April 24, 2016

Jacques Cloutier

Jacques Cloutier is another French-Canadian who found success in the NHL with the Buffalo Sabres.

Jacques, born in Noranda, Quebec on January 3, 1960, became a prominent junior star in his four seasons with the Trois Rivieres Draveurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Twice he led the league in wins and three times in shutouts. He rose to national prominence after backstopping the Draveurs to the Memorial Cup final in 1977-78 with 46 wins in the regular season. His finest season was in 1978-79 when he recorded an unthinkable 58 wins in 72 games, and led the league in goals against average. The Draveurs returned to the Memorial Cup that year too, but again came up short.

After that incredible season, the Buffalo Sabres drafted the tiny Quebecois goalie 55th overall in the 1979 entry draft. Despite his success in the junior ranks, Cloutier was fighting a seemingly endless battle for respect because of his size - just 5'7" and 165 pounds.

Cloutier took a big step to keeping his critics quiet when he turn professional in 1980-81. He reported immediately to the Rochester Americans where he turned in a magnificent rookie season. He led all AHL goaltenders in games played (61) and minutes played (3478) while posting a record of 27-27-6 with 1 shutout.

Cloutier was en route to a duplicate performance with Rochester in 1981-82, but a broken collarbone caused him to miss extensive time. When he did return he quickly regained his form, and was given a late season look with the Buffalo Sabres. Jacques was impressive as Don Edwards backup, posting a 5-1 record in 7 games, and a 2.51 goals against average.

Cloutier's fine play, combined with the off-season return of Bob Sauve through free agency, allowed the Sabres to trade away their number one goalie Don Edwards. Sauve would get the bulk of the work in 1982-83. Cloutier spent most of the year as the backup goalie, recording a 10-7-6 record in 25 contests. However by season's end Cloutier was demoted to the minors as the Sabres acquired veteran Phil Myre for their playoff run. Cloutier was spectacular upon his return to Rochester, posting 12 wins and 2.84 goals against average en route to capturing the American Hockey League championship.

While he was hailed as one of the better young goalies in the league by this point, Cloutier was buried in the minor leagues for the next three years. The reason for this was the emergence of the best young goalie in the league in Tom Barrasso. Barrasso burst onto the NHL scene directly out of high school and had a spectacular start to his fabled career. The veteran Sauve was chosen to back up the young Barrasso, leaving Cloutier to tending the nets in Rochester. However knee injuries would hamper his season and his development.

By the time Cloutier returned to the NHL, many people had already forgotten about his status as an up and coming goalie. Sauve's departure in 1986 opened up a backup spot with Buffalo for Cloutier, who would serve as the backup from 1986 through 1989. He played admirably during a tough 1986-87 season which saw Barrasso go down with his own injury problems, but by the following season Cloutier found himself battling for the backup position with the new up-and-comer named Darren Puppa.

That situation resolved itself temporarily in 1988-89 when Puppa emerged to challenge Barrasso for the number one job. Unhappy about sharing and losing his job, the temperamental Barrasso was traded away to Pittsburgh, while Cloutier played in 36 games as Puppa's backup, filling in nicely when Puppa missed time with a broken arm.

Cloutier, who is not related to former Sabre Real Cloutier or current NHL goal keeper Dan Cloutier, began to tire under the heavy workload during Puppa's lengthy injury time, prompting the Sabres to look for a new backup goalie. They brought in Clint Malarchuk. In the off-season Cloutier was simply given away to Chicago.

Cloutier and Alain Chevrier split the Hawks goaltending duties in 1989-90, but in 1990-91 Cloutier returned to his familiar job as a backup. Cloutier began the year as the elderly figure for a young Ed Belfour in Chicago, but soon lost his own backup job to another rookie - Dominik Hasek.

The Hawks traded Cloutier back to his native Quebec where he would play the final 4 seasons of his long career as a rarely used backup goalie. He retired with an all time record of 82-102-24 with 3 shutouts in 255 games over 12 NHL seasons.

1 comment:

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