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Gauthier Prepares to Make NHL Debut

First-round pick earns recall after strong showing in training camp

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes /

The singular goal of a player in training camp is to make the Opening Night roster.

In doing so, that player is assigned a stall in the Carolina Hurricanes' locker room. The veterans in NHL experience - the locks to make the team - already have their stalls set in the room at the start of camp. Everyone else, players like Julien Gauthier who are fighting for a roster spot, begin camp by dressing in the visiting room.

As camp progresses and roster numbers shrink, players migrate across the arena level to the main room.

Gauthier made that move, but with still not yet enough stalls to accommodate the 20-some remaining players in camp, he and a pair of others had cushioned folding chairs set up on a newly installed turf area near the players' lounge.

One step closer, but not quite there.

Even late in the preseason, Gauthier sauntered over to the turf after a morning skate, oblivious to the fact that, since he was dressing in that night's game - he was the only skater to play in all six exhibition games - he had an actual stall assigned in the locker room.

Old habits. And, perhaps, a stubborn recognition of the work still ahead.

Gauthier, though, was among the final group of players trimmed from the roster on Oct. 1. A number of factors - some more business-oriented, like the Hurricanes' ever-so-tight salary cap situation, and some more hockey-focused - determined his fate.

"He wasn't happy, but at the end of the day, he's going to be here at some point, I think, if he keeps trending in the right direction," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said at the start of the month. "He's got to keep working away from the puck, all the little things that don't really show up. … It's one thing to have a great shift here and there, but all the other ones, you have to make sure you're keeping pucks out of our net or chances against away.

"I'm sure you'll see him this year at some point."

Sure enough, the call to Charlotte came just eight days later.

"You never expect that call. You just work hard and hope it's going to come quick," Gauthier said on Thursday. "It was really quick, and I'm happy to be here now."

Video: Gauthier: "It's always a fast paced game"

The circumstances surrounding Gauthier's recall are unfortunate for the Hurricanes, who will be without alternate captain Jordan Martinook for 6-8 weeks after he undergoes surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

But for Gauthier, it's an earned opportunity. He vaulted himself up the organizational depth chart with a stellar showing in preseason and was then tabbed as the team's first recall following a productive start to the season (two goals in two games) with the Charlotte Checkers.

"You have two choices: You could either complain or find a way," he said. "When I got down there, I just worked as hard as I could in practice and games. I was able to produce. It was nice to score right away."

"He gets an opportunity in a real game to see what he can do," Brind'Amour said on Thursday. "We need him to be good."

A nameplate with his surname and the No. 44 now signifies Gauthier's proper stall in the Hurricanes' locker room, as he prepares to make his NHL debut against the New York Islanders on Friday.

"I think I can play here," he said. "It's a fast-paced game. You have to be at 100 percent every game and give it everything you've got. I'm here to work."

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