Bobby Gauthier’s hockey journey hasn’t gone the way he planned. He graduated from Bishop Hendricken in 2006, fresh off a state championship. Prep school was next, then junior hockey.
Everything changed in 2007. His brother Andrew died after a battle with leukemia. Bobby changed his mind about junior hockey, opting instead to stay home and be with his family.
But he always kept skating. He wanted to play in honor of his brother, so he joined the club team at the University of Rhode Island. Then he went to Nichols College and played there. Now, he’s a senior forward at Becker College.
It’s been a bumpy road, but on Sunday, the road brought him home.
And it was perfect.
Since Andrew’s death, the Gauthier family and a host of volunteers have organized a hockey festival in Andrew’s honor. Bobby always attended but no matter whose hockey uniform he was wearing at the time, he could never figure out a way to play in the festival, to play in the rink that he’d always called home.
That finally changed this year.
Thanks to a coordinated effort by Becker and Stonehill College, a game was scheduled. The teams made it to Warwick safe and sound, then took the ice for the festival’s marquee game. Gauthier got the start at center and took the opening faceoff. His team won 2-0.
It was good to be home.
“I feel like it all came together today,” Gauthier said.
The game was Gauthier’s first at Thayer Arena since his Hendricken days. It brought back memories, and it gave him a chance to reflect on his hockey career – and on home.
“It felt good to be home,” Gauthier said. “I never left Warwick. Learn to skate, all the way up through instructional. I played in other leagues along the way, but this is home.”
Gauthier has been trying to get his teams into the festival every year, but it was a tall task. College schedules aren’t too flexible. This year, his first at Becker, he realized his team needed one more game to fill out its 25-game slate. He started looking around at other teams’ schedules and saw that Stonehill needed a 25th game too. In a stroke of good luck, the new Stonehill coach was Pat Leahy, who was Gauthier’s prep school coach.
“I gave him a call and said ‘Do you think we could make it happen?’” Gauthier said. “From there, it went through both coaches and the athletic departments and they just made it happen.”
Gauthier was grateful.
“It took a lot to make it happen – the athletic directors, the schools, Stonehill had to bring their guys back early,” he said. “It meant a lot to me. It meant the world.”
Much of the day sparked feelings of nostalgia, from dressing in a familiar locker room to climbing over the wall on a familiar home bench. In the crowd, friends and family cheered Gauthier on. For someone who’s played hockey in a lot of far-flung places, it was a strange feeling.
“I was nervous when I first came back,” Gauthier said. “I forgot what it felt like.”
Before the game, starting lineups were announced. When Gauthier’s name was called he skated to center ice and saluted the crowd. The ovation was the loudest and longest of the day.
Gauthier then took his regular shifts, helping the Ice Hawks build a 2-0 lead. He was on the ice as the final seconds ticked away, and he received congratulations from his teammates and coaches.
Both teams then joined in the annual ceremony to honor Andrew.
“Today, I think everybody really got to see what it’s about,” Gauthier said. “It’s more cheerful and more enjoyable now because it is five years later, and the memories are starting to become good memories. They don’t hurt as much. To see the support I got from the opposing team and my team was phenomenal.”
Gauthier is nearing the end of his hockey journey now. He already has a marketing degree and he’ll move to Brooklyn in August to start a new job.
But that support is something he’ll never forget.
It’s what allowed him, finally, to come home.
“I’ve gone to a lot of different places, and I don’t regret any of it,” Gauthier said. “I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. I met a lot of great people along the way, and I made a lot of great friends. In the end, it all worked out. I’m very happy to be here.”