SHIPPAGAN, N.B. - Funeral services were held Monday for Luc Bourdon at a packed, small-town rink in northern New Brunswick where he took his first boyhood strides toward the great Canadian goal of playing in the NHL.
More than 2,000 people gathered in the arena in the Acadian town of Shippagan to say goodbye to the 21-year-old rookie with the Vancouver Canucks, who died instantly last Thursday when the motorcycle he was driving slammed into an oncoming tractor-trailer.
The young defenceman's girlfriend, Charlene Ward, was driving behind Bourdon when the accident happened not far from Shippagan, and the most emotional moments of the funeral Monday came when she read a poem she had written for her sweetheart last year.
"I miss you so much, you just can't imagine," she said, weeping as she read the poem Bourdon carried with him whenever he was on the road.
"You're my sweetheart. . . . You're my sunshine."
After the poem was read, the silence was broken by Bourdon's voice - a recording of him strumming his guitar and singing a song he wrote for Ward.
Ward then placed a small, toy monkey holding a heart - a present she had given Bourdon - on his coffin, which was draped with his No. 28 Canucks jersey.
People wept openly at the funeral for the young man who beat the odds and rose from the obscurity of New Brunswick's windswept Acadian Peninsula to become a promising player in the NHL.
As hard as it was for some people in the French-speaking Maritime town, they put aside traditional hockey allegiances and became supporters of the Canucks. Many mourners sported Canucks jerseys.
"There's good people around here, but . . . there's not that many really good stories coming out of a place like this," said Dominic Noel, who used to play hockey with Bourdon before he entered the junior leagues.
"He was the first one to make it (to the NHL). . . . It's a big loss for the community. He was a really special gentleman, a really nice guy who had time for everyone."
Jonathan Noel, the mayor of Shippagan, summed up the feelings of many in the community of 3,000 when he addressed the funeral.
"Luc was an idol to us all," he said. "Our dreams for Luc were grandiose, but they were realistic."
Hockey officials, managers and players attended the funeral, including a number from the Canucks organization.
Steve Tambellini, the Canucks assistant general manager, told mourners that Bourdon had the strength and skills to become a great player.
"How can you not love a player who played with the passion he did," he told the hushed crowd.
Tambellini described Bourdon as a quiet and shy young man who was gradually finding his own voice in the locker room. He said the big defenceman was proud of where he came from and keen not to let his friends and family down.
"He had so much strength, so much possibility," Tambellini said. "It gives us comfort knowing he will forever be a Vancouver Canuck."
Gilles Cormier, the rink's manager, said Bourdon often visited the arena to shoot pucks, making it a fitting place for his funeral mass.
"The town of Shippagan offered (the arena) to the family and they agreed right away," Cormier said earlier.
Inside the arena, the capacity crowd looked on in silence as the service started, Bourdon's casket at centre ice.
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 in a recent interview.
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 defenceman's picture was flashed on the huge videoboard as the players below stood with their heads bowed.
Bourdon was trying to pass a truck on a highway curve when the fatal accident occurred.
He had obtained a motorcycle licence only two weeks earlier.
RCMP investigators said Bourdon's inexperience on the powerful superbike - 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 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.
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.