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The Kids Called Her Coach

In the 1943-44 schoolboy hockey season, the Bentleys, mother and son, gave the old father-and-son combination of coach and player a brand new term, with Mrs. Ella Bentley looking like the Rhode Island schoolboy coach of the year, and her son Al, the cream of the crop of goaltenders. At the start of the season, a lack of a faculty member capable of coaching hockey made it seem unlikely that North Providence High School would have a team. But 16 year old Al Bentley assumed the coaching burden with the help of his mother and Herbert E. Hopkins, of the English department, who volunteered to act as faculty director.

Seven wins, one tie and one loss for the No. 1 spot in the State playoffs with Al recording 7 shutouts in nine games made the experiment a success. And even though the sextet lost out early in the playoffs, it was still the best team ever put on the ice by North Providence High School. The squad used to swarm into her home several times a week, always before games, for words of hockey wisdom. Humble in evaluating her knowledge of hockey, "Coach" blended a command of fundamentals, a talent for shrewd observations and a natural "way" with the kids into a successful formula (Providence Journal).

Before the team took the ice, she stood in the passageway just off the rink with the players, talking earnestly and relieving the tense pre-game moments with banter. During games, she was in the stands, usually wearing a small powder blue tam-o-shanter and black cloth coat with fur collar, looking like any other mother watching her son perform. Between periods, she reported any observations she thought worthwhile to her son and teammates. After games the squad adjourned to the Bentley's home (for refreshments and praise or criticism, as 'Coach" saw fit). North Providence lost to the eventual state champion Burrillville in the semi-finals and split the two games with Cranston to earn co-holders of third place in the playoffs. Al would earn First team All-State honors (also in 1942-43) and go on to play for the Portland Eagles (PCHL), Muncie Flyers (IHL), Providence Reds (AHL) and lead the Rhode Island Scarlets to the AHA National Championship and Atlantic Amateur Hockey League championship in 1948.