Photo Credit: twitter.com/isuckatpicking

Hockey Community Mourns: Five Local Players Deceased

If you played hockey, at some point in your life your team went on a bus trip. As young kids, it was a thrill to ride the bus, even just once a year for that special tournament. As players got older, the bus rides become more frequent, and often some of your favourite hockey memories were from rolling down the highway. It is almost a rite of passage as a hockey player, and we often take for granted we will arrive at our destination safely. Almost every time a team does, but last night the Humboldt Broncos didn’t.

The Broncos bus crash is beyond devastating. Fifteen lives lost, many families heartbroken and the loss of these great 15 people will extend well beyond their immediate family. The hockey community builds many connections and everyone connects to riding a bus. It is hard to find the proper words to express how deeply saddened I am for the families who lost a loved one in this crash.

The players, coaches, trainers, broadcaster and bus driver on the Broncos bus came from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The heartache spreads much further than western Canada, and if you can, find some way to help the healing process begin. You can donate at this GoFundMePage for the families. You can donate blood, to help the survivors, or you can simply offer condolences and hugs. Everyone involved will need them.

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The tragedy will impact thousands and the local hockey community especially in St.Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Slave Lake, Leduc and Edmonton has been hit really hard.

Local products Jaxon Joseph, Conner Lukan, Stephen Wack, Parker Tobin and Logan Hunter are among the deceased. **Updated to include Tobin, unfortunately.**

Just reading their names and thinking of their families fills my eyes with tears.

I lost my father, so I understand the pain of death, but losing a young son, likely hurts much more. This tragedy touched me deeply because I’m friends with Chris Joseph. He and his wife Andrea lost their son Jaxon in this devastating crash. The Joseph family loved hockey. It was one way they bonded.

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I remember a conversation Chris and I had where he was talking about Jaxon and his love of hockey. I listened intently as he spoke proudly of his son playing the game he loved. Every parent simply wants their children to be happy, regardless of what they do, and Chris enjoyed watching Jaxon work his hardest at the game he loved.

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Jaxon played bantam and midget hockey in St.Albert, then played spent one season split between Beaver Valley in the KIJHL and with the Surrey Eagles in the BCHL. Last season he played with the Melfort Mustangs in the SJHL, and started the season with them before being traded to Humboldt this past November. He was loving things with the Broncos. He had 25 goals in 38 games and the Broncos were having a good playoff run.

None of that matters now. The Joseph’s lives and the life of every family involved in the crash will be altered forever.

I’ve seen it.

I still remember seeing my older brother Colin cry for the first time. I was 14, he was 16 and one of his best friends, Brent Ruff, passed away in the Swift Current Broncos bus crash in 1986. Colin and Brent played hockey together and became really close. They tried out for Team Pacific and Colin made it, but Brent didn’t. The tournament was over the Christmas break in 1986, and the Broncos bus crashed on December 30th.

Colin felt a lot of guilt. He felt Brent should have been on the team instead of him. If Brent had made it, then he wouldn’t have been on the bus. The great thing about most hockey players is they often feel a teammate is better or deserves the same opportunity.

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Colin and Brent’s wonderful parents, Leeson and Shirley Ruff, have remained close all these years. I remember hearing how Mr. Ruff searched out the bus driver to tell him it wasn’t his fault. At one of the most painful times in his life, he reached out to ensure the driver knew it wasn’t his fault. That is the type of family the Ruff’s are. The Ruff’s also came to our house to speak with Colin and help him get through his pain. They are truly special people.

The memories of that crash will stay with everyone who lost a loved one or close friend that fateful day in 1986, just like it will for all those mourning this tragic crash. When Colin and I spoke this morning, I could hear the emotion in his voice. He immediately thought of Brent and the Ruffs, but also he has a son playing in the WHL who spends many hours on the bus. Every player and parent reading this will feel the same angst.

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Anyone who has ever played a team sport can relate to the bond you forge with teammates, and there are those you become closer with than others. That bond lasts forever. You go your separate ways, but when you see those guys it is amazing how fast you feel the same camaraderie when you played together.

I find that bond really deepens when you are 14 to 20. Even now, when I run into guys I played with in Bantam, Midget or Junior it is awesome. The stories come flooding back and often I walk away smiling.

In an eerie connection,  Colin coached Tyler Smith for two years in Leduc. Tyler and my nephew Noah, Colin’s son, played together in Leduc and are good friends. Tyler suffered a punctured lung and broken ribs in the crash, but he made it. Over the years I have spoken to members of the 1986 Broncos team, and for many of them the pain, and sometimes guilt, still lingers. No one should feel guilty, but it happens.

I hope Smith and all the other survivors, including, among others, Derek Patter, as well as their families, are doing well after such a traumatic ordeal.

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My thoughts are with all the families today. The families of both the deceased and the survivors will need your best wishes and hugs.

I had a brief text exchange with Chris Joseph this morning about Jaxon and he wrote:

“I was SO proud.
Huge Hole
Hug your kids
Love Chris and Andrea”

This tragedy touches everyone in the hockey and sporting community in some way.

Let’s cry, mourn and begin the healing process together.


Here at the Nation, we wanted to do our part to help so we’ve launched this Humboldt fundraiser tee where 100% of the profits will be donated directly to the victims of this horrible tragedy. If you’re interested and want to help the cause, the link to buy is here.