The Senators, Canadiens and Maple Leafs paid touching tribute to two fallen Canadian soldiers on Saturday night, setting aside hockey hostilities to focus on their shared strength.
For a nation that identifies itself strongly with hockey, it seemed only fitting that Canadians should gather in their rinks and at their TVs to share a healing moment before puck drop Saturday.
The Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs staged a touching simultaneous tribute Saturday night to two soldiers killed in separate, unprovoked attacks in Canada earlier this week. Ottawa took center stage in the tribute, as Senators players stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the visiting New Jersey Devils for a stirring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and O Canada from anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge.
Fans in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto sang the anthem in a simultaneous blend of English and French, while projectors lit up all three rinks with Canadian flags.
Military personnel on the ice for the Ottawa tribute stood at attention throughout, but camera close-ups betrayed their barely-contained emotion over losing two of their own.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed by a lone gunman Wednesday while serving as a ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. The shooter was later killed in a gunfight with security forces inside Parliament Hill’s Centre Block.
Earlier in the week, Canadian Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed and another soldier injured in a separate attack in Quebec. A man plowed into Vincent and the other soldier with his car and then drove away. The attacker was shot dead after a chase with police.
Cirillo was a 24-year-old with a son. Vincent was 53 years old.
For the professional hockey players playing Canada’s game in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, the attacks hit particularly close to home.
The Quebec attack took place in the Habs’ home province, while the assault on Parliament Hill happened in the Senators’ home city, with the Maple Leafs in town for a game that had to be postponed.
The Leafs were staying at a hotel inside the crisis area on Wednesday, and saw much of the police action through the windows of their hotel.
Surreal scene outside of our hotel right now. Lot of very brave police officers we should all be very proud of.
— Joffrey Lupul (@JLupul) October 22, 2014
Gestures of support and tributes to the fallen have been rolling in from across the league. The Calgary Flames honoured Cirillo and Vincent in a pre-game ceremony on Friday, while the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks also held moments of silence this week.
True north strong and free! pic.twitter.com/d2eiCvujdr
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 23, 2014
And in Pittsburgh, the Penguins paid rousing tribute to Canada on the night of the Ottawa shootings by singing the Canadian national anthem ahead of their game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But in a week filled with classy gestures from around the league, three Ottawa fans may have hit on the classiest move yet.
For one night at least, a fan in an Erik Karlsson jersey wore a different name on his back – and his two friends wore the same name.
Because hockey heroes took a back seat to real-life ones for many this week. And in Ottawa, the name “Karlsson” was not nearly as important as the name “Cirillo” on Saturday.
As seen on HNIC, fans entering Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa. pic.twitter.com/oklQ4oxqoU
— Caroline Cameron (@SNCaroline) October 25, 2014