By Thomas Becker
The last time a McCutcheon laced up their skates for UPEI, the Panthers were crowned AUAA champions.
Blueliner Darwin McCutcheon was a key piece of a talented roster that guided the men's hockey team to their first title in 1984-85. Fast forward to next fall — almost 40 years later — when Darwin's niece Ashley McCutcheon embarks on her own journey as a Panther.
"I think it's really cool how I'm following in my uncle's footsteps. He had great success with the Panthers and was named an All-Canadian before going on to have an impressive hockey career. He was definitely a factor in my decision to come here."
That championship DNA was too enticing to ignore for head coach Bruce Donaldson, who worked his magic to add the talented young forward to his championship-calibre roster.
"He (Darwin) had suggested we take a look at her, and after talking to Ashley and her coach, it became clear that she would be a great fit for our program."
Growing up, Ashley took advantage of her hockey lineage as often as she could. Any time Darwin — who currently resides in Colorado — made the trip back to Ontario to watch his son Max play for the Guelph Gryphons, the McCutcheons, including Ashley and her father Terry — who was also skilled hockey player in his time — made it a family occasion. And the topic of discussion on these road trips always involved hockey.
"It was during these road trips that I would often listen to the post-game analysis from my dad and uncle. I soaked up as much hockey knowledge as I could," Ashley said.
Games of shinny hockey on Terry's backyard rink was another McCutcheon tradition that fueled Ashley's understanding of the sport.
"All the McCutcheon boys are big, physical players and even though the women's game is different, I learned my size and strength were an asset and that I should use it to my advantage."
Donaldson couldn't agree more.
Standing at five-foot-10, Ashley will be the biggest player on the team and with the recent influx of size to the lineup, the team is expected to continue their upwards trajectory, which hopefully ends in a championship.
"Ashley has been described as a power forward and as the AUS grows in size and speed, we see her as a great addition to our lineup," Donaldson said. "I believe she'll be an impact player in this league."
Before her anticipated arrival next fall, Ashley will continue to hone her skills with the Barrie Jr. Sharks of the Provincial Women's Hockey League (PWHL). Last season, she was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Sharks, who finished the 2019-20 campaign with an 8-21-9 record. The 18-year-old played in all 38 games and led the team with 13 assists to go along with six goals.
"I think my greatest strength is my versatility. I can play all positions and contribute in different game situations," said the Kitchener, ON native. "I hope to be a great addition to the team and to make a difference each time I hit the ice."
In 1985, the McCutcheon name was forever etched in Panther lore. The question now is, can it happen again?
"Coming from a small town, uncle Darwin had a lot of people doubt what he could achieve on the ice. That made him even more determined to prove them wrong. And I want to do the same."
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