If there’s anyone in the hockey world who deserves some joy in his life this off-season, it’s Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger. He’s the man who has held things together and been an absolute rock during and in the aftermath of the worst tragedy in the history of Canadian sports. He and so many others in the small Saskatchewan community have come to epitomize the term “Humboldt Strong.”
When 16 members of the Broncos family were killed in the April 6 bus crash, the effects were so far-reaching and devastating that an entire nation mourned. Garinger mourned, too, and had to do it in front of the world. He lost a billet son in Conner Lukan and others who were like family members to him. So when Garinger became a grandfather for the first time earlier this week, it was like a ray of light in the darkness, a symbol of hope and renewal for a man who needed it badly.
Garinger has yet to meet his bundle of joy. That’s because little Kyla Lee Garinger came into the world two weeks early in Lethbridge, Alta., where Garingers’ son and his partner live. Garinger will get to meet Kyla Lee this weekend, and there will be no shortage of emotions.
“There have been lots of things that people have done to help the people here through their grief and helped me, too,” Garinger said. “People across the province and across the world, for that matter. You’ll never forget any of what we’re dealing with, and you’ll never stop trying to do what you can to try to support families, but we all have our own families, too. And this is an opportunity to celebrate with my family and enjoy the birth of my grandchild. Just a wonderful experience and certainly very emotional. She’s a blessing in my life that I’m very grateful for.”
Over the past three months, Garinger and the Broncos have had to deal not only with their intense grief, but also the attention that has been foisted upon them because of the tragedy. From the crush of media from around the world that arrived in Humboldt and left days later to the NHL’s and world’s attempts to comfort to the recent news that the driver of the truck that struck the bus that day has been charged and is being dealt with by the legal system, it has been a cauldron of emotions for everyone involved.
And through it all, the Broncos have a season for which to prepare. They’ve set about to restocking their team through the draft and player acquisitions throughout the summer and hope to have three players from the 2017-18 team – centers Tyler Smith and Derek Patter and defenseman Brayden Camrud – in the lineup. Four of their players have moved on to the next chapter of their careers with Canadian universities. Left winger Matthieu Gomercic and defenseman Bryce Fiske have committed to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, right winger Kaleb Dahlgren is off to York and center Nick Shulmanski will attend the University of Prince Edward Island. They’ve hired former NHLer Nathan Oystrick as the coach and GM, but their work is far from done.
Nor are their emotional challenges. The first big one will come when the Broncos open their 2018-19 season at home Sept. 12. Two nights later, the Broncos will travel to Nipawin, going to the same destination and taking the same highway they did when the bus crashed in April. Those two will be huge obstacles to get beyond in the healing process.
“I don’t think it’s going to slow down now until the season is underway,” Garinger said. “This next month-and-a-half is going to be crucial. Until the puck drop on Sept. 12 and until we make that first road trip, there’s just so much hanging in the balance. And so much left to do.”
Getting back to playing games and slogging through the season will, in a small way, bring back some sense of normalcy to the community, but there is such a long, long way to go.
“There are still so many things that need to be addressed,” Garinger said. “I think you’ll get used to what this is like, but I don’t know if you’ll ever get back to any sense of normal.”