BURRILLVILLE – Like his brother Randy, and his cousins Barry and Melissa before and during his time on the ice, and his nephews and nieces after him, Gary “Cooter” Hopkins always wore jersey number 11.
Hopkins, like the rest of his family, loved hockey, and in the years following his tragic and untimely death at the age of 29, it is through the game that others remember and honor him.
Hopkins died in 2009, and soon after, his family began holding annual hockey events in his memory. The family formed an official non-profit, and over the past nine years, provided $29,500 in scholarships to graduating high school hockey players from Burrillville through funds raised at the annual tournaments.
“When we first started it, we only did one adult and one kids’ game,” said Hopkins’ sister, Tara Smith.
For nine years, area hockey fans and friends of the Hopkins have come together for “Another SHOT” Hockey Night,” in honor of the late hockey enthusiast affectionately known as “Cooter.”
Hopkins began playing hockey at the age of five, and was a forward in high school, playing hockey well into adulthood in various mens’ leagues.
“He may not have been the best player to strap on skates, but he played with as much passion as any who ever did,” noted a letter to supporters.
Smith’s daughter is among those who play in the annual memorial games, along with her brother’s three sons, and friends of the family.
“Every player to lace up skates in honor of our son, brother and uncle, every volunteer, every family, friend, fan in the stand; each have helped our family to turn tragedy into triumph,” noted an introduction to the event.
At the 10th anniversary of Hopkins’ death, the family has decided to host a week-long tournament at Burrillville High School’s Levy Rink with players of all ages from Burrillville and the surrounding area.
“We have teams playing from all over Rhode Island as well as Massachusetts,” said Smith.
Scholarships funded by the events are given to male and female graduating senior hockey players from the high school. The goal of the scholarship is to memorialize “Cooter” by honoring students from Burrillville who share his same passion for hockey. It’s a group that, Smith says, is sometimes forgotten in terms of an academic future.
“A hockey player isn’t necessarily the top of his class, so sometimes those kids are left out,” she said.
The Gary Cooter Hopkins Jr. Memorial Hockey Tournament, presented by Catseye Pest, will be held at BHS’s Levy Rink on March 26 through 31. The event will begin with Pee-Wee and Bantam games during the week.
On Saturday afternoon, Burrillville High School and JV teams will combine, and then split into two teams that will play each other in a 3 p.m. game. That will be followed by a women’s game at 4:40 p.m and two adult games at 5:20 and 6:30 p.m. respectively. Adult teams are made up primarily of BHS hockey alumni.
The organization will also be hosting the skate night at Levy Rink the night before, Friday, March 29, with proceeds to go toward the fund. The tournament is open to the public, and the family will raise additional funds for the non-profit through basket raffles and t-shirt sales.
“Anybody can come to it,” said Smith.
“While we do so with heavy hearts each year, we keep his spirit alive with a game that means so much to our tight-knit family in a place that is dear to us all,” noted a letter on the tournament.
And a decade after Hopkins’ death on June 11, 2009, family members continue to represent both their lost loved one and their love of the game with the number 11.
His nephew, Tyler Hopkins, retired his number 27 hockey jersey his senior year to wear the sentimental 11, and last year, nephew Blake carried on the tradition, wearing #11 while playing for the Burrillville High School Hockey team. The #11 jersey has been donned on and off the ice by members of the Hopkins’ family, with Cooter’s nephew Bryden and niece Kirstyn wearing it as hockey goalies; niece Karissa showing Hopkins’ pride in high school field hockey; and Kirstyn and her sister Kailey choosing the number for their softball jerseys.
Cooter once broke his collar bone playing youth hockey while being coached by his brother Randy, and that torn #11 jersey still hangs in Tyler’s bedroom
“That’s special to us all,” said Smith.