OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.
- On a day when the sirens blared and storms rolled through, the Oklahoma City Barons' return to the Blazers Ice Center wasn't an easy one.
When they last visited 11 days ago, Moore was still standing.
"It's still so surreal," said Darcy Hordichuk. "All of us live pretty close to the area and the practice facility is right there, too. We were at our apartment complex after practice and the weatherman started saying that if you're going to stay inside your place and under your bathtub, you're not going to have a chance to survive.
"That's when it kicked in that we had to look for some underground shelter. But by then, it was moving towards Moore."
With peak wind speeds estimated at 340km/h (210mph), a devastating EF5 tornado landed a direct hit on the community of 55,000, recklessly damaging homes, local business and leveling a pair of elementary schools.
Ruin was left in its wake.
Twenty-four people, including seven children, were killed.
Once it was safe to do so in the early evening, Hordichuk and Ben Eager made their way to Moore to assist in the search and recovery effort.
"There was probably going to be a shortage of help and there would be people probably stuck in their houses or whatever else," said Hordichuk. "There were a lot of people helping out at the elementary schools, so we went to some houses and started listening for voices.
"It was pretty surreal.
"One cop made us leave the area when we were walking around. We thought we were going to get electrocuted, but apparently there was a body there wrapped up in a tarp. There's where it sunk in that, as much as you want to complain in life and anytime you think you're having a tough day, it doesn't compare. One minute these poor people have everything and the next it's all gone. It goes to show how short life can be.
"It's a cliché, but you have to live life to the fullest."
Twenty-four-year-old defenceman Alex Plante was more closely affected than any other Baron.
Launched earlier this year, the "Barons Buddies" program paired players with select athletes and their families from Special Olympics Oklahoma. As one of the most involved members in the community, Plante has developed a lifelong friendship with his family and was living with them in Moore at the time of the storm.
"I was coming back from the dentist at the time," said Plante. "I called them and said, 'Hey, I'll be home in about 15 minutes.' Not even three minutes rolled by and we were like, 'What are we going to do? This looks scary. We've got to get out of here.'
"We rounded up all the kids, drove through tennis ball size hail and met down at the Cox Center. Fortunately we were all safe and their house is still there and everything. They're back living there now, but it was only about a mile-and-a-half from where the destruction was. They knew quite a few people that had their homes lost in the storm.
"It really hit home. I was living there for about three or four months after my lease was up. I actually went to the movie theatre and shopped at that Walmart.
"It touches a nerve."
All across the United States and Canada, the outpouring of support since has been incredible.
Game 3 of the Western Conference Final Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center was free to attend with a donation to the United Way's OK Strong Disaster Relief Fund.
In addition to all the local efforts, the Grand Rapids Griffins and Western Michigan community stepped up and donated $50,000 to the tornado relief efforts.
Truly, it's a community banded together as one.
"It's pretty incredible how this city has rallied together," said Hordichuk. "Whether it's the Boston Marathon or here, so many people are so quick to give. That's the important thing in life. It's been great to play in the NHL and do all these incredible things, but the feeling that you get when you can give back and help out these families, it's something that you can't put a price on."
"It's a great city to be in," added Plante. "When something like this happens, everybody rallies together. It's going to take some time to heal. But with the amount of people gelling together, it's been very nice to see."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick