Chekay hon­ours for­mer team­mate

Bru­ins for­ward plays in mem­ory of Adam Herold day af­ter fu­neral

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ROB VANSTONE

The words were not eas­ily spo­ken, but they had to be said.

Matthew Chekay of the Este­van Bru­ins could have jus­ti­fi­ably de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest, con­sid­er­ing the emo­tions he was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, but he obliged in or­der to pay an im­pas­sioned pub­lic trib­ute to Adam Herold.

Herold lost his life April 6 when the Hum­boldt Bron­cos’ bus crashed while the team was en route to Ni­pawin for an SJHL play­off game against the Hawks. Chekay, a midget AAA team­mate of Herold’s with the 2016-17 Regina Pat Cana­di­ans, at­tended his friend’s fu­neral Fri­day in Mont­martre.

The fol­low­ing day, Chekay helped Este­van de­feat Ni­pawin 5-2 in Game 1 of the best-of-seven SJHL fi­nal.

“I came here and I tried my best to play for (Herold), be­cause I know that if he was here he’d do the same,” Chekay said while fight­ing back tears. “It was tough, but once you got out there, it was easy to play and hon­our him that way.

“I’m truly grate­ful I got to play and hon­our him. He was truly one of the best guys I’ve ever met. He had a smile that could light up any room and was truly a great guy.”

Un­til Satur­day’s game, the Bru­ins had been idle since April 5, when they de­feated the Bat­tle­fords North Stars 6-2 to wrap up a best-of-seven semi­fi­nal in five games.

Hum­boldt was to play the Hawks the next evening in Game 5 of a semi­fi­nal, but the Bron­cos’ bus col­lided with a semi-trailer truck 28 kilo­me­tres south of Ni­pawin. All 29 peo­ple on the bus were ei­ther killed or in­jured.

The SJHL’s sea­son was sus­pended un­til Wed­nes­day, when mem­bers of the league’s board of gov­er­nors de­cided unan­i­mously — with the Bron­cos’ bless­ing — to re­sume play.

Ni­pawin was lead­ing Hum­boldt 3-1 in the semi­fi­nal at the time of the ac­ci­dent. With the Bron­cos un­able to con­tinue this sea­son, the Hawks ad­vanced to the league fi­nal against Este­van.

The lead-up to Satur­day’s game was such that, even an hour be­fore the face­off, the lobby was abuzz. The range of jer­seys in­cluded those of the Hawks, Bru­ins and Bron­cos.

Kelly Wit­tke, for one, was wear­ing a Bron­cos jersey from the cham­pi­onship sea­son of 200708 — a sweater bear­ing the name (Lau­rent Ben­jamin) and num­ber (15) of one of many players she once bil­leted.

“For me, it’s sad to be here, and bit­ter­sweet in a way,” said Wit­tke, who trav­elled from Hum­boldt to Ni­pawin ear­lier in the day and sat along­side an­other for­mer bil­let mom, Linda Stum­borg, at the game.

“We wanted to be here, but we didn’t. We wanted to go to the (ac­ci­dent) site and see that, just to know that the Hum­boldt Bron­cos are still around.”

Wit­tke and Stum­borg were among 1,199 peo­ple who were shoe­horned into “The Cage,” as the 51-year-old Cen­ten­nial Arena is dubbed, for Satur­day’s game.

Prior to face­off, a cer­e­mony was held in hon­our of ev­ery­one who has been af­fected by the tragedy.

The pre-game pro­ceed­ings be­gan with the recog­ni­tion of first re­spon­ders and emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel. Fif­teen of them were on the ice for a ro­bust ova­tion that in­cluded fans clap­ping and hockey players tap­ping their sticks on the ice in uni­son.

Also be­fore the game, players from both teams then lined up side by side to form a cir­cle at cen­tre ice. An ex­tended mo­ment of si­lence, in­ter­rupted at times by the sound of some­one cry­ing, was then held.

Fol­low­ing the na­tional an­them, the pub­lic an­nouncer stated: “Tonight, we play for the Bron­cos.”

And so they did, but not be­fore the an­nouncer added: “For the next two hours, it’s OK to smile and cheer and just feel nor­mal again.”

Nor­mally, cot­ton candy isn’t avail­able at Hawks games, but an ex­cep­tion was made on Satur­day.

Shan­non Ap­pen­maier, his mother (Gail) and his girl­friend (Ni­cole Stad­nek) set up a cot­ton candy stand in the lobby. All pro­ceeds from the sales of multi-coloured cot­ton candy, which was avail­able for $3 per bag, were to go to the Bron­cos.

“It was pretty easy to get be­hind what ev­ery­body is do­ing,” said Ap­pen­maier, whose nephew (Lo­gan Casa­vant) plays for the Hawks.

“We tried to get green and yel­low (colours for the Bron­cos), but that’s as green and yel­low as you’re go­ing to get. The green is ac­tu­ally sassy ap­ple and the yel­low is le­mon.”

And those who as­sist, in var­i­ous ways, are pure gold.

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