Video: PRACTICE | Rembering Gord Downie
WINNIPEG - When Bryan Little left his house this morning, it was a little after nine.
Following practice, when he and fellow Ontarian Ben Chiarot spoke with the media about the impact Canadian icon Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip had on them, the sweet, soulful notes of the '98 classic 'Bobcaygeon' played softly in the background.
Fitting. It is, after all, one of Little's favourite songs.
He, like millions of us, awoke to the news that Downie had passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer.
"Everyone knew it was coming, but it's definitely sad," he said. "Everyone will have their own memories of Gord Downie and The Hip, and I've got a few good ones, so I'll remember them fondly. I definitely listened to them a lot on the ride to the rink this morning."
Little saw The Hip play live numerous times, but two shows in particular stand out as lifelong memories.
"My first time and last time," he said. "The first time I was playing junior in Barrie, and I actually got to sit in the front row. It was a pretty good time. Then I saw him on their farewell tour in Hamilton, which was my favourite concert [I've ever attended]. It was an awesome atmosphere; very emotional. … He's going to be missed.
"Everyone knew they were hockey fans. I remember the year I played in the World Juniors, The Tragically Hip and the Trailer Park Boys sent us a video wishing us good luck. I heard they did that just about year. They were big hockey fans and they were the definition of being Canadian."
Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma - an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer - in December of 2015, and became an image of hope, life and perseverance on the Canada-wide Man Machine Poem Tour after revealing his illness in May of last year.
Dedicating his final 15 utterly stellar performances to the generations of Canadians that helped shape The Hip's legacy, the iconic singer-songwriter brought his usual flare to each venue, bonding the nation, coast-to-coast, one final time with his legendary lyrical genius and showmanship, celebrating "a life well lived" the only way he knew how.
"It's a sad day for Canadian music fans," Chiarot said. "I went to the farewell show in Hamilton last summer. Seeing him there and the show he put on, knowing how sick he was, it was pretty inspiring.
"His songs and how they relate to Canada... The CBC, Hockey Night in Canada and The Tragically Hip - it all just kind of blends together and as a Canadian hockey player, you have to be a Hip fan."
Little, Chiarot, Steve Mason and Head Coach Paul Maurice were among the thousands of Canadians lucky enough to attend one of the shows on the farewell tour, and all four left with a greater appreciation of what the band meant to the country.
"You have to be (a fan). That's part of the passport, right?" Maurice said.
"They just seem to darn Canadian. I was living in the States for most of their career and you don't hear about them much. All my friends and guys my age back home, that was the band that you connected with. You start listening to them and you get it. There's far more eloquent people that understand music better than I do, but they just sound Canadian, and it just resonated with everybody."
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com