SET­TLE­MENT FOR DIS­ABLED VETS.

HUMBOLDT BRON­COS BE­GIN NEW SEA­SON FIVE MONTHS AF­TER TRAGIC BUS CRASH

Calgary Herald - - NP - Dave Deib­ert

The road lead­ing to El­gar Petersen Arena on Wed­nes­day rep­re­sented a nod to a painful past and a gate­way to a hope-filled fu­ture.

Cars bring­ing up­wards of 2,000 peo­ple to Humboldt’s hockey rink slowed down, or came to a stop, then an­other stop, then an­other stop, re­flect­ing at each of the 17 signs lin­ing the road­way — pic­tures of the 16 peo­ple killed in the April 6 bus crash, plus a team photo of the 2017-18 Bron­cos. Soon af­ter, those peo­ple found them­selves part of some­thing new: the 2018-19 Humboldt Bron­cos.

Five months af­ter the high­way col­li­sion be­tween the Humboldt Bron­cos team bus and a trac­tor-trailer in which 16 died and 13 were in­jured, the Bron­cos re­turned to the ice Wed­nes­day for their Saskatchewan Ju­nior Hockey League sea­son opener against the Ni­pawin Hawks.

“It’s ex­cit­ing. At the same time, it’s scary, it’s over­whelm­ing, it’s go­ing to be sad — we’re pay­ing trib­ute to the boys,” said Bray­den Cam­rud, who along with Derek Pat­ter were the only two play­ers from last year’s team in the lineup for Wed­nes­day’s home opener.

A sold-out crowd filled the arena for the game. Hun­dreds of thou­sands more were ex­pected to watch on TSN, which broad­cast the event com­mer­cial­free. Ac­cord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, speak­ing in Saska­toon on Wed­nes­day, the Bron­cos had “37 mil­lion fans cheer­ing you on.”

Saskatchewan Pre­mier Scott Moe called the night “an­other coura­geous step in heal­ing.” Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench said it was go­ing to be an “emo­tional night” for the city and the team.

Canadian hockey leg­end Hay­ley Wick­en­heiser said she was go­ing to be plac­ing a hockey stick out­side in sup­port of the Bron­cos on Wed­nes­day.

“Sure to be an emo­tional night but the heart al­ways car­ries the feet,” the Saskatchewan na­tive tweeted.

Bron­cos head coach Nathan Oys­trick posted a 57-word mes­sage on so­cial me­dia, ex­press­ing grat­i­tude for those who have sup­ported the team over the past five months.

“We will never for­get the tragedy of April 6, but I hope that today’s game helps us all take an­other step for­ward,” he tweeted in the hours be­fore the game.

Busi­nesses were open on Wed­nes­day. Classes took place at the lo­cal schools. But the Bron­cos were front of mind for all.

Humboldt Col­le­giate In­sti­tute is un­der the same roof as El­gar Petersen Arena, and where sev­eral mem­bers of the Bron­cos at­tend school dur­ing any given sea­son. HCI cel­e­brated Green-and-Gold Day at the school on Wed­nes­day — and it had spe­cial mean­ing this year.

“The Humboldt Bron­cos are part of our com­mu­nity but they’re also part of Humboldt Col­le­giate,” HCI prin­ci­pal Cory Popoff told Global TV. “We’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a new nor­mal and we’ll never want to for­get the play­ers and fam­i­lies that have been in­volved in that mov­ing for­ward.”

The Co-op gro­cery store on the out­skirts of the city had two elec­tronic signs dis­play­ing the Bron­cos’ team logo.

Store­fronts dis­played ban­ners and signs, some pro­fes­sion­ally made and oth­ers hand­writ­ten, with the com­mu­nity’s mantra: Humboldt Strong.

Out­side the rink, sticks adorned with green and yel­low rib­bons were lined up. A bench painted green had the words: “Al­ways in our hearts. 29 on the fate­ful ride, 16 souls died.”

Me­mo­ri­als lined the halls and ice at the arena. Just in­side the main doors, there was a cross with the names of those who died in the crash along with a flag of their home prov­ince. A gi­ant hockey stick with the hash­tags #Bron­cosStrong and #Pray­ers­forHum­boldt stood be­side it. Fur­ther down, in­side a glass dis­play, were ban­ners dis­play­ing the num­bers and last names of ev­ery­one on last year’s team and a team pic­ture.

A pair of rib­bons with the Bron­cos colours were painted into each end of the ice.

Fam­ily mem­bers of many of those who died in the col­li­sion were in Humboldt on Wed­nes­day, fill­ing about four sec­tions of seats in the arena. Sev­eral play­ers from last year’s squad joined the cur­rent ver­sion of the Bron­cos for the evening.

Oth­ers, like Ryan Straschnitzki, who was par­a­lyzed from the chest down in the crash, opted not to watch the sea­son opener in per­son. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch the game on TV, though it’s been on his mind.

“It’s not my team any­more,” Straschnitzki said. “I wish them the best of luck but it’s not my team and it’s go­ing to be hard to watch know­ing that I should be out there.”

Humboldt Bron­cos team pres­i­dent Jamie Brock­man said he hopes Wed­nes­day’s game and the cer­e­monies around it al­low for at least a small bit of re­lief.

“Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are go­ing to sur­vive and we are go­ing to move for­ward.”

WE WILL NEVER FOR­GET THE TRAGEDY OF APRIL 6, BUT I HOPE THAT TODAY’S GAME HELPS US ALL TAKE AN­OTHER STEP FOR­WARD.

JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS

“It’s ex­cit­ing. At the same time, it’s scary, it’s over­whelm­ing, it’s go­ing to be sad — we’re pay­ing trib­ute to the boys,” said re­turn­ing Bron­cos player Bray­den Cam­rud.

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