A Life: Philippe Bouthillier, 1941-2013; ‘He Had This Amazing Gift to Put a Positive Spin on Any Circumstance’
Philippe Bouthillier, shown in his chemistry classroom at Hartford High School in an undated photograph. Bouthillier, who died on Aug. 7 at the age of 71, majored in chemistry in college and taught the subject at Hartford High. He was also an integral figure in the history of the high school's hockey program, helping found the program and aiding in the construction of the school's rink. (Courtesy photograph)
Philippe Bouthillier, shown in his uniform for the Nashua Royals semi-professional hockey team in 1965. Bouthillier, who died on Aug. 7 at the age of 71, founded the Hartford High School hockey program, helped in the construction of the Hartford BOR Arena (now Wendell Barwood Arena) and was a fixture within Hartford hockey for more than 40 years. (Courtesy photograph)
White River Junction — At 6 o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd would shuffle in.
By that time, Wendell Barwood Arena’s four most familiar denizens had already taken their places inside the icebox that is home to the Hartford High hockey program.
Kay Mariotti was in the rink’s home-team penalty box, making sure the scoresheet is ready to go. Her husband, Bob, was with her, setting up the scoreboard, having already delivered a bucket of frozen pucks and set the goals on the ice.
By the wooden barrier near the locker rooms, stood Mona Bouthillier. Armed with a wicked smile and infectious laugh, she once was the public-address announcer; she’d become something of a security guard, letting through those who require access, sending back those who don’t.
And the person around whom much of this activity revolved — Mona’s husband, Phil — was … somewhere, doing something pertinent to the rink or game. Teams, coaches and players come and go, but the Bouthilliers (for 40 years) and Mariottis (for 30) were the constants.
Phil Bouthillier — who died on Aug. 7 at the age of 71 — was why this scene could play out in the first place.
“When I started coaching, and through my career, I sort of got blinders on and viewed things a certain way, how kids played and how the team was doing through the years,” recalled longtime Hartford boys hockey coach Todd Bebeau. “I would have conversations with Phil, and he had this amazing gift to put a positive spin on any circumstance. I appreciated the insight he would give me.
“After the day was over and I would sort of reflect on his advice and his sort of vision of how he thought the game went, more times than not it made so much sense to me. I took his words to heart.”
Coaching, making ice, keeping order, offering opinion, carrying the Hurricane flame: As the founding force of the Hartford program and a major part of getting the WBA built, there wasn’t anything about hockey that Philippe Bouthillier didn’t touch in his five-decade association with the Hurricanes.
“He was the game,” Bob Mariotti said. “He brought it to Hartford to begin with. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be out there today.”
Hockey In His Blood
Did the former Mona Bechard realize what she was getting herself into when she attached herself to a stocky, Nashua-born hockey player with a future in teaching when they first met nearly 50 years ago?
“When I first met Phil, I had no idea what hockey was; it was oblivious to me,” said Mona, who met her future husband when they worked for the same Nashua company in the early 1960s. “When he started the (Hartford) program and started the youth hockey and my kids went into it, I thought maybe I ought to find out what this is all about.
“Phil had done hockey since he was little. He was on a semi-pro team. It was in his blood. Teaching hockey was his forte. That’s how I got involved.”
A chemistry teacher at Hartford High for 42 years, Bouthillier — a son of Canadian parents — established the varsity hockey program in 1966, the winter of his first year at the school. Without an arena, the program skated on the high school’s outdoor tennis courts, which required Bouthillier’s early-morning care. Which also frequently required his wife’s assistance.
“We’d be flooding the rink at 3 a.m. in the morning; I remember that very well,” Mona Bouthillier said. “We were flooding at 3 a.m., and (former town manager) Ralph Lehman came over and asked what we were doing: ‘Flooding.’ He said, ‘Man, Mona, you must be in love with this guy.’
“It was below-zero weather. It might have been stupidity. It was fun to see Ralph, but Phil still had to teach. He’d run home, change, run back and teach.”
Bouthillier followed founding the high school program five years later by inaugurating the town’s youth program. He coached the Hurricanes for a decade. He assisted for many years, formally and informally, after that.
He and Mona also donned striped shirts to become youth hockey referees. Long since retired from that aspect of the game, the license plate on her car still reads HCKYREF.
“Mona was tough; she was the one always calling penalties against me, and Phil was always the peacemaker,” said Bebeau, who played his youth and high school hockey for Hartford. “I was a dead ringer for a minimum three penalties when they were officiating.”
The arrival of varsity girls hockey in the early 1990s allowed Bouthillier to dip his toes into coaching one more time. Having played for Bouthillier when he was a kid, Hartford High Assistant Principal Nelson Fogg was happy to have his former mentor’s help.
“When we started the girls program 20 years ago or so, we had one full-time coach — me — and we didn’t have a part-time coach,” said Fogg, who retired as girls hockey coach earlier this year. “The guy who drove the bus, Dave Smith, helped, and Phil was there. I’m sure, if he was here, he’d say he just periodically give kids a pat on the back and a boost of confidence and this and that, but over the years he worked with all measure of players.
“A number of years ago, we had three never-played-before freshmen who decided they wanted to play. … Phil took on these three kids. They spent the vast majority of practice time with him. As a head coach, that allowed me to know that I had somebody working with players at their very entry level and I could focus on the other folks.”
Hockey didn’t bring the Bouthilliers and Mariottis together, but it made them into what they became: the consistent face of the Hartford program.
“When we first came up after getting married, we knew nobody; this was a strange, oriental place,” Mona Bouthillier explained. “The Mariottis lived not too far from where we lived. We became friends, almost neighbors. Their kids and ours were about the same age. We hung out together.”
“We were just fans at that point,” Kay Mariotti noted. “Bob started being a goal judge, and I forgot who was doing (the book) before I took over. (Former athletic director) Bob Taylor called and wanted to know if I had any interest in doing it. I started as a goal judge for two or three years and took over what I do now.”
To the unknowing throngs who visit the WBA, Phil Bouthillier’s most visible presence came on those Saturday (and Wednesday) nights when the Hurricanes had a home game. He, his wife and the Mariottis became such fixtures that visiting fans usually greeted them as they would friends.
While Bouthillier retired from teaching in 2008, he and Mona continued to join the Mariottis as the Hurricanes’ game staff in the years afterward. It was only when Bouthillier’s health began to wane that he and his wife considered handing their duties to someone else.
Mona hasn’t sworn off hockey entirely; her son, David, has taken over her announcing duties on home nights. The Mariottis have no plans to quit; Fogg joked that their perfect Saturday is now “catching an afternoon game at Hartford, getting over to Dartmouth to see the women play and catching the boys or another Hartford team later in the evening.”
“They absolutely love it,” Fogg added. “They know the players. They just create an environment in the facility that allows us to know how important this is for them and how important the kids are to them. They’re the kind of people good programs have around and other programs search to have around.”
When plans to renovate the WBA are complete, hopefully within the next two years, Bebeau wants to start a holiday high school hockey tournament in Bouthillier’s memory. It’s been important to him, and to Fogg, that the players — the ones benefiting most from the devoted efforts of the Bouthilliers and Mariottis — know how their lives have been enriched by their collective presence.
“The kids know them not as some nameless person that worked at the time,” Fogg said. “They know Bob and Kay. They know Phil and Mona.
“For high schoolers today, there probably aren’t enough opportunities to see people that way, people that come and support them. Certainly, all four of those folks have done that.”
Greg Fennell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3226.