Days after Terry Trafford's body was found, his Saginaw Spirit teammates paid tribute to his memory.
The 20-year-old Toronto native was honoured prior to the puck-drop Friday night with a video tribute as the Spirit faced the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in Saginaw's first game since Trafford's body was discovered.
Saginaw received a standing ovation from the Sault Ste. Marie fans as the host Greyhounds also presented the Spirit players and staff with a gift.
"I'm very proud of the players for what they've been through," Saginaw coach Greg Gilbert said after the game.
After Trafford's death was confirmed on Tuesday, the Spirit's home game Wednesday against Sault Ste. Marie was postponed. The team practised Thursday before taking to the ice Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
"It was very quiet in the building and it was a really powerful ceremony emotionally," said Greyhounds coach Sheldon Keefe. "It made an impact on the crowd and on both teams."
Police have said Trafford died of self-inflicted asphyxiation inside his car parked outside a Wal-Mart store in Michigan. He disappeared eight days before his body was found after receiving discipline from the club.
"What they've been through is something nobody should ever go through," Gilbert said of his team. "It's unfortunate that things like this happen but they battled through it and competed hard tonight and I'm very proud of them."
The Spirit dropped a 6-5 decision to the Greyhounds as they continue to battle for playoff position in the Ontario Hockey League's Western Conference.
Justin Kea scored twice for Saginaw while Luke Cairns, Mitchell Stephens and Jacob Ringette also scored. Goaltender Nikita Serebryakov stopped 28 shots in defeat.
"There's a lot of emotion going through our guys obviously and at times we were a little over-aggressive and over-emotional but that's expected," said Gilbert. "These are young men who are trying to learn how to control those things and go through things like this.
"I've never been through something like this in my life before, as have they. Our guys handled it pretty well."
Gilbert added that getting the team back into a routine was important.
"It's important that they get back to normalcy and get back to playing," Gilbert said.
"There's a grieving process and there's all stages for the grieving process but the sooner you can get back to normalcy and back into the routine you had prior to the tragic event, the quicker the guys will be able to recover. This game and practice [Thursday] was good therapy for them."
Jorgen Karterud and Bryan Moore had two goals and an assist each for Sault Ste. Marie. Sergey Tolchinsky added a goal and two assists and Charley Graaskamp also scored.
Trafford's funeral is set for Tuesday at Ward Funeral Home in Toronto.