SHIPPAGAN, N.B. – A small-town New Brunswick arena was transformed into a makeshift chapel on Sunday as thousands paid their respects to Luc Bourdon, a 21-year-old rising National Hockey League star killed in a motorcycle crash on Thursday.
Mourners filed past Bourdon’s coffin in the middle of the rink where he once played hockey as a boy and offered their condolences to Bourdon’s family.
“It’s just right now really, really quiet,” said Gilles Cormier from inside the arena during Sunday’s visitation.
“Everybody is stunned.”
Cormier manages the rink and also coached Bourdon for a year in minor hockey.
“We offered the rink as a chapel and it was the family’s decision,” he said.
“(Bourdon’s mother) said yes because that was his life, he was always here and that’s where he’d want to be right now.”
Cormier estimated more than two-thousand people came to pay tribute to the Vancouver Canucks defenceman on Sunday, with hundreds lining up outside the arena at some points.
Cormier said Bourdon’s close friend, Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang, arrived at the rink after flying in from Pittsburgh.
More NHLers are expected to attend Bourdon’s funeral, to be held Monday afternoon in the arena after a second visitation in the morning.
Bourdon died instantly when the motorcycle he was driving slammed into an oncoming tractor-trailer.
The crash happened not far from his family home in Shippagan, about 250 kilometres northeast of Fredericton.
Bourdon, who had only received a licence for the bike two weeks ago, was trying to pass another truck on a highway curve when the collision occurred.
On Friday, RCMP investigators said Bourdon’s inexperience on the sleek, speedy motorcycle – a Suzuki GSX-R1000 – may have played a role in the crash.
Police also noted it was windy on the day of the accident, and a sudden gust may have pushed Bourdon into the truck’s path.
Bourdon’s death has hit hard the close-knit Acadian community where many of its 3,000 residents say they’re mourning the loss of a role model and an ambassador.
Relatives and friends have described Bourdon as a hard worker who never lost sight of his dream to play in the NHL, but remained generous with his time when it came to helping others.
His great-aunt, Anna Boucher, said the young man made a point to stay connected with his community.
“He came to the arena and he used to talk to all the little guys there and he used to play hockey with them,” she said.
On Saturday, Bourdon was remembered during a moment of silence before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The young man’s picture was flashed on the videoboard as the majority of players stood with their heads bowed.
Cormier said the outpouring of support in the wake of the crash had been amazing.
“We were not ready for this. I don’t think anyone is ready for this,” he said.
“But we’ve had a lot of support from (people) all over the country that call us to help us.”
Bourdon was the first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, 10th overall, in the 2005 NHL draft.
He also played a key role in Canada’s gold-winning teams at the 2006 and 2007 world junior championships and was expected to have a bright future on the Canucks blueline.
Bourdon was named to the all-star team at the 2006 world juniors. At the 2007 event in Sweden, he scored the third-period goal that tied the game and forced overtime against the U.S. in the semifinal game.
Bourdon split last season between Vancouver and Manitoba of the American Hockey League. He played 27 games with the Canucks, scoring two goals and collecting 20 penalty minutes.
Bourdon’s family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the IWK Health Centre Foundation or the Association du Hockey Mineur de la Peninsule Acadienne-Division est.