On first glance, it looked like a typo.
“I think we can all play for each other,” Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, once an Ottawa Senator, was quoted as saying at the Bruins practice facility in Wilmington. “And through these tough times make people cheer.”
Surely he said “pray” for each other … but, no, he did say “play” and he also said “cheer” on a day when there had been no cheer whatsoever to be found in much of the world.
Back in Ottawa, where the Senators had not been able to play the Bruins on Monday night after two downtown bombs had ripped the soul out of the Boston Marathon, the players were set to play the Carolina Hurricanes.
Different opposition, different arena, different world – bag checks and security lines at Scotiabank Place, and hockey players no longer able to fall back on the meaningless clichés of the child’s game they play for money.
“Once I heard that,” Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba, who once played for Boston University, said of the tragic news that something terrible had happened in the city, “I had no intention of playing.”
“I think it was impossible,” Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean added.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson, who had been grabbing a quick snack Monday afternoon before catching the early bus to the Boston rink, agreed: “I was happy to see them cancelling the game and focusing on the people who needed help.”
One cancellation and back to work.
The Senators, their focus back on the ice, easily defeated the lowly Hurricanes 3-2 on goals by Mika Zibanejad, Milan Michalek and Chris Neil to maintain their hold on sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Justin Faulk and Eric Staal scored for Carolina.
Ironically, the cancelled Ottawa-Boston game, now rescheduled for April 28, will be the Senators’ final game of the year and could prove pivotal in determining whether or not they reach the playoffs.
The game won, the Senators could again focus on the jargon talk of hockey: one game at a time, not too high or too low.
In the hours after the Boston bombings, however, it had been quite different. At one point, Senators forward Matt Kassian, an enforcer known for frontier justice in hockey, had even sent out an unusually sensitive Tweet: “I long for a day when this doesn’t happen.”
Unfortunately, such a day has never arrived and surely won’t, not so long as certain people feel there are statements that must be made no matter the consequences.
There are also, however, answers required.
There would be no more sense in locking the arena and stadium doors than there would be in banning marathons worldwide. Sports began as, and remains, escape. “War minus the shooting,” is how George Orwell, no fan of sport, once put it.
Sometimes, however, there is no minus the shooting.
The world was even more shocked in 1972, when a terrorist group calling themselves Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes. The Olympics continued on.
In 2010, when there were early threats against New Zealand athletes prior to the Commonwealth Games, one of the five Israeli athletes who escaped that slaughter warned the Kiwis against staying away, as many were advising.
“My advice,” Shaul Ladany, a race walker in 1972, told a British newspaper, would be not to pull out … never.
“My advice is the same since Munich: Do everything possible to prevent terrorism activity, but don’t let them satisfy themselves with the victory of terrorism if an event is cancelled or in any other way disturbed.”
In 1996, I went shortly after dawn to the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta that was being reopened only three days after that crude pipe bomb injured 110 and killed one woman.
The turnout was its own answer. People were lined up by the hundreds, led by the mayor and his family. By mid-morning there were thousands crammed into the park as jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis stood, seemingly completely alone, and played a haunting Just a Closer Walk with Me.
“We’re here to proclaim a victory,” Andrew Young, who had marched with local god Martin Luther King, told the crowd.
“We’re here to proclaim a victory. We’re not here to wallow in tragedy, but to celebrate a triumph of the human spirit.”
And, of course, the Games went on.
“What is the purpose of terrorism?” Ladany said three years ago. “First, that it should hurt you. Many times, they do it against our way of life. Sport is our way of life. And I don’t believe any society in the world should let terrorism disturb how it lives.”
It was no typo. Chara said it for all who care about sports that “We can all play for each other.”
And it should be added that, in Ottawa one day later, the sellout crowd of 19,181 cheered loudly through such “tough times.”
In its own small way, a statement back.