Great hockey players are easy to find in the obvious places. However, they can also be found in unlikely places as well.
Such was the case with Clarkson freshman and New York Islanders prospect Shea Guthrie.
Guthrie came to Clarkson from a relatively unknown Division II prep school in Newport, Rhode Island called St. George’s. While there, he helped lead the team to its first ever ISL/New England Division II title and amassed 50 points.
Playing at the school meant that he flew under many college recruiters’ and NHL scouts’ radars. It was a situation that was both a blessing and a hindrance for the forward.
“I had some options to go to various other places and play at higher (non-collegiate) levels, but chose not to. I was told that if they like you, they’ll find you and if you’re good enough, you’re going make it anyways,” said Guthrie in a recent interview with Hockey’s Future. “I was given many opportunities at St. George’s to develop my skills and I learned a lot from Coach Mulhern there. I think it was a blessing in one way because it kept me out of the spotlight a bit and allowed me to think that I hadn’t really achieved as much as I had, so I worked harder. I always worked very hard there. It was a hindrance because I felt that I wasn’t getting the attention that maybe I deserved. At the same time, I also understood why I wasn’t getting the attention. It did more good for me than bad.”
Being off of the radar of other colleges didn’t stop Clarkson from going after the offensively dynamic forward. Clarkson was one of only a handful of schools that aggressively pursued Guthrie and that pursuit paid off. For Guthrie, it was love at first sight.
“Clarkson was very supportive of whatever I chose to do. They never put pressure on me to go one way or the other. To be honest with you, I fell in love with the place the second after I took the (recruiting) tour of the school. The coaches stood out right away. Of all the college coaches that I spoke with, they were the best group that I had done interviews with. I really liked what they had to offer. Being given the opportunity to play right away was definitely attractive to me too. I think at some of the bigger schools, I probably wouldn’t have had the same opportunity. So it was also a deciding factor for me. It’s close to home and I know about the tradition here really well too.”
The Carlton, Ontario native made his collegiate debut back in October and has since been a key component of the Golden Knights team that has based part of its success this season on its ability to generate offense from all four forward lines. Guthrie currently is tied for fifth on the team in scoring with 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists).
Like all collegiate freshmen, Guthrie went through an adjustment and acclimation period. While playing on a roster full of great players made the adjustment a little easier, there were still some tough but important lessons to be learned. It was something that Guthrie understood very well and took to heart.
“The level of competition was probably the hardest part about adjusting to the college game for me,” he said. “I didn’t find that I had to really adjust my own game much because in the summer I do play a lot of hockey with some pros. I’m used to the level but I guess playing games (regularly) with guys who are older and stronger as well as competing against good players all the time has probably been the hardest adjustment. It wasn’t something that I always had to do last year or the year before. The competition level is higher and everybody is bigger at this level. The commitment, both on and off the ice is definitely more demanding too.
“Playing with better players has definitely helped make my game better and has made me a better player. It helps because I don’t have to carry the burden on myself all the time. Having players around who I can depend on who can get me the puck and who I can get it to definitely helps. The hardest part about playing hockey in high school was that even though there were some decent players, the overall caliber wasn’t what I probably needed. I stayed there because I had made such a commitment to the school. I loved the school and the people there. What made the transition easiest for me to college was being able to play with such good players and getting the opportunity to get the ice time in various situations like the power play. Once the coaches taught and instilled in me the importance of being tough and confident that really helped me. From there, my game went to a whole new level because now I’m pushing myself even harder.”
The enviable offensive situation that Clarkson has been able to enjoy this season has made it more comfortable for Guthrie to settle into the collegiate game, and it enables him to find other ways of helping the team.
“The coaches want me to go out there and produce,” he explained. “Right now there are other players on the team that can and have picked up that side of things. It definitely alleviates a lot of the pressure. As far as my game is concerned, I think it really does help me because if I’m not scoring goals, I don’t have to put a lot of that pressure on myself. I can just help the team in other ways whether it’s defensively, setting up other guys or doing some of the little things.
“I think the fact that we have dispersed talent on all the lines makes it easier for me to try and take some risks because I know that the other lines that can produce if I’m not producing. I’m definitely more comfortable knowing that and I feel pretty fortunate to be in the situation that I’m in here.”
Guthrie has spent much of the season playing alongside two other NHL prospects in sophomores Shawn Weller (OTT) and Steve Zalewski (SJ). The three players each bring unique qualities to the line and the chemistry established by the young trio has made for one of the most exciting lines to watch in the ECACHL this season. Playing with Weller and Zalewski has been a real learning experience for Guthrie this season.
“They are both very, very good hockey players in their own right and very different types of hockey players. Shawn is very good down low. He’s very strong and he’s a real competitive guy. If you give him the puck, he can score. Steve is very responsible defensively. I’ve learned a lot from watching him this year. He’s a great teammate to have because he never complains. He passes the puck really well too. They both skate very well and are very responsible players. The fact that I can depend on them to get their job done really helps me a lot because I can just worry about what I have to do. Playing with good players like Shawn and Steve enables me to use my strengths while they’re helping me out.”
As much as he has learned from his linemates, Guthrie has learned even more valuable lessons from head coach George Roll.
“He’s a really great coach,” Guthrie commented. “He is very understanding, professional, well organized, and he’s a very respectful guy. Everyone on our team has nothing but respect for him and what he’s done for our team. He has put his neck on the line for us when things have gone bad. He always takes responsibility for things that maybe he shouldn’t always have to do. Coach Roll has created an environment where players can be successful. The system here is very good and will be very good as long as we’re executing it the way that he and the coaching staff wants us to, and working hard and listening to what they all have to say.
