They were his buddies—former teammates —and nothing made Lupul happier than sharing non-stop laughs on a golf course with guys he considered part of his family.
Who knew that less than six weeks later Delorme would receive a telephone call informing him of Lupul’s death at the age of 48? Affectionately known as “The Pride of Powell River” during his eight-year career with the Canucks, Lupul died after suffering a heart attack in his nephew’s Burnaby apartment on July 18.
“Gary was alone when he died,” his father Vic said. “He’d been watching television. The remote control was still in his hand.”
Mr. Lupul sadly explained that Gary had been planning a trip home to visit his bed-ridden mother after she’d had two-thirds of her stomach removed following cancer surgery at Powell River General Hospital.
“Jean had the operation at five o’clock Monday afternoon and Gary phoned me at 8:30 that night asking how his Mom was. That’s when I talked to him for the last time, ever. I was on my daily walk Wednesday morning when my other son Terry came and found me. All he said was: ‘Gary’s gone.’ It took my breath away.”
Shockwaves extended far beyond the shores of Powell River when news swept through the hockey jungle that the peppery little forward (5’9”, 172 lbs.) had passed away. “Our phone has been ringing non-stop,” said Mr. Lupul, who punched a timeclock for 40 years as a producer of newsprint at the Powell River Paper Company.
“Gary obviously touched a lot of people.”
Close to 1,000 friends, fans and family filled the Powell River Recreation Complex Evergreen Theatre to pay their respects on August 13. Among the Canucks alumni were Snepsts, Stan Smyl, Chris Oddleifson, Jack McIlhargey, Kirk McLean and Dean Malkoc.
Snepsts along with Gary’s nephew Kevin Clark and former neighbour Darren Strueby were asked to speak at the service and all three mentioned Lupul’s ability to connect with everyone he met and how he treated people with respect and decency.
“I’ll never forget Gary’s first day at training camp,” Snepsts recalled. “The Canucks had just signed him as a free agent and ironically, camp that year (September, 1979) was being held in Powell River. “So what does ‘Loops’ do? He gets into a fight with Gerry Minor —a real toe-to-toe scrap—just to prove that despite his size, he wasn’t going to be pushed around. They became great friends after the fight.”
After his NHL career that included 318 games and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders in 1982, Lupul finished his career in Germany and Italy before retiring and returning to Vancouver. The Canucks brought him back into the fold while he was working hard at his recovery. He was monitoring the Ontario amateur hockey market as a full-time scout under Delorme at the time of his death.
“Gary got mixed up with the wrong people and never said much about the demons he was fighting,” Mr. Lupul says. “But we knew he was going through some tough times. Our family can never thank the Canucks organization enough for helping him get back on track.”
Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Robson remembers ‘Loops’ as “a real feisty guy who wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way of making the NHL.” Says Robson: “The fans loved him, not only in Vancouver but throughout the league because of his easy-going personality.”
Darcy Rota, a teammate of that ’82 Stanley Cup squad, adds: “Gary took great pride in being a Canuck and being from Powell River. You couldn’t help but like him. He had so much character.”
Burnaby-born Cliff Ronning, another small forward who defied the odds of playing as a regular in the NHL, remembers going to Canucks games at the Pacific Coliseum with his Dad and being in awe of Lupul as the crowd would chant: ‘Loops, Loops, Loops.”
“Gary Lupul was my idol,” Ronning says. “He was my inspiration as a young kid growing up.”
When Ronning was traded by St. Louis to Vancouver in 1991, he insisted he be given jersey No. 7, the number Lupul wore during his stint with the Canucks.
“I have to believe seven is a lucky number,” Mr. Lupul says, “because my son was lucky enough to live his dream. Hockey was his life.”
While it was a life far too short-lived, his impact will last well beyond his 48 years through the many he so dearly touched.