10/25/2014 09:46 EDT | Updated 12/25/2014 05:59 EST

Senators, Canadiens, Leafs pay tribute in pre-game ceremonies

It was an emotional beginning to Saturday night in the NHL following the tragic events of the past week. The Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs came together to honour two fallen soldiers, and unite a country still reeling from the attacks. 

The rousing tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent occurred simultaneously at the Canadian Tire Centre, Bell Centre, and Air Canada Centre, respectively. This was the first time all three teams have played since Cirillo was killed by a gunman at the National War Memorial on Wednesday. 

In Ottawa, fans were asked to wear red to the game where the New Jersey Devils and Senators met in a circle at centre ice for the singing of the national anthems. Fans belted out the Canadian anthem in unison in all three arenas for the whole country. It was a special moment that demonstrated how hockey has become part of the healing process. 

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Canadian forces members, including several from Cirillo's Hamilton regiment, opened the ceremony. A moment of silence was observed before the anthems. Those in attendance were clearly moved by the tribute, but even fans and Canadians watching across the country were impressed by the unique show of support.

In Montreal and Toronto, the arenas were lit up in Canada's red and white reinforcing that Saturday night was about Canadian strength as much as any hockey game.

"Hockey Night In Canada" started the ceremonies with a video montage featuring scenes from Ottawa. The message of the video was made clear when it concluded with the message, "unite around this game because we always unite around the game."

At the National War Memorial, the importance of hockey in the process of healing was evident. The makeshift memorial of traditional flowers, candles, stuffed animals and hand-written thank-you notes included a black Canadian Olympic hockey jersey.

At Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the message was echoed.

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