The hair is the first thing that sticks out with Gerry Gray.
On the ice at the Centre Ice Rink in Harrington, the long straight hair flowing out under his helmet is reminiscent of former Washington Capitals tough guy Chris Simon.
“Well, I went to Catholic school, I guess. If it touched the collar you got rapped across the knuckles. So when I finally got to college I let it grow and never stopped,” Gray said.
Hockey has been a part of Gray’s life from a very young age, growing up on Long Island as a fan of the New York Islanders during their early 1980s dynasty years.
“Long Island, you always play a lot of street hockey, so you’re always out there trying to be Mike Bossy or Bryan Trottier,” he said, referring to the Islanders’ two big stars during their four-time, Stanley Cup-winning run from 1980 to 1984.
Although he didn’t play organized hockey growing up – lacrosse was more his game – he played casually with friends both in Long Island and when he lived and went to school in Vermont.
“Back in Vermont I was always playing hockey once or twice a year with my buddies. As the skills deteriorated I got tired of getting my butt kicked more and more each year,” he said.
It wasn’t until the Centre Ice Rink opened in 2002 that Gray rediscovered a new passion for the game.
“It was really a lifeline. I miss New England. I miss the mountains; I miss the cold,” he said. Hockey made life down here much more enjoyable, he said. "It really opened up another facet.”
Despite his love of the Northeast, Gray said he likes the slow pace of life in Sussex County.
"I enjoy the fact that it is still Slower Lower here. I enjoy the pace, but also the fact that I can be Philadelphia or Washington in about two hours," he said
Gray takes full advantage of his chances to play hockey, coming in for drop-in hockey sessions when he doesn’t have to be in court and captaining two adult league teams: Hanson Brothers in the ‘B’ division and Cementheads in the ‘C’ division.
“I love the exercise. I love getting out with like-minded people. That’s the best part,” he said. “When you're skating down the ice, it feels really good. It’s almost like flying. It may not seem like it when I’m chugging along down there, but I feel like I’m flying.”
Gray usually plays alongside his girlfriend, Sharon Bark, who plays goaltender but is learning to skate out.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I have a tough time scoring on her.”
Like Clark Kent in the phone booth, once the game is over, Gray puts on a suit and tie and goes to his day job as a bankruptcy attorney.
Based in Georgetown, Gray originally studied journalism at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. In his last year in college, Gray did an internship with the public defender’s office in Burlington.
“I kind of took a liking to lawyering,” he said. “I took a year off, worked on a farm, taught myself a lot of things they don’t teach you in college, and then applied for law school.”
Gray said working on a farm, where he lived by himself, he learned self-sufficency. He had no TV, so he read books and educated himself. After that year, he applied to law school at William and Mary and has been an attorney for nearly 25 years.
He got his first job in Sussex County for the Community Legal Aid Society, which does civil work for low-income people.
“I loved it,” he said. “You can always fight the good fight.”
He briefly moved back to New England, working out of an office in New Hampshire before coming back to Delaware to start his own firm.
“I represent individuals and corporations that are filing for bankruptcy,” Gray said. “I really enjoy helping people. Most people who file bankruptcy do it because they have had some type of illness or injury; they’ve lost their job, divorce, usually its factors beyond their control. There’s always this sense of relief when you complete the process.”
Gray splits time trying cases in the courts in Georgetown and Wilmington, usually spending two days a week in New Castle County.
“It’s really a great legal community to work in,” he said of Sussex County’s lawyers. “I work in bigger areas, but I very much enjoy the small, more collegial bar.”
Gray said his hockey playing does come up in conversations with other lawyers, although the few that are knowledgeable about the game are fans of the Philadelphia Flyers, a traditional rival of Gray’s Islanders.
Gray remains an Islander fan to this day, still traveling to the Nassau Coliseum every now and then to catch a game. That trip won’t last much longer though as the Islanders recently announced they would be moving to Brooklyn starting in the 2015-16 season. Of the move, Gray said, “They’re breaking my heart.”
As a litigator himself, it’s only natural that Gray would want to get in and negotiate an end to the ongoing NHL lockout.
“First thing you are taught in law school is going to court is a failure. It means reasonable people couldn’t come together and settle their differences,” he said.