was born on September 16, 1974. He grew up in
the little town of Capreol, just north of Sudbury, Ontario. Like any other
Canadian boy, Gary played hockey from the time he could hold a stick and
stand on skates. He played all of his minor hockey at the ‘AA’ level,
toiling the blue line for the Capreol Hawks.
"I had a lot of fun in minor hockey," recalled Coupal.
"I was a big defense man and I was pretty good. I was considered a
leader on the team."
After midgets, he landed a spot with the Muskoka Bears, playing in the
Metro Junior ‘A’ League out of Bracebridge. He played against people
like Brett Lindros during that 1991-92 season. Again he played defense and
was a standout.
A DREAM COME TRUE!
Then he was given a chance to try out with the Sudbury Wolves. It was
something that he had always dreamed of while playing in Capreol. It was
something that most young boys had and still dream of. Playing in front of
your family and friends on the local OHL squad.
There was only one problem, and in retrospect, Gary Coupal feels that
this was something which changed his hockey career.
MOVING TO FORWARD
The Wolves that season were very strong on defense. They had players
like Jamie Rivers and another big lad by the name of Wilson. There was no
way of cracking the line-up on defense as a rookie, so when the coach of
the Wolves asked Gary if he could play forward, Gary naturally said yes.
Just prior to an exhibition game, Jamie Rivers approached Coupal and
offered some advice. He said that if Gary wanted to stay with the team, he
should show the coach that how tough he was. Other players were being cut
because they couldn’t rough it up.
Coupal listened and that night picked a fight with one of the Sault
tough guys. After laying a solid beating on his opponent, Coupal was
signed to a contract and the rest, shall we say, is history.
YOU SOON FIND OUT WHAT YOUR ROLE IS
Coupal played three years with the Wolves, and it was quite obvious
what his role was. "When you play on the 4th line, and you are put on the
ice with five minutes left in the period, lined up beside the other team’s
4th line, next to another player who is on the ice for the
first time, you know what you are supposed to do. No one has to tell
you." explained Coupal, who became one of the most feared enforcers
ever to wear a Sudbury Wolves uniform.
During the first 2 ½ years, Coupal often found himself in trouble with
the league. Suspensions were common and fighting became second nature.
This was a person who enjoyed hockey as a youngster, and was a very
talented defenseman, but once he made the grade as a forward, he knew
there was only one way to stay and live his dream.
"Now I wish I would have remained a defenseman," states
Coupal. "Even if I would have had to wait an extra year to get into
the OHL, playing defense would have been better for me. As a forward, I
was usually on the 3rd or 4th line and my job was to
Coupal recalls one game during his pro career when his line, which was under strict orders
from the coach to dump the puck into the end and then crash and bang the
opposing defense in order to wear them out, actually carried the puck over
the blue line on a 3-on-1. "Even though we got a good scoring chance,
the coach was upset with us and let us know in no uncertain terms that we
were never to do that again. In his word, we were there to wear down and
scare the opposition, not to score goals."
"As soon as you get to the OHL level, it becomes a job, not a
game," explained Coupal. "If you want to keep your job, you do
what you’re told."
TROUBLE BEGINS IN LAST YEAR AS A JUNIOR
Half way through the 1994-95 season, his final year as a Junior, Coupal
was involved in a high-sticking incident. He received a match penalty, but
the league decided to come down hard and suspended him for the remainder
of the season and playoffs - virtually a life-suspension from the OHL
since this was his last year of eligibility.
Instead of sitting out the rest of the year, Coupal accepted a
professional contract with Muskegon of the United Hockey League. He
finished the season there, playing 18 games and scoring 4 goals and 4
assists, while amassing 100 minutes in penalties to prove that he was
tough enough to play at that level. He found that because players knew
about his suspension from the OHL, they assigned their tough guys to see
just how much of a bad boy Gary really was. "I was always being
tested and challenged. I was the new kid on the block and I had to prove
myself every game."
He played the 1995-96 season with the Columbus Chill of the East Coast
Hockey League. In 54 games he scored 12 goals and 12 assists, but will be
remembered for breaking the team penalty record with 408 minutes.
