Wray comes full circle, playing for the love of the game in his final season

Chris Wray is in the final season of his solid five-year university career with the MacEwan Griffins (Len Joudrey photo).
Chris Wray is in the final season of his solid five-year university career with the MacEwan Griffins (Len Joudrey photo).

Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – It appeared to be the most stressful 16:38 of work that Christopher Wray ever had in his hockey career.

He hadn't played at all in the playoffs, but midway through the final period of the deciding game of the ACAC Championship in hostile NAIT Arena last March, he got the call to replace teammate Marc-Olivier Daigle. With the MacEwan Griffins already trailing NAIT 3-1, allowing another goal wasn't an option.

To most, the stress and pressure would have been too much. All Wray did was calmly make a pile of saves as the Griffins rallied in overtime for their first title since 2004.

"That game for me, I had no external fear. It was just pure hockey," he said. "You go out and just let your whole upbringing show itself. It was something that I didn't think while I was in the game at all.

"Actually, my glove blew up and my skate had an edge missing," he noted, surmising he stepped on a stray pebble while on the bench. "I had all these things that were a bigger mountain to climb. There were so many things going on in that game that when it came to … making saves, it was easier than dealing than the other things. It's kind of a weird way of thinking of it."

Now in the midst of his fifth-and-final season with the Griffins, Wray has remained in that cerebral frame of mind.

In many ways, he's come full circle. He's once again that kid that grew up in the Whitemud West minor hockey system, simply playing for the love of the game.

"It's pure fun for me at this point," he said, reflecting on a Griffins career that began in 2013 after he closed out junior with the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Drumheller Dragons. "I think that I've enjoyed hockey more this year than I have in the past because it feels quite temporary as opposed to never ending. I think the end's sort of in sight, which is sad, but it makes all the good parts of hockey kind of bubble to the top.

"You put a lot of time into hockey playing as a kid. At this point, it's kind of pure again," he continued. "The end goal isn't to move on, it's just to be present and I've enjoyed the experience of that."

Wray leads the Griffins into a weekend series against Concordia (Friday, 8:15 p.m., Bill Hunter Arena and Saturday, 6 p.m., Downtown Community Arena) with some solid numbers so far this season (2.96 GAA and .921 save percentage).

"Chris has had an exceptional start," said interim head coach Michael Ringrose. "He battled through some stuff last year, but has really come around this year. He's a huge part of our group of what we're trying to do. It's great to have two goaltenders who are capable of carrying the load."

To date, Wray has 2,053 saves in 75 career regular season games for the Griffins, which is among the best in program history. His mark of 15 wins during the 2014-15 regular season is a MacEwan University record.

Off the ice, his community service has been equally as impressive. The MacEwan Student Athlete Council president has helped with Junior Griffins camps and organizes the team's Movember campaign. They raised $2,000 in 2016 and are hoping to top that this month (Donate here: MacEwan hockey Movember).

"His goal is to leave the program in a better spot than when he joined," said Ringrose. "You can see on the ice he's certainly a leader for us, but off the ice he takes that to heart, too. He's the president of the SAC committee, he's constantly involved in the community.

"He's just a really genuine person and the program matters to him."

Aiming for an eventual career as a lawyer, Wray feels he will still stay involved in hockey even if this is likely his final competitive season.

"I'll never let hockey slip completely out of my life," he said. "I don't know what kind of space will be available for it down the road. It will be in my life somehow.

"In terms of high-level competition? I don't see myself pursuing professional hockey. Not because I wouldn't want to, just because I think life kind of moves on. I would (like to) stay as close to hockey as I could."