October 25, 2014
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Gauthier Festival has been a hockey treasure
File photo
FOREVER: The banner honoring Andrew Gauthier hangs at Thayer Arena. The hockey festival celebrated its seventh year in 2014.

Andrew Gauthier’s Toll Gate jersey hangs on the wall at Thayer Arena. Many of the players who skate in Titans gear these days don’t know much beyond that old uniform. They were in elementary school when Gauthier played for the Titans, and when he passed away after a battle with leukemia. Looking at his jersey is like looking at banners in the rafters, seeing the fact of it but not knowing the story behind it.

Every January for the past seven years, the Titans and other teams from around the state have gotten a glimpse of that story thanks to the Andrew J. Gauthier Hockey Festival. While time marches on and the festival gets a little more low-key, the story resonates – and we’re all better for it.

I first met the Gauthier family in the 2005-06 hockey season. Oldest son Bobby was a senior at Bishop Hendricken, a big part of a team that would go on to win the school’s first hockey championship. Andrew was a freshman at Toll Gate who had grabbed a varsity spot right out of the gate.

They matched up in the semifinals, a sibling rivalry played out with a championship berth on the line. It was a cool story, something unique. The fact that Andrew had beaten leukemia before high school made that winter even sweeter.

“A lot of times,” their dad, Bob, told the Beacon at the time, “we’re at the rink all night, and we love it.”

The leukemia came back the next year and Andrew died from complications. It was heart-breaking for the Gauthier family – and for their hockey family.

Soon after, in the face of immense grief, the Gauthiers and friends like John Rinn and Ken Fogarty pulled together to create the Andrew J. Gauthier Scholarship Fund and the Hockey Festival. I remember being amazed that they could muster the strength to do it, but the motivation was powerful. They wanted No. 8 to live forever, like the bumper stickers say.

Seven years on, they’ve accomplished just that.

The scholarship fund has given out more than $10,000 to Warwick student-athletes, a little at a time, to three or four students a year. The checks aren’t huge, but they help the cause. Scholarship winners have gone on to places like URI, Bryant, Suffolk, Rhode Island College and Worcester Poly Tech, and future winners will follow suit. The fund is positioned to be stable for many years.

And beyond the money, the Gauthier Hockey Festival also hands out perspective and lessons and stories. There isn’t a hockey parent in the world that hasn’t complained about a whole weekend lost at the rink, but the festival is a small reminder of what shouldn’t be taken for granted. The players in high school now didn’t know Andrew, but when they hear from his dad in the locker room before their games in the festival, maybe they lace up their skates with a little more purpose, a little more appreciation.

We can all use as much of that as we can get.

The puck dropped on the Gauthier Festival for the seventh time Sunday. There’s a feeling that things are different now – many of Andrew’s friends are out of college, coaches have come and gone, teams have changed divisions. The players on the ice Sunday who knew Andrew best were the ones dusting off their skates for the alumni game.

Bob Gauthier said they’ll keep the festival going for as long as they can, and Warwick should be grateful for that, for the fact that Gauthiers have shared their son with us and that they’ll keep doing it.

No matter how many years it goes – and no matter how much things change in the interim – the legacy persists in every game, every scholarship winner and every story.

No. 8 really does live forever.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor of the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@rhodybeat.com.


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