Powell River, separated from Vancouver by two ferry rides and 120 long and winding kms, boasts a junior team, the Kings, who play in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), and at one time had one of the best senior squads in all of Canada, the Regals, a team that captured three Allan Cups between 1997 and 2006.
It’s serious hockey played in these parts. But on a Saturday night in 2010, the most important hockey game of the year was also a fun night, a great night, and a bittersweet night.
Because on that night, the town, players and fans honoured Gary Lupul.
Gary Lupul was my friend, as I’ve mentioned here before. We used to have great all-night talks when both of lives weren’t exactly stable. He oozed personality and humour. A truly unique, one-of-a-kind guy.
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 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 some kind of 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 frozen 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 the snowstorms and young players he’d just seen, and you knew he was in his element.
More than ten 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.
On that Saturday in 2010, the Vancouver Canucks alumni came to Powell River to take on the Regals alumni made up of players who had been part of those Allan Cups teams, and it was a fine game.
But it wasn’t really about the game on this night.
It was about Gary, our friend.