There's nothing like opening night
On the eve of opening night for the Canucks, emotion are mixed for the first game of the regular season.
There’s nothing quite like opening night in the National Hockey League -- the energy and excitement, the start of another season full of promise, another year of heart-pounding action and the return of the hopes and dreams, not only of the teams that play the games, but the many fans who follow their every move.|
Unfortunately, in and around all the hype and hoopla, opening night at General Motors Place will also include a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking moment of silence as the Canucks pay tribute to Luc Bourdon.
Talk about mixed emotions.
Imagine being a teammate and having to crank up your intensity level for a key divisional game against heated rival Calgary – the team Bourdon faced in his final NHL game on April 5th -- moments after watching a pre-game video tribute and celebration of a young life that was cut tragically short in a fatal motorcycle accident on a New Brunswick highway on May 29th.
“We’ve lost a friend and a teammate and that’s always something that’s hard to deal with. At the same time, we have to rally around that and really dedicate the game to Luc and try to win it for him. I’ve been thinking a lot about Luc this preseason. It’s always devastating when you lose somebody like that and it has crossed my mind more often than not especially since I got back (to town).”
While many of Bourdon’s teammates, coaches and members of the Canucks management group attended the funeral, this will be the first time the entire organization along with Canuck fans have had the chance to grieve together.
And while the team has dealt with the tragedy and moved forward with the business of preparing for the new season without Bourdon, the events prior to Thursday’s face-off are bound to have an affect on Canuck players and will most certainly produce an atmosphere never before seen in this city prior to the first game of a new season.
“I thought so much about him all summer,” says Alex Burrows, one of Bourdon’s closest friends on the Canucks.
“I think about him every day and I know [Thursday] is going to be a tough day. He was a special player and a special friend of mine. We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully we’ll all get through it.”
“You can’t really prepare for stuff like that, so I’ll just try to hang in there,” adds Burrows of the pregame tribute.
“It’ll be special night for a special person so it should be all good.” While the organization is keeping all of its plans for the tribute to Bourdon under wraps until moments before face-off on Thursday, the Canucks have announced that the players will have a memorial sticker on their helmets and all fans in attendance at the game will be given a commemorative pin to wear.
On Tuesday, the hockey club also announced that the funds raised by the Canucks For Kids Fund 50/50 draw on opening night will be donated in Luc Bourdon’s name to a B.C. charity serving children.
Everything about Thursday will be trying to make the best of a terrible tragedy and an event some of the teammates Bourdon left behind are still having a tough time coming to grips with.
“Two of the last three years when we came to camp, Luc was my roommate. So, for me, it was definitely tough that way,” says Rick Rypien who spent time with Bourdon both in Vancouver and with the Manitoba Moose.
“I had a pretty good relationship with him – as most of the guys did -- so you definitely think about him. It [honouring him] is the right thing to do and I just think it shows how important Luc was to everyone not only on the ice, but off the ice too.”
Although Bourdon’s time with the Canucks was short and he hadn’t yet realized his vast potential as a hockey player and a human being, he clearly left an impression in the locker room.
His teammates know that if Bourdon was still with them he’d be ready to play when the puck drops Thursday. And the players realize they have to be up to that challenge, too – even if it means wiping a way a tear or two before the opening face-off.
“It’s going to be hard to play,” says Ryan Kesler. “It’s going to be tough, but we have to play and we’re going to play our best. He was a good friend, a good teammate and it’s tough to lose someone like that.”
Thursday night in the moments prior to the season opener, the Canucks and their fans will be reminded of that again. But with Luc Bourdon looking down from above, the Canucks will do their best to channel the emotion of the moment and turn off-season tragedy into an opening night triumph.
It won’t bring Bourdon back, but it would certainly help the healing process.