Humboldt Broncos tragedy gets healing message from hockey world
The hockey world was stunned on April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos Junior A team collided with a semi-trailer truck at an intersection in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, killing 16 members of the team and support staff and injuring 13.
Among the dead were 10 players, the team’s head coach, bus driver, two radio station employees, a team statistician and athletic therapist.
A week after the accident, 10 people remained hospitalized.
Players on the team ranged from 16 to 20 years old.
It is the worst bus accident involving a sports team in North America, surpassing the Baylor Bears men’s basketball bus crash in 1927 that claimed 10 lives.
The driver of the truck was not injured, though both vehicles sustained damage and ended up on their sides. The bus was ripped in half; it was a grotesque sight. The truck’s load of peat moss was strewn across the intersection.
The accident site resembled a grisly war-ravaged battlefield.
The Broncos were on their way to compete in a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks, located 120 miles away to the northeast. The Broncos trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the league cancelled the playoffs. On April 11, the league allowed the two remaining teams in the playoffs – the Hawks and the Estevan Bruins – to play for the league championship.
The Broncos were the pride and joy of Humboldt, a small town of 6,000 located 70 miles to the east of Saskatoon, the largest city in the province.
The Elgar Petersen Arena, out of which the Broncos play, seats 1,854 fans.
Response to the tragedy was immediate.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley expressed their condolences, as did Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.
U.S. President Donald Trump phoned Trudeau and subsequently tweeted his condolences to the victims and their families. Pope Francis even sent a message of condolences.
The tragedy affected people in all walks of life, everywhere. People began leaving hockey sticks on their front and back porches in personal tributes, suggesting that the deceased players might need them wherever they might be.
A row of sticks lined the base of the statue of Wild Wing, the Anaheim Ducks’ mascot, at the Honda Center during the final weekend of NHL regular season play.
Humboldt resident Sylvie Kellington launched a GoFundMe account within hours of the accident to support victims and their families. It raised more than $1 million within 24 hours and $4 million by the next day.
It has since surpassed the $11 million mark, making it Canada’s largest GoFundMe campaign and the third largest in the history of the site. A total of 125,805 people had contributed to the account in seven days.
The tragedy has reverberated through all levels of hockey.
The Metro Conference, the lone scholastic inline hockey league in the state officially sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), has been in existence for 18 years and features 17 member high schools throughout San Diego County. Bonita Vista High School coach Keith Quigley has coached the Barons since their inception in 1998, which predates the actual formation of the conference.
“A terrible tragedy … so sad … I couldn’t believe it when I saw that story,” Quigley wrote in an email earlier this week.
Professional teams of all kinds have followed with tributes, and not just in Canada, the acknowledged hotbed for the sport.
The Predators played the Canadian national anthem prior to last Saturday’s home game against the Blue Jackets even though both teams are not Canadian-based.
A moment of silence was observed prior to the 2018 NCAA Frozen Four championship game between Minnesota Duluth and Notre Dame last Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
The San Diego Gulls hosted their Southern California archrival, the Ontario Reign, on April 7 in an American Hockey League (AHL) game at the Valley View Casino Center. The teams absolutely hate one another on the ice, but joined in a moment of solidarity prior to the game as they mixed together around the center ice circle for a moment of silence in respect for the Broncos.
It was a stunning sight for the sellout crowd of 12,920 and held deep meaning for both teams, as many players on both teams had made the journey through Canada’s Junior A ranks to the pros.
The game had a special meaning for the Gulls as Humboldt assistant coach Chris Beaudry, had spent time with the Gulls as part of Eakins’ “Pass the Puck” coaching fellowship earlier this season.
Beaudry had made the trip to San Diego to learn more about the rigors of professional coaching from Eakins. The Gulls coach said he was impressed by the passion that Beaudry had for the game.
It was there that Eakins and Beaudry made a connection as fellow coaches.
After the April 7 game — a hard fought 3-2 Gulls victory — Eakins took the microphone at center ice to deliver a heartfelt message to fans still in the arena.
He spoke about the reasons that motivated him to coach, among them to help set the course for young players not only about learning about the game of hockey, and advancing in it, but about life in general.
He said that the accident was a grim reminder of how fragile all our lives really are.
Many of the Gulls bowed their heads in reverence during their coach’s post-game speech. They saluted the fans with sticks raised high upon finally leaving the ice.
Gulls scoring leader Kalle Kossila, who picked up three points in the game (one goal, two assists), echoed many of his teammates’ sentiments in a post-game media press conference.
“It was really emotional, especially with us knowing Chris (Beaudry), their assistant coach, and what happened to their team,” Kossila said. “You don’t want that to happen to anybody, that’s just horrible. I think that we wanted to play for that team.”
Beaudry was not on the bus, but drove separately to the game. When he came upon the crash scene, he offered immediate assistance.
Many noted that the Gulls played perhaps their best game of the season, battling for a playoff spot notwithstanding. Eakins was very proud of his team’s effort.
“It just reminds you of how it is such a privilege to come into a rink and make a living, and it’s that sobering reminder that this should be a great day no matter what,” Eakins said. “We talked about it a little before the game with our group and obviously a lot of emotions here over the last 24 hours for our guys because we do have a connection there, and I thought our guys played excellent getting through that.”
Fans can donate through the Go Fund Me account for the Humboldt Broncos HERE.
Photos/Vince Rappleyea/San Diego Gulls
— Phillip Brents
(April 14, 2018)