“The importance of being responsible and aware at both ends of the ice I think have been the biggest things that Coach Roll has taught me so far. He stresses that in order to be successful, you have to be good at both ends of the ice.”
The coaching staff and his talented teammates aren’t the only things about Clarkson that makes the school so appealing to Guthrie.
“It’s a great place to play hockey and we have a great fan base here. My favorite part about playing here is the rink. Cheel Arena is unbelievable. I have to say that our facilities here are top notch. It is such a small school and being the only Division I sport, we receive a lot of attention. You’re kind of always in the spotlight. While it does put the pressure on you to do well, I also think it’s the best part about it.”
While Guthrie strives to continually improve and develop all facets of his game, defense is by far his biggest area of concern. It is an area where he has worked tirelessly to improve throughout the season.
“I’m always looking to improve everything that I do out on the ice,” he said. “Defense has definitely been my biggest concern this year. The coaches are honest with me and have told me that if I play better defense then I’m going to get the ice time. I’ve really put a lot work into just getting more acquainted with my responsibilities in the defensive zone. All defensive zone stuff is just hard work really, so I think that I’ve worked very hard at it and I think I have improved a lot of that this year. It’s so much a part of the college game that you’re forced to learn and adapt to the defensive part of the system, otherwise you won’t play nor will you survive. That has been my biggest focus this year.”
Offseason training and conditioning is the norm for collegiate players like it is for the pros. Guthrie gave Hockey’s Future some insights on what his offseason regiment is like.
“I work out with a group out of Ottawa called Peak Performance. What they basically do is power skating three times a week, no pucks. It’s been the best off-ice training that I’ve ever had. It’s unbelievable. They actually took over the workout regiment and schedules here at Clarkson earlier this year. I actually worked out the last two summers with them back home. Off the ice, I’ll work out about four or five times a week. They’ll work out a (training) schedule for me that changes gradually over the summer. It’s very well done and it’s all hockey-specific training. I also run a lot, play lacrosse and soccer too.”
In the summer of 2005, Guthrie received perhaps the greatest birthday gift of all and one he’ll never forget.
“I was drafted by the New York Islanders on my birthday.” said the clearly excited Guthrie. ”My first reaction was overwhelming joy. I wasn’t expecting to be drafted by New York. It didn’t matter to me who I was drafted by. I was very happy to be selected by the Islanders. It’s been the best news of my life to date and it happened to just be on my birthday too. So it was a pretty good day. I didn’t go to the draft in Ottawa. I just stayed home and found out about it on my computer.”
While he did not attend the Islanders prospects camp last summer, Guthrie says he will attend this summer’s camp.
Like every other amateur player, Guthrie has an NHL player that he not only looks up to but also tries to pattern his game after. His is a member of the Ottawa Senators and a player that he has actually played with in the past.
“My favorite player is Mike Fisher. I played with him a bit in the summer. He is such a humble guy. On the ice he is such a competitor and he’s real good offensively and defensively. I think his game would be the one that I would like to model the most, but obviously I have a long way to go. I’d like to be able to model his speed and just how good his hands are, but at the same time how defensive, reliable, and responsible he is.”
Guthrie, who hails from Carlton Place near Kanata, was drafted by the OHL’s Ottawa 67s and had the opportunity to play there, but opted for the college route. It was a decision he’s been content with and has no regrets about.
“The thought of playing in the CHL definitely crossed my mind, but I was pretty much set on college. Once I went to prep school, I was content with the idea that I would be going to a college, if I could do it. As of right now, I don’t have any regrets and I just love college.”
As a player at Clarkson University, Guthrie learned very quickly that the Golden Knights archrival resides in nearby Canton.
“I learned on day one that we have a bitter rivalry with St. Lawrence. It’s always a fun weekend for us when we play SLU and it’s probably the best weekend of the year.”
While the Saints may be the most hated rivals, for Guthrie SLU’s Appleton Arena is neither the worst nor the most difficult collegiate road rink that he has played in.
“I’d have to say that Brown (Meehan Auditorium) is the worst place to play. It’s horrible because there’s no atmosphere there whatsoever. They don’t get a whole lot of support there and their building is pretty much empty. It’s too bad because they supposedly were very good back in the 1990s. My old coach at St. George’s (Ryan Mulhern) played at Brown and he said that back when he played there, they did pretty well and they had a lot of support back then. That rink doesn’t get much of a fan base now.
“For me, RPI (Houston Fieldhouse) has to be the most difficult place to play. RPI gets a lot of fans. It’s so big and so loud that it’s like a dungeon there. The visitors dressing room felt like it was 115 degrees and I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not,” said a chuckling Guthrie.
In addition to many of his great attributes such as tremendous skill with the puck, willingness to drive hard to the net, persistence, excellent work ethic and great hockey sense, Guthrie possesses an air of cool, but not arrogant confidence that seems to only add to his appeal. But there are others aspects about Guthrie that most may not know about that he would like to be known for as well.
“I guess my ability to protect the puck and my strength on the puck are things that most people may not know about me,” he said. “Those are some of my biggest strengths. I think I’ve improved them a lot this year. I think that I’ve become a lot more of a well-rounded player. I take great pride in that and I hope that I keep improving. I’d like to be known for my competitiveness and how hard I work. I’m trying to become a more physical player too. Obviously, my offensive game is my strong point. I think the reason why I’ve been so successful this year is because I’m competing so hard.”
With the ECACHL playoffs already underway, Guthrie will be a vital to Clarkson’s postseason success. If what he has accomplished thus far in his young collegiate career is any indication, Shea Guthrie’s future looks very bright.
And he’s on the radar now too.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.