PAWTUCKET -- When Steve Reynolds took over the reins as Tolman High’s hockey coach in the winter of ’08, he inherited a team that not only graduated a talented senior class that reached the Division II quarterfinals the previous season, but was short on upperclassmen and bodies.
He also had his share of first-year players on his 16-player roster that season, and one of them was a familiar name who starred for the Tigers’ football and wrestling teams the past couple of seasons, Kyle Coutu.
Reynolds didn’t know what to expect from Coutu, but he ended up becoming a valuable player for the Tigers. Coutu not only saw time all over the ice as a forward, defenseman, and goaltender, but the senior standout quickly became one of the Tigers’ all-around leaders.
“I can’t say enough about Kyle,” noted Reynolds. “He did me a favor when I needed bodies. He was a good leader, an excellent guy in the locker room. All these guys respected him and liked him.”
Coutu, who graduated the following spring, went on to join the U.S. Marines, but on Feb. 18, 2010, shortly after turning 20 years old, he was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan.
On Friday night at Lynch Arena, the Tolman community, Coutu’s friends and family, and the city of Pawtucket paid tribute to Coutu before Tolman’s game against the Johnston/North Providence co-op team by retiring Coutu’s jersey number (21).
It was the latest tribute to the fallen hero. Last May, the Tigers’ practice field on the corner of Fountain and Blackstone Streets was dedicated to him, and last November, the Tigers’ football team also retired his uniform number (77).
“To see the school retire his football jersey and now his hockey jersey, Kyle obviously deserves that and more,” added Reynolds.
And on May 21, when the inaugural Cherry Tree Running Festival conquers the city’s streets, the 3.1-mile race that will follow the Blackstone Valley Half Marathon and Cherry Blossom Youth 1K will be called the Kyle Coutu 5K.
After watching his Tigers skate to a hard-fought 1-1 draw with the first-place Panthers and talking about his team’s play in that game, Reynolds also spent a couple of minutes recalling Coutu’s lone season with the team.
Coutu gave the Tigers a solid physical presence who checked opponents with the best of them and was among the team’s leaders in penalty minutes, but more importantly, he filled in nicely whenever the Tigers needed a body at a certain position -- even between the pipes as a goalie.
“He was a tough hard-nosed athlete who liked to hit people,” Reynolds said with a smile. “He was a jack of all trades, but an important part of the team and he’s missed obviously. I’ve always been a fan of Kyle’s and I wish his family the best as well.”