“Hockey World Mourns-Makes a Statement”
They call it the ‘Brotherhood of the Bus’, a life unto its own, a culture of the sport, and a bonding atmosphere that carries as much importance off ice, as practice on the ice in hockey.
In a split second, lives changed, careers were snuffed out, and emotional and physical scars arrived, that will live forever.
The grief is everywhere, in the tiny city, home of the franchise, across the entire NHL, and in every corner of every arena this week.
Hockey weeps over the tragedy that has taken 15-lives in northern Saskatchewan, the terrible bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos, a Junior A-team in Western Canada.
A winter road trip on the rural prairie highways, with a team headed to a Friday night playoff game. They never got there.
No one knows why such a violent destructive crash occurred on a Sunday cold day. There was no snow, there was no ice.
But at a 4-way intersection of two highways, a double tractor trailer truck tee-boned the Broncos coach, ripping off the front end of the bus, flipping it on its side. The truck, hauling 250-bundles of peat moss, jack knifed and flipped too.
The RCMP has not said if one of the vehicles ran thru a flashing red light stop sign, or how a tragedy of this magnitude could occur.
Lives snuffed out in an instant. A horrific scene for first responders. Debris, bodies, carnage, death everywhere.
In the world of minor league sports, from baseball to small college athletics, to minor league and junior hockey, everyone travels by coach, luxurious buses, that have a safe track record.
14-died instantly, including the Coach-GM, an assistant coach, staff members and 10-players. Another died the day after the crash. 4-more remain critical, one in a coma with severe head injuries, a goaltender with a broken spine and paralyzed.
And if the grief was not enough, came a mistaken identity where a family, who thought their goaltender son survived, had to receive a call, they had been killed in the crash, as doctors mistook one player for another on Sunday..
4-of the players were headed to NCAA schools next fall to begin their college hockey careers. Now hockey fans will instead head to their funeral services.
The outpouring has been outstanding, teams, leagues the media, countries and fans respond. Gary Bettman and the NHL wrapped its arms around the Humboldt community, leading a ‘Go Fund Me Drive’ that has raised 5.1M in the first 48-hours.
Edmonton Oilers coach Todd Krueger and Calgary Flames coach Glen Galatzan both went to Humboldt on the weekend to speak at a memorial service and met with family members. They wept while giving speeches.
So did Mike Babcock, the Maple Leafs coach, a native of Saskatoon.
The mayor cried, as did the lead surgeon, who detailed being part of the first group of doctors to try and save lives.
Teams stood in silence around all of hockey, heads lowered in prayer before opening face-offs. Teams donned black armbands. Teams stitched the name Broncos on their jerseys.
Much like what JJ Watt and the Houston Texans, then the NFL, then the fans did with the terrible floods in Texas, hockey’s family stepped up in hours of need.
Strength in hugs and words is all we can offer in as sad a moment as we have ever seen.
A year ago, the terrible plane crash that wiped out a South American soccer team. Just 3-years ago, the horrific crash that killed Pavel Dimetria and all of his teammates with the Yaroslav team in the KHL League in Russia.
In 1986, the crash that took four lives of the Swift Current Broncos hockey team in Saskatchewan.
You never forget the smell of death, the sights, the horrible sounds of this type of tragedy. I covered the 1970-Marshall University plane crash in West Virgina, and Thurmon Munson’s death in a private plane crash in Akron.
Riding buses in hockey is a way of life. The people, the players, the games, the stories, the time on the road. It’s part of the fabric of the game. They travel all winter long, in snow and cold, in junior hockey. The prairies are beautiful, and hockey is so important there. That’s why this is so hard.
Find a map and configure the distance from Kamloops, British Columbia to Saskatoon, and you’ll see what a real road trip is like in a hockey life. We’ve all done the 9-hour trips to go play a game, or 5-games in 5-nights in 5-different cities in the lowest of the minor leagues. They call it life in the ‘iron lung’..
The family of hockey, its teams, teammates, opponents will become the strength to bring Humboldt back on the ice next year.
But no one will forget the despair of these hours, with the loss of so many of the ‘boys on the bus’.