Grand Junction’s Cloutier finding second life with Thunderbirds, signs NAHL tender with Springfield
Carter Cloutier began the 2020-21 season with the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild, but the Wild withdrew from playing the season when government travel restrictions to Canada took hold.
Cloutier decided to head back to Colorado and rejoin the Colorado Thunderbirds’ 18U team with an eye on seeing what other opportunities may come up for next season.
This week, the 2002 birth year forward from Grand Junction signed an NAHL tender with the Springfield Jr. Blues, a longtime franchise in the NAHL that has opted out of the current season.
“Springfield’s head coach, Tyler Rennette, has watched some of my games and then we had a really good talk on the phone where he offered me the tender,” Cloutier said. “I took a couple days to think it over with my family and coaches and we thought it is a great opportunity that we shouldn’t pass up.
“Something that was very appealing about the team was that they opted out of this season, so they are totally rebuilding for next year which means there are a lot of opportunities that comes with that. I am very excited to get over to Springfield and, hopefully, contribute right away.”
Cloutier was in Wenatchee from October 10 through the end of November, practicing almost every day and then going to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, three times to scrimmage since the team wasn’t allowed to play games in Washington. The Wild also took a few players from the WHL teams in Washington to play with the team as well.
“When Wenatchee didn’t work out, I was obviously very bummed, but I had to look at it from a glass-half-full point of view because I was fortunate enough to have a place to play,” said Cloutier. “Some of our ‘01s are too old to play 18s and didn’t have a place to play for a while and were in a scramble to find somewhere to go. My mindset coming back was that I have to just focus on getting better every day and take advantage of being able to be on the ice and in the gym when a lot of other kids aren’t getting that opportunity right now.
“I just wanted to focus on the small parts of my game and try my best to help the team win. Another goal I had and still have for myself is that every time I step on the ice, I want to be the best one out there. That is what I work for and continue to work towards every day – being the best player I can possibly be.”
Coming back to the Thunderbirds has also allowed Cloutier to stay on the ice and continue to train off the ice as well. He credits coaches David Clarkson and Kelly Hollingshead for pushing him this season.
“I plan to take advantage of that all summer as well, training off the ice as much as possible and staying on the ice quite a bit as well,” said Cloutier, who also played youth hockey in Colorado for the Grand Junction Jr. Mavericks and Glenwood Grizzlies. “For the rest of the season, I think we are playing really good hockey right now and have a chance to go very far in Tier 1 playoffs as well as in state, districts, and, hopefully, nationals.
“During my time at Wenatchee, it was an amazing experience, and I was able to compete at that junior pace for several weeks which I felt helped me get a lot better in a short amount of time. We were also lifting a lot, so I felt I got stronger as well. However, when the Washington governor shut the state down again, it forced us to cancel our season because we were already unable to cross the border to play games and now, we couldn’t even practice.”
Still, getting a shot in the NAHL is something that Cloutier hopes can lead him to another advancement – NCAA hockey.
“Yes, that is another very appealing part of going to the NAHL,” Cloutier said. “My No. 1 long-term goal since I can remember was to play Division I college hockey and I think being here gives me a good opportunity to make a name for myself and, hopefully, continue to move on to the next level.”
— Matt Mackinder
(Jan. 13, 2021)