OAKVILLE, Ont. -- The profound impact that EJ McGuire had on the lives of all those he came in contact with certainly hit home when friend and former NHL coach Mike Keenan took the podium to deliver an emotionally touching tribute from the heart.
During his five-minute eulogy, "Iron Mike" was simply moved to tears.
It was a common theme on Tuesday afternoon, as family, friends and an entire hockey universe mourned the loss and celebrated the life of McGuire, who was laid to rest here following a mass at Mary Mother of God Catholic Church. The McGuire family also invited 400-plus guests to a follow-up reception at Le Dome Banquet Hall where a video tribute was played before special words were shared.
The list of dignitaries included, but wasn't limited to, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
"I think EJ had four important things in his life -- his wife Terry, the girls (daughters Jacqueline and Erin) and hockey. But as important as hockey was, I know his family always came first," Bettman said. "Everybody liked EJ. He was so respected and so admired. He was a great people-person and I don't think anybody had a bad word to say about him. People always talk about the game of hockey and how different hockey people are. Well, I think EJ was emblematic of how good hockey people really are."
Keenan, who first met McGuire at Roger Neilson's coaches' clinic before bringing him aboard as his assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1984, was emotional most of the day. He was also seen embracing Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jim Gregory following the mass.
"When I was 1 1/2, I lost my young brother … and then the Lord brought a guy around … named EJ," Keenan told those guests at the reception. "I'm honored to have had the opportunity in my life to have had a friend like EJ. He loved his family."
Diagnosed this past December with Leiomyoscarcoma, an incurable, rare form of cancer that aggressively attacks the cells that make up the involuntary muscles within the body, McGuire waged a brave five-month battle with the disease before passing in the early morning of April 7. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, and sister, Mary Ann "Maize" Simonick.
"He's in good company now," Keenan said. "I'm sure he's up there, with our good friend Roger Neilson and some of the other gang. Peter Zezel is probably asking, 'Why did you bench me,' and Pelle Lindbergh is saying, 'Do you realize the number of times you pulled me?' But he impacted my career … he had a great part of my responsibility of being a head coach. He was a young brother that I really relied on. I'll be indebted to him for the rest of my life and I'll cherish my moments and memories with him.
"Terry was asking me earlier what she could do for me … can you imagine that? I don't know how you carry the strength and courage you have, Terry. EJ … I'm going to miss you. Thank you."
The stories and tributes continued when former Brockport College teammate and roommate , Sean McCrossin, offered his memories.
"In case you didn't know, EJ started growing his mustache at the age of 8," he said, grinning. That got a good laugh from the guests. It was at that point Mary Ann leaned over to this reporter and admitted, "He grew that mustache because he thought he looked younger than the players or students without it."
"EJ had an odd, but perfect combination of absolute self-confidence in his ability; unquestioned on what he could do and how he could do it," McCrossin continued. "Combine that with a perfect sense of humility. I have never met a more humble person in my life. Whenever the conversation would turn to him, about what he did or accomplished, he would find a way to turn it around and credit everyone else."
The McGuire family has been overwhelmed with all the support they've received at a time of tremendous sorrow. In lieu of flowers, donations for McGuire's two children, accepted at any M&T Bank Branch, may be made payable to "Benefit for the Children of Edward (EJ) McGuire." Donations can also be mailed 2180 Union Rd. West Seneca, N.Y. 14224.
"It has brought us great joy and comfort to know how well EJ was thought of through the entire hockey world," Mary Ann told NHL.com. "As my parents (the late John J. and Betty) would say, 'We always thought he was special, but we are glad to know others think so as well.' "
Mary Ann's husband and longtime Buffalo Sabres equipment manager, Rip Simonick, also spoke to those family and friends present.
"The last thing he said to me was, 'Rip, I'll see you in the OT,' " said Simonick with bloodshot eyes.
When NHL.com asked Keenan to describe the man he called his brother, he smiled.
"There wasn't one thing about EJ," he told NHL.com. "We had a really strong connection right from the beginning and I spent a lot of time with him -- about as much time as any other human being in the world, so I couldn't expound on one thing. He had no expiration date on loyalty. He was a big part of interacting with the players and reinforced the messages we were trying to deliver (while with the Flyers)."
And how should he be remembered?
"He's going to be remembered as a great guy, excellent husband, father and friend," Keenan said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale