Cana­dian sup­port for Hum­boldt un­yield­ing

Ned­jel­ski joins scores of in­di­vid­u­als do­ing some­thing to help Bron­cos and fam­i­lies

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - ERIC FRAN­CIS

Like most Cana­di­ans, Katie Ned­jel­ski just wants to help Hum­boldt heal. So she jumped in her car and headed east of Cal­gary.

She headed home. To Hum­boldt.

While Cana­di­ans most cer­tainly feel a bond with the tiny town, her ties run much deeper. Her brother, Joey Ea­ton, won a Royal Bank Cup with the Bron­cos in 2003 and she met her hus­band, Shel­don, in the late ’90s when he played for the lo­cal he­roes.

Her fam­ily is so en­trenched in the fab­ric of Hum­boldt that her fa­ther, Mal­colm Ea­ton, was a three-term mayor from 2006 to 2016. They were Bron­cos bil­lets for more than a decade.

Af­ter a week of watch­ing the world give Hum­boldt hugs, her heart told her it was time to hud­dle up back home.

“I think it was just easy for me to come and help out, what­ever that looks like,” said Ned­jel­ski, who brought her youngest of two kids, three-year-old Fin­ley, for the jour­ney.

“Sev­eral of the kids my par­ents bil­leted have been com­ing back with their fam­i­lies and young kids the last week. Peo­ple just want to be to­gether, help­ing.

“Ev­ery store in town has a jer­sey or a sign in the win­dow and ev­ery­one is pitch­ing in.”

In a beau­ti­ful twist, the bus tragedy that claimed 16 lives has been the coun­try’s most uni­fy­ing event of a gen­er­a­tion.

It’s hard to be­lieve any­one on your street or at your of­fice didn’t ei­ther con­trib­ute to the $12 mil­lion in GoFundMe do­na­tions, put a stick in front of their house or wear a jer­sey Thurs­day.

With ev­ery door-front stick you drive by, your heart swells a lit­tle.

Many of the peo­ple you passed last week wear­ing a jer­sey likely prompted a smile, a thumbs-up or con­ver­sa­tion with strangers that wouldn’t or­di­nar­ily be ex­changed. It brought our com­mu­ni­ties that much closer to­gether, re­gard­less of postal code.

Char­ity hockey games for Hum­boldt were played all over Canada on the week­end, with plenty more to come.

Vig­ils, ral­lies and even fu­ner­als in the home­towns of play­ers and staff on the bus at­tracted larger than ex­pected crowds of peo­ple show­ing they care.

Bake sales, fam­ily skates, 50/50 pro­ceeds and count­less other ini­tia­tives are in the works as peo­ple of­fer up any sort of as­sis­tance they can pro­vide.

NHL and ju­nior teams held stir­ring tributes for the Bron­cos, as did fans as far away as Eng­land, where chants of “Let’s Go Bron­cos” rang out in the EIHL fi­nal.

Old team­mates from ev­ery pos­si­ble sport felt the need to re­con­nect, in­evitably re­mind­ing one an­other, “it could have been us,” or “those could have been our kids.”

Drake wore a Hum­boldt jer­sey courtside for the Toronto Rap­tors’ open­ing play­off game at the ACC, Brooke Hen­der­son ded­i­cated her LPGA tour­ney win to Hum­boldt and Cana­dian NASCAR driver D.J. Ken­ning­ton plas­tered the Bron­cos logo on his hood.

Don Cherry, Ron Ma­cLean, Justin Trudeau, Paul Brandt, Hay­ley Wick­en­heiser, Jonathan Toews, Glen Gu­lutzan, Todd McLel­lan, Tom Jack­son and Shel­don Kennedy raced out to stand bed­side with the sur­vivors.

They em­braced and con­soled fam­ily mem­bers of those lost in the bus crash. For all Cana­di­ans.

They brought gifts. The brought love and much-needed dis­trac­tions. They wanted to help.

Among other things, Ned­jel­ski brought her know-how, spend­ing the last few days as­sist­ing a friend who owns a lo­cal busi­ness strug­gling to fig­ure out how to mail out more than 10,000 or­ders of Hum­boldt Strong T-shirts.

“Dubai, the U.K., Fin­land, all over the U.S., the stack for On­tario is prob­a­bly 1,000 or­ders it­self,” said Ned­jel­ski, who knows a thing or two about ecom­merce as the owner of Bloom Kids. “They have one ma­chine print­ing T-shirts. They said, ‘We know how to make stuff — but not ship stuff.’ ”

So, the lads and ladies at Puro­la­tor asked how they could help out, sug­gest­ing they bring equip­ment to make ship­ping la­bels. When they ran out of yel­low ink, some­one raced to Ed­mon­ton to get more.

WestJet and sev­eral lo­cal mines have sent em­ploy­ees. Ev­ery­one is send­ing their love. Think about the last time Cana­di­ans ral­lied around some­thing to this de­gree. You can’t.

This team has had a his­toric im­pact on all of us — the likes of which we, hope­fully, shall never ex­pe­ri­ence again. As odd as that sounds.

“The way peo­ple have reached out and of­fered in small or big ways is pretty uni­fy­ing, pretty pow­er­ful,” said Ea­ton a for­mer prin­ci­pal who served the city for 13 years. “One of the fun­da­men­tal hu­man val­ues is com­ing out, the com­pas­sion and car­ing in so many ways.

“Right now my wife is at the lo­cal sewing shop, mak­ing quilts for all the fam­i­lies.”

With quilts, their arms, their wal­lets, their sticks, their jer­seys and their words, the na­tion is putting its arms around Hum­boldt in a way the na­tion has never done be­fore.

So sad it took a tragedy to do so much good.

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