'Tough day for everyone'

KEVIN CONNOR, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

Hockey player Don Sanderson wasn't just imposing in size -- his caring personality was larger than life, mourners at his funeral heard yesterday.

The 21-year-old defenceman for the Ontario Hockey Association's Whitby Dunlops went into a coma after a fight during a game on Dec. 12 when he hit his unprotected head on the ice.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sanderson died from his injuries on Jan. 2.

He was remembered as a friend, athlete and a coach who had a passion for life.

"He was just one of those guys in the room that made everyone welcome and always had something funny to say," said teammate Kyle Jones. "This is a tough day for everyone."

Sanderson's death has renewed calls to ban fighting in hockey and to have helmet rules reviewed.

"These people don't understand the culture of hockey. The culture has been there forever. Mike (Don's dad) knows it is a part of the game. This was a hockey family," said hockey legend Don Cherry at the funeral at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Port Perry which was standing-room only.

Some of Sanderson's teammates are wondering what affect the death will have on the game.

"I think they will be looking at the rules and I don't know what it will mean in the end and how I will feel about it," said teammate Brian North.

"He was always willing to protect his teammates. Donny was the guy who kept it all together. When you were down, he would pat you on the back and get you up again."

Sanderson's teammates were at the funeral in their hockey jerseys and gave an honour guard for their lost friend.

The congregation shared laughs over Sanderson's many antics and jokes and how the 10-pound baby turned into a larger-than-life defenceman.

"Donald had great passion and was righteous in his own way. He had a terrific relationship with his mom and dad and was a precious gift that is now gone," Rev. Peter Lackmanec said.

"He had beautiful blue eyes with a sparkle that wouldn't go out. He was curious about so much and we were blessed to have him in our lives."

Sanderson's father, Michael, said after the funeral that his son was his hero.

"As parents, we've always said everybody hug your children. Have your children hug you and always have time to spend with them," he said. "We won't have that time anymore but he'll always be in our hearts."


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