NHL-player-turned-Burnaby-firefighter and father of 2 two dies during rec hockey game

A former professional hockey player from B.C. who went on to become a firefighter died of a heart attack while playing rec hockey in Richmond Monday night.

Raymond Sawada, 38, had just celebrated the birthday of one of his two young daughters and was playing rec hockey at the Richmond Ice Centre when he suddenly slumped over on the bench.

Fellow first responders on the team tried to revive him.

“They worked on him feverishly. There was a fireman there, the defibrillator—access to that was there. And so the paramedics said the group did everything they could in their power to assist, and it wasn’t meant to be. It’s so sad,” said Richmond Sockeyes president Doug Paterson.

Sawada played for the Richmond Sockeyes from 2001 to 2003 before going to Cornell University and getting drafted by the Dallas Stars. He played in 11 NHL games between 2008 and 2011.

Six years ago, Sawada became a Burnaby firefighter. He leaves behind his wife and two daughters.

“The shock is real. It doesn’t feel real, it feels like a nightmare,” Stephen Sawada, Raymond’s twin brother, told CTV News outside the family’s home in Richmond.

“I mean the family is devastated, crying…beside themselves. It really feels like a hole that just can’t be filled for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Close friend Roger Sheung says the late Sawada had a huge impact on his life.

“I know that Ray was a big hockey guy and a community guy and a firefighter, but for me I have known him as a family guy and I’ve watched his kids grow up. I was there for the birth of both his daughters.,” said Sheung.

Lily Ayala, who’s close friends with Sawada’s widow Nicole, described him as an amazing human being.

“Ray did everything 110 per cent. Whether it was being a dad, being a hockey player, being a firefighter, he was extremely proud. He’s touched so many people in so many ways because he was just a tremendous friend,” said Ayala.

“It just rocked the whole community,” said Paterson. “ I can only imagine what his family is going through. And I tell you the Sockeye family was just devastated. I have had so many calls and people reaching out.”

A GoFundMe account that was created Tuesday afternoon to help the Sawada family has already raised over $235,000. The original goal was $50,000.

“I’m not surprised,” said Sheung. “He’s touched so many people’s lives in so many different walks of life, whether it be hockey or firefighting or volunteering. And he’s just a great community guy from Steveston.”

“I think the financial outcome of a GoFundMe is just a response to Raymond having earned things that you can’t buy. Which is the respect of your friends,” said Stephen Sawada.

He’s thankful to everyone who’s donated to help his brother’s wife and daughters.

“The reality of life is she’s going to have bills to pay, the kids are going to have sports and other commitments and life has to be paid for. So I really appreciate everyone who contributed,” he said.

The Richmond Sockeyes are planning to honour Sawada, who’s been an important member of the team’s alumni for years.

“We are going to put a scholarship in Ray’s name. We have an awards luncheon this weekend so we will recognize Ray. We are also going to retire his jersey,“ said Paterson, adding “Five weeks ago we were getting ready for the playoffs and we invited him in to do a bit of a motivational speech for our players, and I can recall his words vividly. And I’ll always have that in memory.”

Asked about his twin brother’s legacy, Stephen Sawada said “The intensity of kindness — he loved to compete, but compete fair. He always wanted to win, but wanted to win fair. Wasn’t the greatest loser, but always came back to fight again. And I think that is what his legacy will be. He instilled that in a lot of people, including myself.”

His other legacy? His two daughters, whose hockey teams he coached. “We are going to make sure that his daughters remember what kind of man he was,” said Sheung.

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