A week after saying goodbye to the franchise’s ancestral home, the Vernon Vipers will bid a tearful goodbye to longtime beloved owner Duncan Wray tonight at Kal Tire Place.
Wray, who was introduced and honoured on the red carpet prior to a throwback B.C. Hockey League game at Civic Arena last Saturday, died Thursday in his sleep in Victoria, on his 68th birthday.
A father-figure to young Junior A players since he bought the team in 1992, Wray celebrated four national championships, including back-to-back in 2009 and 2010. In addition, the Vipers claimed six Fred Page Cup BCHL titles and five Doyle Cup wins over the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Each BCHL team will hold a moment of silence in his honour prior to their next home game, including the Vipers, who entertain the Cowichan Valley Capitals tonight. A video tribute to Wray will be shown on the big screen prior to the contest. The Caps upset the host Prince George Spruce Kings 2-1 Friday with a 15-shot showing.
A fragile group who huddled together on their knees to honour their fallen owner at Thursday’s practice, the Vipers struggled in a 5-0 loss to the Merritt Centennials before 400 fans Friday night at the Nicola Valley Arena.
“It’s tough,” Viper head coach Mark Ferner told The Morning Star, moments after the loss. “You put on a brave face and play the game. I don’t know if there is a right thing to say; there’s no manual for this. It was a pretty quiet and emotional dressing room tonight.”
Ferner, who coached those back-to-back title teams, is on his second tour of duty with the Vipers, leaving once to coach the Everett Silvertips of the Western League for two years and serve as an assistant with the WHL Kamloops Blazers. He returned to Vernon in 2015.
“Duncan and I had mutual respect for one another,” said a disraught Ferner. “Absolutely, I will remember him as a great owner. He just let you do your job. You still sit here with your thoughts with no time to reflect. We had a lot of good times. Duncan had five kids, four boys and a girl. Actually, he had six kids, he had the Vernon Vipers. This isn’t about me, this about the Wray family.”
Hundreds of fans, former players and people who knew Wray from the hockey world, have posted messages on Facebook.
Wrote Kevin Kraus, captain of the 2010 championship Vipers and now an assistant to Ferner: “Can’t say enough about the man who has given myself and countless other young men the opportunity to play hockey for a world class organization. You treated your players as if they were your own kids and took care of all of us no matter what. I will miss your passion for winning and we will do our very best to bring you one last National Championship!”
The Vipers fell to 27-10-1-4 atop the Interior Division, four points ahead of the Penticton Vees, who have three games in hand. The sixth-place Cents improved to 17-19-2-1.
Merritt got goals from Colten Gerlib, Mathieu Gosselin, Bradley Cocca, Christian Sabin and Henry Cleghorn. Austin Roden made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season.
High-scoring Zach Ristau, who just returned to Merritt from the USHL, pocketed three assists. Anthony Yamnitsky took the loss with 19 stops.
Meanwhile, the Trail Smoke Eaters tied the Vees 2-2 before 3,108 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Vernon’s Blaine Caton gave Trail the lead in the first period with his 11th of the season.
In Wenatchee, RJ Murphy connected 40 seconds into overtime as the West Kelowna Warriors shaded the Wild 5-4 in front of 2,814 fans at the Town Toyota Center.
Michael Corson blocked 38 drives as Cowichan Valley, last overall, won their eighth game of the campaign.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks and Powell River Kings tied 3-3 in double overtime before 1,100 fans at Hap Parker Arena on the Sunshine Coast.
D-man Sol Seibel, who the Vipers traded to the Bonnyville Pontiacs earlier in the week, made his debut with Salmon Arm. The Silverbacks gave future considerations to Bonnyville to get Seibel.
The Vipers traded F Sam Anzai to Prince George for futures.