Since a week ago last Friday, hearts have been aching in Saskatchewan, tears have been flowing, shock and trauma have gripped an entire province, prayers have been uttered by the faithful of every possible creed – as the cruel reality settled in that a terrible highway crash had devastated the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
Twenty-nine souls were on the Broncos bus on that drive northeast to Nipawin to meet the Hawks in an SJHL playoff game on April 6th. Twenty-three were great young hockey players, aged 16 to 21. Two were coaches, plus the trainer, the statistician, the play-by-play broadcaster and the bus driver.
Sixteen lost their lives, including 10 players. For the other 13, their lives have been profoundly changed.
Young people for the most part – they were fit and strong, smart, talented, working hard to pursue their passion for hockey, living their dreams. They were the pride of their families and their home towns, and the pride of the families with whom they were billeted away from home, and their teachers and mentors and coaches, and the Broncos organization that tried so hard to look after them.
The pain hit hard in Humboldt, and in nearby Saskatoon. And in eight other Saskatchewan towns. And in Winnipeg. And in eight communities across Alberta.
But the anguish knew no bounds. It swept the province and the country. After all, this is Canada. Despite the calendar, it’s still mostly winter. The hockey playoffs are in full swing. And hockey – in large measure – shapes our lives.
There’s hardly a family anywhere in Canada that would be unfamiliar with those buses taking thousands of our kids, somewhere, almost every day to play hockey or some other sport they love. So this was a tragedy that really struck home. For most of us, it was personal, hitting right where we live.
It extended into the United States and Europe, and rippled around the world from Uganda to Australia and back to the high Arctic. It engaged rapper Drake and golfer Brooke Henderson and Her Majesty the Queen, and thousands, maybe millions more.
Everyone wanted to connect and help with their prayers and gestures of solidarity.
We left our sticks out on the doorstep. We wore jerseys. We still are. There were editorials and heart wrenching cartoons.
Tonnes of people raised money and gave money. They played road hockey and pond hockey and floor hockey and regular hockey. Some started marathons. Some sold stickers. Some wrote songs and poems. Others sent flowers to the vigils, memorials and funerals … still ongoing. Thousands of people are attending – to be together to share and support.
There are cards and letters, posters, banners, videos, miles of ribbons on everyone’s lapel, messages on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
From the smallest Novice or Atom or Peewee team … to the top of the NHL, the entire hockey community worldwide brought awareness and compassion and understanding about how big and painful this situation was, and is.
The outpouring of interest and concern is likely unparalleled. It’s a way to show we care. It is basic human kindness. That too is what defines us. And everyone affected says “thank you” for that.
Together we say thank you to the first responders, RCMP officers, firefighters and paramedics from Nipawin, Tisdale, Melfort, Zenon Park and other places who were on the scene of that horrific crash – doing probably the hardest work of all.
Thank you to the emergency medical teams in the local hospitals, and to the STARS air ambulance crews who flew them there, and the medical staff at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon.
Thank you to the trauma teams and the grief counsellors and the victims services people who continue to provide aid and comfort, and will for a long time to come. And to the teachers and school boards and community volunteers who work with young people to help them especially come to terms with what has happened.
We hold in our hearts all the bereaved and troubled families and friends of the victims. The City of Humboldt and the entire Broncos organization.
For the injured and suffering – for Brayden, Bryce, Derek, Graysen, Jacob, Kaleb, Layne, Matthieu, Morgan, Nick, Ryan, Tyler and Xavier … we pray for healing and recovery, and for hope replacing despair.
And for those we cannot see again – gone far too soon – we pledge always to remember your zest for life, your skill and talent, the joy you brought into the lives of others, and the potential you represented of the best of Canada.
Rest in peace and abiding love to:
Tyler Bieber from Humboldt; Logan Boulet from Lethbridge; Dayna Brons from Lake Lenore; Mark Cross from Strasbourg; Glen Doerksen from Carrot River; Adam Herold from Montmartre; Darcy Haugan from Humboldt; Brody Hinz from Humboldt; Logan Hunter from St. Albert; Jaxon Joseph from Edmonton; Jacob Leicht from Humboldt; Conner Lukan from Slave Lake; Logan Schatz from Allan; Evan Thomas from Saskatoon; Parker Tobin from Stoney Plain, and Stephen Wack from St. Albert.
You will forever be heroes in our eyes and in our hearts.
The “goodness” of your lives and the “kindness” of so many people now sharing your loss will help a grieving country find strength, and rekindle hope.
Deep condolences from the government and the Parliament and the people of Canada.