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Downie, Tragically Hip honored by NHL Alumni

Late frontman, band receive inaugural award; become one-day members of NHLAA

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 1972, Gord Downie, then 8 years old, and his older brother Mike, 12, went out onto the driveway of their Kingston, Ontario, home to celebrate by playing hockey in the rain.

Many years later, Downie, an avid Bruins fan, would recall how "eerily quiet" it was on that night.

Ironically, it seems an entire nation has been that way since the passing of Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, who died from a brain tumor on Oct. 17. He was 53.

"All of Canada is in mourning," Hall of Fame defensemen Paul Coffey said on Monday during the NHL Alumni Awards Gala in Toronto. "It's like everyone is still in shock."

The NHL Alumni Association paid tribute to Downie and the Tragically Hip on Monday with the inaugural Honorary Alumni award, which for one day gives an individual or group membership in the NHLAA without having played an NHL game.


[RELATED: Cunningham, Lemieux honored at NHL Alumni Awards Gala]


"There was only ever one choice for this first-time award," NHL Alumni Association executive director Glenn Healy said, "and it's the Hip. There was no second choice."

Because of Downie's recent passing, none of the band members attended the ceremony on Monday. But there were plenty of tributes for the Tragically Hip nonetheless.

The festivities started when Healy's Highland Creek Pipe Band played the Tragically Hip's "Ahead by a Century." 

"It's probably the first time anyone's heard that played on bagpipes," Healy said. "And likely the last."

Once alumni members and their guests were seated at Scotiabank Centre, a video honoring the Tragically Hip and the band's love of hockey underscored the connection between music and sport.

Downie, whose godfather is longtime Bruins executive Harry Sinden, was a goalie. At one point in the video, a clip was shown of Downie saying: "I consider, like Jacques Plante, goaltending to be the noblest position in all of sports."

Hockey references are plentiful in the songs of the Tragically Hip. "Fifty Mission Cap" refers to the late defenseman Bill Barilko, who scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens in 1951. He went missing on a fishing trip later that summer, and his body was not discovered until 11 years later.

Another example is the song "Fireworks," which references forward Paul Henderson's winning goal in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

Healy told stories of Downie's passion for the game, including the trips the band's lead singer would make to Toronto for regular pickup games Healy would take part in.

Video: Maple Leafs celebrate the life of Gord Downie

"He would come all that way hoping that only one goalie would show up and he'd get to play," Healy said. "And if there was two, I would give him part of the net.

"We lost a great Canadian this week. But remember this. The band was, and is, a team. But the team was so good together. Went to high school together. Started playing in front of nobody. Ended up playing in front of everybody.

"For us, there was no other choice for this award. None."

In the video clip shown at the gala, an interview with Downie from many years ago touched on Game 7 of the 1979 Semifinal between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

With 2:34 remaining in regulation, the Bruins were called for having too many men on the ice. Canadiens forward Guy Lafleur tied the game 4-4 on the ensuing power play. Montreal forward Yvon Lambert then scored the winning goal in overtime, giving Bruins coach Don Cherry what he would call one of the most devastating losses of his career.

"I remember when we went to bed that night, my brother Pat was crying," Downie said in the interview. "All he kept saying was, 'Why, Gord, why?'"

That's what Tragically Hip fans are saying these days after the loss of their favorite singer.

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