The Toronto Maple Leafs mourned Canadian rock icon Gord Downie with a moment of silence before the puck dropped at Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Tragically Hip’s frontman, whose death from brain cancer was announced Wednesday by the band, was a passionate hockey fan and player.
References to Canada’s national pastime were woven into many of his lyrics.
Leafs coach, players remember Downie
“Gord Downie personified what it means to be Canadian, composing the soundtrack for our country,” said Air Canada Centre announcer Mike Ross during the pregame ceremony as the crowd cheered.
“You will live forever in the hearts of all Canadians and tonight we pay tribute and celebrate all you have done for our country.”
Some of the Hip’s most memorable songs were played in the Leafs and Red Wings’ locker rooms.
To the man who told the stories of a game, a people and a country.
Thank you, Gord. pic.twitter.com/JUyu51RMcV
Earlier, the Leafs acknowledged Downie’s death by tweeting, “To the man who told the stories of a game, a people and a country.”
The tweet was accompanied by a photo of the Hip performing at one of their three sold-out shows at the Air Canada Centre last August during their nationwide farewell tour — Man Machine Poem.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock called the news “tragic” during a news conference.
“You got to live each and everyday because you don’t know what’s going to happen in your life, to your family, to yourself and you want to enjoy the moments,” he said.
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly remembered Downie as “something special.”
“We have a lot of fans in this room, all over Toronto, all over Canada, all over the world and losing him is tough,” Rielly said.
Hockey fan, player
Downie spent his early years on the ice.
His godfather was future Boston Bruins coach and general manager Harry Sinden, and Downie enjoyed the national pastime as both a die-hard Bruins fan and a goalie who took his B-level team to a provincial championship.
Fifty Mission Cap and Leafs
Downie’s handwritten lyrics from the Hip’s 1992 hit song Fifty Mission Cap are enshrined in the Leafs’ players lounge.
“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer. He was on a fishing trip. The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup. They didn’t win another till 1962, the year he was discovered,” Downie sang.
The song tells the story of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 1951 Stanley Cup victory, and an unlikely hero in defenceman Bill Barilko, who died in a plane crash just a few months after he scored the winning overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens. He went missing while flying back from a fishing trip in Quebec.
The song was released the year Barilko’s number was formally hoisted to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre by the hockey club.
Barilko’s banner was lowered in honour of Downie Wednesday night.
50 Mission Cap. pic.twitter.com/fdMDy0ZGyY
Rolling Stones came 2nd to Hip at ACC
A new poster commemorating all 13 shows the Hip played at the Air Canada Centre since it first opened in February 1999, enshrines Downie’s legacy.
Toronto business tycoon and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) co-owner Larry Tanenbaum told CBC Toronto the Canadiana poet is the only one deserving of this honour.
“He was a guy who connected with everybody, just one-on-one, of 20,000 people in the arena there,” he said.
“We wanted him to open up this building. The Rolling Stones actually came second to Gord.”
Veteran usher for MLSE Don McLellan says he will “never forget” the Hip’s first show at the arena.
“It was very special,” he said. “I was so nervous. It was my first one here, but it went off great. The sound was terrific.”
And McLellan worked the next 12 Hip shows and saw Fifty Mission Cap emerge as an anthem at Leafs games.
“You hear that all the time here,” he said. “They play it at every game and they’re going to keep playing it I imagine.”
Canadian hockey community reeling from loss
Downie touched Canada’s hockey community.
Former Leaf Doug Gilmour, who like Downie is a native of Kingston, Ont., also tweeted his condolences to the Downie family.
“Heartbroken today,” Gilmour said. “Few Canadians touched this country like Gord Downie. Thank you for everything you gave us. My deepest condolences.”
Heartbroken today. Few Canadians touched this country like Gord Downie. Thank you for everything you gave us. My deepest condolences. pic.twitter.com/00DdU6IVZn
The soundtrack of car rides to practices, bus trips to tournaments, and dressing rooms across Canada. Hockey was a part of you and you will always be a part of hockey. Thank you, Gord Downie. pic.twitter.com/kHj8iPlUa4