SJHL ACTION RESUMES
Store clerks working the late shift say they’ll never forget team’s post-game visit
First responders stand on the ice for the national anthem among Nipawin Hawks and Estevan Bruins players prior to the game as the SJHL resumes following the collision involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus that killed 16 people.
The Humboldt Broncos went into overtime and, as a result, so did two thoughtful employees at the Domo C-Store.
Just as March 30 was becoming March 31, a weary band of Broncos walked into a convenience store near the southern outskirts of Nipawin.
Earlier that night, the host Hawks had outlasted Humboldt 3-2 to open a best-of-seven SJHL semifinal. Michael Grant had scored the winner for Nipawin at 2:33 of the second overtime period.
Due to the marathon contest, the Broncos didn’t arrive at the store until just before midnight — closing time. Four Humboldt players barely beat the buzzer, arriving at 11:59 p.m. With the team bus parked outside, the rest of the Broncos trickled in.
“We couldn’t say yes to some of them and not serve the rest,” Shane Salisbury recalled from behind the counter.
The players, who were staying at a nearby hotel because Game 2 was to be played in Nipawin the following night, milled about the store. Bottled water, chocolate milk and beef jerky were popular purchases.
“They were such nice guys,” Janet Schellenberg said while working another night shift alongside Salisbury.
One by one, the Broncos bought various refreshments and munchies. To make the line move quicker, Salisbury handled the cash register and Schellenberg took care of the bagging.
One could have forgiven the Broncos if they had been somewhat grouchy or distant. After all, they had lost a gruelling playoff game in the 83rd minute — in supposedly hostile territory.
“They were so tired, but so friendly,” Schellenberg said. “I was really surprised. You expect hockey players to be kind of macho, but they were perfect gentlemen.”
To ensure that everyone was served, Schellenberg and Salisbury worked 15 additional minutes, making small talk with most of the players in the process.
“They all had blond hair, because they had dyed their hair for the playoffs,” said Schellenberg, who works part-time despite being retired. “They were all in suits and ties — really welldressed and well-mannered.”
Schellenberg isn’t a hockey fan, per se, but she quickly developed an appreciation for the Broncos — three of whom stood out.
“There was the tallest one, with the big smile … the little blond guy with the spiky hair and the bruise on his cheek … and the little dark-haired guy with the glasses,” she said.
Only when the final customer was served did the doors close.
Schellenberg and Salisbury left the store at 12:20 a.m.
The next Friday, shortly before supper time, Salisbury noticed a procession of vehicles speeding past the store, heading south toward Tisdale. One ambulance passed … then another … and another … and one more.
Soon word was circulating around the store that there had been a serious accident — at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335, as it turned out.
A few minutes later, Salisbury overheard someone say the SJHL playoff game — the fifth in a series between the Broncos and Hawks — wouldn’t be played that night at Nipawin’s Centennial Arena.
The Broncos’ bus had collided with a semi-trailer truck, 28 kilometres south of Nipawin. All 29 people on board were either injured or killed.
“I didn’t make the connection until I saw their pictures on TV and thought, ‘Oh my God!’ ” Schellenberg said. “Then I just lost it.”
Early the next morning, on April 7, the Nipawin RCMP announced that 14 people had died. The number has since increased to 16.
It’s as sad and tragic as a story can be. Yet, Salisbury and Schellenberg can manage a smile while thinking of the Broncos.
“I will remember them forever,” Schellenberg said. “They were beautiful guys.”