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GATOR GOLF: JEREMY GATES’ TWO-SPORT LIFESTYLE

Tuesday, August 25th
GATOR GOLF: JEREMY GATES’ TWO-SPORT LIFESTYLE

Wherever Rush Assistant Coach Jeremy Gates goes, championships and competition seem to follow him. As a professional hockey player for five seasons, Gates won three SPHL championships with the Pensacola Ice Flyers in 2013, 2015, and 2016. Before turning professional, he won the 2009 NCAA-III Hockey National Championship with his alma mater, Neumann University. Additionally, he won back-to-back CJHL championships before college with the Pembroke Lumber Kings in 2007 and 2008, with current Toronto Maples Leafs Head Coach Sheldon Keefe at the helm of the bench.

However, most Rush fans are unaware that Gates’ athletic accomplishments are not just limited to the ice. In addition to his success in hockey, Gates is an accomplished golfer, playing in college while also playing hockey and reaching the NCAA-III National Championship Tournament in his senior season.

Three weeks ago, Coach Gates turned his eyes toward another championship competition to add to his resume: the 2020 South Dakota Golf Association Amateur State Championship.

“I talked to some people I golf with at The Golf Club at Red Rock that were going to play in it, and I looked into some of the events the SDGA was going to host this summer. When I saw the SDGA Amateur State Championship was here in Rapid City at Arrowhead Country Club, I decided to sign up and compete,” Rush Assistant Coach Jeremy Gates said of entering the tournament. “The Saturday of the tournament was actually my birthday, so I considered it a little birthday gift to myself. I didn’t win it, but I was really happy to compete against some great competition.

“Playing in a tournament like that really puts the game of golf in perspective,” he continued. “There are lots of college players that participate in this tournament that regularly shoot under par, and their margin of error is almost non-existent. It really establishes an even further appreciation of the game of golf, and how good not only the top amateurs are, but also the professionals beyond them.”

In the three-day competition, Gates shot an 82 on Friday, a 78 on his birthday on Saturday, and an 85 for a three-day score of 245. He finished 13th in Flight 4 of the tournament.

Gates’ relationship with sports, particularly hockey and golf, began like most people’s do, in his childhood. For the Rush Assistant Coach, family was a main factor that prompted him to participate at a young age.

“I started playing hockey around three or four years old. My mom let me go watch a men’s league game that my dad and uncle played in,” Gates recalled of his early beginning with sports. “She told me years later that I was just glued to the game. I asked to try playing hockey and it was just warp speed from there. I fell in love with the game.

“As far as golf goes, that was the doing of my grandfather, who is about to celebrate his 93rd birthday,” Gates continued. “He cut down an old set of irons that he had to my size, and he lived near a field. He’d send me out there and hit balls with me when I was over at their place. As I got older, he played in a men’s league and let me ‘caddy’ for him, and my payment was a hot dog at the end of the round. When I got even older just before junior hockey started for me, he’d take me out in the summer on Monday mornings to ‘Senior Citizen Days’ to play nine holes with him and his friends. That’s where my love of golf really started.”

Gates pursued hockey as his primary athletic passion. He played one season for the Grand Rapids Owls of the Central States Hockey League, following with back-to-back championship campaigns in the Canadian Junior Hockey League with the Pembroke Lumber Kings. Throughout his hockey travels, he always made sure golf remained a staple in his life.

That is, if he could fit his clubs in the car.

“If I could find room in my car to travel with my clubs, they came with me,” Gates said with a laugh. “That was the only challenge I had. I loved getting outside to play, but it was tough sometimes after hockey seasons. Hockey is mentally and physically demanding. Once I was able to get to the golf course though, I was able to relax and be with my friends, but also have the competition of sports, which I truly love.”

Junior hockey eventually found Gates exploring the opportunity of playing in the collegiate ranks. Throughout his two years in Pembroke, he embarked on multiple college visits in the hopes that he would find his home for the next four years. For him, that eventual home came in the form of Neumann University, a small NCAA-III Catholic college in Aston Township, Pennsylvania, 30 minutes southwest of Philadelphia.

An unintentional side-effect of meeting the hockey team on his recruiting trip led him to an opportunity to be a dual-sport athlete to play both hockey and golf for the Neumann Knights.

“There was a player that came through the Pembroke program before me that went to Neumann, which is why so many of us visited,” Gates explained. “I stayed with him during my recruiting trip. Not only were some of his roommates hockey players, they also played on the golf team as well. One day during my trip, we went golfing and I shot incredibly well. I had no clue at the time, but they set it up as a ‘mini-tryout’ of sorts for the golf team.

“I had already received my offer to play hockey,” Gates continued, “so once I decided to play hockey, I also learned that I could participate on the golf team. Luckily, I’d be playing both sports with teammates of mine that were a little older, so that helped me ease into the dual-sport life.”

Gates saw success immediately at Neumann in hockey. As a freshman, he registered 20 points (2g-18ast) in 29 games, and helped the Knights win the 2009 NCAA-III National Championship, defeating Gustavus Adolphus by a 4-1 score in Lake Placid, New York. Gates finished the National Championship with an assist and a +2 rating.

Shortly after winning the title, Gates had to make his first collegiate transition from hockey season to golf season. The timing is such that the moment the regular season in hockey ends and reaches the playoffs, college golf season begins. For Gates, winning the National Championship in hockey threw the rhythm of his transition a bit off-kilter.

