In the same rink where Luc Bourdon sometimes laced up his skates and thrilled younger players with his NHL skills, the 21-year-old rookie with the Vancouver Canucks was remembered at his funeral Monday as a larger-than-life role model for young Acadians.
More than 2,000 people gathered Monday at Centre Rheal Cormier to bid farewell to Bourdon, who died instantly Thursday when the motorcycle he was driving slammed into an oncoming tractor-trailer near his family's home in Shippagan.
Steve Tambellini, the Canucks assistant general manager, said Bourdon had the strength and skills to become a great player.
"How can you not love a player who played with the passion he did," he told the hushed crowd.
Tambellini described Bourdon as a quiet and shy young man who was gradually finding his own voice in the locker room. He said the big defenceman was proud of where he came from and keen not to let his neighbours down.
"He had so much strength, so much possibility," Tambellini said. "It gives us comfort knowing he will forever be a Vancouver Canuck."
Bourdon's girlfriend, Charlene Ward, struggled not to cry, as she read a poem she had written for him last year.
"I'm writing this and tears are falling because deep inside of me there's this strong feeling that only you can make me feel. Baby, you're the one, and losing you is my biggest fear." she said, her voice cracking.
"You're my sweetheart, you're my sunshine, you're my best friend, you're my special someone, you're the one who always puts a smile on my face, but the most important thing, you're my one and everything."
After the poem was read, the silence was broken by Bourdon's voice - a recording of him strumming his guitar and singing a song he wrote for Ward.
Earlier, the mayor of Shippagan, Jonathan Noel, summed up the feelings of many in the community of 3,000.
"Luc was an idol to us all," he said. "Our dreams for Luc were grandiose, but realistic."
Gilles Cormier, the rink's manager, said Bourdon often visited the arena to shoot pucks, making it a fitting place for his funeral mass.
"The town of Shippagan offered (the arena) to the family and they agreed right away," Cormier said earlier.
Before the service, a fellow hockey player from nearby Lameque, Dominic Noel, said his friend was in a league by himself.
"There's good people around here, but ... there's not that many really good stories coming out of a place like this," said Noel, who used to play hockey with Bourdon before he entered the junior leagues.
"He was the first one to make it (to the NHL) ... It's a big loss for the community. He was a really special gentleman, a really nice guy who had time for everyone."
Inside the arena, the capacity crowd looked on in silence as the service started, Bourdon's casket at centre ice, his No. 28 jersey draped on top amid a large arrangement of flowers.
Relatives and friends have described Bourdon as a hard worker who never lost sight of his dream to play in the NHL, but remained generous with his time when it came to helping others.
His great-aunt, Anna Boucher, said the young man made a point to stay connected with his community.
"He came to the arena and he used to talk to all the little guys there and he used to play hockey with them," she said in a recent interview.
On Saturday, Bourdon was remembered during a moment of silence before Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins.
The young defenceman's picture was flashed on the huge videoboard as the players below stood with their heads bowed.
Bourdon was trying to pass a truck on a highway curve when the accident occurred.
He had obtained a motorcycle licence only two weeks earlier.
RCMP investigators said Bourdon's inexperience on the powerful superbike - a Suzuki GSX-R1000 - may have played a role in the crash.
Police also noted it was windy on the day of the accident, and a sudden gust may have pushed Bourdon into the truck's path.
Bourdon was the first-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, 10th overall, in the 2005 NHL draft.
He also played a key role in Canada's gold-winning teams at the 2006 and 2007 world junior championships.
Bourdon was named to the all-star team at the 2006 world juniors. At the 2007 event in Sweden, he scored the third-period goal that tied the game and forced overtime against the U.S. in the semifinal game.
Bourdon split last season between Vancouver and Manitoba of the American Hockey League. He played 27 games with the Canucks, scoring two goals and collecting 20 penalty minutes.