There was always room for the circle to grow as far as Wendy Cates was concerned.
The longtime Jr. Ducks team manager, statistician and team parent, who passed away on May 28 after a four-plus-year bout with colon cancer, was fondly remembered by her peers as the ultimate “includer” and youth hockey fan.
“Our (2000 birth year) team was always extremely close, and I fell in love with the Cates family,” said Bill Fischer, whose son Ryan played with Jamie Cates for five years. “Our whole team was really close, and a lot of that was because Wendy and Denise Levine made sure everyone was involved.
“A lot of times hockey parents will cluster in smaller groups, but Wendy made sure everyone would be included in the circle at gatherings in restaurants, hotels and rinks.”
Jim Cates was a sports fan when he met Wendy at Ganahl Lumber, but he wasn’t particularly a hockey fan. Wendy was, and as a gift, sent him to attend a Los Angeles Kings game in 1990 – Jim’s first in-person experience with the sport, but far from his last. Three years later they began dating, the same year the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were hatched.
It took some work to convert Wendy to being a Mighty Ducks fan, but by the time the couple married in 1998 that process was well underway, Jim likes to say.
“She was a big, big hockey fan from the time I met her,” Jim said.
By the time they got married in 1998 she was converted to a Mighty Ducks fan, and the season tickets that they shared with her Disney brother-in-law worked very well, Jim likes to say.
Jamie, the couple’s only child, began skating age 4 at a mommy and me skate in Anaheim. After some initial resistance, he took to the game, developing into a strong player, and one who will continue his hockey career at Division III powerhouse Williams College in Massachusetts this season.
Wendy’s dedication to Jamie and his teammates was undeniable.
"Wendy would drive Jamie from Anaheim to Yorba Linda, 12 miles back and forth to school, then pick him up along with some teammates and drive them back and forth to practice in Lakewood (from Anaheim) every day,” Jim said. “She also made sure each did their homework!
“She never complained about all the driving.”
Whatever a coach or Jamie’s team needed, Wendy would pitch in, if not lead the charge.
“It went beyond always being at games,” said Jr. Ducks Director of Coaches Craig Johnson. “She loved her son, and she loved watching him play, and she would help any way she could, whether managing or helping the team’s manager.
“She’s a great example to any hockey parent.”
The core of the 2000 group achieved several highs, reaching the finals of the Pee Wee AA Nationals in 2012 and enjoying a long run at the Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament the next year. Jamie twice scored shootout winners in the latter tournament.
“That Nationals team was magical, and Wendy was a big part of that, any parent of a player on that team would tell you that,” Bill Fischer said. “I vividly remember this: Wendy was so happy she was in tears.”
For some hockey parents, travel can be a burden. The 2000’s viewed it as an opportunity, often scheduling in an extra day before or after a tournament to check out the city’s culture, Fischer said.
“Most kids read about these places, our kids were fortunate enough to experience them,” he said.
Wendy also helped spearhead a charity tournament in December 2012, while the NHL was navigating a lockout, to help facilitate the Jr. Ducks’ Pee Wee AAA team being able to go to Quebec.
“We ended up with 18 NHL players from the Ducks and Kings coming out to play at Christmas time to support these kids,” Jim Cates recalled. “The players were fantastic and really eager to help out.”
Jr. Ducks coach Eugene Kabanets coached that team, as well as Jamie’s team the previous season. He, too, fondly remembered Wendy.
“She was great,” Kabanets said. “She helped the boys so much, made sure they had whatever they needed, and she helped me so much. I never had to worry about forgetting things because Wendy and Bill were on top of everything.”
Wendy’s final days saw her enjoy two things she took immense pride in with Jamie, a two-year captain at Tilton School in New Hampshire.
On May 11, the headmaster of Tilton School flew to Southern California to perform a commencement for Jamie at the Cates’ Anaheim house, allowing Wendy, whose cancer had returned aggressively, to be able to see her son graduate. Hundreds of friends and colleagues of Jim and Wendy drove by and dropped by to congratulate the Cates family.
“For him to do that shows the impact Wendy had,” Jim said.
One week later, she got to see Jamie skate one more time at a private junior and college skate at Bay Harbor. Attended by many parents of past teammates and competitors, it was a very happy – and sad – moment for all.
“As players move on, sometimes you (parents) lose touch, and we had,” Bill Fischer said. “Ryan came home from one of those skates and said he’d seen Jamie. It struck me to send Wendy a text, and we were able to communicate one last time. She was not able to speak much after that. If I hadn’t texted her …”
Ten days later she passed peacefully at home with family by her side.
“It’s like losing a family member,” Fischer said. “Hockey families become so close because you’re so committed to the sport. We would talk about life, politics, school, and it sometimes became very spirited conversations.
“Wendy became like a sister to me,” he added.
“Jamie is the epitome of what you hope for in your kid. Jim and Wendy raised a terrific young man.”
Wendy’s love – for her family and hockey – struck Johnson as well.
“That’s the biggest thing I saw – her love for the sport and for her family,” he said. “Jamie is an unbelievable player, a great teammate and an outstanding student. Jim and Wendy had a lot to do with that.
“It’s not a stretch to say she left her mark on the Jr. Ducks and on hockey in general.”