Chekay honours former teammate
Bruins forward plays in memory of Adam Herold day after funeral
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.