Arena funeral for Ontario junior hockey captain Eli Palfreyman draws hundreds

·2 min read
Flowers and hockey sticks were left in front of the North Dumfries Community Complex in Ayr, Ont., last Thursday by people wanting to honour Ayr Centennials player Eli Palfreyman, who died two days earlier after a pre-season tournament game. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)
Flowers and hockey sticks were left in front of the North Dumfries Community Complex in Ayr, Ont., last Thursday by people wanting to honour Ayr Centennials player Eli Palfreyman, who died two days earlier after a pre-season tournament game. (Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League/Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at the North Dumfries Community Centre in Ayr, Ont., to pay respects to Eli Palfreyman, the junior hockey captain who died unexpectedly a week ago after collapsing at a pre-season tournament.

The arena service for the 20-year-old, who played with the Ayr Centennials of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, began with a prayer, and was followed with discussions of grief and Palfreyman's love for the sport.

Centennials vice-president, Brian Shantz, told CBC News there were more than 900 people at the memorial service. Attendees were mostly dressed in black and the service was led by Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean.

"People looked up to him. People asked for direction from him. People followed him," said a teary-eyed Brett Palfreyman, Eli's dad.

"Eli was everyone's best friend. He looked out for us and still does. He was just so infectious.... We miss him already."

Tim Barrie, the Centennials' director of hockey operations, also spoke.

"Eli made us better," he said. "He led by example and made us laugh. Simply put, Eli was and will forever be our captain.

"Thanks for raising a son anyone would be proud to call their own," Barrie said, addressing Palfreyman's parents.

James Charaani/CBC
James Charaani/CBC

No cameras or recording devices were allowed at the funeral service.

Palfreyman, of Cambridge, Ont., had been named captain of the Centennials just days before his death.

  • WATCH | The vice-president of the Ayr Centennials fondly remembers captain Eli Palfreyman:

He was taken to hospital after collapsing in the change room at the Dumfries complex during the second intermission of the tournament game against the Boston Jr. Bruins.

In the days following, tributes poured in for the young star, including from those who played with and against him, the NHL, OHL and others.

The cause of Palfreyman's death has not yet been released.