As the events of Ottawa’s tragedy unfolded, it became clear to the Maple Leafs that hockey had taken an immediate back seat.
“Right where it all happened in front of the statue, you can see it all unravel” said Nazem Kadri. “My room was a few hundred metres away, we were told to stay away from the windows.”
“I heard one (of the gunshots) early on and then we all heard the cops going” recounted Morgan Rielly. “Leo (Komarov) heard a few because he was up and so he told me that he almost heard it happen and had to peak out of his window and we could see where it was, so it was scary.”
It’s an awful experience for anyone to go through. The team arrived in Ottawa, hours after a 5-2 victory on Long Island. But as the commotion from outside began to build, some fear started to develop from within.
“After we heard from team management that there was a person out there and that we couldn’t leave the hotel, I think that’s when we all clued in that it was pretty serious” said Rielly. “A completely new experience that we all hadn’t had yet and not one that we ever want to have again.”
The Leafs felt like anyone would - when you see fellow men and women in danger, the initial feeling is to go in there and lend a hand.
“There were police officers there with pistols and no armour, the clip from inside parliament of the officers going after the guy was pretty heroic” said Joffrey Lupul. “Although it falls within their job description it’s certainly not something a police officer was thinking they would have to do.”
“As people you want to try to help out but it’s tough” added Rielly. “We’re told to keep into our rooms and not to tweet. It was tough but I think the people of Ottawa handled it really well."
It especially hits home given the Leafs' long-lasting relationship with Canada's military.
“My heart goes out to the soldier that lost his life. I understand that he has a young child. That’s really tough to hear about”said Lupul, whose "Lupe’s Troops" program allows for servicemen and women to experience Leafs games at Air Canada Centre.
“Hopefully we will be able to do something special (for them) Saturday night.”
As the morning progressed into the afternoon, the Leafs still had a game marked on the schedule for the night. And while it ultimately was postponed, it became evident that it was the right call.
“Both teams heads were in the clouds a little bit just kind of wondering, not only about their own safety but everyone else’s” said Kadri. “Better to be safe than sorry.”
After a rough day, the message that gets told time-and-time again, is to move forward. That’s exactly what the Leafs focused on during Thursday’s practice.
“You got to put the work boots on today” said head coach Randy Carlyle, who put the team through their first aerobic-focused skate of the season. “Set a foundation that will help us. They may not feel good today, but they’ll start to feel much better tomorrow and then get ready for Boston on Saturday.”
Carlyle was at the Rideau Centre on Wednesday morning, when he heard a message from the public address system calling for an immediate evacuation. With phone lines jammed, he was able to text through to family that he was fine. Many within the organization were able to do the same.
It is clear these experiences bring communities together, which was displayed in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night when the Penguins displayed the Canadian anthem to pay tribute to what happened in Ottawa.
“When things like that do take place, it just shows the unity that the league does possess” said Carlyle.