Shock waves and heavy hearts were being felt around the Junior A hockey world and City of Vernon Thursday.
Vernon Vipers team owner Duncan Wray died suddenly earlier in the morning on his birthday.
Wray had just been honoured this past Saturday at the Celebrate the Civic game the Vipers played at the old Vernon Civic Arena. He was the first of 13 hockey dignitaries introduced on the red carpet to the sold-out crowd and received a loud ovation.
His family released a statement on his passing Thursday afternoon.
“Duncan was a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend to those that knew him. His loss leaves a huge hole in our hearts and he will be greatly missed.
“The unexpected news has come as a devastating blow and although the family is grateful for all the kind messages of sympathy, we ask that we can be left to grieve in private at this very difficult and sad time for us.”
A 4-1 win over the Nanaimo Clippers on Oct. 13, 2017 was the 900th Vernon victory since Wray took ownership of the team in 1992.
Wray helped make the Vernon Lakers/Vipers the most successful Junior A hockey franchise in the country (changed name from Lakers to Vipers in 1995-96).
Under his ownership, the Vipers have won seven BCHL Fred Page Cups, four Royal Bank Cup national championships, six Doyle Cup B.C.-Alberta titles, three BCHL regular season pennants and 12 Interior Conference championships.
He was awarded the Freedom of the City of Vernon honour in 2011, the 20th recipient of the honour.
Wray was inducted into the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. His 1998-99 Canadian champion Vipers were inducted in 2015.
“This is the saddest day of my life,” said Vernon’s Troy Mick. “Part of my heart feels ripped out. I haven’t stopped crying since this morning.”
Mick was head coach of the Vipers when they won the 1999 Royal Bank championship in Yorkton, Sask. and an assistant under Rob Bremner when Vernon won the national title in Melfort, Sask. in 1996.
Mick was doing business in Salmon Arm, where he is GM of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, when he heard the bad news from Todd Miller of the Vipers.
“I will remember Duncan most for not being my boss; he was always my best friend,” said Mick. “He was one of my family’s best friends. I remember when (Troy’s daughter) Tiffany split her lip badly on the hearth and we phoned Duncan asking him what we should do. He said he’d meet us at his office and it was 10 at night.
“He was an unbelievable owner. He never had a hidden agenda. He wanted the kids to play hockey and get an education. That’s all he wanted. He wasn’t in it for the money and for a guy who never played the game, he had so much love for it.”
Even when rumours were swirling that he would sell the franchise in 2014, Wray just chuckled.
“It’s been so much fun. It’s just something I can’t get rid of. I haven’t figured out how to make an exit,” he told The Morning Star.
Wray would stroll around Kal Tire Place during Viper games, stopping to talk to fans. He would also climb the stairs to the press box where he would talk hockey and life with the media and visiting broadcast crew while drinking his beloved Diet Coke.
A retired oral surgeon, Wray served on the BCHL Board of Governors since 1992 and was chairman of the board at the time of his death. He was an avid photographer and big fan of the Montreal Canadiens.
It's with tremendous sadness that we announce the passing of our owner Duncan Wray. A huge loss for the Wray family, the Vipers organization, Vernon and the hockey community.
Further information on funeral services will be shared when available.
The BCHL confirmed every team in the league will hold a moment of silence in memoriam of Wray prior to their next home game.
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