Hum­boldt crash rekin­dles mem­o­ries of an­other crash

Ram­blers were in bus mishap near Hal­i­fax in 2007

The Amherst News - - SPORTS - BY DAR­RELL COLE AMHERST NEWS dar­rell.cole@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADN­dar­rell

Corey Crocker spent much of the week­end reach­ing out to for­mer team­mates and play­ers.

The crash that killed 15 mem­bers of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos brought back a lot of mem­o­ries for the for­mer coach and GM of the Amherst CIBC Wood Gundy Ram­blers. It was only 11 years ago when the Ram­blers’ team bus nearly met a sim­i­lar fate to what hap­pened in Saskatchewan on Friday night.

“We were com­ing back from a game in Yar­mouth. We were a cou­ple of hours into the trip and most of the guys were asleep. Next thing you know there were win­dows smashed and chairs were ripped apart. We were 15 or 20 feet from go­ing over an em­bank­ment. There would’ve been fa­tal­i­ties. It was very scary,” Crocker said. “I was thrown across the bus and the first thing I did was do a roll­call. You were hop­ing ev­ery­one would an­swer they were OK, but you were ter­ri­fied that some­one wouldn’t be. It was the scari­est sit­u­a­tion ever.

“I can never imag­ine what that town or what that team, and the team­mates who sur­vived, are go­ing through. It’s very dis­turb­ing and I can’t get it off my mind.”

When the Ram­blers bus crashed it was the sec­ond ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing a Mar­itime Ju­nior Hockey League team that sea­son. Sev­eral weeks be­fore the Wood­stock Slam­mers bus went off the road in a snow­storm in western Prince Ed­ward Is­land. Sev­eral play­ers were shaken up in the crash and as­sis­tant coach Bobby Vail was nearly killed.

Crocker said he has strug­gled with what hap­pened on Friday.

“When tragedy hap­pens, you rekin­dle your re­la­tion­ship with a lot of for­mer play­ers,” Crocker said. “This isn’t sup­posed to hap­pen. I started trav­el­ing on the bus when I was 15-years-old play­ing ju­nior hockey and you know what? When you’re that age you’re in­vin­ci­ble. You climb the steps and get on the bus, it was your com­fort zone. You play cards, you think about the game. You never thought of crash­ing. The safest place to be was on that bus.”

When he started coach­ing it was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mind­set be­cause you be­come re­spon­si­ble for the play­ers.

Ram­blers coach and GM Jeff LeBlanc gets emo­tional when talk­ing about the crash.

“It’s been a rough few days around my house, I get choked up just talk­ing about it,” said LeBlanc. “I tried to watch the vigil last night and it was some­thing I couldn’t get through. It hits so close to home.”

LeBlanc said he can’t help but think about his team and last week’s awards ban­quet.

“Half of that ta­ble would be gone and it re­ally hit hard,” he said. “Look­ing at that coach with those two young boys, who are the same age as my boys. I think about my wife and the times I’ve called to say we’re leav­ing this place, or that place. You never think you might not get home. You know things like this can hap­pen but you never think they will.”

LeBlanc said he has al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated the job the club’s bus driver does for the team while he also said coaches, and play­ers, across Canada are part of a fra­ter­nity. While they may be en­e­mies and com­peti­tors on the ice, they’re all do­ing some­thing they love to do.

“We’re all the same type of peo­ple,” he said. “We’re com­peti­tors, but at the same time we’re like a fam­ily. It has been a hard few days and it’s go­ing to be hard for a lit­tle while. It’s go­ing to take some time to heal.”

The Ram­blers, LeBlanc said, will be mak­ing a fi­nan­cial con­tri­bu­tion to the Bron­cos while books for con­do­lences have been set up at the Ram­blers of­fice at 26A In­dus­trial Park Dr. and at Fur­longJones Fu­neral Home at 70 Church St. in Amherst.

The books will be for­warded to the fam­i­lies.

For­mer Ram­bler cap­tain Kody Orr said his five years with the Ram­blers were some of the best in his life. Never once did he think what hap­pened in Hum­boldt could hap­pen to him.

“It’s crazy how much you take for granted play­ing ju­nior hockey, be­ing able to go to the rink and play the sport you love with your best friends ev­ery day,” he said. “Five of the best years of my life were spent in that uni­form, and I still cher­ish that time ev­ery sin­gle day. That’s why it hit me so hard hear­ing about the tragedy that struck ru­ral Saskatchewan and the Hum­boldt Bron­cos. Although I ob­vi­ously don’t know any­one in­volved with the team per­son­ally, it’s hard not to feel a small con­nec­tion as a for­mer ju­nior A hockey player in Canada.

“Hockey is a fam­ily and the hockey work lost some of their own.”

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