A rash of call-ups and injuries to the Kalamazoo Wings roster in December was no picnic for head coach Nick Bootland. For Dustin Cloutier, however, that is a different story.
After starting the season with the Augusta Riverhawks of the SPHL, the forward was added to the K-Wings lineup on December 21, along with three other players, to help fill the voids on the decimated roster.
Cloutier wasn’t sure what to expect when he was summoned to the K-Wings, but he knew he was going to work hard to stay here.
“Talking to Coach Bootland when I came up, we didn’t know if it was going to be for two days or two months or what it was. So I’m just taking it day by day, and hopefully I will be sticking around,” he said.
As the only remaining player from that group of four, Cloutier has played 23 games with the K-Wings and has scored six goals and one assist.
Bootland said that when Cloutier is on his game, he is very creative when it comes to offense. “He skates really well and he has poise with the puck,” Bootland said. “And he wants the puck. When he is playing his best, he wants the puck.”
With players slowly returning from various injuries, Cloutier remains focused on the task at hand: remaining a K-Wing.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Cloutier said of the possibility of being released. “Guys getting healthy and coming back and everything, I mean, it’s good to see, but you just try not to think about it.”
With that being said, Cloutier says he just goes out, plays hard, and competes every day. “I try to play hard, and I’m able to play a few different positions,” he said. “I just keep working hard and hopefully everything comes together.”
Cloutier had a connection to the area long before he became a member of the K-Wings. “My dad was actually a hockey player, and he played for Western Michigan University,” Cloutier said. His dad’s passion for the hockey ignited his own love of the game.
“He played hockey, and I always had an interest in the game, and it was something that I liked to do,” Cloutier said. “My family has always been very supportive of it.”
In addition to his parents, Cloutier has three sisters and a brother. Now that he is playing in his home state, his family has been able to attend several games at Wings Stadium. “My brother and sisters have been able to come out a couple of times as well as my parents. But they (parents) are in Hawaii right now for a couple of weeks. They are enjoying life a little bit,” Cloutier added.
A native of Berkley, Michigan, Cloutier played for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the USHL and Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the NAHL before spending four years at Bentley University, where he was a member of the Falcon hockey team.
Among the highlights of his time at Bentley, Cloutier points to his sophomore season when they made it to the final four of their conference and beating a tough Maine team. The following year they won the Toyota UConn Classic by stunning the 15th ranked University of Massachusetts 4-1.
In the event that he is released from the team, Cloutier has other options available to him, including rejoining Riverhawks, if there is room for him. “It all depends on what happens or when it happens,” he said. “If another team calls me in the ECHL, maybe I go there. I don’t know. I just have to take it as it comes.”
In high school, Cloutier excelled in another sport, tennis. “Our team was actually pretty good, and we were top 5 in the state during my senior year,” he said. Cloutier never made it to the USTA Boy’s Nationals held in Kalamazoo every summer, however. “I was never that good,” he said with a laugh.