SECOND LIFE SUSPENSION
After 10 games the following season, Coupal was again involved in a
high-sticking incident, sending a player to hospital with a concussion. He
was handed a suspension for the balance of the season, but when he tried
to return in the fall of 1997, the league refused to grant him permission
to play. Hence, he was in effect suspended for life from the ECHL.
LIFE SUSPENSION #3
He returned to Muskegon of the UHL and was having a pretty good season
with 12 points in 26 games, when he ran into trouble again. This time,
after being involved in an incident on the ice, he broke his stick over
his knee and threw the pieces into the fans. The league officials looked
at Coupal’s record and suspended him for life from the United Hockey
FINAL STOP - WESTERN PROFESSIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
It looked like the end of the line for Gary until he was given an offer
by the Central Texas Stampede of the Western Professional Hockey League,
where he played the balance of the 1997-98 and the 1998-99 season. He
finished up his last year as a professional with the Odessa Jakalopes
during the 1999-2000 season.
The scouting report on his Odessa hockey player’s card says it all,
"Gary is known as a tough guy, but he’s here to play hockey. I
think his reputation overshadows what he can do on the ice. Although his
presence on the ice should create more room for his linemates, I’m
looking for Gary to contribute in other ways."
After Odessa, Gary decided to return to Capreol where he enrolled in a
heavy duty mechanics program at Cambrian College. He is now working as an
apprentice with Hydro One and is married to another Capreol born and
raised girl, Jamie Richards. They have one daughter, Ally (4), who plays
hockey on her dad’s Junior Tykes team. Gary is a referee in the Sudbury
District Hockey Officials Association and is enjoying life without the
day-to-day pressure of professional hockey.
"We have a real hockey family," stated Gary. "Jamie’s
father played in the Quebec Junior League. He was assigned to shadow Guy
Lafleur the year he scored 50 goals, so we always tease him about how good
a job he did."
LACK OF RESPECT - THE BIGGEST PROBLEM
Coupal has been refereeing for three years, and states that the biggest
problem he sees today in minor hockey is that players do not have any
respect for each other.
"You see the young kids today slashing, cross-checking and trying
to injure each other with their sticks. That didn't happen as much when I
was playing. In my days, the tough guys took on the tough guys from the
other team. Today, you see kids going after the star players from the
other team, and no one comes to protect them. It is as though no one
cares," explained Coupal.
He also sees young minor hockey players being slotted into "role
players" from as early as novice and atom. "Kids don't have the
skills today. So the coaches develop a system and train the players to
follow that system. They remain competitive, but the kids don't develop
any creativity or playmaking skills. And with the lack of respect, they
hate to carry the puck. All they want to do is hit and try to stick the other
TOUGH GUYS RESPECT LINESMEN
"I always had respect for the linesmen during my Junior and
professional career," explained Coupal. "Often during the
warm-up the linesmen would talk to me and ask if I was going to get into
"one" tonight. I would sometimes say yes, in the 2nd period, or
'No, not tonight." and they would appreciate the warning."
He went on, "The linesmen would ask us if we were done and then
move in to break up the fights. Or they would put their arm in front of
our face so we would know they were coming in and we would break up
easier. You always respected the person you were fighting with, and if he
was hurt, you backed off."
"If a linesman or referee showed respect for you as a player, you
showed it right back," stated Coupal.
COACHING AND REFEREEING - NEW MORE PLEASANT ROLES
To watch Gary Coupal skate onto the ice with a referee jersey, or to
see him on the ice coaching his daughter's team, you would never guess
that this was the ultimate "bad boy" of hockey. In total - life
suspensions from three leagues.
One can only imagine what would have happened if Gary Coupal would have
played defense with the Sudbury Wolves. If only he wouldn't have fought in
the game against the Sault.
When Gary sees young 10 and 11 year-olds so obsessed with living out
their dream of becoming a professional hockey player, he cringes and wonders if
they too will sacrifice the game they love for a chance to make their
dream come true.
Talk to Gary Coupal today and he will tell you that the only important
thing for young hockey players to remember is to have fun and play fair.