SETTLEMENT FOR DISABLED VETS.
HUMBOLDT BRONCOS BEGIN NEW SEASON FIVE MONTHS AFTER TRAGIC BUS CRASH
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.
“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.