Remi Gentes has always talked with a soft, respectful voice, but if you talk to those that know him well, they will tell you his impact on high school hockey was far from soft and mellow.
After 35 years of contributing his time to the kids he taught, Gentes recently completed his final season of high school hockey and is stepping down as league convener after three years in that role.
Prior to that, the 63-year-old was a fixture behind the bench of the now closed Lakeway Trojans and Sir James Dunn Eagles, where he served as head coach beginning in 1985 before eventually taking on the reins at Superior Heights. During that span, the only time he missed any action was during a work stoppage and his absence now spells a huge void for hockey locally.
After all, not only was Gentes a well-respected coach of the Eagles for many years, but he was an ambassador for high school hockey locally and is one of the reasons the league has thrived.
“Remi was around for 35 years so he was basically the backbone of high school hockey,” said Mark Palumbo, a former convener of the league and a man who worked closely with Gentes over the years. “He was very professional and he was the kind of guy that would go that extra mile for you. He was there to help the kids and he was just a really nice guy.”
Just how nice is he? Well, according to Palumbo, Gentes was the type of guy that not only cared about the players, but about the so many volunteers who helped keep high school hockey alive.
“Even if you talked to the timekeepers, they would tell you he was the kind of guy that would always make sure they were taken care of,” said Palumbo, who recently presented Gentes with a plaque in recognition of his years of service to the league. “He would just go that extra mile to make sure people were happy.”
Now, with Gentes officially stepping aside, the beneficiaries of his time will be his grandkids. His wife, Kirsten, is set to retire in a year or so and Gentes said it’s now time to spend more time with her and his grandkids. He has four grandkids in Ottawa and two in the Sault.
“I think 35 years involved in high school hockey is pretty good,” said Gentes, who taught French in high school. “My wife will retire soon and we plan to travel and I have grandkids in Ottawa so that gives me more time to help and visit with them.”
For Gentes, there have been a lot of battles on the ice, but his toughest battle during his tenure came on the early morning of Feb. 28, 2010 when one of his key players, Matt Howard, was struck and killed by a vehicle while walking down Queen Street.
Gentes not only coached Howard, but also respected him as a young man and says that day will forever be etched in his memory bank.
“That was a really tough time for me,” Gentes said. “He was one of my players and he was a real good kid. I’ll never forget on the Sunday morning when everybody gathered at Sir James Dunn because they opened the school for us and we all just grieved together.”
He said the team, which was in the midst of the playoffs, made a decision to play just one more game that season in honour of Howard. They beat the St. Basil Saints to even up their series, but then bid adieu to the season.
Aside from that tragic night which represented a low point in his coaching and teaching career, Gentes said there were also many highs. He won four city championships and one Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association title and had several memorable rivalries with White Pines, St. Basil and St. Mary’s.
He said he still remembers trying to outfox former Wolverines coach Bill Ferguson, along with many others over the years.
“I really loved the mind games that went on with other coaches,” Gentes said. “When I first started coaching, the games against White Pines were so physical and after that it was St. Basil and St. Mary’s. In the beginning, the only thing you thought about was winning, but as you get older, winning is great but teaching them some life skills is even more important. We all lose and have to learn to deal with it.”
For Gentes, adapting to different personalities and generations was something he had to deal with. When you’ve coached in parts of four decades, you see firsthand how kids and parents have changed. He said you have to approach kids differently today and with a much softer tone.
“Thirty five years ago it was a lot easier to deal with them, you know, with that generation because when the coach asked them to do something, they just did it,” Gentes said. “Toward the end, it was a new generation. They need to know why, ‘why do I have to do that?’
“At the beginning, you’d show them something and they’d do it, but near the end, you had to communicate more and really explain to them why they had to do something a certain way.”
But through it all, he says he loved every minute of it, particularly the time spent with the kids. He said those relationships made him a better person and enriched his life in ways people probably don’t understand.
“I’ll really remember the friendships I made and just being around the players and in the dressing room,” he said. “I see some of my former players now and wow, they’re 40 to 45 years old and it’s so nice to see them and to see what they’ve become. Basically I’ll miss the friendships and camaraderie.”
And for many reasons, it’s safe to assume high school hockey won’t be the same without Remi Gentes and will miss him, too.