your high school and then go to college,” Cloutier said. “I moved away from home when I was a freshman in high school to play in Denver at a higher level so I would get noticed by these junior teams. The route for hockey, you have to go to juniors and then college. You’ll play two or three years of juniors and then to play Division I hockey, hopefully.”
That’s what he’s hoping his time in Wenatchee yields.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound left winger is taking full advantage of the ice time — the players are at the facility most of the day, whether it’s on the ice, conditioning, watching film or attending meetings.
“I’ve been really thankful. We get treated really well here,” Cloutier said. “The development part, I think I’ve been able to get a lot better already, just practicing and training every day. We’re kind of taking it slow, they have a specific week-by-week plan with what we do because they know it’s going to be awhile before we play. It’s been really nice to train every day and focus on the small parts of my game.”
At some point, Cloutier will play in his first Juniors game and maybe some young skater will see his bag and hockey sticks and follow him around the rink like he did all those years ago.
“I remember I played soccer when I was really little and the foot-eye coordination helped with the puck always being down at your feet,” he said. “I just picked it up really quick. I remember going on the driveway with my dad, shooting pucks and passing it around even before I went to school, waiting for the bus.
“I just fell in love with it and I never really got burnt out. Every time I get out there, I’m just at home, you know?”