HUMBOLDT, SK – As the shock surrounding the worst tragedy in Canadian sports history continues to sink in, the world is coming to Humboldt to share its grief. The Prime Minister and premier of Saskatchewan are coming. The coaches of the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are here. Former NHLer and youth advocate Sheldon Kennedy, who went through the same agonizing experience 32 years ago in Swift Current, is here. People are coming from near and far to the Elgar Petersen Arena in this rural Saskatchewan town to honor the memories of the members of the Humboldt Broncos who died in Friday’s bus crash and offer support to those left behind.
They are here for Adam Herold. For Logan Schatz and Conner Lukan. They’ve come for Evan Thomas, Jacob Leicht, Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter, Stephen Wack, Logan Boulet, Parker Tobin, all of whom were chasing their dreams with the Broncos and were cut down in the prime of their lives. (Editor's note: This story has been updated after Saskatchewan authorities said they mixed up the identities of one of the deceased and one of the survivors. Tobin is among the 15 victims, Xavier Labelle is injured but alive.) They’re here for Brody Hinz, who tirelessly kept the team stats. They’re here for head coach Darcy Haugan and assistant Mark Cross, and for Tyler Bieber, who would keep fans at home connected to the team as the play-by-play announcer. And for Glen Doerksen, the team’s bus driver. A GoFundMe effort had reached $3.8 million by Sunday afternoon.
“This isn’t about Humboldt…it’s not even about Saskatchewan,” said Broncos president Kevin Garinger. “It’s about Canada and our world.”
There is a vigil scheduled for tonight at 7 p.m. local time that is expected to last about 45 minutes. It will give all those people an opportunity to gather and comfort each other, but this is only the beginning for them. Humboldt mayor Rob Muench said Sunday afternoon that he had spoken to the mayor of Swift Current, who told him that community still feels the pain of losing four players – in a cruel irony the team was also named the Broncos – in a bus accident more than three decades ago.
They’re all here for different reasons. Darren Foss, a truck driver based in Calgary was making his way to Edmonton from Winnipeg and felt he had to take the detour and drop flowers off. Given his unique perspective, it’s understandable. Foss played Jr. B hockey in Ontario for former NHLer Dino Ciccarelli and is also a truck driver who knows how dangerous it can be keeping the wheels of commerce going on Canada’s highways. “When I was in high school we would leave the arena at 11 and come home at 1:30 in the morning,” Foss said. “And now that I drive I start to think how fatigued that driver must have been getting us back home. And the trucks we drive are 50 tons. It’s a weapon.”
Stephen Corfmat made that 90-minute drive from his home in Prince Albert to be here. And he came because he once played for the Broncos, from 1988 to 1991, before making professional stops in Nashville and San Antonio. Now the scouting director for the rival Kindersley Klippers, Corfmat said the tragedy hit very close to home. “They were here for us and they supported us for three years,” Corfmat said. “They put us in their homes, they took care of us. Now it’s time for us to be there for them. And whether you’re with the Broncos or another organization, you feel it because at the end of the day it could have been your organization. It will be tough. They’re never going to get over this.”
That may be the case, but the Broncos will continue on. The accident occurred prior to Game 5 of their playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks in the league semifinal. The Broncos cannot continue on this season, but team president Kevin Garinger said the organization will do everything in its power to resurrect the team next season. “I know these kids personally,” Garinger said. “And I can tell you right now there isn’t one of the current Broncos who wouldn’t be saying, ‘There needs to be a Humboldt Broncos.’ And so in honoring them and their families, I think it’s important that we do everything in our power to be looking toward that future.”
That future seems very far away, and almost impossible to fathom, at the moment. If and when it comes, it will only after months of grieving and rebuilding of lives. For the moment, there is a pall over this small town, one that not even the blaring spring sunshine can erase. But tiny Humboldt is also finding some solace in the fact that their story of tragedy has resonated far beyond the hockey community and into the world.
“I’m getting emails and phone calls and text messages from people I don’t even know who they are,” said mayor Muench. “I’ll get a text message and there’s a number there with an area code from I don’t even know where saying, ‘We’re with you, we’re behind you. Here’s a poem that I wrote, here’s a song, here’s a message.’ ”
One unnamed player, meanwhile, was released from hospital Sunday. The highway where the crash occurred has been reopened, but the investigation continues. There has been speculation that the truck, which was westbound and driving into blinding sunlight, went through a flashing stop sign. “Even if you put your fingerprints up on the glass, that sun hits that and it’s like a haze,” Foss said. “When you’re coming back west, you’re wanting that sun to chase you and light the way.”
As a scout and lifelong Saskatchewan resident, Corfmat has driven that highway countless times. He said the sun coming from the west can be debilitating and that there is a large clump of trees at the southeast corner of the intersection that prevent northbound drivers from seeing what is coming from the west. “In 500 years that might not ever happen again,” Corfmat said. “Kid stops for a pop. Kid takes a little longer to load the bus. Kids are a little faster. Truck driver going two-miles-an-hour slower. That could change things by two seconds and that’s all it takes.”
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