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Aside from no starts and a silver medal, World Juniors experience will last a lifetime for Prince George Cougars’ Taylor Gauthier

“It still doesn’t mean that I wasn’t on the team.”

Taylor Gauthier says his last ‘kick at the can’ with Canada on a junior international stage was a dream come true despite not actually getting the chance to play between the pipes.

The Prince George Cougar also considers himself lucky to be named a top-three goaltender in the country as that was the case with the prestigious honour of wearing the red and white at a World Junior Hockey Championship.

However, the final buzzer on Tuesday (Jan. 5) favoured the Americans at the 2021 Under-20 tournament in Edmonton with the host nation falling 2-0 to their continental rivals.

Gauthier was selected as the third netminder behind Kamloops Blazer Dylan Garand and Devon Levi, who started in every single contest for Canada and eventually earned top honours in the crease after recording three shutouts.

“At the end of the day, hockey is a business,” he said when asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters about the misconceptions of receiving the third-goaltender slot.

“That’s something that I understood going into it that there was a chance that I could be in the third-string position, but it still doesn’t mean that I wasn’t on the team. I was part of something pretty special and at the end of the day, my name is still on the roster and the jersey is up in my closet. So, it’s nothing to be upset about. It would’ve been nice to get games in, but I’m very thankful and honoured to be able to have that jersey in my closet and say that I was part of a team.”

This was the highest level of competition for the 19-year-old, who turns 20 on Feb. 15, and the fourth time in his career he had a maple leaf on his chest.

His silver medal will sit next to the 2018 gold medal at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and his sweater will join those from the World Under-18 and -17 Championships.

He’ll look at his World Juniors hardware with pride, but the sombre feeling of losing the gold will still sting for a bit.

“We wanted to win the whole thing. You go to the World Juniors with Team Canada and your expectations are to come home with gold every year. It didn’t work out for us this year, bounces didn’t go our way in the gold-medal game, but regardless of the result, it was a really special moment being with 24 of the best guys in Canada. That was something pretty special.”

Speaking of stingers, that’s how Gauthier described taking a puck to the hand during a practice the Monday before the tournament began, which led to some reports of an injury.

When asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters for clarification about the incident and whether or not it impeded his chances of earning the go-to goaltending spot, he simply said he was content with whatever happened in the locker-room.

“I took kind of an awkward shot to the hand, but it didn’t really do anything to me. It didn’t affect my play or anything. I know there was some speculation that I was hurt, but it was just a little stinger. I think after that practice I was told I was the third goalie. I think with how the coaching staff approached it, it’s just a business.”

“I wanted to be part of the whole experience,” Gauthier added in describing what he did during competition, notably watching from the stands.

He also took the chance to immerse himself in key moments of the World Juniors, including the pre-game warm-ups and the walk from the hotel to the dressing room, which Rogers Place was connected by a tunnel where the Canadians waved to die-hard fans that stood outside to cheer on from a distance.

“I just tried to do everything I could to try and bring something to the team and I think I did a pretty good job at that. I think our expectations growing up with the tournament in Canada is that the rink is going to be sold out every night, you’re going to see fans all over the place. It was definitely different, but walking over that pathway and seeing those fans out in the streets with their jerseys on and their flags, [...] people that go out of their way to support us and show that they’re behind us.”

So what’s next for the Prince George Cougars’ starter?

Well, after more than 50 days in a bubble, Gauthier is hoping to find a way to keep himself on the NHL’s radar, and while he wasn’t given a chance to prove himself at the World Juniors, he says simply being there was helpful.

“I think making that team was huge in keeping my name in the conversations, but for now, it’s just kind of a waiting game and seeing what happens. Obviously, I don’t have any NHL camps to go to or anything like that, so it’s just getting back to the off-season grind and making sure I’m ready to go for whenever we get the call to come back.”

In the meantime, Gauthier says he’s grateful for the lasting friendships he made with his Canadian cohorts, undoubtedly set to last a lifetime.

He also took the time to commend staff, volunteers and health officials for making the World Junior Championships possible amongst uncertainty with COVID-19.

Gauthier was the seventh Prince George Cougar, the first team goaltender, to represent Canada at the World Juniors and the third to claim a silver medal from the tournament.

He and Filip Koffer, who was with the Czech Republic, were the first Cats' duo to be named to their respective country's Under-20 line-ups since Brett Connolly (Canada) and Martin Marinčin (Slovakia) in 2012.

Will he get a shot at playing for Canada again up against countries like the U.S. or Russia?

We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds, but right now, Gauthier is hoping for a WHL season of sorts as he has two more years on paper left with the league.

“It’s up in the air, but I’m confident that the league and the provincial governments are gonna try and figure out a way to get this season going. Obviously the safety of the players and staff is priority and hopefully we can get something figured out.”

The WHL has hoped to start the season Jan. 8, but public health orders on sports have restricted competition and there’s no current timeline or start date on the table.