On Sunday night at Elgar Petersen Arena, with the collective anguish of a prairie town hanging in the air and people holding each other and sobbing, Humboldt Broncos’ president Kevin Garinger ended his gut-wrenching address to those assembled in the aftermath of an unthinkable tragedy by saying, “Today and for every day forward we are all Humboldt Broncos.”
Like you, I’ve been numb, sad and sick since Friday afternoon, when news broke of a wreck involving Humboldt’s team bus and a tractor-trailer with the team on the way to Nipawin for an SJHL playoff game. The initial word was that there had been “multiple fatalities.” I went to bed that night hoping for the best but fearing the worst. I awoke, as you did, to news the worst was even more horrific than expected – 15 people on the Humboldt bus were dead, 14 others were in hospital.
It’s been said the hockey world is a community unto its own with connections, relationships and camaraderie that spans generations, but you didn’t need to be a part of its inner workings – to have played the game or ridden the buses — to be knocked flat as details emerged and hit painfully close to home. We learned several young men from the Edmonton area were among the fatalities and that moms and dads got the phone call no parent should ever have to take. Heart-wrenching. Nothing less.
By the time I tuned into Sunday’s vigil, where virtually everybody in Humboldt had packed the arena, curling rink and high school to lean on each other, to try to make sense of it all, it was obvious the impact and reach of what had happened extended well beyond city limits. The outpouring of compassion and support from across the country for those young men and their families was stunning. It brought out, as events like this often do, the best of us. That’s why Garinger’s words stuck with me Sunday. They stick with me today.
THE BEST OF US
God knows, we cannot undo what is done. We cannot bring back those young men who are gone. What we can do, as human beings, is embrace that little town, do what we can to ease the pain and, in time, help the healing begin for the citizens of Humboldt and for the families and friends of those young men. That’s exactly what has happened since the moment news of the tragedy broke. The compassion and willingness to reach out we’ve seen in the wake of this unspeakable event goes well beyond thoughts and prayers. It does the heart good.
Edmonton Oilers’ coach Todd McLellan and Calgary Flames’ counterpart Glen Gulutzan, both of whom have deep roots in Saskatchewan, made the trip to visit players in the hospital. To offer comfort, to talk hockey. To be there. Seeing the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks stand together at centre ice Saturday, as did other NHL teams. Members of the Swift Current Broncos, who lost four of their own young men in a 1986 bus crash, made their way to Saskatoon. A GoFundMe page established for the Broncos raised millions of dollars in the first 48 hours. Hockey sticks left on porches with the light on.
There are countless examples of people and businesses across the country jumping in to provide emotional and financial support. Gas stations in Saskatchewan pumping free gas and hotels offering free lodging for the parents and families summoned to Saskatoon to comfort sons who survived, to identify sons who did not. Mom and pop stores selling T-shirts and setting up other forms of fund-raising. Many of them sprang into action long before the people of Humboldt filed into the rink Sunday.
If there is any such thing as any good coming from a tragedy as terrible as this, it’s the compassion we’ve seen in the wake of those first reports Friday afternoon, the way people have wrapped their arms around Humboldt and the parents of those young men to help ease the pain, even if we can’t walk in their shoes. In that regard, the hockey world has grown these past many terrible hours. We are all Humboldt Broncos, as Garinger said, and we will need each other for a long time to come.
AND . . .
- My heart aches for the parents and families of all these young men, and it aches for Chris and Andrea Joseph, who lost their son Jaxon in the accident. I’ve known Chris since he was a kid in the WHL with the Seattle Thunderbirds during the days when I was riding the buses with the Kamloops Blazers and later in his time with the Oilers. Now, to lose a son who was chasing the same dream he did, it hits close to home. Chris talked about Jaxon with Ryan Rishaug of TSN today. My condolences to the Joseph family. God bless.
- I’m not much of a bar guy, but with Oilersnation holding a 10th anniversary bash and helping raise funds for Hockey Helps the Homeless Saturday at The Pint, I thought I’d stop by. The first thing I heard when I walked through the door was that Oilersnation and its citizens had already sold 4,000 T-shirts in support of the Broncos. All told, the people who operate this website and those who read it will raise about $100,000. Never been prouder to be part of this group.