Gary Lupul: The Pride of Powell River
When I was six years old, the Vancouver Canucks went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. That alone was a remarkable thing, though they would lose in that series to the New York Islanders. But even more remarkable, was the fact that my next door neighbour was one of the most exciting players on the team.
Yes, I grew up next door to the childhood home of Gary Lupul, “The Pride of Powell River.” And boy were we proud of him.
I remember the year of that Cup run, and being given my first ever Canucks sweater (yellow and orange with the V-stripes, and you know it). My parents said I could have any name I wanted on the back of it. Would I like mine, or…?
I didn’t understand the question at first. I wanted a Gary sweater, and that was that.
It’s an interesting fact about Gary (and I was too young to remember) that he signed with the Canucks as a free agent, and his first day of training camp was in none other than Powell River. Gary, just 5’7″ and probably not 165lbs soaking wet, squared off for a scrap with the biggest enforcer at the camp. As a first impression, it must have worked. He went on to not only make the team, but become one of the most exciting players on the roster. In fact, another all time great Canuck, Cliff Ronning, who would arguably go on to make Gary’s number 7 even more famous, insisted on wearing the number because Gary was his hero. “Gary Lupul was my idol,” Ronning said. “He was my inspiration as a young kid growing up.” Ronning was also a small forward, so he must have known that there were long odds against Gary’s success in the league, given his stature. But if you asked me when I was six years old, I’d have told you Gary was 10 feet tall.
Before there was Lou, there was LOOP!
Whenever Gary would skate with the puck, Canucks fans would chant: “LOOP! LOOP! LOOP!”
The only thing better than watching Gary play for the Canucks on TV? Playing street hockey with him at his house. Gary was a terrific guy, but us kids likely owe a huge debt of thanks to Gary’s parents Vic and Jean too, as they were probably the ones who encouraged Gary come outside and shoot around with us during his off-season breaks. Boxing Day was always a special time at the Lupuls for us— for the incredible hospitality of Jean, and the chance to see Gary.
It’s hard to describe what it was like to watch your neighbour playing for your favourite hockey team, for the Stanley Cup. It’s difficult to believe, even after all these years, that it actually happened. It’s even harder to accept that he left us too early, his heart having finally relented after a life packed with more excitement and pressure than most humans can fathom. During his time with the Canucks, Gary would amass 70 goals, 75 assists and 243 penalty minutes in 293 regular-season games. But more than that, he inspired an entire town of young hockey players.
In Powell River, there’s still a bit of a race on the first day with any new sports team or season, to see who gets number 7.
We miss you Gary.
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