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Sports stopped mattering around 10 on Wednesday morning, as the first reports of a shooting near Parliament Hill hit social media.

Sports continued to matter less and less as the day went on and what looked like the preparations for war began their ugly spread across our capital.

There are few things quite so jarring as watching video of a man dying in front of a national memorial you've visited, and where you've said a small prayer of thanks.

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It was just as unsettling to see groups of big, twitchy cops in balaclavas fondling machine guns on familiar streets and half-remembered buildings.

These scenes rob us of a little piece of our serenity. Some of us may never get it all back.

This is still Canada, and will return to feeling like Canada in short order. The purest distillation of how lucky that makes us: We have the luxury of worrying about sports.

On those days when we are robbed of that privilege, we have trouble getting in to the proper headspace.

After several hours of dithering, the NHL acknowledged that sports do not matter when they postponed Wednesday's game in Kanata between the Senators and Leafs.

Even the league's press release – three desultory sentences absent the usual, self-congratulatory PR schmaltz – seemed to be telling you, "Sports don't matter. We get that." Through the afternoon and evening, sports outside this country affronted us by continuing and insisting on their own importance.

Sports didn't matter to us on Wednesday. But they will.

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In the next few days, sports will matter more than just about anything.

As Canadians, we're awful at public display. It's a defining national characteristic.

Many of us spent most of Wednesday gaping at our televisions, waiting for someone in authority to come out and tell us what the hell was going on.

What you want from your leaders in a time of crisis isn't information, but comfort. Just tell us this is all going to be okay.

Four hours after it started, they pushed a bunch of police brass onto a riser to give several versions in both official languages of, "It's too early to say." Canada is good at a lot of things. News conferences are not among them.

This inability to seize an occasion – good or bad – is a credit and a curse. We freak out less than our neighbours to the south, but every once in a while someone needs to go a little wild, just to prove to us they care.

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They – whomever "they" are – murdered a soldier in front of the National War Memorial. They invaded our most cherished public space. It was a pretty good day for our own Joe Biden moment. Nobody could manage it.

We have no sense of occasion. We are incapable of proper celebration, and consequently do mourning very poorly. Taken as a group, Canadians have one emotional gambit – a patrician distaste for emotions.

We are as stiff as our reputation … until you get us into a hockey arena.

It doesn't have to be a grand place. Any little rink with a coffee shop and a skate-sharpening station will do, anywhere in the country. You walk through those doors, the cold and that metallic tang hit you, and your natural Canadian inhibitions are shed. We are a country of many faiths, but just the one religion. It's a cliché because it's true.

Everyone in this country understands that you don't have to play hockey or watch hockey or even like hockey, but you must respect hockey. That's the way we used to feel about the Church, in all its iterations.

We are at our best together, and we are most often together at a rink. It's where we feel closest.

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There will be testimonials and memorials in the days to come. We'll spend a lot of time reaffirming national values of tolerance, steadfastness and amity in speeches and rallying calls. Among those things Canada does do well – sticking together when it counts.

Clint Malarchuk, the former NHL goalie who has been touring a memoir about his often blighted life, has a term for people you can trust when things are getting a little too real: foxhole guys. Canadians are foxhole guys.

You'll be able to see that Saturday night at the Canadian Tire Centre, when the Senators play host to their next opponents, the New Jersey Devils.

This is where the NHL needs to understand its responsibility.

In the United States, the league is free to be entertainment business and nothing more.

In Canada, the NHL is a cultural touchstone. It's a light in dark times. It's there to remind us why we bother – for one another. In short order, Canadians will be looking to the NHL to get the tone right. I hope they're ready for it.

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None of the official moments in the next few days present us with the same possibilities as that pregame in Ottawa. By then, we'll know more. We will – God willing – be in the process of moving on.

By Saturday, we'll be ready to shed this dreadful feeling of vulnerability. We'll do that by celebrating the fallen and jeering those who would do us harm. It's a barbarous ritual, but so is hockey. It's a game designed to be played by people with the need to work out some issues. That's why we're so good at it.

This scene will be repeated in every other Canadian barn. It'll happen again when Ottawa visits Boston in a week's time. A moment's silence. A primal roar. Getting back to the thing we do best, and continuing on as usual. Reminding one another that we're still here, together, and will always be.

Sports don't matter today, but they will. They will always matter when it's time for us to come back together and remind one anotherthat we are not in this alone.

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