- Associated Press - Monday, December 14, 2015

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - As Chuck Cloutier III rounded a bend along a hallway inside Hirsch Coliseum on Nov. 27, he paused.

“You hear that?” he said.

In the distance, the unmistakable sounds of kids having the time of their lives echoed throughout the revitalized old lady on the Fair Grounds.

After a right turn through a heavy double door, Cloutier climbed a ramp, stood behind Box 19 and gazed at a fresh sheet of ice.

As “GEORGE’S POND,” painted in block letters below the immaculate frozen sheet, came into clear view, tears began to fill Cloutier’s eyes.



“I wish that name wasn’t out there,” he said. “I promise you I wish it wasn’t out there.”

Seven years ago, little George Cloutier, Chuck’s younger son, a breath of fresh air and a symbol of what sports can do for the youth of a community, died at age 12.

Days after his death, Scott Muscutt, then the head coach of the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, a professional hockey team, made a vow.

“There is going to be an ice rink built in this town,” a misty-eyed Muscutt told The Times in October of 2008. “It is going to be called George Cloutier Pond. I’m not going to sleep until it happens. I can’t let that kid down. I know what he wants. I know what his dream was. We’re going to make it come true.”

Less than three years after George’s death, the Mudbugs folded. An inspiration created by George did not.

Muscutt, Tommy Scott and Chuck Cloutier kept the dream alive.

Last month, following years of frustration, Scott and Muscutt announced the return of Mudbugs hockey. Beginning next year, the Bugs will play inside their original home.

Last time the Mudbugs played inside this building, George was a pint-sized fan.

Next time, they’ll play in his honor.

But there’s more, the rink will be bearing the name of that former goalie is about much more than hockey. The little kids following in the footsteps of George Cloutier don’t have to wait until next fall to watch their idols in teal and purple.

Last month, George’s Pond opened for public skating, youth hockey and more.

“George’s saying was: ‘Live to love; love to live,’” Muscutt said. “It was inspiration when he was alive and it’s the inspiration today. I’m thrilled to go to George’s Pond every day knowing that’s what we’re doing.

“We’re giving a people a chance to love to live and live to love.”

At the recent media day that coincided with the opening of the rink, Muscutt said he witnessed “adults just wanting to slide on the ice.”

“The smiles on their faces, even while falling down, it really is exactly what I thought of when I thought of what George would have wanted. He wanted to bring people together.”

More than 1,000 people - 1,003 to be exact - took to the ice on the first weekend of public skating.

“There would have been more but they didn’t have enough skates at first,” Cloutier said. “I heard more than one person say, ‘This is one of the best things I’ve seen in Shreveport in a long time.’

“This place has been quiet for too long. It’s changed.”

Long before the public got a peek at the amazing transformation inside the Hirsch, Cloutier got his hands dirty at every step.

From installing boards, to making ice out of concrete to painting corridors, Chuck Cloutier was there with Muscutt and Scott.

For those involved, there was no more impactful moment than flooding the floor.

“When those sheets (of ice) went on it, it was powerful,” Cloutier said.

One night, at 4 a.m., the first layers of ice took shape. With his son’s name sparkling beneath him, Cloutier fell to the ice and bawled his eyes out.

“It was powerful,” Cloutier said. “I said, ‘It’s happening.’”

Muscutt asked Cloutier: “How does it look?”

“It looks fantastic,” Cloutier said.

“He had tears in his eyes, and pretty soon there were four grown men, two of them didn’t know Chuck and didn’t know George, and we had tears in our eyes.

“It was a ton of work, but worth every second.”

Cloutier constantly wonders what George would be up to these days.

“He really loved golf, so maybe he would be like (Philip) Barbaree Jr. or Carter Toms,” Cloutier said.

Of course, hockey is a good guess.

George learned the game at 5 from former Mudbugs Tony Bergin and Dan Wildfong. He gravitated toward goalie thanks to his brother, Jordy.

“He would be with his friends and say, ‘You go get up against that wall and we’ll shoot at you.” Chuck Cloutier said.

George then idolized former Mudbugs goalie Ken Carroll. That’s where an obsession with the No. 34 began.

“You couldn’t find a better role model for a kid than Ken Carroll; and Kenny’s the first to tell you, you couldn’t find a better kid to wear his number,” Muscutt said.

One day riding home from a Mudbugs game in which Carroll set one of his numerous league records, George told his dad: “I’m going to break every record Kenny ever set in the CHL.”

Dad said, ‘What?’”

“He said, ‘You heard me.’”

Whether it’s an airport gate, a seat number on a flight or a license plate number on a rental car, Dad and son communicate through the number 34.

“George has used that as his way of letting me know everything is all right,” Chuck Cloutier said.

Jordy Cloutier, now 22, separated himself from sports to focus on his studies. However, the senior at LSUS will dust off his skates to play in a recreational league on the rink named for his brother.

In a chilling coincidence, the brother of youthful Chuck Cloutier, Douglas Patrick Cloutier, was murdered during a kidnapping in Shreveport nearly 40 years ago. Cloutier credits Steve Prator for his “unbelievable” work to help solve the case.

“I’ve always thought, ‘How does it affect (Jordy)’ thinking back to what I went through,” Cloutier said.

Although it was seven years ago, to Cloutier, a magical couple of days in 2008 seem like yesterday.

“It was the weekend before George passed,” he said. “George had a hockey tournament in Lafayette and Jordy had a debate tournament in Lafayette. It was my birthday weekend.

“I thought, ‘This is the coolest (expletive) in the world.’”

Then everything changed.

As he nears 60, Cloutier has a realistic outlook on what’s ahead.

“Every day I live I get closer to seeing him,” he said. “When I go up to wherever he’s at, I imagine I will go through double doors like that (pointing inside the Hirsch) and he’s going to be in net saying, ‘It’s about time.’”

___

Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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