As a born Canadian, I could not help but be impacted and moved by the events in Ottawa this past week. When something like this happens there are a lot of thoughts that run through your mind as a hockey player or coach, as a Canadian or, most importantly, as a person.
When I first heard of the attack on the parliament building in Ottawa on Oct. 22, I talked with many close friends in Canada and the feeling that came over them was just shock. This is not supposed to happen in Canada. We're the world's peacekeepers. Whenever international peacekeepers are sent into a country in turmoil, Canadians are usually a big part of that group, and with that mindset, things like the attack in Ottawa just aren't supposed to happen here.
After the initial shock though, the strongest feeling was pride. You were proud at how Canadians handled the attack and how the nation responded with its observance and with the ceremonies across the NHL before games Saturday night. The fact that it happened in Canada was very sobering. It brings home what people in the United States or other countries have felt. You know terrorism can happen on your shores. That was something of a wakeup call, but the response, both by the country and by the League, was one that emboldens you.
This was something that hit home for anyone who grew up in Canada, because we know where this happened. I know that war memorial and I know the parliament buildings in Ottawa. Most Canadian kids go to Ottawa and tour the parliament buildings in public school. Just about every Canadian kid knows the parliament buildings and most NHL teams stay in hotels close to the parliament buildings when they play the Ottawa Senators. Knowing the location where this happened, and knowing the Toronto Maple Leafs players were right nearby, makes it real in a way that watching an attack about another country doesn't.
For the players and coaches of both teams, this certainly gives you something else to consider as you try to do your job. I was a part of a similar public safety issue when I was coaching the Los Angeles Kings. My time as coach overlapped the aftermath of the Rodney King riots and much of the O.J. Simpson trial, each of which was a very sensitive period in Los Angeles. We had police come through our dressing room and explain security procedures and an escape route from the Forum if something happened. We had a plan. The LAPD came in and said they were keeping one road open near the Forum, Manchester, and that if anything happened they'd give us warning and we were to get out of the building, get in our cars, get on Manchester and just drive toward the ocean, which is where most of the players lived and it was generally considered a safe distance. Manchester was the only road the LAPD would guarantee would be open.
Every day we went to the rink for a couple of weeks not really knowing what was going on. Practice could have been canceled at any time. Games could have been canceled at any time. It's very distracting and unnerving because we're all small town guys that live a pretty sheltered life. We're pampered. To have these briefings with the LAPD telling us, "If something happens you get out, get on the road and don't stop for nothing," was a pretty crazy experience.
As a coach you try to handle that experience by treating everything as business as usual. You don't talk about it. I'm sure the players talked about it, but in the dressing room, as a group, you talk about the things you talk about every day. You seek out normality. You seek out hockey. That's the job of a coach in these situations, to bring it back to hockey once everything is as safe as it can possibly be. That's what I did in L.A., and I'm sure that's what Paul MacLean is doing in Ottawa.
It's natural to worry. I know a few guys in L.A. who sent their families home for a few weeks back in the early 1990s. Once you realize everything is as safe as you can make it though, you try to just do your job and focus on hockey. Difficult times like these are when you're happy to be at the rink. You can shut all that other stuff out for those 60 minutes you're on the ice, and you can do what you've been doing since you were a kid. You play the game.