SPORTS

Dear Jets fans, thank you

10/25/2014 03:39 EDT | Updated 12/25/2014 05:59 EST
On the surface, hockey is just a game. Two teams play each other. One wins. One loses. 

But at its very roots, hockey can be something much bigger, something much more powerful. 

The events prior to Friday night’s game between the Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning proved just how powerful one of our nation’s longest and greatest traditions really can be. 

In honour of the two fallen Canadian soldiers who were brutally murdered earlier this week, a jam-packed MTS Centre crowd stood up and belted out our national anthem.

At one point, anthem singer Stacey Nattrass just stopped and lifted the microphone in the air while the 15, 016 strong sung loud and clear enough, together they never missed a beat.  

United they stood as if to tell the world we may have bent, but never did we break. 

Like thousands of Canadians and thousands more around the world, I spent Wednesday glued to the TV. It was a rare day off the local hockey beat, so I watched as our country made international news following reports that a gunman was on the loose in our country’s capital. 

Together, we listened as our greatest fears were confirmed: a Canadian soldier had been shot and killed while on honorary guard at the National War Memorial, just feet from where our country does its most important business. 

My initial instinct was to call and text my family and friends. I had recently called Ottawa my home. For four years I studied journalism at Carleton University before leaving midway through 2012 to come back home and begin a career in Winnipeg. 

Finally the texts came. 

My aunt was in lockdown with her staff inside her optometry office just blocks from where gunshots could be heard. My cousins were restricted from leaving their high school classrooms. The staff at the restaurant I once worked at watched as police scaled the streets with guns, one after another, in search of the killer. 

Fortunately for me, everyone I knew and cared for were OK. 

I continued to watch CBC as new developments were reported. 

Two shooters. Then one. One dead. Then two. 

As a member of the media, it had never bothered me to hear such reports. Working in the news industry it’s often assumed, if not required, that you be equipped with “thick skin.” 

After all, working in a newsroom means being at the forefront of every local and national tragedy. We hear the gruesome details of every car accident, every shooting and every murder that happens in our backyards. We see the faces of the victims and hear reactions from the families. It’s never easy, but it’s as much a part of the job as say, covering a hockey game. 

But even reporters have their moments where professional instincts just aren’t enough. 

For me, that moment happened when I saw the face of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the 24-year-old soldier that lost his life that day. A stranger had used Twitter to post a picture of a friend posing with Cirillo – one of many I’m sure he took that day – in front of the memorial he would later die beside. 

At the time I never knew his age, or that he took as much pride in his workouts at the gym as he did with his job. Or that he was the father to a young son who had just started kindergarten. Or that he was an animal lover with two rescue dogs waiting for him at his Hamilton home. 

I broke down. I was angry. 

People connect with cities in different ways. For some, it can be a specific spot or view. For others, maybe it’s a special someone. 

For me, it was my walk to work. 

Living in downtown Ottawa, three or four times a week I would make my way up Elgin Street to the restaurant where I worked as a bartender to pay my school tuition. To this day I still have a vivid memory of every stoplight and building along the way. 

And each time, my last stop before embarking on an eight-hour shift, would be at the war memorial.  

Sometimes it was only for a second. Others times were longer. 

I’d stare at the statue of soldiers pushing forward. With a view of the Parliament Buildings in the background I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of patriotism. It gave me a kind of energy I still can’t fully describe. 

It was the same routine on the way home, only it was even more incredible at night. 

I headed to bed Wednesday feeling I had lost that connection. On Thursday, I still couldn’t shake it as I made my way to the rink to interview professional athletes on how they understood the recent tragedies.

I got what I needed and filed my story, though it still didn’t feel right. 

It wasn’t until Friday night's game where I was reminded by the thousands of fans singing in perfect harmony of what gave me that kind of feeling in the first place. Once again, I felt connected. 

In two weeks I’ll be in Ottawa when the Jets take on the Senators. I plan to return to the memorial, the same one I’ve visited hundreds of times before. 

But instead of feeling sad or angry, I’ll remember the feeling I felt when I watched the greatest fans in the NHL belt out the anthem of the greatest country in the world. 

And for that Jets fans, I thank you. 

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