HUMBOLDT, SK – The only lasting physical effect Brayden Camrud carries with him from the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy five months ago is that he has no feeling in his left bicep. But he can still do curls and shoot a puck. Doctors have told him the sensation could return one day, maybe not. But it won’t stop him from being able to playing hockey.
So when Camrud steps on the ice tonight for a game for the first time since losing 11 teammates and five other members of the Broncos April 6 in the worst tragedy in Canadian sports history, his left arm will be the only place on his body and in his mind where he won’t feel anything. Since that dark day, all Camrud has done is feel. He was lucky enough to be seated in the part of the team bus that absorbed the least impact when it was hit out of nowhere by a transport truck en route to a playoff game in nearby Nipawin, but not lucky enough to escape the tsunami of emotion that has washed over him since then. He and teammate Derek Patter are the only two players from last year’s team who will be in the lineup for the Broncos tonight.
Brayden Camrud celebrated his 20th birthday over the summer and his dyed blond hair has been replaced by short-cropped brown hair covered by a Broncos cap. The concussion and minor injuries he sustained in the crash have healed, but since last April he has lived a lifetime of mixed emotions. It’s mind boggling when you think about it. Not only did he have to deal with the trauma of experiencing the horrific accident and seeing teammates perish before his eyes, there’s the remorse, grief and, on some days, survivor’s guilt. He’s had to process those feelings every day since and, in the days leading up to the Broncos opener, relive them once again for public consumption. It would be an enormous burden for anyone to endure, let alone a teenager.
“I don’t think I’ll ever fully heal from it,” Camrud told TheHockeyNews.com in the stands of the Elgar Peterson Arena in Humboldt the day before the season opener. “Like, how do you get over something like that? The things I saw the day the accident happened and attending all the funerals and being around the chaos, it was so emotionally taxing that I think that it’s a little bit a part of me. I’m going to have that feeling of sadness and remorse and just wishing my teammates were here. And it’s OK to feel that way.”
The day of the accident was much like any other during the hockey season. The Broncos were heading to Nipawin for Game 5 of the Saskatchewan Jr. League semifinal. They were trailing the series 3-1, but two of the losses were in overtime, including a 6-5 triple OT loss in Game 4. When hockey players step off a bus wearing their suits and ties, what most people don’t realize is that they usually spend most of the trip in various states of dress, usually getting ready as they approach the arena. And that’s exactly what Camrud was going to do. They had just passed teammate Nick Shumlanski’s house in Tisdale and were about half an hour from the rink in Nipawin. Camrud remembers listening to a song and wanting to wait until the song finished before adopting his formal clothing. He was sitting in his seat with his back against the window and his feet toward the aisle, watching a teammate get ready. Camrud remembers his teammate running his fingers through his hair and giving him a quick wink. Then everything went black.
Camrud is in his third year with the Broncos and, along with Patter and Michael Clarke, will be an alternate captain of this year’s team. The Broncos decided not to name a captain this season out of respect to Logan Schatz, the captain of last year’s team who died in the crash. Last season, Camrud led the Broncos in penalty minutes with 103 and established himself as something of an irritant on the ice. He wants to keep that competitive nature in his game, but armed with the perspective he’s gained over the past couple of months, he feels he can best honor his former teammates by concentrating on being the best player he can between the whistles.
“I think coming into this year, I kind of want to be a different type of person who irritates people,” Camrud said. “I’m just going to work as hard as I can and play as best I can and then people are going to recognize that a little more. After the whistle, slashes or friendly banter, trying to get under guys’ skin, was a little part of my game and it may continue to be a little bit of it. Habits are hard to break. But after everything that has happened, I don’t think too many guys will want to send chirps my way, so I don’t think it’s fair to want to chirp them back. I just want to be a good player this year.”
And the Broncos are counting on him to be just that. In the only pre-season game Camrud played, he scored two goals and added two assists. He will do the best he can this season, but realizes there might be times when the loss will be difficult to bear. He said he felt naked the first time he stepped on the ice after the accident because his teammates were no longer around him. Like every other player who reaches this level, Camrud wants to play in the NHL, but is realistic about his chances. More importantly, he wants to take his career as far as it will go, whether that’s college hockey or Europe and when the dream ends, he’ll be able to hang up his skates and move on with his life. But he does feel he owes it to his fallen teammates and their parents to become the best hockey player and person he can be.
“There are tons of guys (from last year’s team) who wanted the same thing and wanted to go on to college hockey or university or maybe become a doctor,” Camrud said. “They were shooting for the stars. We had so many guys with dreams and things they wanted to do with their lives. I want to be the best player for them for as long as I can.”