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Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Walter Gretzky

News of the passing of Canada's hockey dad broke midway through the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Sheldon Keefe and John Tavares were among those who sent condolences to the family.

VANCOUVER -- When the final horn sounded following a 3-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the game took a back seat as the Toronto Maple Leafs learned of Walter Gretzky's passing.

"I think obviously everybody knows his impact, not only on his boys playing the game, but over the hockey community and what he brought to the game," Leafs captain John Tavares said. "As a group, we recognize that and just want to say give our condolences to the Gretzky family and the hockey community."

Walter Gretzky died Thursday at the age of 82. He raised and coached his son, Wayne, in Brantford, Ontario and is  considered by many to be the greatest hockey player to play the game. 

Wayne Gretzky confirmed his father's passing in a social media post.

"It's with deep sadness that Janet and I share the news of the passing of my dad," said Wayne. "He bravely battled Parkinson's and other health issues these last few years, but he never let it get him down.

"For me, he was the reason I fell in love with the game of hockey. He inspired me to be the best I could be not just in the game of hockey, but in life."

Walter Gretzky carved a legacy long after his Hall of Fame son's playing career ended in 1999. The patriarch of the Gretzky family, Walter's dedication to minor hockey resonated with Canadians. 

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe recalled meeting Walter several times, including one meeting that stood out while he was coach of the Pembroke Lumber Kings.

"He came to visit with NHL old-timers at one point in time and had some time to chat with him there," Keefe said. "It gave me so many great memories and things, obviously Wayne's legacy, but really throughout his entire life gave so much to the game."

Walter became a regular fixture of Maple Leafs home games. You'd be hard-pressed to attend a game at Scotiabank Arena when you didn't find Walter saluting the crowd.

His dedication to the sport earned him recognition nationally as Canada's hockey dad. But players raised outside of the country also knew of the impact he had on the sport.

"RIP Walter Gretzky - was always a class act and someone my parents enjoyed running into at Leaf games," American-born James van Riemsdyk tweeted as a tribute.

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