In the mid-2000s, only a pair of ice rinks existed in Phoenix — AZ Ice and Ozzie Ice. The latter featured just two half-sheet ice rinks and eventually closed in 2010.

But if it was a good enough place for a young Auston Matthews to learn how to skate, it was certainly good enough for Cutter Gauthier.

Gauthier frequented Ozzie Ice throughout his adolescence with his father, Sean, who played 14 professional seasons as a goalie — including a stint with the Reading Royals in 2001-02 — before settling down in Scottsdale, Ariz. The younger Gauthier, who was born in Sweden but moved to Arizona as a child, admired Matthews and his goal-scoring ways from afar until the two met in the 2014-15 season.

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At the time, Matthews played for the U.S. National Team Development Program while Gauthier, who is six years younger than Matthews, aspired to one day do the same.

“I was such a young kid and seeing this guy was mostly a jaw-drop,” Gauthier, 18, said. “But I didn’t really talk much. I was just sitting there and [staring] at him.”

Seven years later, Gauthier let his play do the talking as a key contributor for the same U.S. under-18 team, racking up 34 goals and 31 assists in 54 games this past season. He joined an elite group of players in program history, including Matthews, who have scored more than 30 goals in a single season. NHL Central Scouting ranks Gauthier third among North American skaters behind only Kingston Frontenacs center Shane Wright and NTDP teammate Logan Cooley.

Now, with the NHL draft just a month away, the nearly 6-foot-3, 200-pound Gauthier wants to create his own legacy as an Arizona hockey player with size, strength, and goal-scoring ability.

“It’s been an honor to watch [Matthews] and see how my footsteps are kind of aligned with his and a career I hope to have one day,” Gauthier said.

Making the move to Michigan

Although Sean threw goalie pads on Cutter at a young age, the experiment failed quickly.

But while he didn’t inherit his father’s passion for the position, Cutter absorbed his drive to play in the NHL. Sean, who played one NHL game for the San Jose Sharks, in 1999, spent most of his career in the AHL and ECHL. He also spent time in the Florida Panthers’ system when Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was an assistant general manager there.

Back when Sean was “more flexible,” Cutter took advantage of having a goalie to shoot pucks on.

“Now, I think I might break a bone or two,” Cutter said.

Gauthier’s mother, Kim, is from Reading, where he spent summers at her family’s farm. The immediate family relocated from Arizona to Michigan when Cutter was 10 years old so he could play bantam minor AAA hockey with Detroit-based Honeybaked.

When Gauthier was 16, talks with USA Hockey ramped up about his potentially joining the NTDP. In his first year with the program, Gauthier posted 20 goals and 17 assists for 37 points, ranking fifth on the team in scoring.

“It’s more of a professional setting where you’re going, you’re doing your online schooling, you’re doing your off-ice and you’re doing media prep, and you’re doing on-ice, all that together really helps you big time,” Gauthier said. “It helped me personally as a player to develop over the past few years.”

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‘Highly competitive’

Gauthier was even more dominant in 2021-22, finishing second on the team in goals (34) behind 2022 draft-eligible prospect Rutger McGroarty (35). He displayed his self-described best traits — his shot, his skating ability, and his hockey IQ — with consistency.

That’s a difficult feat to achieve at such a young age, according to director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr.

“He’s a very motivated individual,” Marr said. “Highly competitive. We have chances to see practices sometimes and if you saw the prospect game, they go teammates to teammates, they were going after each other and hitting each other. So he’s highly competitive. But he’s matured his game where he’s become the complete package.”

As the season progressed, Gauthier became more confident, a mindset he thought he lacked last year. Cooley, his linemate, saw him take strides in his skating, too.

“I think with Cutter, just his speed, how explosive he is,” Cooley said. “He made it real easy to play with [him]. Obviously his shot, too. It’s an NHL shot already, so I think as he continues to get stronger, more explosive, he’s going to be a heck of a player.”

Additionally, Gauthier said he focused on being more physical and using his frame to create space for himself and his teammates in the offensive zone.

“I’m a bigger body than most of my teammates and I’ve noticed when I’m physical, I’m playing my best hockey,” Gauthier said. “It’s getting the bench rowdy as well. You throw a big hit and it kind of just gets the energy and the group feeling a lot better.”

His strength and athleticism translated into top-10 performances in several combine tests, including the 5-10-5-yard shuttle run (4.46 seconds), the Wingate mean power output (11.6 watts/kg) and peak power output (combine-best 18.3 watts/kg), the standing long jump (112.0 inches), and consecutive pull-ups (15).

The Flyers, who possess the No. 5 pick in the draft (July7-8), were among the 16 teams to interview Gauthier at the combine.

“It’s an organization I’d love to be a part of, especially talking with them,” Gauthier said. “I felt like I had a really good interview with them. I’d love to play for the Philadelphia Flyers.”

Gauthier grew up admiring Matthews, but he models his game after Winnipeg Jets power forwards Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois.

Boston College-bound

Despite his experience playing on the wing, Gauthier said he feels most comfortable in the middle. He’ll play center at Boston College next season.

To Marr, Gauthier possesses the hockey sense, the composure, and the vision to project as a reliable NHL center.

“This U.S. team, the under-18 national team this year, it might be the fastest, quickest team that I’ve seen,” Marr said. “Those guys play at top speed all the time. So when [Gauthier] has to kind of gear down and he has that time and space, he’s a really smart player. But on the other side, he’s also one of those players that can make those decisions at quick speed and make the plays and score goals.”

Gauthier aims to play one season at BC before making the transition to the NHL. Following the draft, he will head back to Michigan to train with his NTDP teammates.

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He’s approaching his workouts with two goals — one, to work on his first three strides to enhance his explosiveness, and two, to improve his ability to generate takeaways. Gauthier was particularly inspired by watching 60-goal-scorer Matthews progress in his all-around game this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“You don’t get half those [scoring] opportunities if you’re not competing and playing a solid defensive game and transitioning to the O-zone quickly,” Gauthier said. “If you don’t score, then you’re helping your teammates get an opportunity and helping them win as well.”

With a passion for hockey born in the untraditional market of the desert, Gauthier is ready to bring his versatility to hockey’s biggest stage.