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Father, Burnaby firefighter and former NHL player Ray Sawada mourned

Ray Sawada of Richmond, 38, died suddenly while playing the game he loved; the beloved Burnaby firefighter leaves behind two young daughters and his wife.
Ray Sawada and his family in a recent photo.

A young family and Vancouver’s hockey and firefighting communities are mourning the passing of 38-year-old Raymond Sawada, who died suddenly Monday evening playing recreation hockey at the Richmond Ice Centre.

Sawada, a father of two young daughters who lived in Richmond, was a local hockey hero, having played junior hockey for the Richmond Sockeyes and the Nanaimo Clippers before attending Cornell University where he played four seasons of college hockey as a prospect for the Dallas Stars.

Sawada played eight seasons of professional hockey, mostly with the Texas Stars. He scored one goal in his 11 games with the Dallas Stars of the NHL.

Sawada wrapped up his hockey career at age 30 in Europe and returned home to Richmond, where he married his wife Nicole. They went on to have two children, Victoria and Charlotte.

Family member Brianne Sameshima set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for the family on Tuesday in support of the family’s needs.

“For the girls and Nicole, losing their dad and husband is going to leave a sad mark on their hearts and make for a long road ahead,” wrote Sameshima.

“Ray was such a bright light in the lives he touched. He enjoyed travelling with Nicole, the girls, and family and friends. He was a talented hockey player and a dedicated coach for his girls. Ray was passionately driven and motivated in everything he did, and the surrounding community will be left with a void,” said Sameshima.

Indeed, the death of Sawada left many with heavy hearts, including his firefighting crew at the Burnaby Fire Department, where he had worked since 2017.

“Ray was a man of true integrity. He cared so much about his job and his daughters and his wife were everything to him. That’s what he lived for,” said firefighting partner Shawn Dhaliwal.

“Who wouldn’t you want on the back of the truck with you?” asked Dhaliwal.

Fire Chief Chris Bowcock expressed deep remorse for his team’s loss, in a memo to staff.

“Ray has left a strong and positive mark on each of us in the Department, and we are very thankful for the time we had with him. …The loss of Ray, a member that we each respect, value and care for, will be difficult and challenging,” said Bowcock, adding Sawada’s badge number 490 will be remembered with a special place in the department’s history.

Sawada was an active volunteer on all accounts, coaching the Richmond Ravens girls hockey club, helping his fire department with mentorship programs and checking in with his former junior club.

“It’s a sad, sad day for everyone, especially the Sockeyes family,” said Doug Paterson, owner of the Richmond Sockeyes, who had just seen Sawada last month when he came to motivate and assist the team.

Meanwhile, former Vancouver Canuck Troy Stecher expressed his sorrow, via Twitter: “Heart breaking news. Ray was an idol for a lot of Richmond Minor Players growing up. Not only was Ray a successful hockey player, he was a community hero and local firefighter. Thoughts and prayers to his family,” said Stecher.

It was Monday night at a recreational league game that Sawada enjoyed playing in, when Sawada suffered cardiac failure.

The City of Richmond confirmed a medical emergency occurred that night at one of its rinks.

“An individual involved in a recreational hockey game at the Richmond Ice Centre had a medical incident around 10:20pm last night (Monday). The facility AED was deployed and Richmond Fire Rescue and BC Ambulance attended. Unfortunately, efforts to revive the individual were unsuccessful and they passed away. The City extends condolences to their family and loved ones,” stated spokesperson Clay Adams, via email.

As of Wednesday, the Sawada family had received over $200,000 in support of the family.

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