Joseph Jean-Philippe Gauthier
Born: April 29, 1937 (Montreal)
Died: February 20, 2013 (Montreal)
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, the Montreal Canadiens hoped young prospect Jean Gauthier would develop into a second Butch Bouchard. Instead, the capable but occasionally infuriating defenceman spent most of his career in the minors, occasionally filling in for an injured player.
His inability to crack Montreal’s lineup with a permanent job did not prevent him from getting his name engraved on the Stanley Cup in 1965. He also won a Memorial Cup championship as a junior and a Lester Patrick Cup championship in the minors.
Born in Montreal, the young moon-faced defenceman began his junior hockey career with the St. Boniface (Man.) Canadiens at age 18. He led the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in penalty minutes in his rookie campaign of 1955-56, being punished 99 minutes in just 23 regular-season games. He was whistled for another 27 minutes in just four league playoff games. The “hustling Habitants” won the league title by sweeping the Winnipeg Monarchs in four straight, ending with an 8-4 victory in which Gauthier scored a goal.
He skated for the Fort Williams (Ont.) Canadiens of the Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League the following season, once again leading his circuit in penalty minutes with 133. For the Memorial Cup playoffs, he was loaned to St. Boniface and, after they were eliminated, to the Flin Flon (Man.) Bombers, who claimed the Memorial Cup junior championship by defeating the Ottawa Junior Canadiens. (The Canadiens owned Gauthier’s rights even as he contributed to defeating a Canadiens farm team.) The rugged defenceman recorded four assists in the tough, seven-game series, “swinging and hacking at his Quebec cousins” to win the 1957 championship.
After a season with the Kingston CKLCs, Gauthier joined the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens, where he would spend four seasons being groomed for promotion to the NHL and the parent club. He twice earned First Team All-Star honours and shared league’s top defenceman award with Harry Sinden.
Gauthier made his NHL debut in a game at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Dec. 28, 1960. Montreal’s defensve corps was on the mend, as Doug Harvey played with a shoulder separation and Bob Turner was out with an injured wrist.
Gauthier recorded his first NHL point in his first period of NHL hockey. Taking the puck from Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion, Gauthier fired a shot high and wide past Johnny Bower in the Toronto goal. The puck bounced off the glass onto the stick of Jean-Guy Gendron, who tucked it home. Gauthier also got on the scoresheet with two hooking minors, as the Canadiens defeated the Maple Leafs, 4-1. It would be Gauthier’s only point in a four-game tryout.
A hockey writer’s thumbnail evaluation of his skill: “a bit crude, good shot may earn him job.”
At the Canadiens’ 1961 training camp in Victoria, B.C., Gauthier lost an open roster slot to junior teammate Al MacNeil. That Canadiens called up Gauthier for 12 games as a fill-in. At the 1962 camp, he was determined to become a regular.
“I came to camp last year with the idea I had already made the team,” he said. “This season I knew I would have to work.”
His challenger that year — a young Jacques Laperriere. Gauthier would play 65 games for the Canadiens that season, his longest stint with the club, but it would be Laperriere who would go on to take a fulltime spot on the blue line in a career that would end with his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Gauthier recorded three assists in an 8-0 shellacking of the Boston Bruins on March 7, 1963.
Gauthier’s play sometimes delighted, sometimes infuriated the Montreal staff.
“Jean Gauthier, whose mental lapses have caused Toe Blake to almost tear his hair out from time to time this season, has been coming up with some good performances in recent weeks and may make the grade after all,” Pat Curran wrote in the Montreal Gazette. “He played well in both games last weekend.
“The 25-year-old defenceman has a lot of natural ability. He is a strong skater, has a powerful shot and can carry the puck well. The rap against Gauthier is that he’s not thinking all the time and is inclined to make costly mistakes.
“Describing Gauthier some time ago, a former teammate remarked: ‘He has all the natural talent to be a great defenceman but goes into a mental fog every once in a while.’ ”
Once, he threw a stick at an opponent on a breakaway at a practice scrimmage, an act that caused Blake to lose his cool.
Gauthier became a utility defenceman, a spare part to be used when a regular was injured. He had the good fortune to be called up to play two games in the 1965 playoffs, getting his name on the Stanley Cup.
He spent most of the 1960s playing for such minor league teams as Quebec Aces, Omaha Knights, Providence Reds and the Seattle Totems, who won the Patrick Cup as Western Hockey League champions in 1967.
He would get another shot at a roster spot when the NHL doubled in size before the 1967-68 season. The Philadelphia Flyers took him in the 12th round (No. 69 overall) of the expansion draft. He skated in the first game in Flyers history, a 5-1 loss to the Seals at Oakland, appearing on the scoresheet when assessed a minor penalty in the second period. He played 65 games for the Flyers, who won the West Division that season.
Gauthier’s big, lumbering style was taken by some coaches as a sign of laziness. When Keith Allen of the Flyers gave him grief in practice, Gauthier replied, “Don’t worry, coach. When de bell ring, Gauch be dere .”
The Boston Bruins plucked him in the off-season intraleague draft, but he would see only spot dury over 11 games with the Bruins. The minor-league Cleveland Barons took him in the reserve draft in the summer of 1969 before selling his rights back to the Canadiens. He played his final four games with the bleu-blanc-et-rouge when called up from the Montreal Voyageurs after Serge Savard suffered a severe broken leg by crashing into a goal post in March, 1970.
His hockey odyssey continued on to the minor pro Baltimore Clippers, Rochester Americans and Long Island Ducks. He also played 31 games with the New York Raiders of the World Hockey Association.
His NHL totals included 166 regular-season games with six goals, 29 points and 150 penalty minutes. He played 14 playoff games with one goal and three assists.
Though he scored but one goal for the Canadiens in 89 games, Gauthier was a welcome regular with the Anciens Canadiens old-timer teams and was regular fêted by the club on ceremonial occasions.