The Renfrew Timberwolves returned to the ice Friday night, honouring two teammates who died in a car crash last month.
It was standing room only at the 1,200-seat Ma-te-Way arena in Renfrew, Ont., where family, friends and a whole community paid tribute to No. 88 Alex Paquette and No. 65 Brandon Hanniman.
"Everybody's leaning on each other," said Kevin Gould, the team's general manager. "That's what important — to be around people that you care about."
Paquette and Hanniman, both 18, died as the result of a single-car accident on Oct. 27 on Calabogie Road, about two kilometres south of Burnstown, Ont. Hanniman was pronounced dead at the scene. Paquette died from his injuries three days later in hospital.
The Timberwolves cancelled five of their games after the crash to mourn the two players.
While Gould said his players are still reeling from the death of their teammates, he hopes this first game back will help them heal.
"It's important for these guys to get back on the ice," Gould said. "Getting back on the ice and just playing the game they love and doing it in memory of Brandon and Alex."
Players' jerseys retired
As part of a pre-game ceremony, the Timberwolves formed a circle around their deceased teammates' team numbers, stencilled beneath the ice, as their jerseys were raised to the rafters.
Watching from the stands was Grace Froats. Froats is a student at Renfrew's St. Joseph's High School, where Paquette was also a student. She said she felt it was important for her and her friends to attend the ceremony.
"We know everybody here and we know there were so many people that were close to Alex and Hanny," she said. "We just feel like it's our place to be here."
Proceeds to help injured player's family
Two other players, Jake McGrimmon and Ben Scheuneman, both 18, were injured in the fatal crash.
McGrimmon has been released from hospital, but Scheuneman remains in hospital. Though now in stable condition, he faces a long road to recovery, Gould said.
"He's battling hard. He's a fighter, and we're really hopeful that he can make a full recovery," he said. "But it's still pretty early, and we're not sure exactly what's going to happen."
Proceeds from Friday's game will go to Scheuneman's family to help cover their expenses as he recovers from his injuries.
Police have said that alcohol was a factor in the crash. A restaurant in Calabogie, Ont., had its liquor licence suspended shortly after the crash, though it is now appealing that suspension.
'It's been tough on the boys'
Friday's game is just the first the Timberwolves will have to play without Paquette and Hanniman, but head coach Corey Foster said he's proud of the way his team has banded together since the accident.
From behind the bench, he views his own role differently, too.
"I do have a son on the team, but I almost feel like a father to all these kids now," Foster said, adding that the accident has even changed his understanding of hockey.
"It's a great game and we take a lot of pride in it," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just a reminder of how precious life is."