Hockey Night in Canada

Tim Wharnsby·Analysis

'Sugar Ray' Emery's fighting spirit will be missed

Ray Emery was an accomplished goalie, but he took as much glee in dropping his gloves to batter an opponent as he did in making a key game-saving stop to keep his team in front.

On dropping the gloves: 'It's my favourite part of the game' but it made his mom 'really mad'

Ray Emery, then a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, leaves the ice following a fight with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in 2013. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ray Emery loved to fight. He was an accomplished goalie, but he took as much glee in dropping his gloves to batter an opponent as he did in making a key game-saving stop to keep his team in front.

One of his nicknames was Sugar Ray, just like boxing legends Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard. One of his masks had the image of Mike Tyson painted on it. Who the heck idolizes Mike Tyson?

There also was an on-ice incident that got himself in trouble with his mother, Charlene. On Feb. 22, 2007, a few months before Emery would play a massive role in helping Ottawa Senators advance all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, he engaged in a tussle with his Buffalo Sabres counterpart, Martin Biron.

But after as he dispatched Biron, a bigger prize caught his eye — Sabres enforcer, Andrew Peters. So Emery left Biron to tangle with Peters. His mother was at the game. She was not pleased with her son's pugilistic endeavours. 

With the sudden passing of former NHL goaltender Ray Emery, Rob Pizzo looks back at the career of the Stanley Cup champion. 1:03

"I want to see you playing," Charlene scolded her son after the game.

"It's my favourite part of the game," Emery told reporters. "But my mom was there. She got mad at me, so I can't do it again for a while or my mom will be really mad."

Emery the fighter, the battler, died on Sunday. The 35-year-old former NHL goalie went for a swim with friends at the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. He never resurfaced after he dove into the harbour. His body was later found by police divers in Lake Ontario.

Emery will be remembered for his fighting spirit. He battled demons on and off the ice. He was suspended too many times, fought with teammates in practice and had eyebrow-raising episodes away from the rink. There were road-rage incidents. He missed a team flight. There were whispers in Ottawa that he was running around with the wrong crowd.

"I'm not a saint and I'm not in jail, either," he said in an ESPN interview.

Emery meets boxing legend Joe Frazier in 2009. (Norman Y. Lono/Getty Images)

His antics frustrated the Senators organization so much that following the 2007-08 season, late Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray gave up on him. Emery had to go to Russia to rebuild his career.

Still, you couldn't help but cheer for him. After early days in minor hockey as a defenceman, he turned to goaltending when his team found itself without a goalie.

He immediately developed a passion for the position. His parents, who met as crane operators in a Hamilton steel mill, thought this was a fad and it would pass. Emery was a natural athlete who was good at everything he played — golf, baseball, soccer.

But he stuck with goaltending and the junior C Dunnville Terriers surfaced. The Terriers were basement dwellers, but not after they found Emery.

He slowly moved his way to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, where he became an OHL all-star. After more growth in the AHL, Emery cracked the Senators roster.

Emery's NHL peak

He peaked in 2006-07 when, despite a nagging wrist injury, he won a career-high 33 games and 13 more in the post-season. The Senators, however, were ousted by Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer and the Anaheim Ducks in a five-game final.

Later in his career, Emery endured a hip ailment that required surgery, but he battled on. Eventually, there he was, on the ice at TD Garden in Boston on a steamy June evening, celebrating a Stanley Cup as Corey Crawford's backup with the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks.

Unfortunately, more than three seasons after his final NHL outing, there will be no more fights for Emery to endure. 

His fighting spirit will be missed.