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'United as one': Hockey returns to Ottawa with stirring pre-game anthem ceremony

A Canadian Soldier salutes the hearse carrying the body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on the Veterans Memorial Highway in Ottawa on Friday, October 24, 2014.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
October 26, 2014 - 5:03 AM

OTTAWA - Players on opposing teams stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle at centre ice as hockey made a stirring return to Ottawa on Saturday night.

Fans, many wearing red and waving Canadian flags, paid their respects to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent as part of a poignant ceremony prior to the Senators' game against the New Jersey Devils.

The glow sticks fans received as they entered the arena stood in place of candles, and for almost 10 minutes the Canadian Tire Centre was the scene of a public, national vigil.

It was the first hockey game to be played in Ottawa since Wednesday's attack on Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial, where Cirillo was shot and killed. Vincent died in a hit-and-run attack Monday near Montreal.

"Tonight we have an opportunity to stand united as one," public address announcer Stu Schwartz said.

Members of Cirillo's Hamilton-based division joined local first responders inside the circle of 40 players from both teams. With photos of Cirillo and Vincent on the arena video screens, the sellout crowd of 19,266 stood for a moment of silence that lasted 42 seconds.

What followed was a co-ordinated singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" between fans in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto and led by Ottawa anthem singer Lyndon Slewidge. The emotional rendition of Canada's national anthem gave way to cheering, as fans — some with Cirillo's name written on the back of their jerseys — remained on their feet and applauded until well after the military and police personnel left the ice.

Patrick Stump's "My City" set the tone for Ottawa's next step.

"There's a sense that you can move forward, I guess, and you hope that that's what people take out of it," Senators winger Bobby Ryan said earlier in the day.

The Senators were supposed to play the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night but the game was postponed due to the shooting attack. It will be played on Nov. 9.

In Toronto, the Leafs took part in the co-ordinated ceremony before facing the Boston Bruins. The Canadiens did the same before facing the New York Rangers.

"Hockey Night In Canada" opened the proceedings with a video montage featuring scenes from Ottawa, including the National War Memorial. References to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Thursday speech to Parliament gave way to the message that Canadians "unite around this game because we always unite around the game."

Devils coach Pete DeBoer understands the value of that. He took some time Saturday afternoon between meetings to walk from his team's downtown hotel to the war memorial.

The Dunnville, Ont., native was glad to be a part of Saturday night's ceremony.

"Any time you can get together when something like this happens, it's for the good," DeBoer said. "The healing process starts."

Downtown at the site of the attack, hockey's role in the process was clear. Amid the flowers, candles, stuffed animals and hand-written thank-you notes was a black Canadian Olympic hockey jersey.

Along with DeBoer, Devils defenceman Eric Gelinas visited the site. Gelinas is from Vincent's hometown of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

Gelinas and his Devils teammates eventually went on to play a regular-season NHL game against the Senators. But as much of North America watched, they stood almost arm-in-arm as the ceremony went on in an apparent nod to Harper's speech that, "In our system, in our country, we are opponents. But we are never enemies."

"I thought that was a great touch," said Dax Lanham, a 44-year-old Ottawa native who wore a white Canadian Olympic jersey to the game. "They're not all Canadians. They're Americans, they're Europeans. It's not just Canada and the U.S. uniting, it's the whole world uniting around one big circle."

Players at Air Canada Centre in Toronto didn't follow that lead, but the sentiment was the same.

"We may battle in arenas and on ice but tonight we stand together," PA announcer Andy Frost said.

— With files from Neil Davidson in Toronto

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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