Gates was a very promising player as a little kid in Montreal. He never had the size but he was so smart and shifty that he always was among the better players. As a junior he played for the Montreal Jr. Canadiens (QMJHL) where he was among the best players on the team. Instead of further play in the QMJHL he went to study at the Providence College. After his first college season he was drafted by Buffalo 164th overall in 1981. If it hadn't been for his size then he most likely would have been drafted in the first two rounds.
Gates played exceptionally well during his four seasons at Providence (coached by Lou Lamoriello who later became New Jersey's GM) and scored 210 points (93+117) in 129 games. He was even a finalist for the prestigious Hobey Baker Award given to the top US collegiate player. Only days after he had played his last game for Providence he dressed for the Rochester Americans (AHL) and finished the 1983-84 AHL season with 15 points in 11 games.
After Gates first NHL training camp in 1984,Buffalo sent him to Rochester. He played so well in Rochester that he got called up by Buffalo early in November 1984. Gates NHL debut against Boston on November 5 was successful as he collected two assists. He only played 11 games for Buffalo, scoring 9 points. In 1985-86 Gates was a regular in Buffalo most of the season and played behind the legendary Gilbert Perreault who had been Buffalo's number one center for 16 seasons.
Gates never felt secure about his position in Buffalo and was constantly being called up and down from Rochester. In 1986-87 he played 27 games for Buffalo,which proved to be his last stop in the NHL. In Rochester he was a dominant force, scoring 64 points in only 44 games. Then in the playoffs he led all AHL playoff scorers with 22 points (in 18 games).and was the driving force behind Rochester's league title.
Gates was almost too good for the AHL. He scored 139 points in 107 games and was certainly good enough to center the second or third line on most NHL teams. Gates turned down an offer from Buffalo, knowing that he would probably get stuck in the AHL. So when the Italian team Merano (HC Meran) contacted him after the 1986-87 season, Gates thought that he would give it a shot. Gates father after all was Italian and the money were better than in the AHL. Little did Gates know at that time that he would spend the rest of his career over in Europe.
Gates European stint was extremely successful. He played seven seasons (1987-94) in Italy for HC Meran, HC Bolzano and Milano Devils. During these seven years he won the Italian scoring title twice and scored a whopping 601 points in only 233 games (2.57 points per game). He was the MVP as well as an All-Star several times. He also won three league titles.
In 1994 he was offered a huge contract by the Swiss team SC Bern. By then Gates was considered one of the best players in Europe, regardless of league. He didn't disappoint the Berns fans, playing excellent hockey, leading the Swiss league in scoring once during the regular season and once in the playoffs. He also guided Bern to a league title. Between 1994-98 he scored 226 points in 154 games for Bern.
Gates also represented Italy in 9 World Championships as well as two Olympic tournaments. He was named the top forward in the 1990 B-Pool WC. In these tournaments he scored a fine 72 points in 68 games and was many times one of the best players. In later years Gates developed into an exceptional faceoff specialist, one of the best in Europe. On the Italian national team he centered one of the most feared lines for many years. Gates together with his wingers Lucio Topatigh and Winnipeg born Bruno Zarillo was always the line that opposing teams tried to shut down but failed most of the time. Internationally this line recorded 117 points in only 55 games.
Gates never got the chance to really show what he could do in the NHL, but over in Europe where the emphasis on his small size wasn't as big as in North America , he could excel. Given the proper chance Gates would have been a steady 50-70 point scorer in the NHL. Since the mid 90's Gates was one of the best payed players in Europe and didn't have to regret his decision to play over in Italy.