SJHL AC­TION RE­SUMES

Store clerks work­ing the late shift say they’ll never for­get team’s post-game visit

Regina Leader-Post - - FRONT PAGE - ROB VANSTONE rvan­stone@postmedia.com twit­ter.com/rob­van­stone

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.”

BRAN­DON HARDER

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