Hockey is supposed to be a sport for tough guys. Make it to the NHL level and you can expect bone-crunching hits, lightning quick speed and spectacular goals. But Friday night, toughness gave way to tears at GM Place in Vancouver, as the Canucks and their fans remembered a promising career cut tragically short. They paid tribute to Luc Bourdon, a 21 year old defenseman, who died in a motorcycle accident on May 29 near his hometown of Shippegan, New Brunswick.
In the days and weeks that followed the accident, the Canucks honored Luc's memory, by setting up a makeshift memorial outside GM Place, and online at the team's website, to let fans share their grief, and remember a young man who overcame juvenile arthritis to become a skilled junior player, then see his NHL dreams come true in 2005, when Vancouver drafted him 10th overall.
On Friday night, the Canucks took additional steps to make sure Luc's dreams are not forgotten. Before the game, they unveiled a special memorial wall at the entrance to GM Place. Then, they held a pre-game ceremony that included a selfless act from a Canucks fan. The woman who received the last jersey Luc wore as part of a "shirts off their back" promotion, gave that jersey to Luc's mother. The ceremony was capped off by a video tribute to Luc's career, from childhood to the NHL, accompanied by a live acoustic performance of the song, "Big League" by Tom Cochrane and Ken Greer of the Canadian band Red Rider. I barely maintained my composure through that haunting performance, then finally lost it as I saw tough players on the ice fighting back tears, including goalie and newly-minted captain Roberto Luongo.
Anyone who thought such an emotional ceremony would sap the Canucks of their energy and focus, was in for a big surprise. While the Calgary Flames dominated most of the first period, out shooting the Canucks, they could not get past Luongo. Then, Vancouver started making plays. Twin brothers Henrik and Daniel Sedin teamed up for the Canucks' first goal before the first period ended.
The second period brought more scoring chances for Vancouver: Steve Bernier notched a goal just 23 seconds into the period, taking a pass from Henrik Sedin. Just over a minute later, Ryan Kesler put the Canucks up 3-0.
Alex Burrows joined the scoring fray in the third period, with a shot from inside the face-off circle. Matthias Ohlund took advantage of a Vancouver power play about halfway through the period, and Rick Rypien sealed things for the Canucks with a short-handed goal in the last five minutes of the game.
Goalie Roberto Luongo made 25 saves and chalked up the 39th shutout of his career as the Canucks blanked the Flames, 6-0.
After the game, several players admitted that they'd had a little trouble regaining their focus following the emotional tribute to Luc Bourdon. But Alex Burrows, Luc's closest friend on the team, told CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" crew that he felt Luc's spirit there that night, helping push the team to victory. Other players said that they will continue to remember Luc's enthusiasm and talent, and proudly wear his number "28" on their helmets all season.