When the news broke in the early hours of July 15, 2018 that former NHL goaltender and Stanley Cup champion Ray Emery had died, the hockey world was stunned. Emery was just 35 years old… how could this happen?!
Early details were fuzzy but it was reported by Hamilton, Ontario police that Emery had tragically drowned during a late night swim in Lake Ontario. Once this news hit social media it was awash with speculation about the circumstances surrounding his death. Was he drunk? On drugs? Was there foul play involved? For over half a year these are the questions that hockey fans have been asking themselves. What really happened to Ray Emery?
In a riveting long-form article for The Athletic, award winning journalist Dan Robson profiles the life and times of Emery from his earliest days on the ice, to his Stanley Cup championship, to his sudden departure from the game to, ultimately, his tragic demise. It’s a true “behind the scenes” look at one of the game’s most intriguing characters and goes into the roots of Emery’s off-ice issues. After all, this is a man who had been suspended multiple times throughout his career, was banished to the KHL over perceived attitude problems and was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. There’s a LOT to unpack when talking about the life and times of Ray Emery, but Robson does an excellent job in telling the whole story.
Let’s begin though on the night of July 15th, 2018, the night that Emery tragically died. What happened?
In the words of Robson himself:
A full-moon night had become dawn and soft light fell across the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club on Hamilton Harbour, a bay off the western end of Lake Ontario. The surface was still, but the water beneath was murky, tinged by the nearby steel mills.
He slipped off his Stanley Cup ring, engraved with the Chicago Blackhawks logo, and placed it next to his Louis Vuitton wallet on a table at the stern of the boat where he’d spent the early hours laughing and drinking with friends.
The other dock was at least 100 feet away. He told a friend wading in the water to move to the left, marking the spot where he’d angle his path beneath the surface.
“I’m coming for you,” he said.
On a full day without sleep, after playing his first hockey game in more than a year and a night out that hit the morning, he took a breath and dove out.
Emery drowned on July 15, 2018, at 35-years-old.
Emery never emerged from the water that night and was pronounced dead by Ontario police the next morning when they discovered his lifeless body floating in the water, not far from where he jumped in.
This begs the question… again… “What happened?”
Again from Robson’s article, in the words of Mark Nicholson, one of Emery’s best friends and the individual who witnessed Emery’s final moments alive:
“Ray!” Nicholson yelled. “Ray?”
The water was calm.
Nicholson returned to the spot where Emery had gone under. He pushed himself beneath the water, kicking and swinging his arms. He couldn’t see anything in the darkness. He swam back to the surface, gasped for another breath and went back under, flailing in the water trying to find Emery. He came up, coughing.
Nicholson put his jeans on and ran down the dock, looking between the boats, thinking Emery might have been playing a joke.
“He just dove in the water, three feet beside me,” Nicholson says. “And he never came up.”
A few hours Hamilton’s marine search crew located Emery’s body just 68 feet from where Nicholson claimed the pair had jumped in. Police ruled out foul play after a brief investigation and Emery’s death was officially ruled a case of “misadventure.”
It was a tragic and ultimately end to one of hockey’s truly unique characters. There weren’t and still aren’t many people like Ray Emery in the NHL. A bi-racial goaltender who loved to play the “bad boy” role and backed up his words with his actions? That’s something that had never existed in the NHL before Emery and probably never will ever again.
If Emery’s NHL career, which ran from 2002 until 2015, were to start today there’s no doubt that he’d be one of the NHL’s biggest stars. With the NHL finally opening up and embracing things like social media, online sports betting and diversity within the sport, there’s no doubt that Emery would be a superstar.
RIP, Ray Emery. Gone, but never forgotten.
For the full article on the circumstances regarding Emery’s life, death and everything in between be sure to check out Dan Robson’s incredible long-form article for The Athletic.