From virtually the day that he was born, hockey has been part of the life of Oscar Clouthier.
And like most folks with his background, this middle of five children, who has done it all in the game, loves to talk hockey.
Preparing to celebrate his 80th birthday in September, Clouthier has plenty of material to draw upon. Thankfully, much of this material remains fresh, in part due to:
a) - the fact that the long-time resident of New Sudbury can recall, with ease, the overwhelming majority of the more interesting hockey related moments in his life, and
b) - the fact that Clouthier need not travel all that far back to share stories in sport, having stepped away from his involvement with the NOHA just two short years ago
Yet it is long before that when this story begins, as the future Sudbury Sports Hall of Famer (Class of 2008) beelines to his pastime of choice as a youth growing up in Blezard Valley.
“I played just about everything,” said Clouthier, the son of sports-minded parents, his mother a prominent fastball player of that era. Though his interest were not limited to the winter activity of choice for thousands of Canadian kids - Clouthier would go on to quarterback the Sudbury Spartans, suiting up with the summer football team for more than a decade - there was little doubt the seeds were being sown with the likelihood that hockey would emerge #1 on his list.
“Our elementary school in the Valley had a rink in the back of the school,” noted the father of two. “The principal was a guy by the name of Mister Lefebvre, a great guy. He would make the older boys build the rink every winter, so we played hockey all the time.”
The structured template of 21st century minor sports involvement simply did not exist at the time. “It was organized, but disorganized,” suggested Clouthier. “Often, it would just be a bunch of guys that would get together to play ball or hockey.”
High-school was typically the point at which officiated competition came to the forefront. For this retired letter carrier, that would mean basketball and football, enjoying his hockey outside of the confines of Nickel District Secondary School. It was at the home of the Cougars that Clouthier would meet his wife of more than fifty years (Gail) - fittingly a cousin to one Bobby Orr.
It was also at “Nick Dick”, as the school was affectionately dubbed, that Clouthier would carve out his niche at QB, understating notably the skill-set that allowed him to guide the Sid Forster coached summer teams of the late sixties and early seventies. “I wasn’t fast, so I would just give the ball to somebody else - I wasn’t greedy,” chuckled Clouthier.
“In all of the years that I played, which was a lot of years, I think I only scored two of three touchdowns.”
Clouthier’s first tentative snaps under centre would come with a Nickel District team that was only just beginning to gain a foothold with the local high-school loop. “My first year, we didn’t have a whole lot of kids out, so a lot of guys were playing two ways - but we have some good players,” said Clouthier.
“But when we played Sudbury High, they had some great players. Towards the end, when I left, we were getting to be pretty good. That was a great experience, high-school football.”
Moving, in the early 1970s, into the house they still call home, Oscar and Gail would take very little time immersing themselves in the community of the day that revolved around one very central location.
“The first year that we moved here, I walked over to Rosemarie (Playground) and started working on the rink,” said Clouthier. “I coached the little guys there, helped flood the rink - I even reffed some games when we didn’t have a referee. There were playground teams everywhere.”
In short order, he would make his way to “city” (rep) hockey, partly due to the fact that his son, Bryan, was a very solid hockey talent, partly due to work-related experience that allowed Clouthier to feel equally as comfortable behind the bench or in the boardroom.
“I was good with either one,” he said. “I was so used to the board room, just because of my work at Canada Post, doing a lot of the union work there. I enjoyed both. It’s so much fun coaching the kids, such a good feeling seeing the improvement. And so many of the kids were great to work with.”
With an involvement that spanned several sectors of the hockey landscape, Clouthier would develop a number of pockets of friendships, folks with whom he shared common interest, with whom he would spend hundreds of hours at the rinks.
Whether it be with the Sudbury Realtors or the Sudbury Red Wings, the supporting cast were often similar: Gary Hall, first and foremost, at his side, along with the likes of Jim Duffy, Jim Elliott, Ray Forcier and others. Around the table at the offices of the SMHA, Clouthier would rub elbows with Gerry McCrory, Gabe Guzzo, Don Stack and, of course, Blaine Smith, the Executive Director that he hired, directly out of the Sports Admin program at Laurentian.
“I taught Blaine everything that he knows - and he doesn’t know nothing,” said Clouthier with a laugh. Kidding aside, the memories are priceless. “There were so many really good people there; we had a lot of fun. We were around for a hundred years, it seemed - but I felt like I was part of a team.”
Ascending to the board of the NOHA, Clouthier would recognize a bit of a shift in atmosphere. “You’re now one or two steps away from the actual action,” he said. “It’s more administrative.”
No worries. Whenever he needed to get his fix closer to game action, Clouthier could always return behind the bench. Minor hockey days gave way to AAA bantams and a trip to the All-Ontario Championships in scenic Kenora. Junior hockey involvement may have started with Earl Sanders and the Sudbury North Stars, but would include future stops with the Capreol Hawks the Rayside-Balfour Canadians and the Sudbury Northern Wolves, decades later.
Heck, in the first year that Mike Foligno returned to Sudbury to coach the Wolves (2003-2004), it was Clouthier and Bryan Verreault that joined him on the bench. Just a couple of years earlier, he had joined Todd Lalonde in Belton with the Central Texas Stampede. “I was a bit one dimensional, as a coach, in a lot of ways,” Clouthier confessed.
“I felt that hockey should be played at top speed, that everyone should always be go, go, go, go. And when I scouted, that’s what I looked for.”
Did we mention that Clouthier also spent many a year working in the area of talent evaluation, whether with the hometown Wolves or the Oshawa Generals. Understandably, he’s still more than willing to share his thoughts on the game.
“A lot of the hockey today is really good,” said Clouthier. “When I played, it was more rough and tumble. There was skill, but only a few guys had a lot of skill. Gradually, it changes, and it’s changing again.”
When you’ve been around the game for more than seventy years, you’re more than entitled to make that assessment.