Earlier, the Leafs acknowledged Downie’s death by tweeting, “To the man who told the stories of a game, a people and a country.”
The tweet was accompanied by a photo of the Hip performing at one of their three sold-out shows at the Air Canada Centre last August during their nationwide farewell tour — Man Machine Poem.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock called the news “tragic” during a news conference.
“You got to live each and everyday because you don’t know what’s going to happen in your life, to your family, to yourself and you want to enjoy the moments,” he said.
Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly remembered Downie as “something special.”
“We have a lot of fans in this room, all over Toronto, all over Canada, all over the world and losing him is tough,” Rielly said.
Hockey fan, player
Downie spent his early years on the ice.
His godfather was future Boston Bruins coach and general manager Harry Sinden, and Downie enjoyed the national pastime as both a die-hard Bruins fan and a goalie who took his B-level team to a provincial championship.
Fifty Mission Cap and Leafs
Downie’s handwritten lyrics from the Hip’s 1992 hit song Fifty Mission Cap are enshrined in the Leafs’ players lounge.
“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer. He was on a fishing trip. The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup. They didn’t win another till 1962, the year he was discovered,” Downie sang.
The Pro Set hockey card that inspired ‘Fifty Mission Cap,’ showing Bill Barilko scoring the Cup-winning goal. (Pro Set)
The song tells the story of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 1951 Stanley Cup victory, and an unlikely hero in defenceman Bill Barilko, who died in a plane crash just a few months after he scored the winning overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens. He went missing while flying back from a fishing trip in Quebec.
The song was released the year Barilko’s number was formally hoisted to the rafters of the Air Canada Centre by the hockey club.
Barilko’s banner was lowered in honour of Downie Wednesday night.
The soundtrack of car rides to practices, bus trips to tournaments, and dressing rooms across Canada. Hockey was a part of you and you will always be a part of hockey. Thank you, Gord Downie. pic.twitter.com/kHj8iPlUa4