Powell River, the little semi-isolated town up the coast from Vancouver, boasts a junior team, the Kings, in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), and one of the best senior squads in all of Canada, the Regals. It’s serious hockey played in these parts. But on Saturday night, the most important hockey game of the year will be a fun night, a great night, but also a bittersweet night.
Because on this night, the town, players and fans honour Gary Lupul.
Gary Lupul was my friend, as I’ve mentioned here before. We used to have great all-night talks. His mom, who recently passed away, was a lovely lady who oozed class and was the force behind the town getting a new arena. Whenever I see his dad at the mall or on the street, he always has something silly to say that makes me laugh. In fact, I just Vic at the mall a few days ago sitting with a bunch of women his age, and he had them all laughing and giggling.
The Lupul family is a family of warm and funny characters.
Gary began as a huge star in the Western Hockey League with the Victoria Cougars and went on to play 293 games with the Vancouver Canucks, scoring 70 goals and had 145 points. He played against Gretzky, Lemieux, Cheevers and Lafleur, and although slightly small, was a tough cookie who stood up to everyone.
But he had troubles off the ice. Drugs and alcohol ended up shortening his career and although he regretted it, he also probably knew he couldn’t change. He was a fun-loving fellow who drove his coaches crazy but was loved by his teammates, who always speak of him now with a smile on their faces.
Happily, at a time when he really needed a break, he became a scout for the Canucks and was able to stay in the sport he loved. He would phone me sometimes when he was on wintry roads that took him throughout Ontario from rink to rink – Kitchener one night, Huntsville or Ottawa or Cornwall the next, even my old hometown Orillia, and he would tell me about young players he’d just seen, and you could tell he was in his element.
Just over two years ago, on July 17, 2007, while watching television, Gary suffered a heart attack and died, and we mourned and still mourn. He was a great, kind, funny, generous guy who could relate to a street person as easily as he could to a millionaire. He’d been through some hard times, and he kept a special place in his heart for the down-and-out.
Saturday night, the Vancouver Canucks alumni are coming to Powell River to take on the Regals alumni made up of players who won three Allan Cups in the past fifteen years, and it should be a fun, entertaining night of great passes, slick plays, and smiling faces.
But it won’t really be about the game on this night. It will be about Gary, our friend, who we miss so much.