For the people who are part of it, the Warwick hockey community can come to feel like a family.
On Sunday, the family comes home for one of its best traditions.
The Andrew J. Gauthier Hockey Festival is set for its seventh installment, with a full day of hockey beginning Sunday at 11 a.m., at Thayer Arena.
“It’s just a great chance to get the hockey community together,” said Bob Gauthier, who has organized the event since its inception. “You get everybody in the building, playing hockey together and keeping Andrew’s memory alive.”
Andrew Gauthier passed away in 2007 after a battle with leukemia. He played hockey and baseball at Toll Gate High School, and his family is a hockey family to the core. The event raises money for the Andrew J. Gauthier Scholarship Fund, which has awarded more than $10,000 to Warwick student-athletes over the past seven years.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Bob Gauthier said. “It’s always special.”
This year’s event features four high school games, a youth game and a new addition – an alumni game for players who skated with Andrew and his older brother, Bobby, who played at Hendricken and Becker College.
“That’s going to be fun,” Bob Gauthier said.
Prout and Barrington will get things started with a game at 11 a.m. The alumni game is set for 12:15 p.m.
The third game may be the most intriguing.
The Warwick co-op girls’ hockey team, which has the best record in Rhode Island’s top division, will face off against Arlington Catholic of Arlington, Mass. The Cougars won the Massachusetts Division 1 state championship in 2012 and finished as the runner-up last year. They’re ranked eighth in the Boston Globe’s Top 20 this season.
“"Our team is really excited,” said Warwick head coach Dave Tibbetts. “It's always fun to play a team from out of state you have never seen before. To have a chance to play arguably the best girls’ high school team in Massachusetts, in the memory and spirit of Andy Gauthier, just makes it all the more special.”
A ceremony celebrating Andrew’s life will follow the girls’ game. Toll Gate then plays Narragansett, where Andy’s cousin, Daniel, is a junior defenseman.
“We’re excited to be a part of it and we’re looking forward to a good game against Narragansett,” said Toll Gate head coach Mike Champagne.
The Yale Bulldogs, a youth team from Connecticut will play at 4:15 p.m., before the nightcap between Pilgrim and Warwick Vets. That’s an intriguing match-up since the cross-town rivals have been in different divisions since 2007 and haven’t played each other in several years.
While most of the players who will take the ice Sunday didn’t know Andrew, the event is a chance to learn about him – and from his experiences.
“Having this is extremely important and it’s a life lesson for these kids – life is short, that’s why we lace up the skates and go out there,” Champagne said. “Mr. Gauthier comes in and talks to the team. We’re getting away from kids who knew Andy, but he brings that in, which is great. It’s nice to shine something on Andy and what he went through. It’s really a great event.”
Champagne knew Andrew growing up and when he took over the Toll Gate program last year, he embraced the tradition.
“It’s a part of the Toll Gate legacy,” Champagne said. “To represent the school and represent the uniform that he wore – it means a lot.”
The event will also feature raffles, merchandise sales and the always-popular chuck-a-puck games. Anyone wishing to contribute to the scholarship fund can make a donation at the event. Last-minute items for the raffle will also be welcomed.
“We’ll have a good crowd,” Bob Gauthier said. “We’ll have the Patriots game on, so people can watch some football and watch some hockey. It’ll be a fun event.”