Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul was in downtown Ottawa with the rest of the Leafs on Wednesday morning in the middle of the fear and chaos. “Surreal scene outside of our hotel right now,” he tweeted. “Lot of very brave police officers we should all be very proud of.”
“We were told not to go close to the windows,” a Leaf defenceman, Morgan Rielly, told The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk later, after it was all over. “But you know us — we opened the curtains up and had a look for sure. It was quite scary how close we were.”
When an attacker shot and killed a sentry standing guard at a monument to Canada’s war dead, Toronto’s NHL team was staying at a hotel across the street. Some, among them James van Riemsdyk, said they were sleeping when the violence struck. Others, such as Morgan Rielly, were awake and heard the gunshots. Head coach Randy Carlyle said he was walking through the Rideau Centre mall when an order to evacuate was broadcast over the public address system.
At a moment like that, the coach said, ‘You’ve just got to get back to your safe haven. And the safe haven for us was the hotel.’
“You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” said James van Riemsdyk. “That kind of unknowing feeling is definitely not settling.”
Midday Wednesday the NHL announced that the game the Leafs were supposed to play against Ottawa’s Senators that night was postponed. And:
The National Hockey League wishes to express its sympathy to all affected by the tragic events that took place this morning in downtown Ottawa.
Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba was one of the hockey players tweeting that afternoon:
My heart and prayers goes out to the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. This is a tragedy that will not be forgotten. #OttawaStrong
Very sad news to hear about what happened in Ottawa. God bless the families who have to mourn these losses. #sosad
In Pittsburgh that night, singer Jeff Jimerson led the crowd in singing O Canada ahead of the game between Penguins and Flyers. “It was a special moment,” Jimerson told The Calgary Sun, “and as soon as they introduced it, saying our thoughts are with Canada, it felt different — it was more emotional. Towards the end, when you can really hear all the people singing O Canada, I felt so proud of the Pittsburgh fans for that. It was really cool.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on Thursday morning. “My fellow Canadians, for the second time this week there has been a brutal and violent attack on our soil,” he said. He paid tribute to Corporal Cirillo and to Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, killed on Monday in Quebec. He thanked first responders and quick-thinking civilians, police and Parliamentary security, and Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers. He said,
I think we were all, as Canadians, touched by the wonderful gesture shown last night at the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game.
“Of course,” he continued, “Mr. Speaker, we know all too well this is not a happy day for everybody.”
In particular, a terribly sad day for all of the family, loved ones, friends, colleagues of both Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent.
We have seen photos of these lovely men.
We’ve all seen the pictures of these beautiful guys, as Don Cherry would say, and our hearts really are with all of them.
We are so fortunate to have people like this.
“We’re all shocked and saddened by what happened,” Senators president Cyril Leeder told Wayne Scanlan from The Ottawa Citizen. “We think it was obviously the appropriate thing for the league to do to cancel the game, we supported that decision. But now, our leaders — our prime minister, our premier, our mayor — are asking us to move forward and help with the healing process. We’re hopeful that hockey can help in some small way.”
He went on:
When this happens, hockey takes a back seat, it really is secondary to a tragic incident like this. But hockey is important to Canadians, important to our community here and will be an important part of that [healing] process.
The Leafs were back in Toronto on Thursday and out on their practice ice. At the end of the session, centreman Nazem Kadri took to the net. Dave Feschuk:
Even if he didn’t make many saves, Kadri made more than a few onlookers laugh as he performed an exhaustive display of sprawls and snow angels that were both admirably theatrical and comical.
This, in part, was how these famous men who play a kids’ game got back to their usual rituals on Thursday. A little more than 24 hours earlier, while the Leafs prepared for a matchup in Ottawa, they’d seen their typical dream-job routine — a mid-morning breakfast, say, followed by a leisurely afternoon nap — pre-empted by a rare dose of real-world viciousness.
“We have no sense of occasion,” Cathal Kelly was saying that morning in The Globe and Mail. “We are incapable of proper celebration, and consequently do mourning very poorly. Taken as a group, Canadians have one emotional gambit — a patrician distaste for emotions.”
We are as stiff as our reputation … until you get us into a hockey arena.
It doesn’t have to be a grand place. Any little rink with a coffee shop and a skate-sharpening station will do, anywhere in the country. You walk through those doors, the cold and that metallic tang hit you, and your natural Canadian inhibitions are shed. We are a country of many faiths, but just the one religion. It’s a cliché because it’s true.
Everyone in this country understands that you don’t have to play hockey or watch hockey or even like hockey, but you must respect hockey. That’s the way we used to feel about the Church, in all its iterations.
We are at our best together, and we are most often together at a rink. It’s where we feel closest.
By Saturday, we’ll be ready to shed this dreadful feeling of vulnerability. We’ll do that by celebrating the fallen and jeering those who would do us harm. It’s a barbarous ritual, but so is hockey. It’s a game designed to be played by people with the need to work out some issues. That’s why we’re so good at it.