The New England Sports Center, with its 10 rinks and support facilities sprawled across several acres at the intersection of Routes 290 and 495 in Marlborough, is a true hub for hockey in the Northeast.
Since its opening more than a quarter-century ago, Wes Tuttle was at the center of that success.
“In the hockey world, you have those qualities of caring for kids. Wes would do anything for anybody,” longtime friend and former Marlborough High coach John Butler said of Tuttle, who died suddenly Saturday at age 62.
“He cared about people. He cared about kids, he touched so many kids.”
Tuttle served as general manager of NESC since 1994, and was a welcoming presence to countless hockey players, coaches and teams, from the youth levels to professionals and adults.
“Wes meant so much to so many people inside and outside of hockey that no words will do him justice,” said Jamie O’Leary, assistant GM of the Sports Center. “He was a friend to everyone, and here at the NESC we will never be able to replace the work he did. We just hope we can make him proud of how we move forward.”
‘“In the hockey world, you have those qualities of caring for kids. Wes would do anything for anybody.” ’
Longtime friend and former Marlborough High coach John Butler said of Wes Tuttle
Tuttle grew up in Marlborough and attended Hudson Catholic before playing junior hockey in Canada. Upon his return, he worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, managing the Navin Skating Rink in his hometown, as well as the Philip J. Weihn Memorial Swimming Pool in Clinton.
Cushing Academy boys' hockey coach Steve Jacobs grew up in neighboring Hudson and later coached Marlborough High in the 1980s out of Navin, where he developed a lifelong friendship with Tuttle.
“He had this gift for building strong relationships. That’s why so many people are touched by this,” Jacobs said. “He learned from so many different people. It was just kind of born into him, I think. Just a loyal, positive, optimistic outlook.”
Tuttle was recruited by NESC owner H. Larue Renfroe to move across town and manage the new facility when it opened. Starting with four ice sheets, the venue has more than doubled in size in the years since. Renfroe and Tuttle also operated the Minuteman Flames youth program, producing NHL players such as Jim Campbell, John Lilley, Mike Grier, Greg Mauldin and Bobby Butler, as well as 1998 Olympic gold medalist Tara Mounsey.
In a statement on their website, the Flames said: “He had a love and lifelong dedication to his family, ice hockey, the sports community in general, the City of Marlborough and the Minuteman Flames like no other, and was a friend to all of the many he came in contact with. He was one of a kind, and will be missed dearly.”
Like many others, Jacobs credits Tuttle for helping his son Stephen, who played at Cushing and UMass.
“So passionate, he really enjoyed inspiring kids,” Jacobs said.
Rugo Santini graduated as Winchester’s all-time leading scorer in 2001 and played at Brown. He and Arlington’s Ned Havern, who played at BC and later in the minors, skated together with the Flames for about a decade under Tuttle and Renfroe when the team was based out of Valley Sports in West Concord, and then after NESC opened.
“He was a treat,” Santini said of Tuttle. “He was this husky, burly guy, and he looked intimidating. But he was a great guy. He was really a softy at heart.
“The way they treated you was top class. Wes would run the Sports Center, but he did anything for you, getting you sticks or whatever.”
Peter Trovato remembers playing for the Flames when NESC was being built, skating on the first ice surface that became ready for use while construction continued around them.
“At the time, I think we thought Wes and Larue were a little nuts building this massive complex,” said Trovato, who went on to play for the Catholic Memorial dynasty in the late 1990s, and then at UMass. "But Wes was so passionate about the project and the positive impact it would have on Flames and other youth hockey organizations, that he really dedicated his life to making it a wild success.
“It was pretty messy ... and Wes met with our team after practice and said for us to be patient because ‘Pretty soon this complex will be the best facility in the country and dedicated to the Minuteman Flames and making you guys the best hockey players around.’ And was he ever right.”
Even those who never played for Tuttle, or worked alongside him, still were influenced by him.
“I grew up in that rink,” said Florida Panthers forward Frank Vatrano, whose parents would drive him more than an hour from East Longmeadow to play for the Junior Bruins out of NESC. Vatrano’s cousin, Barry Almeida, who starred at Boston College and plays for the Worcester Railers, came up through the Flames.
“When you’re at a rink for so long, you develop relationships. I went back the NESC last year for the first time in a while and [Tuttle] was one of the first people I talked to,” Vatrano said. “He wasn’t hands on with me, but I still had a great relationship with him.”
One of Tuttle’s proudest moments, according to Butler, was being on the bench as an assistant coach when Marlborough High won the Division 3 state championship in 2005.
While Marlborough still plays at Navin, Hudson High was one of the first teams to move into NESC when it opened.
“What Wes was great about was always being there for you,” longtime Hudson coach Mike Nanartowich said. “Wes always figured out something for you, always had your back. If something needed to be troubleshooted, if something changed, he always was there for you.”
Said Vatrano: “At the end of the day, you’re businessmen. But when you’re a businessman and a people person, that’s what attracts people to you.”
Tuttle and NESC were a driving force behind the Garrett Reagan Summit, which annually attracts more than 70 high school teams across Massachusetts for a jamboree-style event in December. Waltham boys' hockey coach John Maguire, who coordinates the Summit for the Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association, credited Tuttle’s deep hockey connections with attracting sponsors and guest speakers, including former Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli.
More than anything, Maguire said, it was Tuttle’s demeanor and professionalism — his experience with running major events out of the venue — that made it successful.
“We’d have 15 buses backed up out front and I’d be worrying about teams not showing up. He’d be cool as a cucumber,” Maguire said. "He was a calming effect to a somewhat hectic day.
“He would never get rattled. He would have parents scream at him because we were charging money [for admission], but he would just handle everything. The Coaches Association certainly can’t thank him enough for what he did behind the scenes.”
Tuttle was part of a group of hockey officials and facility managers that successfully pushed the state to update guidance for ice hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing thousands of players across Massachusetts to return to the ice.
“Most people involved in youth hockey have had the opportunity to meet or work with Wes over the years,” said Bob Joyce, president of Massachusetts Hockey. "His passion for the game and his willingness to try and accommodate any situation were just part of what made him a special person. It didn’t matter if it was a five-overtime game on a Sunday morning or a missed scheduling opportunity for a Massachusetts Hockey event, Wes was always looking to make our lives easier and figure out a favorable solution.
“We will miss the commitment and dedication that Wes brought to the youth hockey world.”
Calling hours are Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at New England Sports Center. A private funeral will be held Friday.
Said Butler: “You’re very fortunate to have someone like that as a friend. We’re going to miss him.”
Jim Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.