Gauthier making his presence felt with Storm, LVIC
Gabe Gauthier had a presence at Las Vegas Ice Center long before Kirk and John Brooks interviewed him for the rink’s hockey director job nearly two years ago.
It’s just that the brothers who own and operate the rink didn’t realize it.
“It’s one of those things that shows you how small the hockey world is,” said Gauthier, a former standout at the University of Denver. “Kirk Brooks has a son, Kenny, that plays at Penn State (University), and they’re originally from Denver.
“When Kenny and his sister, Brittney (who played goalie at Colgate University), were kids they attended the Gwozdecky Hockey School, which I worked at in 2004 and 2005. I happened to be one of the instructors for Kenny’s group and made an impact.
“That year we won a (NCAA) national championship, and as a kid he wanted something to bring home as a memento, so Kirk bought a Denver jersey and had the whole team sign it.”
While Gauthier and the Brooks brothers were having lunch around the time of his interview at Brooksy’s – the restaurant inside Las Vegas Ice Center – Kirk asked if Gauthier had signed the jersey.
“Yup, that’s my signature right there,” Gauthier responded as he pointed to the jersey on the wall, adding that Brooks responded, “Well, this is meant to be so we’ll see you soon.”
Thus began a relationship that in two years has seen growth at the Ice Center and with the Nevada Storm that’s been nothing short of spectacular, with the club blossoming from three teams to nine (including AA entries at Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget 16U, as well as a Midget 18U/High School team).
In addition, the Ice Center’s house league now boasts more than 200 players.
“We needed a change, and he’s hit it out of the park,” said John Brooks, the rink’s CEO. “He came up through the system, playing junior, at DU – programs that had philanthropy and discipline.
“Not only is his hockey knowledge excellent, but Gabe has a good way of expressing it to kids. Gabe’s a leader.”
Unlike some players who have no idea what to do when their careers are over, Gauthier had a strong inkling what was next.
A key figure on the Pioneers’ back-to-back NCAA championship teams in 2004 and ’05, Gauthier signed as a free agent with his hometown Los Angeles Kings, eventually playing eight games for the NHL club. He also was an American Hockey League All-Star for the Manchester Monarchs in 2007-08.
Injuries, however, began taking a toll during the 2010-11 season, and by the end of 2013 his pro career was over seven years after it started.
“Even as a kid or playing junior hockey, I always had that instinct to be a leader or be a coach,” Gauthier said. “As a young kid, I had a strong desire to instruct. Going to Denver got me more in-tune with that.
“I had a passion for teaching kids because I was so fortunate to have great coaching throughout my life. Being who I am, it’s always about giving back and sharing as much knowledge as possible with young kids so they one day could have that opportunity.
“In professional hockey I had injuries so I’d go help out during practice, help the coaches and be on the radio. I always found a way to stay in the game without being on the ice.”
In 2013, Gauthier returned to Denver and went to work for a company that installed skylights while coaching an American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III team at Metro State University. Coaching some players not much younger than he was, Gauthier helped them reach the regional finals.
Then, a mutual friend put him in touch with the Brooks brothers in early 2014.
One phone interview and an in-person interview one day later and Gauthier was offered the hockey director job for the rink, the youth organization and the head-coaching position of the Western States Hockey League’s Las Vegas Storm.
The variety of roles suits Gauthier’s strengths, John Brooks said.
“His instruction with the lowest-level players in house league to the most talented junior players is the same,” Brooks said. “The first word I think of when it comes to Gabe is passion. The second is integrity.
“He has a rare ability to connect with kids because he cares.”
Those attributes, as well as the strong staff the Storm is assembling, have youth hockey making strong headway in Las Vegas.
– Chris Bayee