“Winning the National Championship was such an unbelievable feeling. I knew I’d go right into golf season once our season ended, but it wasn’t as smooth as I anticipated,” Gates remembered. “When we won the title, we had so many different events we had to go to in celebrating our team’s accomplishment. Luckily for me, I had a fantastic golf coach who completely understood our obligations. After the dust from our championship settled, I think I missed about the first three weeks of the golf season.”

Still, Gates needed to “crack the lineup” with his new teammates on the golf team. College golf is unique in the sense that there is a lineup when it comes to competitions. Not only that, but it’s just as much of a team game as it is an individual competition.

“In college golf, you bring five players to tournaments. We had about seven or eight guys on our team that we rotated through that could play,” Gates explained. “I had to work my way back into the lineup after missing the first three weeks, but once I was in, I stayed there for the rest of the season, so I was happy with how I competed.

“College golf is interesting because there are two competitions within the same event, if you will,” he continued. “While you’re playing for your own score, you’re still playing for your team. It’s possible that you could have a rough day on the course, but your other four teammates could pick you up with great scores of their own. Still, you had to keep your teammates in mind while you competed against the other golfers that you were partnered up with for competition.”

Throughout his collegiate career playing hockey and golf, Gates saw great success as both a student and as an athlete. He finished his hockey career with 33 points in 59 games over three seasons, and made two trips to the NCAA-III Hockey Tournament. However, Gates opted out of his senior season of hockey to complete a degree-required Sports Management internship. That fall semester, he returned back to the Pembroke Lumber Kings organization as an assistant to the General Manager, who happened to be his former coach and current Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach, Sheldon Keefe. On the golf course, Gates competed in over 30 tournaments and competitions over his four seasons, and helped the Knights win the 2012 Colonial States Athletic Conference Championship as a senior. Academically, he was set to graduate Cum Laude with a degree in Sports Management, while also earning minors in Business Administration and Accounting.

“It was fun playing two sports in college, but it came with challenges as well. For starters, trying to balance a high level of academics was tough,” Gates expanded. “Going to class was the number one thing. Getting good grades was big for me because it shows you truly can juggle all of that and be responsible. It wasn’t just me pushing myself though. My parents pushed me to be a great student too, and I knew that if I did my best in class then I’d learn the most that I could. In that sense, school was always number one. Sports, however, were just something I truly loved, so I was always willing to do any schoolwork I could just so I could play sports and be free to compete.”

In his senior golf season in 2011-12, Gates and the Knights qualified for their first-ever NCAA-III National Tournament by way of winning their first-ever CSAC Title. Of course, that tournament appearance also jumbled the schedule of Gates and his senior teammates.

“We had a great team in my senior season,” Gates recalled fondly. “We had a lot of senior players, and we were a really good team. We won our conference, which gave us an automatic bid into the tournament. It was an interesting circumstance for me because we were supposed to go down to Orlando to play in the tournament the exact same weekend our graduation ceremony was to take place. Our coach gave us the opportunity to decide if we wanted to stay and walk in our graduation, or play for the National Championship. We all decided we were going to compete in the NCAA’s. While walking is truly important, we all recognized that this was a once in a lifetime chance to play for a title. I never got to walk for my graduation, but I got to compete in the NCAA-III Tournament in my final chance to do it in school.”

The weekend was a tough one for the Knights, who finished 41st in the tournament, but it was especially tough for Gates on a personal level. Moments before beginning the NCAA Tournament, tragedy befell his family.

“Unfortunately for me, I lost my grandmother that same weekend,” Gates said. “My parents ended up coming down to Florida, unannounced, to support me and be there for me. It was tough for my family, but I was happy to have my mom and dad there during that time as I competed and remembered my grandmother.

“As a team, we didn’t do so hot,” Gates reflected. “I can’t remember what place we finished in, but it was nowhere near the top. At the end of the day, I competed hard, as we all did on the team, and we had a great time. We were a small school that didn’t know what we were getting into as a first-time participant in the tournament. We had a great group of guys, and a ton of fun.”

Since graduating from Neumann, Gates played professional hockey for five seasons. Now he is entering his third season as an Assistant Coach, his second with the Rapid City Rush. Despite the hectic nature of both playing and coaching hockey, golf still plays a major part in his life.

“As a player and coach, it’s tough to get out and swing the sticks around on the course during the season, and that’s excluding frigid winter weather, depending on where you are,” Gates mentioned. “Hockey season is always the number one thing because it’s what I’m passionate about, but when I get a chance to play, it’s fun and really relaxing. A lot of times, I’ll play with Head Coach Daniel Tetrault, or we’ll make friends with people at The Golf Club at Red Rock, which has been a phenomenal corporate partner of the Rush. Being able to play at as beautiful a course as theirs is outstanding and makes for a great time when I engage in friendly golf competition with our staff or friends I’ve made in Rapid City over the years.

“I couldn’t be happier with competing in the SDGA Amateur State Championship,” Gates concluded. “It was a great field of players with tough competition, and gave me even more appreciation for how difficult, but awesome a sport golf is. It was fun competing overall, regardless of where I finished. Hopefully as the year continues, I can sharpen my golf game a bit more and continue to compete when time allows.”

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